Photo: Anna Knott
No matter how much Japanese chefs wow diners with small plates and robata grill thrills, the sushi obsession rages on.
This spring, you could almost hear the chopsticks clicking impatiently, waiting for Juno (2638 N. Lincoln Ave., 872-206-8662) to open. While the menu at the Lincoln Park hot spot is chock-full of seafood shooters, pork ramen, poached lobster, and other temptations, the rolls steal the show. Picks such as the Sake Yaki—with salmon, chopped almonds, micro shiso, and Meyer lemon mayo ($15)—showcase pristine fish flown in from Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand and make it easy to get happily stuck in the maki section.
Juno is undoubtedly the big kahuna of new sushi restaurants, but Gari Sushi & Asian Bistro (2020 W. Chicago Ave., 773-486-1118) and Umai (730 S. Clark St., 312-986-8888) have also emerged as solid neighborhood spots. Umai’s dining room has a modern, lofty feel, with high ceilings and a Japanese mural; Gari’s is dimly lit and intimate. Both are fit for a come-as-you-are dinner and do a brisk takeout business. Like Juno’s, their menus extend beyond sushi (noodles, grilled morsels on skewers, and full-on entrées). But with 50-plus maki rolls each, the focus is clear.
You’ll find signature rolls with kooky names (Gari’s Love Dodo and Umai’s Sloopin) and unconventional ingredients such as berries and cantaloupe seeds. For the adventurous, there’s Gari’s Naruto ($13), a mix of spicy salmon and crunchy veggies topped with mango, a mixture of Japanese seasonings, and tempura crumbs. To carnivores’ delight, Umai’s Surf & Turf ($17) improbably and decadently combines shrimp tempura, seared beef, cream cheese, and apple. Should you wish to balance all that tempura, appealing veggie rolls—including Umai’s Beni Imo, with Hawaiian sweet potato and pickled burdock root ($11)—do the trick.
Need further proof that Chicago is cuckoo for sushi? Park your cart and belly up to Oki Sushi, the Japanese sushi bar in Mariano’s (marianos.com for locations), where certified sushi chefs craft everything from the standard California roll ($7.50) to Bori Bori Maki ($15), a state-fair-like fried banana and lobster mash-up that’s strangely addictive.
A dinner at the grocery store obviously has nothing on the Juno, Gari, and Umai experiences, but darned if that’s not some quality multitasking.