Unless I hear the words, "You must go eat here," straight from an in-the-know foodie's mouth, it's tough for me to choose which new sushi house to frequent. There are just so many peppering the streets and, after all, Kaze Sushi is a three-minute walk from my house.
But, I got really lucky a few weeks ago during a meeting I was conducting with a local filmmaker. We'd met up at a small coffeehouse and were discussing the potential of his upcoming film when the conversation was quickly diverted to food (of course). Who cares about making movies when there's food to gossip about?
He started blathering on and on about Cafe Blossom, 608 W. Barry Ave., actually proclaiming that this teeny-weeny Japanese restaurant in Lakeview had the best sushi he'd ever tried. I'd never heard of it (but again, there are just so many), but after he raved for about 20 minutes, I knew had to give it a go—especially when I found out it was a BYOB and barely bigger than my living room.
Cut to: me, dead alone in Cafe Blossom's speck of a dining area stuffing my face with tuna tatiki, perfect, thumb-size slivers of pan-seared tuna tucked into a bed of lightly dressed greens, and piles of emerald green, sesame-seed and sugar-covered gome-ea (this is the very best way to eat spinach). I'd actually ordered far too much for my now-moaning belly to handle, but did that stop me from diving into a perfectly cooked piece of sweet unagi and an especially well-prepared shrimp tempura roll? Of course not.
Per usual I had arrived just as the doors opened for dinner (I'm just such a crowd avoider), and managed to have a nice chat with the very friendly owners, Bola and Marka Badarch. I found out that this was their first venture into the very saturated restaurant industry (but they were so excited to finally have their own place), when somehow, mid-conversation, I managed to get a small portion of the house specialty, ika sansa, thrown my way.
This beautifully marinated chopped squid appetizer could be one of the most special bites of food that I've put in my mouth this year. All I could think was, keep on talking, Marka. And as for you, Bola, well you can just keep on tossing out the bite-size samples. Unlike some other sushi joints, absolutely nothing in the place reeked of fish; it was more like little swallows of what a fish should taste like: pure, clean, untainted ocean.
Was it the best sushi I've ever had? I can definitely say no. But was it cheap, delicious and made with a whole lot of love? You bet! The whole-lotta-love part could have been my $5 bottle of vino talking, but the cheap and delicious part is a definite. I promise. The Final Rave: Always follow your nose when it comes to fish. Basically, if it smells fishy, it probably ain't too fresh. It's as simple as that.
Keep It Going:
Read it: Restaurant.com
This awesome website touts half-price gift certificates to restaurants all over the USA, including Sushi X, a dark haven with especially rewarding shrimp tempura. Skip the wasabi-mashed potatoes, though; it's just a weird combination.
Do it: The Chicago Sushi Meetup Group
These fish lovers take their sushi seriously, and you can join them on June 3 when they head to Wildfish, a popular Japanese suburban haunt. Wow. There are groups for everything.
Eat it: Sushi Wabi
A longtime local favorite, this eatery is always packed, and rightly so. Even if you abhor the sometimes-trendy sushi scene, this place is worth the wait; especially with sake in hand.
Get crazy with it: The Tokyo Food Page If you happen to make it across the pond to Tokyo, make sure to bookmark this indispensable link. There are candid reviews of over a thousand restaurants, all with photos, as well as an insanely detailed food gallery.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.