B.K. Park calls it coincidence, but as Chicagoans have seen a burst of new omakase restaurants, the chef-owner behind Juno is ready to announce his own new restaurant. Park plans to open Mako in early November in the West Loop, just around the corner from Randolph Restaurant Row at Lake and Halsted.
Mako won’t be limited to sushi as Park will also offer hot food items. He has operated Juno for five years in Lincoln Park, and he made a name for himself as chef at Arami, the sushi restaurant in West Town. Juno offers customers omakase at a seven-seat counter in the back of the restaurant. Once Mako opens, Juno’s days of weekend omakase will be no more.
Park said he’ll offer more seasonal ingredients and more daring items. He’ll leverage relationships with Juno’s fish suppliers to bring specialty cuts to Mako. Park said he’ll mingle familiar Japanese ingredients with a Western technique — say offer a special garnish. It’s not fusion, but Park’s looking for new ideas. He’s talking to Rodrick Markus of Rare Tea Cellars who told him about wasabi grown in Michigan. Park hasn’t tried it yet, but is intrigued.
The restaurant will have a 13-seat counter and 10 table seats. Park noticed how customers at sushi counters, including businesspeople, struggle with conversation when they’re not seated across from each other, which is the reason behind the tables. It’ll have two seatings nightly. He’s still fiddling with prices, but right now they’re thinking about $175 for 23 courses, including rice dishes. Park will pick out the wines for the about $85 pairings.
Over the last two decades, Park believes he’s done much to teach Chicagoans about sushi and the city is now educated enough where an omakase spot would flourish. A lack of education is one of the reasons the city lags behind LA and New York when it comes to quality sushi restaurants, Park said. Restaurant owners, for the most part, have lowered the bar. Instead of pushing boundaries, they’re looking for a quick buck, catering to lowered sushi expectations.
“So many chefs or owners [here], they don’t know sushi,” Park said. “They think they can make money just making a roll, fill it with sauce...people get used to eating like that and they never want to try different types of sushi.”
Juno is known for creativity. Its signature smoke sushi arrives in a greenhouse-like glass dome that retains puffs of applewood smoke. At Mako, Park will have help from chefs Joon Park (no relation) and Joon Kim. B.K. Park trusts that no one will confuse the names. He also trusts his chefs and the staff at Juno. It’s a big leap for him, as he said he wouldn’t be able to open Mako if he didn’t think if he could leave Juno in good hands.
This isn’t Park’s first attempt to open a second restaurant, but those plans and business relationships have fizzled. Park looks to the positive, as he was supposed to partner with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. He feels he’ll have more creative freedom as an independent. He’s also happy about opening a restaurant closer to downtown. Tourists, including travelers from Japan, will have an easier time dropping in for a visit.
Park found the space, on the lower level of The Parker luxury apartment building, in March 2017. He said he signed a lease late last year as workers finished construction. The restaurant is named after the shark, as the mako is the fastest-swimming shark. Park, wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt decorated with sharks, said the mako is his favorite fish. He’s also excited to swim with other new omakase restaurants in Chicago.
“I’m so glad, I’m so happy that people are opening omakase concept restaurants,” Park said. “I’m very welcome to competition, competition is a very good thing....”
Mako should open in early November at the Parker, 730 W. Coach Place. Surface back in a few weeks for more details on the menu.