In the midst of all the Top Chef madness, I did take a break on Tuesday night to enjoy a DELICIOUS bite at a Chicago institution: Toro Sushi.
If you ask anyone who knows food in Chicago where to go for the city's best sushi, the answer is always unanimous: Toro Sushi. This tiny little sushi shop on Clark and Demming is teeming with people every night of the week as chef/owner Mitch Kim rolls up and slices out some of the freshest, most succulent maki, nigiri and sashimi I've had in Chicago. Unlike other sushi joints, who get fresh fish in once a week and use preservatives, Mitch gets fresh fish deliveries every other day -- and you can really taste the difference.
If you want to sample the delights of Toro Sushi, be prepared to wait. I showed up at about 8pm to meet a friend for dinner, and the wait was already an hour long. I put in my name anyway, but I learned that the best plan is to show up an hour before you actually want to be seated, put your name in, and go do something else until your table is ready. The gracious hostesses at Toro actually take down your phone number and call you when your table is ready, expressly so you DON'T have to wait around outside forever (although many people seem to anyway). When my friend showed up, we spent part of our hour wandering up to a little liquor store and choosing a wine to enjoy with our dinner.
Toro Sushi is BYOB, but there is no corkage fee, so bring as much "B" as you like. To go along with the light, salty flavors of fish and rice, I would suggest a medium-bodied white wine-- like a pinot grigio (which is what we had) or a crisp lager, such as Sapporo. You don't want something that's going to overpower the flavors of the fish.
We were finally seated around 9pm in the middle of the three front window tables. On one side, we had two tipsy young waitresses, imploring us to try this roll and that, and on the other we had a pleasant young couple who could not keep from singing the praises of Toro, and of Mitch Kim. "One of my favorite things," the woman said, "is that when we come here, we always end up making friends with all the people sitting around us, because we're all like 'this sushi is soooo gooooood!'" She said that they come to Toro often, and usually sit at the bar, where they are treated with generous free rolls and creations from a fastidious Mitch. The man is literally a machine, pumping out delicious and exquisite sushi for all 40 people in the place on his own-- I didn't see another sushi chef there the whole time.
We started off with some standard edamame and miso soup, as we cracked into our wine. Our waitress was courteous, attentive, and easy to communicate with-- and our rolls arrived pretty quickly after we ordered. My friend got a smattering of different kinds of rolls, including unagi and super white tuna nigiri, which were delicious. Even the california rolls were decidedly above par. I got a "three musketeers" roll, which had a few different kinds of fish, super white tuna (a new try and new favorite), imitation crab meat, and was topped with two kinds of roe. Not so much of a fan of caviar (I'll get there someday!) I chose to flick those off my rolls. The ones I couldn't scrape off didn't taste that bad, though -- they moreso added a salty, "fishy" essence to the roll. Not half bad. The gracious gushing couple next to us also implored me to try one of their "Oh My God" rolls -- my favorite of the night, I think! The roll has super white tuna, mango, avacado, crab, cream cheese, is rolled in warm rice and tempura crumbs, and is topped with unagi and served with unagi sauce and spicy mayo. Didn't have my camera on me this time, so you'll just have to take my word for it that everything was beautifully plated and presented.
When we had finally had our fill of sushi and wine, we got our bill-- which was shockingly low for the quality of the food we had eaten. A six piece spicy tuna roll only costs about $5, and my specialty roll was only $11 I think, for 9 giant pieces. If you get the specialty rolls (which you should!) your bill will run a little higher. But you can DEFINITELY eat on a budget at this place and still have an amazing meal.
I will definitely be returning, in due time... an hour before I want to eat however, because this place is showing NO signs of slowing down.