Serious Eats: Chicago
Lunch in the Loop: Kamehachi Sushi Café
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Oh, sushi. You're a tricky one, especially during lunch in downtown Chicago. I love you, sushi, but sometimes you can just be too high-rent for a lowly office peon like me. The offerings that I can afford come from the place that shall not be named (*cough* Walgreens *cough*) and well, they aren't always that great. So I'll subtitle this edition of Lunch in the Loop with my own movie title, Dennis Lee's Search for Lunch Sushi: The Journey Continues. But hark! A new challenger appears! Kamehachi Sushi Café! But is it the answer I've been waiting for? Read on, my friends. Read on. No, seriously. Do it.
Before we dive in too quickly, let's call the goma ae ($3.50) the teaser trailer for my yet-to-be-produced feature length film. If you're not familiar with this appetizer, it's simply boiled spinach with a little sesame seed sprinkled on top. Kamehachi Sushi Café serves it with a sweet roasted sesame dressing, and the spinach itself is pressed into cute little cakes. It tastes as simple as it sounds; the spinach has its starring role as a bitter green, and the sesame dressing is nutty and sweet.
For those of you looking for something cooked, an interesting option is the beef curry bowl ($6.50). This is a hearty bowl of rice covered in a rich brown curry sauce. The curry flavor is relatively mild, not spicy at all, but has a deep background flavor that's rich and almost buttery. The grilled beef is accompanied with stewed potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and onion. You can easily taste the char on the meat, and it's tender, beefy, and chewy without falling apart. Growing up in a Korean household, there were many nights where we ate this style of curry, and it brought back a lot of delicious memories for me. The beef curry bowl plays a perfect supporting role in case you don't want sushi.
And now, the starring role. Is this sushi like a handsome, wistful, Ryan Gosling that keeps you wanting more? Or is this more like an overdone, hokey, Nicolas Cage-job that makes you wonder why you tried it in the first place? I am happy to report that the sushi at Kamehachi Sushi Café is like the dreamy Gosling (so dreamy) that makes you want to just stare into those baby blues and...
Okay. Sorry about that. Nick's going to kill me for going on again. In short, the sushi is good. The best out of all three you see here is the spicy scallop roll ($4.50, pictured right), which is comprised of raw scallop and spicy mayo. The raw scallop melts away in your mouth with a delicate sweet flavor, and when I say melts, I mean it really does dissolve away. The spicy mayo has a surprising punch to it, but doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the scallop.
The rainbow roll ($12.00, pictured center) is a California roll topped with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and shrimp. And the kicker here is that the California roll contains real snow crab. Yes, you read that right. Real crab. And does it make a difference? The answer is a resounding yes. Not only do the fish layers add that mild velvet flavor we love so much about sushi, but the sweet crab and rich avocado bring a luxurious texture, which is capped off by the crunch of fresh cucumber.
The daily special roll, in this case, is the Baby Godzilla ($5.50, pictured left). While it gives an admirable performance, it's way too busy. If you don't believe me, its guts contain smoked salmon, unagi (barbecued eel), shiitake mushrooms, tamago (Japanese omelet), avocado, cream cheese, and is topped with crunchy tempura bits, unagi sauce, and wasabi mayo. With all these ingredients, the prevalent flavor is easily the cream cheese, which I never quite understood in sushi, and the sweet and salty unagi sauce, an odd combination that doesn't work well.
Here's a shout out to the Chicago Crazy Roll ($7.50), which is made of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, snow crab, masago (capelin roe), lettuce, and cucumber. And in this case, the flavors are simply too mild to distinguish from one another. The end pieces, however, are impressive, and fun to eat in a giant two-bite sort of way. Is it crazy? Is it Chicago? Um, no. I don't quite get the name. But that's okay.
I did a review of Kamehachi's original restaurant some time ago, and I loved it back then. The quality carries over to Kamehachi Sushi Café. I snooped around and asked if they had a real grill in the back of the tiny cafe, and to my surprise, they informed me that the cooked meat is actually brought over from the location on Wells and kept in heating pans. But you know what? I'm totally cool with that. Because I'm coming back for Ryan Gos... I mean, the sushi. Yeah, that.
Kamehachi Sushi Café
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.