“I thought people had forgotten about this place,” my dining companion said as we walked into Shikago during a recent lunch. Looking at the packed house, that’s apparently not the case. The people who may have “forgotten” about the restaurant Kevin and Alan Shikami opened in 2007 probably heard that chef Kevin moved on. But the suits stuffing themselves on pan-Asian standbys could care less, and you should too, provided you know what you’re in for.
You’ll still find a few signature dishes Kevin left behind—his wasabi-dressed tuna tartare, his spring roll stuffed with short-rib meat—and they’re still reliable, but for the most part the current menu is dialed-down. New chef James Okuno (pictured) does a solid job with staples like pho, keeping its beefy broth simple with a touch of star anise and heaps of tender shredded brisket, serving the traditional sprouts, lime and herbs alongside. Likewise, shoyu ramen is delicately salty and pork-packed, with a couple of slices of belly mingling among al dente Chinese broccoli. Korean tofu soup could be spicier, but the broth is clean, the veggies are fresh, and the overall flavor is bright.
Unfortunately, Okuno just can’t get a grip on sushi. Maki are fine at best, but Shikago should scratch sashimi and nigiri from the menu: The fish doesn’t taste fresh enough, and the rice falls apart to the point of being impossible to pick up. Okuno does a better job at creative combos like miso-glazed scallops over beet risotto—the meaty diver scallops are perfectly grilled and the risotto has terrific beet flavor and a touch of the sea thanks to dashi broth. The dish stands out amid pedestrian pot stickers, crab rangoon and seaweed salad, but in today’s climate, spreading out is better than spreading yourself thin.