Last year my not-very-adventurous-eating roommate came home and said, "it's worth getting to know the sushi chef at Hama Matsu." "But you don't even like sushi," I said. "Well, I guess I do now."
Erica and I did eat at Hama Matsu (5143 N Clark) a couple of times and the sushi was alright, but we didn't really heed the advice to get to know the chef. That, it turns out, was our mistake as I've been reading articles and reviews about how Mike Ham (that chef) is really at his best when his customers let him run wild with improvisational sushi.
Mike has his own place now -- Tanoshii at 5547 N Clark -- and Erica and I went over this week. It's BYOB, so we picked up a six-pack of Dead Guy Ale on the way and hiked up through Andersonville to Mike's tidy little restaurant. Mike, wearing a green kimono-tunic (it was the night before St. Patrick's day -- the other two chefs wore tunics with shamrock trims), stopped by our table and opened our first beers.
Armed with our knowledge about the way to eat at Tanoshii, we just glanced at the menu and ordered some miso and goma-ae and asked the waitress to "just have Mike feed us." She quizzed us about spiciness, raw vs. cooked fish, portion size and put in our order.
I will say that after our soup and appetizer came out right away, the sushi took forever to come. That night we were in no hurry to go anywhere, so it just gave us time to get through a couple beers and be cutesy with each other. But I could imagine that if you were on any sort of schedule, it would drive you crazy.
But the sushi that came -- kawowza! It was a sort of sushi-salsa, a tight cylinder of spicy tuna, cucumbers, onion, and avocado, with fried chips to scoop it up with. Delicious. I could have eaten 7 or 8 more orders of it, but just to get some variety, we asked for a second order of something more like a traditional roll. What came out was six pieces of a tuna-onion mix on rice on a piece of lettuce. At first I thought the lettuce was a garnish, but when one of the chefs saw me picking up the first piece he told me, "No, no, the whole thing." I don't usually think of lettuce as a strong flavor, but with subtlety of the fish and rice, the whole thing had a very fresh, vegetabley flavor.
And that was that. And it wasn't that pricey. And Mike is nice.
Another sushi place worth mentioning, with similarly adventurous combinations of flavors, but in a more upscale environment and with, you know, a menu, is Kaze Sushi (2032 W. Roscoe). Their menu changes seasonally, but when we were last there we had a lobster/strawberry roll that blew our minds.