Juno: Restaurant review
This new spot from B.K. Park and Jason Chan offers unexpected smash hits—and a few misses.
When chef B.K. Park left Arami last year, his legions of fans complained, gnashed their teeth and cried into their grocery-store spicy tuna rolls. His new spot, Juno, in partnership with Jason Chan of Urban Union, will at least help them stop wailing. Will it make them smile? That’s less clear.
From the moment you walk into Juno, it seems oddly schizophrenic. The gorgeous red and black walls of the punk-rock front room, complete with a painted geisha playing an electric guitar, give way to a bland main dining room worthy of a suburban strip mall. Some of the cocktails are amazing—the Stray Dog combines Shishito-infused mezcal with grapefruit for a refreshing, savory bite—while others, most notably its take on an old fashioned, taste like boozy cough syrup. You’ll be better off sticking with the extensive sake menu or trying one of the hard-to-find Japanese microbrews.
One of the hallmarks of the few great sushi spots in Chicago is their commitment to fresh fish instead of mayonnaise-covered junk. Juno certainly has some fresh fish in the house, as the excellent, beautifully presented and extravagantly tall (it almost poked my server’s eye out) chef’s selection of sashimi makes clear. Along with just a touch of Juno’s homemade soy, this fish should be the star of the restaurant.
Unfortunately, the quality of the fish is a bit of a tease, since it doesn’t show up in much of the sushi. In the “special maki” section, you’ll see grilled shrimp, grilled salmon, grilled crab and cooked lobster. It’s not that these concoctions—complete with Meyer lemon mayo, garlic oil, truffle soy and other fancy sauces—aren’t tasty, in a umami-candy sort of way. They're just not the raw sushi we wanted and expected. For that, stick with the traditional nigiri, which is less glamorous but much fresher and lighter. Plus, you’ll avoid feeling weighed down at the end of your dinner.
Some menu items are unexpected smash hits. I was utterly charmed by the “smoked sashimi,” which comes to the table underneath a glass dome hazy with applewood smoke. When your server whips off that cover, everyone in the restaurant looks over—and for good reason. It smells fantastic, and the simple pieces of fresh hamachi, maguro and salmon with tiny garnishes have an addictive, smoky deliciousness that might lead to a second order.
The grilled wagyu beef with charred sweet onion is similarly pitch-perfect, a pleasant surprise in a restaurant focused on sushi. Unfortunately, Juno’s two faces reappear again on the cooked side, as the grilled baby octopus is incredibly chewy and covered with so much salt I have to flag down a server for more water. The duck confit ramen, topped with a duck egg, has wonderful noodles but a pork broth so lacking in body I kept stirring and stirring, hoping something good was waiting, undissolved, at the bottom of the bowl. It wasn’t.
Chef Park and his staff are turning out some innovative, delicious plates worthy of the best sushi restaurants in town. But it’ll take some careful ordering to drill down to the talent. And if you get something underwhelming, don’t worry—it’s just as likely that the next dish will be a stunner.