When some of my university classmates who were from Chicago used to say that there are people who have lived here all of their lives and have not gone to all part of the city, I thought it was a far-reaching statement. After a few weekends of passing through several parts of the North Side where I live, I am often finding myself gasping at thinking I have discovered some unchartered section of Chicago. Then a little later I drive through another section of the North Side that has quaint little boutiques and cafes, never thinking that I would find anything down a residential street aside from houses and apartments. And would you believe that a few blocks east of the my doctor’s office is a Japanese sushi bar that I never knew existed? I mean, I have only been going to that doctor’s location for over ten years.
Chicago’s Ravenswood neighbourhood boasts a lot of swanky boutique eateries. However, most of them are along Montrose, Irving Park, and Damen. However, if you find yourself going down side streets to avoid traffic congestion, you may wonder upon a cafe, coffee shop, bakery, or boutique that you would not otherwise see. This was the case with me going East instead of West from my doctor’s office and suddenly eyeing Fin Sushi Bar at 1742 W. Wilson Avenue. What I had mistaken for a closed business was indeed a restaurant establishment that was open for business. Well, I had to try it out.
With plenty of windows, lots of light, and everything having straight lines throughout the restaurant, there is a spacious ambiance about it. There isn’t the Stanley Kubrick effect or Zen garden feel that you find in most sushi lounges. I went on a Sunday afternoon when the restaurant was practically empty. The host seemed politely dismissive and the server had a Stepford demeanor. Once the camera came out, that all changed, though.
Miso yaki soup. House salad. Thai iced tea. Dragon roll. Spider roll.
The miso yaki soup was nice, more for a milder palate than I had expected. The menu had listed the soup as being spicy. Even with jalapeno in it, the taste was lacking to the point of bland. With brocoli, carrots, and green beans in it, the soup seemed like an experiment than an experience. The house salad was visually stunning, blooming with vibrant reds, purples, and greens. The ginger dressing was more of a hint. You knew that it was there because the menu said so, but it wasn’t there. The few slices of strawberry and the radish shreds reminded me of a salad I had at a sushi bar in Oak Park, Illinois. I reminisced. Where things started to make sense in terms of the flavours being so faint was with the inclusion of Thai dishes. Yes, I had a Thai iced tea, but I had an “Aha!” moment. Granted the iced tea was a major bonus, there was now the fact that I faced as it related to Fin Sushi Bar being a Pan-Asian restaurant more than a Japanese sushi bar only. There was a brief flash of what I thought were Thai dishes (e.g., pad thai, spicy basil, and pad see ew). I guess if other restaurants are pandering to a Pan-Asian want and you can’t beat them, then join them.
Where it really clicked that Fin Sushi Bar was more of a neighbourhood restaurant was with the sushi. Beautiful in presentation, no doubt about it, but everything was all sixes and nines with the taste. The dragon roll was excessively saccharine and the spider roll simply had me questioning what was wrong with my sense of taste. The texture of both felt like the chewy sensation you get from pre-packaged sushi or from letting fresh sushi sit in the refrigerator overnight. With with the whole experience at Fin Sushi Bar, all I could do was hum.
For those with a milder palate, Fin Sushi Bar may be a great entry into trying sushi, maki rolls, and even dabbling in some Thai cuisine without going to any of the nearby Thai restaurants. The service was decent. Still I could not put my finger on the atmosphere of stiffness and distance. The lack of flavour in the dishes really left me quizzical. Then again, in that particular neighbourhood, I imagine those who have a tendency to put on a performance if anything spicy makes them red in the face are the more frequent customers. I doubt the restaurant wants to offend those patrons. Perhaps I will have to give them a chance in a year or two. In the meantime, I started at Fin Sushi Bar. I finished elsewhere.