901 W. Weed
At TOKYO 21 they’ve pimped out a stylin’ room lined with pachinko machines and supermodel types, and the Osaka-style sushi is similarly flashy: pristinely fresh fish and rice in a square mold sprinkled with flakes of gold. Sushi standards metamorphose: chirashi (sashimi on vinegared rice) is deconstructed to become a mushroomy rice tower in a Zen garden of flower-shaped fish slices dotted with rainbow-colored roe; lobster roll surprises with mango and cilantro. A trio of shrimp (one tempura, one marinated in green tea, and one rather like shrimp de jonghe) was OK if not a KO, but beef kalbi–marinated in Coke and Sprite–were surprisingly flavorful. Our server, a sake savant, guided us through a fascinating flight that peaked with Divine Droplets, a superbly mellow variety that was sweet without being sugary and as complex as a good white wine. End with the dessert kaiseki plate, a tour de force that might include chocolate mousse with pu-erh tea and lavender petals, a fruit terrine of Riesling and candied orchids, or whatever else the pastry chef thinks will blow your mind. –David Hammond
200 N. Columbus Dr.
A press release for the Fairmont Hotel’s new sushi-centric spot, ARIA, promised “horse mackerel served in a snow globe,” but when we tried to order it our waitress had no idea what we were talking about. Forced to go a less fanciful route, we nevertheless found the maki and nigiri top-notch: the softshell crab tempura roll was spicy, crunchy, and creamy all at once; fatty bluefin tuna tasted buttery and rich; and the octopus nigiri had a mild flavor and only slightly rubbery texture. Nonsushi items, though, weren’t as successful. Peking duck-maitake mushroom pot stickers were great in concept but too oily in execution. And the Thai chicken flatbread, with sesame-glazed chicken, peanuts, cilantro pesto, mozzarella, Thai basil, and finger hot peppers, wasn’t even as good as the Thai number at California Pizza Kitchen. There’s a fine selection of sake; my dinner partner chose one called the Root of Innocence and declared its lemongrassy taste delicate and breezy, not at all tannic. Service was friendly but lackadaisical, even though the bar was nowhere near crowded. –Anne Ford
Triad Sushi Lounge
1933 S. Indiana
Located in the explosively gentrifying South Loop (which will no doubt be a bit trendier by the time this sentence ends), TRIAD SUSHI LOUNGE is low lit and lurid, with bamboo curtains and a VIP room for an extra 50 bucks. The menu is large, if on the pricey side, with items appealing to all but the most militant vegan. We started with a luscious, savory mound of shiitake, oyster, and button mushrooms sauteed in sake and garlic. Gomae, spinach in sesame sauce, fared less well; even worse, an oyster shooter with quail egg had a slightly off flavor. But grilled Chilean sea bass was sumptuous, and slightly browned Asari tuna, pepper-crusted and served with wasabi mayo, was good though standard. There’s lots o’ maki here, including a tasty roll with tempura crunch inside and many mayo squiggles outside. Every piece on the chef’s-choice sushi-sashimi platter was fresh and flavorful, though side orders of white tuna and red snapper nigiri weren’t as good. To drink there are premium sakes by the glass or carafe, among them Komekome, an excellent sake starter, kind of like a pinot grigio with personality, and Hakushika, brewed in the American Rockies. And on weekends–karaoke! –David Hammond
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.