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Shiros Sushi - 2014-12-18

by Foodbitch 18. December 2014 21:30

Genius is part nature and part nurture. No matter what they’ll tell you, the accident of birth: the raw material is only refined into perfection with the proper effort. But no matter how much effort one puts forth, excellence at the level of the world-class can only be achieved with the proper gifts of nature. And in that respect, Chicago sushi will always be Salieri to the West Coast’s Mozart.

There was a line in Good Will Hunting where the professor says to Will: “There is but a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference between you and me…but I’m one of them.” I don’t presume to be an authority on sushi preparation but when it comes to consumption, I believe my excess to be widely known. I don’t believe it unfair to say that a judge of quality is one who has experienced a fair amount of quantity.

Until one has had uncured king salmon sashimi, I don’t believe that one can profess to have had salmon sashimi at all. In Chicago, the extra day of travel forces most providers to bathe their stock in some form of salt preservative. And here was I thinking sashimi needed to be fresh. I happen to love salt. But I sure know its taste. The salmon in Seattle is truly fresh. Even the cheap places serve it. 

What about the octopus? If I ever am permitted in Korea or Japan, I would love to sample some raw, Oldboy style. But until then, I must consign myself to the undercooked sashimi that Seattle offers. I’ve had raw octopus (but not live) once in my life and that was at an LA place that closed 3 months after opening. Made me wonder what else they served.

I also tried the geoduck sashimi. If you know your clams, you will know that this phallic-looking thing that is indigenous only to the west coast of Canada and the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest. Panopea generosa is extremely long-lived and individuals approaching the century-marker are not uncommon. They have few natural predators with humans, of course, being the worst. China has almost as ravenous an appetite for ‘duck as it does for pig. I have pulled them from the ground while laying on my belly and reaching 3 feet down into muddy, 50-degree water. Because of this, the dismal laws of supply and demand dictate that Geoduck can approach US$150/pound. But this is not a bio-econ-lesson. It is a testimonial that Geoduck sashimi was NOT palatable for me. Before this, there were 2 pieces I didn’t care for much: Uni (sea urchin) and Saba (mackerel). Now there is a third.


And now for the statement that will rule out most wannabes: the rolls were meh. At Shiro’s they are a grudging concession to the hipsters that just LOVE sushi but “…don’t eat any of that raw stuff” (unless, of course, it swims in spicy mayonnaise.) Every roll we had was made with haste and sans imagination. Knowing that this is what makes up most Americans’ idea of sushi, if it purely makes up yours, then you will be disappointed.  Shiro’s effort is put into sashimi, where it belongs. And oh, how amazing the result.

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Sushi Dokku - 2014-12-13

by Foodbitch 13. December 2014 00:25

Who of you missed Sushi Wabi? What those people did with rolls made one crave them much more than was logical for that sort of thing. The dragon. The spicy octopus. The scallop. I stumbled upon the restaurant by accident in 1998. One of my very first sushi experiences. And like a heroin junkie, I have been trying to recreate that first high forever since. Ladies and gentlemen, Sushi Dokku is that recreation.

Given our advancing age, the female and I usually spend a Friday evening eating sushi take-out while glued to the projection screen. Long gone are the days of dancing into 4AM at Pasha on a Bandaleros Tuesday. But the quality of sushi falls well into the 90th percentile and given the dramatically reduced cost of eating in, we consider it a wash. Last week was a remarkable exception.

Tucked into a well-worn corner of the Randolph corridor, Sushi Dokku is, perhaps, 2 times the size of Sushi Wabi. This fact aside, all the service troubles that plagued Wabi are in full effect. The pace of dinner can best be described as glacial. But so worth it. The service does the best it can given the chefs’ speed. Even though our server spoke very little English, he delivered what we ordered and was helpful with suggestions. Suggestions are important given that Dokku’s menu is also somewhat larger than its predecessor's.

Why do I keep stressing Sushi Wabi? Because I regard the restaurant as the pinnacle to which modern sushi should aspire. Spicy tuna, for example, was once the receptacle of refuse. The Japanese that brought forth sushi onto this new continent in the early 60s thought it wise to accomplish 2 goals: get rid of sinewy tail-flesh and give the early hipsters something edgy of which to be proud. So they mixed what would have otherwise been garbage with mayonnaise and spicy sauce and PRESTO! One had a whole new dinner entrée. This brilliant tradition continues to this day at places like Naniwa and others where the palefaces are scorned but Sushi Wabi voted an incredible dissent. They used amazing cuts for their rolls. The finest fish-flesh no matter how one ordered it. And Sushi Dokku follows suit. If 2 rounds of servers can be considered proper sourcing, Dokku is 66.66% of Wabi’s DNA. All that’s missing is one partner out of three. I couldn’t taste the gap. And I doubt you will.

Without Wabi, Randolph had a void that was not filled by anything east of Halsted. Into the breach, dear friends, comes Sushi Dokku and, if you have the time, it is amazing.

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STD Sushi 2013-01-10

by Foodbitch 10. January 2013 03:25

Good sushi is easy to identify. A good sushi restaurant is not. For better or for worse, both the yummy fish flesh and the places serving it has become commoditized. Although it may seem counterintuitive, I use the ubiquitous Spicy Tuna Roll as my barometer. And STD delivers.

It started out as the repository of wasted flesh. “Why bother?” the Japanese elitists thought. The dumb Americans are adding spicy mayo. They won’t be able to taste anything. Except when cuts get too close to the tail, the white sinews become ubiquitous. Some restaurants had even taken to grinding up the “sushi” so as to help the customer chew what would otherwise serve as dental floss. Tendon floss. Hehehe…gross. But a restaurant that uses quality tuna even though it’s drenched in spicy mayonnaise is a quality cop indeed. STD Sushi is the most remarkable achievement since Sushi Wabi and even Japonais. Below are some must-haves.

  1. H.I.Victory Sashimi – The sushi world is so stuck on rolls that ordering sashimi is so quaint it’s almost retro. However, the sushi chefs at STD have captured a strain of knowledge from a time before the latency and reverse transcribed it into some infectiously beautiful creations that are now a part of the restaurant’s DNA. Don’t try to resist these macro masterpieces. Your defenses will be useless.

  3. Giant Gonorrhea Roll – Its pieces are as soft as gonococci and emit a gentle color-sustaining hue, even in low light. I was infected right away by the spice and burn sensation even though only 20% of men risk infection upon first bite but luckily, more than 60% of women can expect the same.

  5. Spicy Syphilis Sixplosion – soft and gummatous, but bold and flavorful, the Spicy SS harks back to a simpler time, when the flavor was transmitted strictly through the mucous membranes. And what a flavor it is. The early stages may be painless but after a period of latency, the diner’s nose can explode with the heat of 1000 wasabis but the heat doesn’t go away. I am told that the chefs, having studied in Tuskegee, know how to make it stop but refuse – and we must endure.

  7. Herpetic Simplex Skewer – Once infected with their taste, you cannot but help experience persistent and recurring cravings. A craving that can be sated but not cured. Don’t resist the deliciousness. Call all your friends and gorge! Then upload it to YouTube. Guaranteed to go viral.

  9. Crabs Tempura – Crusted crustacean sitting on a bed of lice and curly crab grass, accompanied by a thick white sauce for your dipping pleasure. Not as overwhelming as the others, the Crabs don’t bog you down with craving – they just ping you on occasion. A little itch to let you know they’re there.

And so a new year ushers in a new sushi restaurant. The brief bump on the road to openings will not constrain the determined mouth from partaking of the offering. Sushi is, after all, one of nature’s perfect foods. Whether served naked or with culinary jewelry, there is nothing like the pleasure of that first morsel of gently cool sashimi melting on one’s tongue. What began in the 1960s as an experiment to fill the cargo holds of Japanese airliners is a national phenomenon that seems boundless in its scope. A roll is like a tunnel. And at its end there is no light, no hope for cure. Just darkness. For which we are the vector. 

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Naniwa 2009-11-11

by foodbitch 12. November 2009 19:37

For the last 12 years, Naniwa in River North has had some of the city’s best sashimi and its worst rolls. We always thought this was Bobby-San’s punishment for stupid Americans who thought they liked sushi but were afraid to order it without mayo. Well sir, whatever changed your mind, after more than a decade, we appreciate it.

In their 12 years of existence, Naniwa has come a long way. It has always been common knowledge that a spicy tuna roll was the restaurant’s way of getting rid of fish that didn’t make the cut, so to speak, for an order of sashimi. Belly meat is easy to turn into a delightful order. Often it’s billed as toro and sold for multiples more than regular old maguro. It melts in your mouth and is mostly worth the price. But the closer one gets to the tail of the venerable fish, the more ugly white tendons and sinews one has to cut around to keep the customer from chewing gristle. These precise navigations around unappetizing connective tissue usually makes for pieces far too small to present as stand-alone. So what to do? Being the shrewd economists that the Japanese have always been, they rolled these scraps into the now-famous tuna maki. I have no idea who was the genius that also made it spicy but I tip my hat to him.

In any case, Naniwa used to present spicy tuna rolls with not only the scraps but also, the tendons themselves. They filled it with gobs of spicy mayonnaise hoping we wouldn’t notice. We always did. Nearly all of their rolls used to follow the same discipline. Or lack thereof. It was the greatest disparity in Chicago sushi. How could a restaurant serve A+ sashimi and complement it with rolls that would make for better pet food? Thus, not wishing to be gagged by long fibers of sinew stretching down our throats but unwilling to give up the sashimi, we would routinely order sashimi delivered from Naniwa and rolls from somewhere else. Naturally, this became tedious as it involved 2 disparate arrival times, 2 delivery fees, 2 tips, etc., but the sashimi was worth it. However, in 2009, things began to change.

We first noticed the new spicy tuna roll at a table next to us when we were doing a rare eat-in at Naniwa. It looked great. Unlike the thick orange paste that looked like tuna sausage without casing and was the roll’s typical texture, this one had thick chunks of real tuna with thin layers of spicy mayo between them. Could this be true we wondered? We had to see for ourselves. You can imagine our surprise when that first morsel slid past our tongues and did not bleed out on contact. The pieces we big, fresh and gristle-free. Could it be that, after 12 years of having the city’s worst tuna rolls, the head chef actually noticed? A sushi restaurant that gives the take-home crowd sashimi just as good as that served in the dining room is a rare find. And once found, seldom abandoned. For this reason, 63.98% of my 2009 sushi budget has gone to Naniwa. I only wish it could have happened sooner.

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Kamehachi 2009-10-21

by foodbitch 21. October 2009 19:38

How does a place remain open for years and years when fewer than 10% of its tables are ever filled and dining room ineptitude can hold its own with LA’s laziest? Several ways:

1.) Brand-showroom – OK with losing money

2.) Money-laundering front

3.) Successful daddy schooling loser sonny

1: brand-showroom works well for Nokia and Levi’s but not too many people go to a restaurant to browse. 2 and 3: it’s kinda hard to launder in the days of credit cards and given how long Kamehachi Old Town has been around, I’d say the offspring are either entrenched or homeless. Whatever. Kamehachi Streeterville is here to stay.

Upon entering the restaurant, one detects a faint trace of a disagreeable odor that seems like a mixture of spoiled fish and industrial cleaning solvent. Not good for a sushi restaurant. Getting seated can take several minutes and having a waiter notice can take multiples more. In all fairness, today, the waiter was prompt, polite and attentive and did an overall excellent job. However, considering that I used to work a block away and spent a fair number of lunches waiting on the waiter I can safely tell you that this experience is atypical.

When Kamehachi Streeterville first opened, getting a sashimi plate could (and did) take 45 minutes+. My party walked out before. Now, getting sashimi, 6 pieces of nigiri and 4 rolls took less than 15. Yes, nothing says PIG like when they slide over the table next to you so everything can fit. For two people. Shut up. The point is that it came, was timely and above all, GOOD! With a major exception. The tuna sashimi sucked great pacific garbage patch.

Dear Kamehachi, when one orders a sashimi plate, please do not think that you will make up in quantity what you lack in quality. Mind you that all I know about this I read in Sushi Economy but the closer a cut gets to the tail, the more of those icky white sinews and tendons one has to chew. Fish gristle is not a good thing. Tuna should melt in your mouth. I looked at the beautiful, deep red cuts of tuna nigiri at the table next to us and drooled. Why not use such cuts with ours? Would this refuse not be better camouflaged in a spicy mayo roll than a sashimi platter? You bring great shame to your family Streeterville-san.

So as not to end on a bad note, the summer rolls with spicy chili oil are the best rolls on the menu (the best of many menus) and shrimp tempura is battered and fried all over not leaving you with a raw tail to swallow like at some places. (Yes, of course I eat the tails and so should you.) And the rest of the sashimi was good too. If this experience is now the norm at Kamehachi Streeterville then I guess I can start coming again. Just get rid of that strange smell.

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Japonais 2007-01-27

by foodbitch 28. January 2007 13:44

Dear Japonais,

On January 27th, in the year of our Lord and Savior, 2007, I attempted to have dinner at the restaurant. Being an experienced Japonais diner, I made reservations nearly a month in advance. One would think that such diligence would escalate one’s priority past the walk-in crowd. Maybe last year.

As the clock swept well past reservation time, I checked with the host several times and was told after each one that our table was “paying” which presumably meant that it would be available shortly. After 50 minutes of “paying,” my companion and I gave up on the hope of a fine dinner and decided to eat at the bar. This decision had consequences to which we’ll come back in a paragraph.

Having lived in LA for most of 2006, I have become accustomed to dining room ineptitude. I even forgive most of their infractions just as I would a misbehaving child, contenting myself to an eye-roll and audible sigh. But I hold Japonais to a higher standard. One does not need to be an operations guru to know that a 15 minute delay is uncomfortable but tolerable, 30 is annoying and beyond is simply unacceptable. One also must not blame the table-hoarding patrons as it is not their job to manage flow. When diners are taking their sweet time and reservations are crowding in, suck it up and buy the hoarders a bottle of cheap champagne (at the bar) and watch how quickly they’ll high-tail it out of their seats.

Now, we must re-visit the unfortunate consequences of the bar’s abbreviated menu.

In LA, revelers are limited in their alcoholic intake because of the inevitable drive home. A person can easily pull a Paris Hilton by having a margarita on an empty stomach. Therefore, in Chicago, one is forced to capitalize on the ability to drink to the point of dementia and take a cab home. My companion’s and my alcoholic intake, although impressive, is tempered by the size of the evening’s dinner, however, to limit ourselves this day seemed like a colossal waste of a Saturday night in the city. And so, there we sat, angrily drinking at the bar with nothing but a few rolls to distract our respective digestive systems from metabolizing the free-flow of alcohol. My memory failed somewhere during the fourth bite of the Spicy Mono Roll but I am told that we had gone to several places hence.

As my Sunday fell casualty to Saturday’s hangover, I have no one to blame but you for not keeping my reservation time and interfering with a precise and calculated formula for alcoholism and thus ruining my weekend. Although your food prevents you from making the full descent into restaurant mediocrity, your operations have certainly deployed your landing gear.

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About the author

FB is the CTO of an entertainment company and, these days, writes much more in prose than he ever wrote in code. Which is a good thing. Because people expect quality from code. Meal me:

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