Happiness is sitting outside enjoying a cool breeze blowing through your hair. For me, I have to settle for the breeze blowing across my head since I’m bald. Happiness is watching friends and couples going about their way, smiles on their faces, laughter in the air about them. Happiness is having a career that you love and a supervisor who isn’t a mad man making you hate your job. Happiness is having options for whatever dining delight your stomach may desire. Bliss is walking into a sushi bar and slowly dragging yourself out after you have been right proper stuffed. Rapture is having that cigarette afterwards, even though you really don’t smoke, but you have the imaginary smoke to celebrate great taste.
There is one Japanese sushi bar in Oak Park, Illinois, that I enjoy a lot. I have lost track of the number of times that I have been to Sushi House in the Lake Street and Marion Street block. So I figured I would seek out another sushi bar option, not necessarily in the pedestrian-crowded section of Oak Park. And what should I find as a suggested sushi bar nearby but Sen Sushi at 814 S. Oak Park Avenue. Walking distance from my favourite Brazilian cafe, Taste of Brazil, I am surprised that I had passed the sushi bar and never glanced at it long enough to register its presence. Then again, it does not have any glaring “grab you” indicators. Situated between a market and some other establishment, it tends to blend with what is on either side. However, food enthusiasts like myself have a tendency to find hidden gems. With décor of hard wood and everything having clean, straight lines, I grabbed a seat at the bar, pulled out my camera to get ready to photography my experience, and looked up to find that several people had sat at the bar with me rather than at the seats along the long wall. Subarashii — that would be “fantastic.”
Since it was during the day, I was okay with water for my beverage. Scanning the menu, I saw a soup that I wanted to try. There were also two maki rolls that I figured I would indulge. With the weather being moderately chilly, but not frosty yet, and the trees in vibrant autumn colours, I said to myself that the squash bisque with crab would be my soup of choice. Whose idea was it to put that soup on the menu? Not only was it tasty enough for me to want another bowl, but I was transported briefly to Hudson River stretch of New York around Poughkeepsie. Don’t ask me why but I could only think of trees with bursts of reds, yellows, oranges, and browns with their reflections in the clear Hudson River, and a cornucopia of squash, pumpkin, spices, and gingerbread men begging to be picked up. The soup was neither a victim of heavy-handed spices, nor was it an attempt at an autumn soup. Each spoonful reminded me of why autumn is perhaps my favourite season of the year. And to say that the addition of crab to the soup was only an added bonus would be an insult. A bit reminiscent of lobster bisque, the chunks of real crab in the squash bisque made everything absolutely beautiful in the Land of Food.
I had two sushi rolls. One was a spider roll. This futomaki was battered deep-fried soft shell crab with chipped cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts, and spicy mayonnaise, rolled inside nori and sushi rice. First, I had the crab in the squash bisque, and then I had it soft shell style in the sushi roll. Kon’nichiwa — that would be “hello.” One thing I always try to note or detect — with my mock sushi snobbery — is the freshness of the sushi. Is there a muddy hint? Is there a fishy tone? Does all of the seafood taste like cod? Is the texture rubbery? I am happy to report that the spider roll brought about a smile that I didn’t bother to hide. The other roll was a tiger maki. I must admit that the recipe of shrimp tempura, kampyo, spicy mayonnaise, salmon, kabayaki sauce, red tobiko, and black tobiko resulted in a creation that was worthy. Such love on a serving block deserves an encore and trust me when I say that I shall return to show my appreciation just the same. Both rolls were a bit more substantial than I thought they were when the server first placed them before me. Ah, but I had forgotten about the soup that I had slurped in the true Japanese fashion — loudly and without shame, for to be prim about such a tasty delight would have been offensive.
The prices are what you would expect to pay at any really great sushi bar. Perhaps on a Friday or a Saturday night I shall have to see if their drink menu warrants a rave review. I can say with authority that the soup and the sushi were big on my list of things that bring about happiness. Even with the sushi bar filling up shortly after I had arrived — and got ready to start photographing my food — the seating and the ambient lighting on the inside, along with a respectful tone from the dining patrons, makes Sen Sushi a fantastic place for relaxation while eating, as well as great dating venue. Being a narcissist, I can attest to the latter, although I appreciate the former. The service from the wait staff may be a bit off-putting, but once you engage them in conversation, you find that the airs are just a façade because the floor staff is actually quite conversational, especially after you ask for recommendations. I was happy not to be rushed, although there were others coming in to have a seat for some in-house dining. They understand that they have small real estate, but they also apparently appreciate patrons’ business. So after an arigatō here and a sayōnara there, I was on my way down the street, missing my steps on the curb and speaking Japanese to several of the Oak Park ilk who probably thought I was making fun of any Asian language. They probably didn’t understand that happiness is enjoying an ethnic meal so much that you become a part of the ethnicity.