An actual sushi roll at Shiawase
  • Santina Croniser
  • An actual sushi roll at Shiawase

Shiawase means “happiness” in Japanese, according to the Lakeview restaurant’s website. The fact that the place is BYO and I could get a table without a reservation at around 7 on a Saturday made me happy. The food, though, which ranged from excellent to baffling, produced varying levels of happiness. And I still don’t know how to feel about the sushi roll that was arranged around a battery-operated plastic ice cube flashing red, blue, and green lights (the shredded radish mounded on top of it completed the look).

  • Santina Croniser

The restaurant, which replaced the all-you-can-eat sushi joint Kanok, is a small, simply decorated place with very pleasant waitstaff. Appetizers were mostly successful, especially the ahi poke: rich, buttery tuna complemented by creamy avocado and crunchy radish, lightly seasoned with spicy “special sauce” and furikake (a Japanese seasoning blend). I had trouble choosing a favorite between that and equally rich escolar cooked to rare on the robata grill, so tender it almost melted in my mouth.

Ahi poke (blue light bulbs make for terrible food photography)
  • Julia Thiel
  • Ahi poke (blue light bulbs make for terrible food photography)

With the exception of underdone, underseasoned eggplant, everything from the robata grill was good, particularly tender, nicely seasoned pork shoulder. Fresh, earthy enoki mushrooms wrapped in crisp, salty bacon turned out to be an unexpectedly lovely combination.

Robata skewers: bacon/enoki mushroom, pork shoulder, eggplant
  • Julia Thiel
  • Robata skewers: bacon/enoki mushroom, pork shoulder, eggplant

Tough, overfried calamari was the last of our appetizers to arrive, and things went downhill from there. The waitress recommended the Crystal roll, a house specialty that she said was unique because it doesn’t have rice and comes wrapped in thinly sliced radish instead of nori. I assumed the idea was to highlight the flavors of the raw fish (though if I’d noticed the roll includes crab stick, I might have thought otherwise), but if I was expecting restraint, that notion was short-lived: it arrived on a plate with the above-mentioned flashing plastic ice cube. The flavors of the tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab stick, avocado, spring leaves, and mango didn’t meld so much as muddle together, and with every bite I was left chewing on the spring leaves—which didn’t go down without a fight—feeling like a cow chewing its cud.

Crystal roll

Other recommendations included the deep-fried Rainbow Pillar, which she emphasized was not for people trying to keep their cholesterol down, and the Shiawase maki, described as healthy because it’s made with brown rice. Naturally we went for the deep-fried one, which turned out to be a true monster of a roll filled with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, cream cheese, asparagus, and avocado and topped with spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, and eel sauce. Not only was it impossible to eat the pieces in one bite, I had trouble downing some of the bigger ones in two bites. Aside from its unmanageability it was pretty good, but the best of the rolls turned out to be the simplest: spicy tuna, which wasn’t significantly different than any other spicy tuna roll I’ve had, but was well executed.

Spicy tuna (left) and Rainbow Pillar rolls
  • Julia Thiel
  • Spicy tuna (left) and Rainbow Pillar rolls

The sushi chefs at Shiawase seem to know how to handle fish, but whoever is coming up with the rolls has a flair for the dramatic that isn’t doing them any favors. Then again, Boystown tends to like things over the top, so maybe the restaurant will do just fine.

Shiawase Restaurant, 3422 N. Broadway, 773-883-8888,