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The Purloined Menu

Kamehachi

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These days if my parents are involved we only dine outside. That's because Claude prefers sidewalk seating, and there's no getting around inviting Claude. So we dined, one mildly sticky evening, in the Kamehachi garden, which is graced by a tiny tube-fed pool and is nestled perilously close to the Wells Street alley and its attendant perfume of refuse. Still, once Claude had sniffed the Golden Retriever tucked under a nearby table and panted greetings to all, we settled down for some of the best sushi in town.

Softshell Crab: After a round of sake and a round of Kirin chasers I had gotten over my Claude headache and Claude had gotten over his interest in chewing the decor. We ordered this, which came heavily fried, overwhelming the delicate crab. Though we'd prefer 'em soft and sauteed, we munched every last little leg dipped in its bright ginger soy bath.

Gyoza: I passed, ever on the quest for the perfect pork-free dumpling. But the rest of the table found them charming.

Goma Ae: While we waited, we admired the old-fashioned street lamp and the wood placards hanging along the wall, each featuring a Japanese character. We amused ourselves trying decipher the one near our table until the waiter informed us it was ersatz Japanese and actually meaningless. And this from a place that boasts "Tokyo, New York, Chicago" on the matchbooks. The spinach never showed up.

Sushi Bar: We got serious about sushi. Co-owner Sharon Perazzoli says her mother, who opened the restaurant 25 years ago, ran the first sushi bar in town. Last year Kamehachi moved out of its old place, across from Second City, and south a few blocks to where the Blue Room used to live. The new version seems fresh as a plate of fine sashimi.

California Roll: I'm not much of a fan of these Merikan-style rolls, but there was a calling for one at the table. It was surprisingly good, the slippery avocado nicely balanced by the spicy mayo.

Namasake: Wonderfully fresh.

Hamachi: There was also baby yellowtail on the specials list. Disappointingly, not as tender as you might expect baby anything to be.

Tekka Maki: One of those first-date standards I've never outgrown. Here, it's as good as it gets.

Negi Hamachi Maki: Fab.

Unagi: Those wary of rubbery eel voted no, but we overruled. Here it's flavorful and yielding as good eel should be.

Salmon Skin Maki: A thick stash of heavily charred skin snuggled into it's rice roll. As smoky, crunchy, and heavy as bacon.

We were sorry there were no radish sprouts, which can be so adorable and fresh and spicy all lined up and lashed to their rice raft.

Oyster Shooter: Someone ordered one of these, which comes in a glass and looks like something Claude might cough up. Apparently an acquired taste.

There was green-tea ice cream and lemon cake for dessert but I'd had enough of our alleyside seats. We strolled out for four chocolate ice creams and an extra cup for Claude.

Kamehachi Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 1400 N. Wells, is open Tuesday through Saturday 11:30 to 2 and 5 to 10:30, 11:30 Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are 4:30 to 9:30. Call 664-3663 for more.

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