Tanoshii Sushi Mike's measures up to the original—plus it has cocktails

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Preparing the sushi at Tanoshii Sushi Mike
  • Julia Thiel
  • Preparing the sushi at Tanoshii Sushi Mike's
The original Andersonvile location of Tanoshii has built its reputation on the sushi creations of chef-owner Mike Ham—aka Sushi Mike—who's known for the off-menu specialty rolls he'll make on request. Customers who order the "Sushi Mike's Special" tell their server what they like and dislike and how many rolls they want, and Ham will come up with often-quirky combinations involving nontraditional ingredients like dried oregano, olive oil, fresh fruit, green onions, and tomatoes (not all in the same roll, though).

He's gathered quite a following, so it's not surprising that the new location in the West Loop, Tanoshii Sushi Mike's, plays up his brand. However, it also highlights the fact that there's only one Sushi Mike, and he can't be in two places at once. When I asked about this at West Loop location I was told that Ham and his sous chef will both split their time between the two restaurants (when Ham is at one his sous chef will be at the other).

The new space is elegant, minimalist in its decor, and more appropriate for the level (and price point) of food being served than the Andersonville location, which feels more casual. They've also got a liquor license (the original location is BYOB) and offer quite a few sakes, plus a good selection of cocktails, beer, and wine. The menu is similar to the one at the original location but a bit more upscale; the sushi rolls are priced a little higher, and there are items like a king crab leg appetizer and wagyu steak entree that aren't offered in Andersonville.

Maguro tuna appetizer
The menu in the West Loop, however, doesn't play up Sushi Mike's special rolls the way the Andersonville one does; up north there's an entire page at the beginning of the menu encouraging diners to let the chefs "create customized sushi dishes suited just to your tastes." Here I had to ask the waiter, who cheerfully assured me that they did offer omakase (the term for chef's choice). There are no guidelines here to how much the rolls will cost (at the original location they range from $16 to $22), but ours averaged out to $20 apiece. It's pricey, but I've been to the Andersonville Tanoshii several times and I've never been disappointed—and I wasn't here either.

Escolar, crab, and mushroom roll
  • Santina Croniser
  • Escolar, crab, and mushroom roll
Sushi Mike is one of the only chefs who's ever gotten me to like anything made with truffle oil, which I usually avoid like the plague (I think it tastes fake, probably because it is; J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has an excellent article about it on Serious Eats). But somehow, the honey and truffle oil that topped a rose made of maguro tuna beautifully complemented the buttery fish, while chives offset the richness. The same sauce worked equally well on a roll with escolar, crab, and shiitake mushrooms sautéed in soy sauce, with the mushrooms contributing a nice earthiness. A wakame salad with tender slices of octopus was fresh, light, and just slightly funky (in a good way); I couldn't pinpoint the source but I suspect there was a little fish sauce in the dressing.

Spicy tuna roll
  • Santina Croniser
  • Spicy tuna roll
An amped-up spicy tuna roll with tempura crab, avocado, and spicy sauce was equally fresh and well-balanced. And while I've always thought fruit sushi is a little too cutesy, I loved a savory-sweet roll with escolar, crab, and avocado topped with strawberries and jalapeño; the acidity and sweetness from the strawberry played well with the spicy jalapeño and rich fish.

There's not much of a dessert menu (we didn't see one at all), but one of the inventive cocktails would work just as well. With ingredients like yuzu, ginger, and lychee, they'd also work with your meal—but I'd recommend one of the tiny pitchers of sake, just enough to share between two people.

Tanoshii Sushi Mike's, 720 W. Randolph, 312-207-8894, tanoshiisushi.com

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