Five years ago when I wrote about the supposed embiggening powers of sannakji (aka “Korean Viagra,” aka recently dispatched and dismembered octopus still wriggling and suckering with residual nerve activity), I was mildly disappointed that the pair I purchased at HMart didn’t have the same vitality as the ones I’d been served in South Korea. Nothing’s ever as good as it is at its source, right?
Still, I wondered why, with so many Korean-operated sushi restaurants around town, none of them served the critters. Sannakji is one of those quintessential shock-value dishes that generate a ton of Instagram and YouTube traffic. I’ve said it before: sannakji’s pleasures are more tactile than anything else. Apart from their alleged ability to increase staying power (they’re fed to combatants in Korean bullfights), it’s unthinkable to ingest the squirming tentacles without copious numbers of soju chasers. It’s a party on a plate, and seems like an obvious moneymaker. The answer, as it usually is in these cases is: look to the suburbs.
A video posted by @mikesula on
What I didn’t know was that Shiroi Sushi, a small family-run strip mall spot in Glenview, had been serving them straight from saltwater tanks for years*, along with sea cucumbers, sea squirts, and whole fluke, flensed alive, Ramsay Bolton-style and served on the bone so fresh the fish is still flopping. Yes, it’s disturbing. It’s also delicious.
My table of five ordered a medium-sized fish for $120, and along with our sannakji ($33) we had a feast of epic proportions. That’s because as long as you keep the soju flowing, the Wang family—father, mother, and son—bring out all manner of extras: makimono, fried smelt (with roe inside), pajeon, smoked mackerel, whole fried mackerel, abalone porridge (juk), kimchi (of course), as well as the sesame oil and gochujang you’ll need to dredge your sashimi and octopus through.
It’s a huge production with a magnificent finale. Once you’re finished with your sashimi, the bones disappear into the kitchen and what reemerges is a roiling spicy stew fortified with the meaty bones.
Shiroi Sushi, 9717 N. Milwaukee Ave, Glenview, 847-965-4166
*But Joyce Park (aka @chicagoreanfood) knew.