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So Fresh And So Clean, Clean

Lots of wine meets lots of flavor, thanks to Indie Cafe's wise decision to keep tempura in its place.
Monday Jan 15, 2007.     By Zinny Fandel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Edamame while we wait.
photo: Zinny Fandel
My French teacher used to tell our class (in English, mais oui): expect nothing and you won't be disappointed. It and the phrase pommes frites are about the only tidbits I retained from my years of studying the language. But as those high school memories shift from years to decades old, that all-important lesson is fading, too. Case in point: dinner at Indie Cafe, 5951 N. Broadway St.

It didn't take much convincing to rope my friend DD into coming along. We were both long overdue for some wine-filled conversation. Paired with cheap sushi (and the option of Thai), we had the makings of a night made in heaven.

I had heard plenty about the Japanese-Thai hybrid since its early 2005 opening, and arrived with plenty of expectations, nearly all of which fell under the decor category. I had heard such glowing remarks about the restaurant that I expected a glowing interior: crisp white walls, airy openness, honey-colored wood, hell, even a single stylized flower on each table.

What we arrived to was a hefty wait in a cramped space outfitted in materials that would top my shopping list if I was redecorating my basement on a shoestring budget: flimsy carpeting, over-the-top gauzy drapes and white walls that seem to be waiting for some sort of colorful adornment. I have to admit, I was skeptical. But the evening that followed proved two things: 1) Madame was correct. 2) I am a snob.

DD and I sat on a window bench to wait for our table, and I immediately launched into a comparative rant. "If only we were at Coast Sushi Bar...they'd open this Sauvignon Blanc and let us sip away. Sigh."

Oh, doubting Zinny: Not only was our bottle of 2005 Cartlidge & Browne Sauvignon Blanc opened without so much as an inquiry on our part, but we were brought complimentary edamame as well. Now that's my kind of 30-minute wait.

We had done a fair bit of debating over what to drink while browsing the aisles of Binny's: It was getting cold, but the idea of pairing red with sushi just didn't settle well with us. Three sips of the citrusy wine later, the idea of red just seemed heavy and cumbersome.

Not too many tempura crunchies.
photo: Zinny Fandel
We were seated fairly quickly and given oddly hip silver cases that contained the sizeable menu. We decided to mix the cuisines, sticking with sushi for dinner but starting with some Thai favorites, an order of fresh spring rolls (in this case cut in maki-style slices) and a $3.50 bowl of tom yum soup that floated a surprising number of shrimp, considering the price.

The food: tasty. Zinny's complaints: zero. And then Indie Cafe showed up Zinny's snobiness in a pretty big way. It nails maki on the head. As my sushi-eating experiences shift from years to decades old, I find myself straying farther and farther away from maki. The more places I go the more I find that, aside from the de rigueur tuna roll, everything comes doused in tempura—tempura shrimp, tempura veggies, tempura crunchies—to the point that the fish becomes a near-tasteless second-tier ingredient.

Wary as usual, we ordered nigiri and sashimi (all quite fresh, with well-sized pieces) with one exception: the Santana roll, a $12 order of tuna and scallion tempura, finished with avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, cucumber, spicy sauce and lime. It was garden-fresh, light on the deep-fried grease and seemed a partner-in-crime with our crisp white wine, which was beginning to run a little low.

DD, being the superstar that she is, whipped out a reserve bottle, a Malbec she had bought from Trader Joe's that somehow escaped consumption at her New Year's Eve party. Sure, it was red. But at this point in the night, I was firmly channeling Madame, keeping those pesky disappointments somewhere farther south...somewhere closer to Coast.

Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.


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