Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar, Aurora

Sushi+ is in the same plaza as Naf Naf Grill so given its proximity we decided we had to try it. It is a rotary sushi bar with a conveyor belt that winds its way through the dining room so those seated at booths and bar seats are able to select from it. The plates on the belt include a variety of premade sushi options, a seaweed salad and a couple of dessert options. The plates are color coded and from $1.50-$6.50. They also have a menu from which you can select a variety of items including appetizers, yakitori, and additional sushi options.

In our few visits we have focused on the conveyor belt options. The rolls are quite well prepared and the quality of the fish is good. They are not the most creative but they were good. There seemed to be a fair turnover so we weren’t worried that the fish has been sitting out. We have also ordered the shumai which was tasty. One option on the conveyor was called a sushi sandwich, which was clever with the ‘bread’ made out of rice. It is interesting but actually a bit too dense. On our first visit, we only selected items from the belt, and we were done eating in about 15 minutes.

The space is nice, neat and simple with a black bar and white seats. The wall painted a bright contrasting orange. On our few visits, the service has been very attentive and pleasant. Overall, it is a good option for a quick serviceable meal.

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar
4430 Fox Valley Center Dr., Ste 106
Aurora, IL 60504

Kai Zan, Chicago

Summer Salad

You know that you are in a big city when you can find amazing food in local neighborhoods and not just downtown. That is most certainly the case in Chicago! About a month ago we headed into the city to see Book of Mormon (side note: absolutely hilarious, if not completely inappropriate!), after the show we went to Kai Zan for dinner. It is a small, 22-seat, Japanese restaurant in Humboldt Park/Ukrainian Village located by a car garage and a tattoo parlor. The small space is simple and elegantly Japanese making for a warm, comfortable environment. The space is separated into intimate spaces with a light, bright wood. The sushi bar and open kitchen is in the center of the restaurant dividing the two lines of booths. The booths are separated by a beautiful wave pattern which is carved out of wood. We had an early reservation and the place was already bustling. We were seated at the sushi bar which allowed us to watch all the action.

The menu includes sushi, noodle dishes, teppan yaki grill dishes (dishes prepared on an iron grill), and kushi-lava rock char-boil (skewered bite-sized dishes). They offer a flexible omakase menu in which you can set your price and the chefs create a tasting menu of the dishes on the menu. After talking to our waiter we opted to select our own dishes from the a la carte menu.

We tried several dishes but I’ll highlight just a few. We started with a special that evening called the “Summer Salad”. It is not a salad in the traditional sense as it was made primarily of raw fish. It was a mixture of tuna, salmon, capers, scallions, shiso, and dressed with a light citrus based dressing. It was a wonderful introduction to the complexity and balance of flavors we would experience in the dishes to come. The salad was an elegant mix of clean, delicate flavors.

The Maguro Pearls was an amazing dish! The small rice spheres are topped with fresh tuna, which is lightly seared, a creamy wasabi sauce and scallions. The tuna is prepared in a mixture of soy sauce, spicy mayo, and chili oil. It results in a beautifully well balanced and flavorful bite of tuna. This may have been my favorite dish of the night.

The Enoki  Bacon is a dish from the kushi-lava rock char boil menu. The lovely golden needle shaped mushrooms are rolled in bacon and quickly grilled. The earthy flavor of the mushrooms was nicely complimented by the salty, smokiness of the bacon. A small bite of incredible flavors!

The Tonkatsu Shiso Age is breaded pork wrapped with shiso leaves. The breading was light and the pork was nicely fried without any greasiness. The light breading nicely brought out the sweetness of the pork. It was served with a homemade tonkatsu sauce that had the traditional salty, sweet combination. It was a wonderful dish but didn’t have the complexity of flavor of the other dishes.

We also tried some sashimi which were masterfully cut and served at the perfect temperature such that the fish simply melt in your mouth. I have come to realize that the temperature at which the fish are served is a critical component in the preparation of sushi and sashimi. We also tried a couple of maki rolls to round out our meal.

We were comfortably full and unsure whether to order dessert, but we opted to share the mango pudding. It was delicious concentrated mango flavor in a smooth, light, creamy pudding. A perfect light ending!

Another wonderful aspect of dining in Chicago is that there are several restaurants which are BYOB (bring your own beverage). Kai Zan is one of these and for a $5 corkage fee you can bring your own wine. So, we were able to bring a bottle of wine from home which we knew we would enjoy and didn’t have to overpay for. The ability to enjoy our own wine was just an added bonus to the wonderful food and flavors offered at Kai Zan. We can’t wait to explore more neighborhood joints with food of this caliber!

Kai Zan
2557 W Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

Yamazushi, Durham

I must admit, we have been lucky to enjoy some amazing meals in wonderful locals but I really didn’t expect one of the best meals of my life to be in a nondescript strip mall in Durham.

Yamazushi is located in the Woodcroft Shopping center in Durham. When you step into the restaurant you are immediately transported to restaurant in Japan. As we learnt on our trip to Japan, in traditional eateries the dining area is separated from the entry. When you walk into Yamazushi there is a narrow walkway created by a screen on your left which hides the dining area behind it. At the end of the narrow walk is a small welcoming water fountain.

As we entered, we were greeted warmly by Mayumi, the wife in the husband and wife team that run the restaurant. She immediately knew who we were as they stagger the reservations so that every guest can be welcomed and seated with personal attention. She seated us and explained the kaiseki menu. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese muticourse dining experience which is rooted in the Buddhist culture.

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Tokyo House, Raleigh

A few weeks ago we decided to try Tokyo House in Raleigh because I had read some good reviews and we were in the general vicinity.  It is a nondescript strip mall in the Six Forks area.  The space is simple but pleasant with two private rooms, a sushi bar, and several regular tables and booths.  We sat at the large sushi bar and were greeted by the friendly wait staff and sushi chefs.  Several of the others sitting at the bar seemed to be regulars and were chatting with the sushi chefs.  It had quite a warm, neighborhood atmosphere to it.

We kept it simple and just ordered a few maki rolls.  We tried two Special Rolls, the Celebration Roll and the Rainbow Roll.  The Celebration Roll is spicy may mixed with shrimp and fish roe with cucumber and wrapped with tempura crumbs.  It was delicious! It had a nice spice and crunch of the cucumber and tempura.  The Rainbow roll is standard in most sushi restaurants and is shrimp and crab rolled with assorted kinds of fish on the outside.  This one had tuna, salmon, eel and yellow tail on the outside and was wonderful.  We also ordered three of our favorite go-to rolls; the umeshiso roll (Japanese plum and mint leaf), the spicy tuna roll and the spicy salmon roll.  All of the rolls were very well prepared, with ample fish and nicely packed rice.

Given the friendly staff, the neighborhood atmosphere, and the great sushi we would be there more often if we lived in the area.  And, we will most certainly go back when we are in the area.

Tokyo House
7439 Six Forks Road

Kyoto Style Sushi

In preparation for our trip to Japan I read several food blogs with recommendations and suggestions. I still enjoy reading Kyoto Foodie when I want to day dream about revisiting!  In fact, I follow this blogger on Twitter as well.  Several weeks ago @kyotofoodie posted a picture from lunch at Izugu for Kyoto-style sushi before heading to Ebisu Shrine.  This tweet made me realize just how many blog posts from the Japan trip I have left unfinished.

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Edo Style Sushi

Sushi has grown in popularity in the US and as with anything we have made it our own.  We have created rolls, added sauces and catered it to our own tastes.  What is typically offered here in the U.S. is a variation of what is known as Edo style sushi.  Edo style is what is typical of sushi served in the Tokyo area.  Over the past few years G and I have been learning more about traditional sushi and tried some more authentic preparations when we can.  One of our more memorable experiences was at Sushi Yasuda in NYC.  I recall being so impressed by the simplicity of the preparation but completely wowed by the quality of the fish.  I imagined that is what one would experience in Japan and indeed it was!

As we planned our trip we decided that we had to tour the world’s largest wholesale fish market, Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, to understand the fish industry and business in Japan (to be honest, worldwide since so much fish is sold here!).  We met out tour group bright and early at 4:30am and began following our wonderfully knowledgeable guide around the market.  He showed us primarily the inner market, with the different areas for the different types of fish and auction areas.  He explained to us that those that work in the market are complete specialists in their particular fish.  For example, those that work with the salmon know exactly what they are looking for in freshness and quality and can estimate the price it will garner in action but are not aware of the tuna market.  It was a whirlwind of activity with trucks and carts coming and going, people preparing the fish, representatives from auction houses and auctioneers evaluating the fish.  The biggest treat was watching a Blue Fin tuna being divided up after auction.  It was purchased by two auction houses so they were dividing it.  They are huge creatures!  It took three men and a samurai sword to quarter it!

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Food in Japan: Top 5 Observations

G and I just returned from two weeks in Japan.  We had both been wanting to go to Japan and it seemed do-able in two weeks.  Personally, my curiosity and interest in the culture was peeked after reading Memoirs of a Geisha and in the food (more than it already was) after reading the Story of Sushi.  So, we booked our tickets and started planning!  Our trip began in Tokyo where we spent 6 nights, 5 days.  From Tokyo we took a day trip to the sacred mountain town of Nikko.  Then we spent 7 days, 7 nights in Kyoto.  We used 5 days to explore Kyoto and took two day trips to Osaka and Kobe and to the ancient capital city of Nara.  Finally, we spent one day and night in Hiroshima before heading back to the airport.  It was a whirlwind trip but truly wonderful!

Needless to say, we ate and tried as many various things as we possibly could!  The food and the food culture in Japan is so interesting.  There is a strong food tradition with elaborate meals and customs which is juxtaposed to the modern city life of fast food eateries and chains.  But, all are completely Japanese.  I have made many notes on our meals and various foods which I will write up slowly but surely.  However, I wanted to post right away my primary observations about Japanese food and eating.

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