I am picky about sushi . . . very picky. There are only a handful of restaurants in Chicago that I recommend when people ask about my “favorite place for sushi.” After my recent trip to Ani, I am adding another to the list.
Ani is located at 3056 North Lincoln Avenue, just a few blocks south of Belmont, and is quite possibly the best sushi I have had so far in my culinary travels through Chicago. I was recently invited to sample their menu and was treated to one of the most extensive (and delicious) Japanese meals I have ever tasted. Led by the talents of Chef Shin Matsuda, Ani is definitely a perfect addition to the Lakeview restaurant scene. One of the hallmarks of Chef Shin’s offerings is lightness. No matter what the combination or how complex the layers of flavor, everything manages to feel fresh and light. Even dishes like Tako Yaki (octopus beignets) which sound like they would be dense, are actually fluffy, light, and only dense in flavor but not in texture. It’s a difficult concept to convey verbally, so you will have to sample the menu yourself to truly understand.
The fish used in the restaurant is no more than 24 – 26 hours from catch to door which makes the sashimi buttery, fresh, and flavorful. The presentation of the sashimi is a work of art, using shredded daikon and thinly sliced crescents of cucumber to accompany the gorgeous cuts of fish. If you have access to the photo gallery that accompanies this post, then you will see what I mean.
Chef Shin’s inventive sushi rolls are also a highlight of the menu. When the server suggests that you enjoy the rolls without using soy, you should definitely listen and heed the advice. In my opinion, great sushi rolls require nothing in addition to what the chef has crafted. Dipping a superb sushi roll in soy is akin to smothering a Chicago hot dog in ketchup. Don’t do it! If you’re from Chicago, you will understand that. The Citrus Salmon is awesome and if you like a little kick, see if Chef Shin is making his Tuna Roll with cilantro, jalapeño, and chili oil. I don’t generally enjoy “hot” foods, but this one was well-balanced with just enough heat.
Beyond the sushi/sashimi menu there are also a number of inventive takes on other Japanese favorites. The Wakame Salad (seaweed salad) is finished with a Yuzu aioli adding a delightful fruity twist to this traditional favorite. The Mussels are steamed in sake with ginger and garlic creating an aromatic broth to dip the Togarashi toast. Even the Brussels Sprouts are unique – finished with togarashi spice, soy, and bonito flakes. There’s also a small but excellent selection of robata grill items, including sweet potato with miso butter, delicately grilled unagi, and tender asparagus.
One of the most intriguing menu items I sampled has to be the Tako Yaki (octopus beignets, Tonkatsu sauce, bonito flakes, kizami). Octopus beignets? Yes! The beignets are flight and fluffy, filled with the octopus. The tonkatsu sauce adds a sweetness and the bonito flakes and kizami add a little savory and salty to the mix. These were my favorite moment in an outstanding meal.
Ani has an impressive sake list (both filtered and unfiltered) and excellent offerings of Japanese beer (not just Sapporo). They also have a good wine list. The atmosphere isn’t particularly memorable, but the service and outstanding food definitely make up for it. There is a private function space in the back that is actually a bit more inviting than the main restaurant, so if you have a larger group you should call them to book that space.