CHI: Sushi Wabi

A short trip to chicago this weekend reminded me of all of the delicious eats around that city that residents take for granted every day. And this was most apparent to me when I was sitting in a rustic-chic sushihouse and swiped my chopstick through the beautiful design of sauces on the wooden block realizing it was wasabi mayo and eel sauce I had just fallen in love with. Two things that sound so simple and yet, it was at that moment that I put the chopstick in my mouth and looked across the table to see an equally huge smile did I realize why the city has achieved so many culinary stars.

We were dining at Sushi Wabi, located in the West Loop, and an area of town that can brag housing Girl & The Goat, Maude’s and just about every other amazing, noteworthy restaurant in the city. I ate at Wabi years ago before my love of sushi blossomed. I’ll admit now that my love of sushi does not compare to others and it certainly doesn’t surpass my love of ….well, any other cuisine but it’s grown in strides in the last five years since I first ate it. However, I think you know that you have reached a new level of sushi when the California Rolls (regrettably) remained untouched for the whole meal.

I started the meal with a sakearita, attempting to jump back on the margarita bandwagon while successfully avoiding tequila, and it was my first move in the right direction. (This will be my first quest in my Iowa sushi adventure- to find an establishment that currently makes, or is willing to make, a sakearita for me here). My eating partner was adventurous enough to dive into the Japanese eggplant with sesame and eel sauce with me, and although both skeptical about our impulse to order it, we weren’t disappointed. (this has only encouraged my curious love of japanese eggplant despite having no interest in its westernized counterpart.)

However, the real treat arrived when our Godzilla roll was delivered. Tables around us oohed and aahed and onlookers asked how it was. But the two of us were too busy stuffing our faces and fighting over the last pieces to answer any of our neighbors. We agreed halfway through the beautiful serpentine of roll on the following items:

1. We should’ve ordered a massive platter only containing Godzilla rolls,
2. We NEED to have it again immediately and
3. The woman next to us at our uncomfortably close pseudo-communal table was extremely annoying, needed to be cut off, and had 7 different irritating laughs. And FINALLY,
4. We were both still attractive, mature adults despite behaving a la ralphie’s brother on the Christmas story in the mashed potatoes scene.

As we left the restaurant with that New Love grin on our faces, I couldn’t help contemplate how such a simple, raw space can churn out delicious, expensive sushi in Chicago but not Cedar Rapids. While restaurants here focus on minimal, underwhelming decor and creating a streamlined menu to not scare away patrons, they also don’t take any chances that could produce the same results as Sushi Wabi. I believe the market is here. The die hard sushi fans who aren’t scared of a raw bar, industrial rustic interior, or 100 kinds of sake are here. But maybe they are waiting for something more than a few fancy California rolls to smoke them out of their houses. Which if I remember correctly, that’s exactly what Godzilla will do.

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