The former owners of Sushi Wabi bring us sushi for grown-ups

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Hot Daisy
When I heard that Sushi Wabi had closed, I felt my heart physically break. Sushi Wabi had been a mainstay of my 20s, a spot that, despite its location on Randolph Street's restaurant row, still had a feel of the clandestine. It was the place you suggested for a date to demonstrate that you were in the know. It was where you brought people visiting from places like New York to prove that Chicago isn't all steak houses and hot dogs. Sushi Wabi was dark, it was loud, it was working the industrial-chic aesthetic long before it became a thing that everybody did. And beyond that, the sushi itself was amazing. When the restaurant shuttered last year, the city lost one of the brightest jewels in the dining scene's crown.

I know I'm not alone in my intense Wabi nostalgia because when word of Sushi Dokku began to spread, the news was delivered to me on at least ten different occasions by almost absurdly excited friends. Sushi Dokku is run by two Sushi Wabi alumni—Susan Thompson and Angela Hepler-Lee—and located on Randolph just one block east from the erstwhile spot. When a peek at the menu promised a handful of dishes instantly recognizable to the Wabi acolyte, I was convinced dining at Sushi Dokku would be like a trip back in time.

And in some ways, it was. The food was exceptional, perhaps even surpassing my memories. We started with lightly fried shishito peppers dusted with delicate bonito flakes and a plate of bigeye tuna tataki, perfectly seared and served with a spicy mustard sauce. Next came unagi nigiri, rich pieces of freshwater eel atop perfect mounds of sushi rice and topped with flecks of fried shallots. We also tried the tuna truffle nigiri, and while the flavor of truffle is nothing to complain about (I'd lick it off the sidewalk), it was in this case so intense that it rendered the delicate tuna little more than a conduit, which seemed like a waste. Finally came the Hot Daisy, a beloved spicy tuna maki that used to make appearances on Sushi Wabi's menu.

The flavors were so welcome and familiar it really wasn't until halfway through that I realized dining at Sushi Dokku is nothing like a night out at Sushi Wabi. For one thing, I could hear every word my companion said. The throbbing house music at Sushi Wabi, often provided by a DJ perched just above the tiny dining room, resulted in a lot of lip reading and nonverbal communication. For a person whose radio is now tuned perpetually to NPR, Dokku's lower volume and less syncopated playlist was a pleasant change. Also, I could see. Everything: my menu, my food, my hand in front of my face. Suddenly restaurants lit like sensory-deprivation chambers no longer seemed so chic.

"You know," said my companion as we finished off a nice bottle of chenin blanc, having made it through dinner with nary a sake bomb in sight. "Sushi Dokku is like Sushi Wabi all grown up." That's an excellent assessment. And perhaps we enjoyed it so much because—finally—we're all grown up, too.

Sushi Dokku, 823 W. Randolph, 312-455-8238, sushidokku.com.

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