I don't know much about sushi's history in Chicago. And growing up in Toronto and London (Ontario, not England), followed by moves to Atlanta and New York, the question surfaces - can you really blame me? One of the most difficult things in life is to step outside a comfort zone, especially with something as deeply personal as a meal. Characters like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern are some of my biggest inspirations; part of their appeal is how frequently they invest in uniqueness during all of their (incredible) dining experiences.
I'm the first to admit that I'm nowhere near that point in my culinary journey, and that - frankly - is a regret. New York has incredible sushi, in all likelihood the best outside Tokyo. But the standard bearers are all fairly similar in appearance, with just a few really differentiating themselves. If I'm to reach anywhere close to the uniqueness that Bourdain and Zimmern experience in their meals, eating outside New York City once in a while will be a big part of that. I'm not exactly sure how unique one can be when focusing strictly on sushi, but we'll leave that aside for now.
Toro Sushi is located in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, and is a popular spot for locals living in and around that area. The chef is friends with everyone, similar to what you will see with Chef David at Sushi Dojo in NYC. Does that make the meal any better? Well, when you get free Hamachi (pictured right) even though you just walked in for the first time, that certainly helps the impression.
That same chef is also the owner of the restaurant, which immensely helps the food on offer. I've made that comment before, but having the person in charge of purchasing decisions also preparing the food ensuring a menu aligned with the customer's desires.
What impressed me most about the food was the quality of the rice - despite the fact that it was close to closing time, the rice in my salmon avocado maki (pictured right) was perfectly at room temperature, right at the intersection of crunch and soft. Other highlights included the Hamachi, which had a quality that completely belied the price I was charged. Soft and buttery, I wouldn't have been surprised if it came from the stomach of the Amberjack (or whatever member of theYellowtail family it was).
The one drawback to Toro Sushi was the quality of the service. Now, to be fair, they were about to close. But it was also 9:30, so not greeting me when I walked in, or setting a place for me when I ordered, or knowing the menu - those are all things that probably should be corrected. To the chef's credit, he called out his own staff with stern comments, so I'm fine .
Is Toro Sushi the best sushi joint I've ever been to? No. But if you're looking for a reasonable restaurant with an entertaining chef and quality fish in Chicago, I'd recommend it wholeheartedly. At the very least, you won't have to worry about your waiter slacking off.
Lincoln Park. $20-$50 per person.
So here's the thing about Toro Sushi....they've converted this New York sushi snob.