I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh You Fancy, Huh? Part 1, Sushisamba Lunch-o

A few words on Chicago's Restaurant Week (or RW as we call it in the biz). Every year, for one week, many of Chicago's finer culinary establishments offer a 3 course prix fixe menu for around thirty bucks. A good deal n'est-ce pas? Well, it depends. Some restaurants and chefs look at RW as an opportunity to generate new business by showcasing some of their most successful/impressive dishes for a reasonable price. Others look at it as a weeklong extension of Valentines Day (with its rushed service, impatient/ill mannered guests, and restrictive menu that allows for little to no creativity), meaning that they should get through it as quickly as humanly possible. The trick, then, is to hunt down the restaurants that actually want you there, want you to have a good time and want you to come back (and spend more money).

With that in mind, I recently ventured over to Sushisamba (Rio) to check out their RW lunch menu (a steal at 22 bucks). 

The Breakdown:
1st Course: Blue Crab Croquettes and Roasted Kabocha Soup
2nd Course: Laughing Bird Shrimp Ramen
3rd Course: Peruvian Hot Chocolate with Churros and Rosca with Chocolate Hazelnut Sauce
Beverage: Kirin Light, tears of our exasperated waitress,  more Kirin (to wash down the tears).

Hey ramen, you fancy, huh?

Portion sizes are always an issue with RW in that you usually get less than expected. Sushisamba brought its A-game with the bowl of ramen being downright big and the amount of shrimp (whether they were of the Laughing Bird variety or not) bordering on generous. 

The most interesting thing I ate during the meal was the kabocha soup. Having never eaten kabocha before I was expecting it to have a squashy flavor (but more asian), what I got was something more akin to sweet melon with the awesome added elements of bacon, pine nuts and a touch of spice. A close runner up in the interesting dish contest was, well, nothing. What followed were several tasty, but rather humdrum offerings.

this here soup was interesting and delish
The blue crab croquettes, otherwise known as crab cakes**, were good but I can get good crab cakes at plethora of restaurants around the city.

The ramen dish was noteworthy for the quality and quantity of its ingredients; the aforementioned shrimp, mushrooms, carrots, basil (tons of basil), and something called na yu choy (some kind of black asian cabbage is my best guess). Unfortunately the flavor profile was pretty one dimensional. With a lemongrass broth I expected the soup to taste more like lemongrass but what I got was, again, a lot of basil.

The desserts both involved chocolate, so I was feeling all sexy whilst I ate them. 

The churro and hot chocolate dish was straightforward and well executed, then again I've never met a churro I didn't want to shack up with and take home to meet my parents. The rosca was actually 3 doughnut holes accompanied by a sea salt sprinkled chocolate dipping sauce. Don't get me wrong, that's my jam and I was all over it like a NASA recruiter at a MIT graduation (I'm going to work on my analogies), but calling a doughnut hole a rosca is, to quote Kobe Bryant at his NBA All-Star game press conference, "a Bikram yoga stretch."

The food at Sushisamba was solid and the RW menu execution was commendable, but was I moved to tears by the flavor of the food? No. Was I blown away by the presentation? No. But, did I learn a little something about a young man from the Southwest trying to make his way in the helter-skelter world of big city dining?...No, not really, but I did leave full and that's something.

*Sushisamba is a concept that started in the Big Apple and like so many other NYC hits extended a branch of itself to our fair city (as well as Miami and Las Vegas). When it opened in New York in 1999 the food world was abuzz over its unique fusion of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine. The River North location was a hit when it opened but has struggled to stay hip in the ever crowded fusion scene since then.
**Take note my foodie friends, this sort of culinary wordplay is rampant in high end restaurants and its usually used to compensate for otherwise ordinary dishes.
SUSHISAMBA rio on Urbanspoon


  1. A few people have pointed out that I didn't order any sushi during my time at Sushisamba and point to this as the reason I wasn't swept off my feet by the food. I would have to agree with them and concede that this discrepancy warrants another visit. In my defense, I was limiting myself to the tasting menu and the sushi selection they featured just looked boring compared to the Laughing Bird Shrimp Ramen and so I didn't order it.

  2. yes you were you little brit.