I have California in the blood. An East Coaster by birth, there's no practical explanation for it, though I wouldn't be surprised if the cases of Napa Valley wine I've drank over the last decade have altered my chemistry. But I have one massive hankering for California sunshine, and the only way I can seem to temper it is with very frequent trips to San Francisco.
And with a flight planned for Thursday, I spent the week preceding the holiday getting into my Cali groove, elongating the easy-breezy time by eating a ridiculous number of hummus, avocado and sprouts sandwiches. So when Merle and I decided to BYOB it before I left, sushi made the most sense. Platefuls of fresh tuna sashimi have always been a favorite part of my California Girl routine, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I have just as many sushi restaurant favorites in San Fran as I do in Chicago.
Hoping to best my last sushi BYOB excursion, Merle and I headed to Andersonville's much-talked-about Tanoshii, 5547 N. Clark St., a spot that's known for fresh fish and "Sushi Mike's" designer rolls. To keep things West Coast-style, I purchased a $12.99 bottle of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc from Binny's...a Napa Valley vino, of course. This time I tried Binny's odd blue ice bath to chill the bottle, and was pleased to find it fairly cold after little more than five minutes.
I met Merle at the restaurant at 6:30 on a Monday night, and wasn't too surprised to find that we were the lone diners. We made the most of it, snagging a cushy table by the window and taking things slow. Intending to draw out the meal as much as possible, we kicked things off with some miso, a salad and an order of gyoza (the pork dumplings were good, but nearly drowned in the platter of soy sauce they were served in).
We munched while committing a cardinal sin: Slipping ice cubes into our Sauvignon Blanc. While the blue bath got it somewhat cool, my bike ride north in 90-degree weather undid my good work. And while our server immediately presented us with a hip silver ice chiller, form seemed to trump function: The separate containers for the bottle and the ice slowed down the chilling process.
But Merle and I needed to get the wine a-flowing while we talked about everything under the sun—including what we wanted to eat. Tanoshii is best know for the amicable Sushi Mike's customized rolls, that can include everything from uni (elp!) to cherries to cilantro, based on your loose explanation of what you like and don't like. We decided to start with a few pieces of sashimi, a very spicy tuna handroll (which, to our surprise, came wrapped in lettuce) and a chef creation. We like: tuna, salmon, fruit, moderate spice.
What we were presented with was completely unexpected: a mound of "tuna pico de gallo" served with homemade chips. Our server squeezed lime juice over it then left us with the heaping platter, a mix of tuna, cilantro, tomato, onions and other Mexican-ish items. It was tasty and creative, and I basically spent the next 30 minutes scraping every last bite into my mouth. What it wasn't (entirely) was novel. We saw it served a few times throughout the night to the full house that ended up showing up (proof that even a Monday can't keep Tanoshii down), which made us think that the Chef's Creations are more like off-the-menu specialties. But it was tasty, so the complaining stops here.
The evening, however, did not stop. The traditional-goes-hip atmosphere and pleasantly languid pace was perfect for our much-needed rap session, and we decided to get another bottle (from the adjacent Jewel...I don't even want to discuss that) and order a few more rolls.
We left completely satisfied, not too broke, and disappointed that we were too tipsy to hop down the street for a beer at Hopleaf. But no worries...that next bottle of wine is just a plane ride away...
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.