Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Sunday; dinner: seven days
Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 11
Reasonably priced Japanese place in the former Matsuyama; it's BYO for now, with a liquor license in the works.
Matsuyama has morphed into Ukai, a deep storefront in red and brown tones with look-of-stone vinyl-tile flooring, a sit-down sushi bar, and a combination of banquettes and tables. Held over from the old place is a policy of offering smaller maki for lower prices (most are five pieces for $8, though you can get full size for $6 extra). Among the innovations: sushi chef-partner Choong J's rolls dedicated to Chicago sports teams and executive chef Paul Chant's fusion-y hot tapas. On our visit, fin fish were limited to salmon, yellowtail, tuna, and super white tuna. While we enjoyed them as nigiri and sashimi, we were wowed by a "raw" small plate of hamachi jalapeño, four slices of very fresh yellowtail with just enough sriracha, ponzu, and mustard seed oil, topped with a little grapefruit, jalapeño, and cilantro for a perfect balance of flavors and textures. Gomae reinvented as a spinach-wrapped maki stuffed with minced cucumber and kampyo also was a winner, enhanced by a fine powder called "cracked sesame and soy yuzu air." A couple of our maki deviated from the menu descriptions, but I'd order the pink lady (salmon, avocado, pink soy paper, ikura) and belinary (soft-shell crab tempura, unagi, avocado) again. The tempura-fried Cubs roll (unagi, shrimp, mozzarella) won more points with us than the Sox one (super white tuna, cilantro, kampyo; inside-out and coated with black tobiko to match the team's colors). Our four hot plates were hit-or-miss. Best was tender, rare-as-requested lamb loin paired with hummus. The worst: two tiny bites of foie gras with soupy mushrooms for $11. Rosemary-spiked miso broth did nothing for overbreaded agedashi tofu, but miso foam and edamame perked up miso soup. Pork ramen is the only noodle dish and an ideal winter meal: the robust broth was loaded with roasted pork tenderloin, spinach, pickled cabbage, and thin noodles finished with a sunny-side-up fried egg. First-rate house-made chocolate lava cake had a creamy surprise inside and green tea ice cream on the side. A prix fixe five-course meal ($25) changes monthly.
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