Tsu Kiji Fish Market is no Tsukiji Fish Market

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Oyster shooter, Tsu Kiji FIsh Market
  • Mike Sula
  • Oyster shooter, Tsu Kiji FIsh Market
A part of me feels it's unfair to criticize a Japanese restaurant for broad and unfocused menus, especially since a place like Japonais by Morimoto executes one so well, and by early reports the new giant on the block Momotaro seems very promising. Usually that's not the case. So with an open mind I skimmed through the menu at Tsu Kiji Fish Market, the newish West Town sushi joint named for Tokyo's wholesale fish market, which is pretty much the Godzilla of seafood markets.

Chicago's Tsu Kiji claims to fly in fish from the Tokyo market, and I'll get to that in a bit. For now, the raw fish, which is prepared at a small bar near the front door, almost seems like an afterthought to the salads, hot and cold appetizers, yakitori, bento boxes, donburi, a separate category of entrees, udon, soba, and, of course, ramen.

Chicken karaage, Tsu Kiji Fish Market
  • Mike Sula
  • Chicken karaage, Tsu Kiji Fish Market

Where to begin? An oyster shooter's not a bad start; the two bivalves nestled in the shot glass don't exhibit much character on their own, but they're fresh and plump, and they bathe in a spicy tomato brew, topped with smelt roe. All Bloody Marys should start like this. To my shame, I'm always a sucker for the baked, creamy seafood dishes that fall under the title "dynamite." Here it's a scallop situation, mixed with mushroom, avocado, more roe, and a thick mayo spiked with chili heat. Things take a turn with a chicken karaage that's prettily garnished but fried harder than Harold's, to the point that it's nearly burnt.
Kara miso ramen, Tsu Kiji Fish Market
  • Mike Sula
  • Kara miso ramen, Tsu Kiji Fish Market

By now I should know better than to order ramen in sushi restaurants, but the tonkotsu had come recommended by a trusted source, and so the spicy kara miso, built on the tonkotsu broth, seemed a safe bet. On the surface, yes, they do a nice job: a honjuku egg is molten, the chashu pork is a little tough but nothing worry about, and the noodles are likably thick. And while the broth itself packs a respectable heat, it can't distract from its thin wateriness; no more tonkotsu than a mud puddle.

With all that you'd hope the fish would be something special, but a nine-piece sushi assortment, while served at the proper room temperature, tasted as if it were defrosted under a warm faucet. There might be some more tasty things on the huge menu at Tsu Kiji Fish Market, but it'll take more time than most people have to discover them.

Tsu Kiji Fish Market, 1156 W. Grand. 312-243-1112, tsukijifishmarketchicago.com

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