Of all my years living in Chicago, I tend to forget that we get at least two angry snow storms that render the city almost helpless. A friend and I had made plans to meet at a Japanese restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois. It was not far from where she lives and it was on my way home from the far West Suburbs. However, on the night we decided that we would meet, there was a forecast for a heavy dump of snow. I knew that I was going to have to pass through Oak Park anyway, as was my friend, so we kept our date. Two hours after our planned meeting time, we made it. Once we arrived, we had time to sit and commiserate about how foolish people tend to drive in bad weather and the number of accidents we witnessed on the way because of speed racers and anxious drivers trying to weave in and out of traffic on roads that were heaped with snow.
Sushi House at 1107 Lake Street in downtown Oak Park, Illinois, has been rated the best sushi bar in the Western Suburbs. Not that I would miss the opportunity to sample what was on the menu, making the restaurant a midway point between my commute from work to home was perfect for sitting long enough to let the storm pass and all of the accidents happen without me crawling for an additional two more hours to get home. With the restaurant being filled the way that it was, perhaps Sushi House was a central spot for a lot of pedestrians and commuters.
We started with gyoza. Originally a Chinese dish and made popular in Japan, these dumplings were a wonderful start without filling us up too fast. I had gyoza at a Thai restaurant with my childhood best friend and loved the appetizer then, so I had wondered how they would taste at Sushi House. Fried dumplings stuffed with ground pork, cabbage, green onions, garlic, ginger, and served with ponzu sauce and chives, we worked our chopsticks on this appetizer to complete satisfaction.
Once the table had cleared of the gyoza, it was then time for us to really begin. We started with three rolls. The first was a spicy, crunchy roll. This shrimp tempura with crunchy crumbs and masago on the outside was fantastic. Spicy yet not to the point of making you feel like a dragon, this was a hit that we were glad we did not miss.
The next maki roll that we ate was unagi. Barbecue eel and cucumber had a yum factor that made us forget about slithering eels. This is a common maki roll that I order whenever I got to sushi bars and when it is done correctly, the dish really shines. Many people wince when they hear that someone is eating eel, as if the delicacy is gobbled raw. No, eel is cooked and once you have some, you will be surprised to find yourself coming back for more. I recommend getting fresh water eel in your maki, though.
Just to do something different, we had sweet potato rolls. I have eaten sweet potatoes like regular baked potatoes. I have had sweet potatoes cut and fried like French fries. My mother bakes the best sweet potato pies, period. And for those who argue, they simply do not want to admit that nine out of ten people say Ma Williams bakes the top sweet potato pies in the world, and the extra one person feels the same way but has been paid to lie. But sweet potato sushi is in a class of its own. When done perfectly, the consistency is that of yellowtail fish and the taste is out of this world.
Not to be done, we ordered a Godzilla roll. Shrimp tempura, tobiko, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, crunchy tempura outside with wasabi mayonnaise sauce comes as anything but the vicious monster that terrorizes the megalopolis of Tokyo endlessly. One thing I will add is that you will growl like Godzilla while stuffing your jaws with this delicacy. [Insert growl and clawing.] I wanted to smack the table, but with a restaurant full of patrons, there was no way I was going to indulge such foolishness because the roll was so blinking delicious.
As a final sushi dish, we settled on a plate of Chicago Fire. Rare spicy tuna wrapped in seaweed, lightly battered, cooked, and dipped in spicy sauce, there was a bit of a tart kick and a spicy punch that made this dish incredible on the tongue. We were wowed thoroughly. Granted the Chicago Fire is not the most visually stunning menu item, it is very much a representation of Chicago — it is just damn good regardless.
For a wrap-up, we both ordered dessert. My friend ordered a Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake that had enough of a hint of Bailey’s in it to let you know that they did not use some flavouring from a bottle, but not enough to render you the village idiot. And I wonder if they made the cheesecake on site because the texture was not like that you get from cheesecakes ordered from participating bakeries — where the edges of the cheesecake are not quite as creamy any more. I ordered a chocolate lava cake, which was warm, moist devils food filled with melted chocolate. Having been spoiled by a downtown tourist trap — that shall remain nameless — I was expecting more melted, bittersweet chocolate. But the lava cake with the fist size scoop of vanilla ice cream was perfect.
The atmosphere at Sushi House is relaxing. Usually on Friday nights there is live jazz. Unfortunately, the snow resulted in cancellation of this evening’s jazz set. There will be other Friday nights, nevertheless. The price is stiff, but that is to be expected for outstanding sushi and Japanese cuisine. The service was also top. After we finished, the roads were clearer and the snow had gone on about its way leaving a few breaks in the clouds. You have to love violent weather in Chicago that always ends on a pleasing note almost immediately afterwards. Next time you are in Oak Park or in the vicinity, stop by Sushi House and discover why it has been named the best sushi bar in the Western Suburbs.