Lunch in the Loop: Stick to the Nigiri at Sushi Sai
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.
After a crappy summer of unemployment, a little luck has finally landed my way, and I'm temping at a digital marketing agency in the Loop. It's a contract job, which means there's a timer on the gig—once the project is over, I have to say goodbye to my new coworkers. But for now, there's a place for me to be, which also means I can keep up with Lunch in the Loop! Hooray! Can you guys believe I've been doing this feature for just over two years now? Me neither. Holy baby wow. "Holy baby wow" is a Dennis Lee original, by the way.
Now that my new stomping grounds are in a different location than my last office job, I've got a whole new section of the Loop to wander around. During one of my forays out, I noticed a little place in the side of a building that I'd never seen before, and that place is Sushi Sai. The restaurant doesn't have a street-facing sign, which makes it a little more secretive-looking, but once I stepped in, it turned out to be a typical sushi lunch bar, serving mostly sushi items and a few hot dishes.
I always love specialty rolls that have weird names, so naturally, I picked two of the goofy ones. The World Series Roll ($14.95) has a really steep price tag, but is it a grand slam? Did I seriously just write that? It's filled with soft-shell crab tempura, and topped with tuna, eel, and avocado.
Its first strike (oops, I did it again), is the soft shell crab interior—the texture is like that of a shrimp shell, only deep fried, so it leaves behind shards in your mouth that aren't exactly my idea of fun. Its second strike is the lack of flavor, especially the sections that are wearing the pieces of tuna—raw tuna doesn't pack much of a punch. At least the eel sections add a fatty sweetness, and the avocado bits add silkiness and fat. Third strike? The price tag to food volume ratio. With that, you've struck out. I better quit it with these baseball metaphors before I get ejected from the game... of food writing.
The other specialty roll I shoved in my face is called the Supersonic Roll ($12.95). Does it disappear faster than the speed of sound? I'm totally on a roll today (no, I'm not proud of myself for that either). This guy is filled with spicy scallop and cucumber, and topped with avocado, shrimp, and smoked salmon.
This one isn't my favorite either. While the scallop is delicious, some bites have too much cucumber. The two toppings that really don't work are the cooked shrimp, which is chewy and dry, and the smoked salmon, which is way too powerful for the delicate scallop interior. The avocado is neutral, but doesn't add much flavor.
Your safest bet is the classic nigiri. The salmon nigiri ($2.00 per piece) is uniformly marbled and is soft, delicious, with the perfect amount of fat. The tuna nigiri ($2.25 per piece) is much better in nigiri format because the tuna itself is so light. And my personal favorite is the ikura nigiri ($2.25 per piece), which is salmon egg. The little salty balls of fun (coincidentally one of my nicknames in college) are intact with a good pop, which means they haven't been frozen and thawed repeatedly.
There is an interesting detail, though—at Sushi Sai, they serve all-you-can-eat-sushi for $19.99, which is a terrific deal if you're a sushi junkie. You can get this deal Monday through Friday, from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
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.