“Exciting,” “charming” and “a great bargain” are not descriptors that I often apply to any new restaurant in the West Loop, and especially not in combination. But Tamu, the new sushi spot from chef B.K. Park, checks all of those boxes. The small spot on Washington Boulevard focuses on hand rolls, moderately-priced omakase, and refreshing Japanese highball-style cocktails, and is certain to become a destination for fish lovers.

Park is a well-known quantity in Chicago’s restaurant scene, and also is behind neighborhood sushi spot Juno in Lincoln Park and high-end omakase palace Mako, just a few blocks away on Lake. Ever since he opened Mako, Park and his sushi chef Joon Kim have been talking about opening a restaurant focused on hand rolls (temaki). “Hand rolls are fun,” explains Park. “At Juno, whenever I pass a hand roll over the counter, the customer smiles.”

At Tamu, hand rolls are served at a small sushi bar in the front. Customers fill out sheets with their selections (most are $6 to $7), and the rolls are made by the chefs behind the counter and handed off to the patrons one at a time. It’s an interactive experience with an element of spectatorship; one of the most fun things about omakase dining, but for a fraction of the price. Most of the flavors will be familiar to diners (spicy tuna served with masago and soy-marinated salmon served with sweet onion, for example), but there are a few surprises. One roll showcases smoked salmon skin, made in house with a combination of three different chiles (Korean chile paste, Japanese chile oil, and sriracha), while another features candied anchovies, made using dried anchovies marinated in sweet, gluten-free soy sauce, and sautéed until crispy.

The key to a great hand roll isn’t just good fish. “Nigiri and maki are all about the rice,” explains Park. “Temaki is all about the quality of the seaweed. We use the best seaweed available.” The “one at a time” approach also keeps things extra crisp; larger portions are served in “roll your own” plates that allows the customer to construct their own temaki while keeping everything crisp until the moment you bite into it.  The main bar also offers some side dishes like tuna tartare with a soy-cured quail egg, a truffle scented daily rotating crudo and spicy garlic edamame.

While hand rolls are (literally) front and center at Tamu, the restaurant also offers an omakase option in a rear dining room. A $45 lunch omakase offers more than 10 courses and can be served from top to bottom in under an hour. Dinner omakase (which starts this Friday) is $95 and will offer walk-in options for about half the seats in the dining room. Part of the reason for the lower price is that the omakase at Tamu only offers nigiri, and also the fact that it’s a shorter experience allows the restaurant to seat more diners.

Tamu means “multiple dreams” and the restaurant reflects this, with three different spaces offering three different experiences. While this can be a bit confusing for diners at first, aim for the front of the restaurant for hand rolls, the back for omakase, and the small seating area in the middle for “kaisendon”, Japanese plates of fish and rice served with small side dishes.

Park hopes that Tamu will be an approachable option for regulars in the neighborhood. “People can have a few hand rolls if they like and go on their way, or they can have a longer experience,” says Park. “Sometimes after people have omakase they stay and have a hand roll at the bar before they leave.” 804 W. Washington Blvd., Fulton Market