Algonquin's Sapporo Tanoshii excels at creative, fresh sushi
When you can get sushi at nearly every large grocer, you know it has become an American staple. If you've graduated from the pedestrian California and tuna rolls, it's time for an omakase experience. Omakase is simply chef's choice. But it's a wonderfully surprising dining experience as each course appears with a description of what your palate is about to encounter.
Omakase is easy to find in Chicago, but in the suburbs? Not so much. Why not step into the sushi future at Algonquin's Sapporo Tanoshii?
Open since May, Sapporo Tanoshii ("Happy Village" in Japanese) is a 160-seat Japanese restaurant featuring a dozen communal hibachi tables and a sushi bar. The space is cavernous (Famous Dave's barbecue was the previous tenant).
Hibachi diners can count on soup, salad, a hibachi shrimp appetizer, vegetables, fried or steamed rice and a main course included in their meal. Single entrees of chicken, calamari, shrimp, scallops, salmon, steak, filet mignon and lobster tail range from $20 to $35.
But my two adult sons and I didn't come for the hibachi experience, which they enjoyed over the years for childhood birthday dinners.
Their palates have grown since then. We wanted our taste buds to be tickled with servings of artfully plated fish, the omakase way.
"Sushi Mike" Ham, known for his improvised sushi dishes at his restaurant Tanoshii Sushi in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood since 2004, has brought the show on the road to the far northwest suburbs. The weeknight we visited, diners were being sufficiently entertained at the hibachi tables. We were thrilled the sushi chef could concentrate on us at the sushi bar.
As the designated driver, I settled on hot green tea for the night and my boys shared a small bottle of cold, dry sake. After we told the chef we were up for anything and had no allergy restrictions, all we had to do was watch him create the first round of sushi. When we wondered why the customary bottle of soy sauce and diminutive dipping vessels didn't show up, the chef explained that omakase should be savored cleanly without the conventional soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.
Our meal launched with salmon truffle: raw salmon with a veneer of 15-year-old white peach balsamic, sesame chili and a spot of truffle honey. Next was slices of bluefin tuna, moistened with mango balsamic and a bit of zesty togarashi chili.
Then, sautéed shiitake mushrooms peeked out from under super white tuna dotted with chives and grape seed oil. My beefeater son went crazy for the serving of seared Angus steak with shiitake mushrooms, fresh wasabi sauce and sesame chili sauce mixed with truffle honey.
Chef asked if we wanted more (you can stop whenever you reach omakase satiation), and the answer was a robust "yes" in unison. We loved the cold, clean flavor of the expertly sliced Japanese Red Snapper, the seared bluefin tuna presentation and the yellowtail with ruffles of scallions and freshly grated wasabi. Each course was visually appealing and simply delicious.
For the omakase experience, each plate costs between $16-$20 and three of us (two with substantial appetites) shared seven plates and left completely satisfied.
If you'd rather choose yourself, Sapporo Tanoshii has a menu of sushi appetizers; maki rolls, from Ebi Ten (shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber) to Rainbow and, yes, California roll; and various a la carte nigiri and sashimi at set and market prices.
Desserts, which we didn't have room for that night, include mochi and cheesecake.
Reservations, which you can reserve through the website or by phone, are preferred, especially for hibachi tables and omakase. If you're dining with a large group, consider booking the private dining room in advance.
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1521 S. Randall Road, Algonquin, (847) 854-3338, sapporotanoshii.com/
Setting: Hibachi tables and a sushi bar in a cavernous space
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 12:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Chef's choice omakase: $16-$20 per plate; maki rolls: $5.95-$14.95; sushi a la carte: $5-market price; hibachi dinner entrees: $14.95-$29.95; hibachi combinations: $28.95-$48.95; children younger than 10 $10.95-$12.95. There's a full bar with cocktails, beer, wine and sake
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.