The Vegetarian Option: New Tokyo
Vegetarian sushi doesn't begin and end with the cucumber roll. Take the menu at New Tokyo, where there are no less than nine varieties of meatless, seafood-free sushi rolls. Not only is New Tokyo more accommodating toward vegetarian diners than most sushi joints I've been to in Chicago, the humble little Lakeview BYOB eschews the overblown theatrics common to more upscale Japanese restaurants—especially when it comes to its vegetarian options—favoring simpler presentations. Expect good ingredients wrapped in well-made rice without a lot of extra fuss or fireworks.
The Popeye roll ($4.50) goes beyond conventional kappa maki. Featuring spinach, cucumber, and avocado, the roll is at once creamy and crunchy. The flavors worked nicely together, with the robust spinach complementing the mild vinegar tang of New Tokyo's sushi rice.
The pickled daikon radish at the center of the oshinko roll ($4) had a delicate sweet-and-sour flavor and a lot of crunch. That said, this is a fairly one-note roll. I'm an advocate for sushi restraint, but in this case I felt like the pickled daikon was a bit lonely, missing a complementary element to play off of.
New Tokyo particularly excelled with its vegetarian tempura rolls. The tofu tempura roll ($4.50) had a great textural balance, with the tofu's crispy fried exterior giving way to a supple center.
But the sweet potato tempura roll ($4.50) was easily my favorite of the bunch. Tempura-frying seems to bring the best out of this vegetable, leaving the center soft, starchy, and brown-sugar sweet, while also encasing it in a satisfyingly crunchy armor. A dab of soy sauce added a nice savory contrast.
Vegetarian or not, no one should overlook this option—nor let it sit too long on the plate, as the tempura coating tends to lose its crisp as it cools. For that reason, this and the tofu tempura aren't the most takeout-friendly, but both are certainly worth a pilgrimage to New Tokyo for a sit-down dinner.