I'm a romantic who often displays an unfortunate predisposition to the dramatic, so after a business trip took me out of town for a few days, I decided that tacos at home wouldn't cut the reunion mustard. My joyous return to Steamer was deserving of dinner out, and a slightly elevated outing than usual at that. But as the BYOB faithful know, it's much easier to bring a six-pack to a Thai place than Champagne to the white-tableclothed house of a fine chef. Enter Izumi Sushi
Sandwiched between Randolph Street luminaries like Marche and Blackbird, it's in impressive company, and its address and interesting BYOB policy (wine only) made me think it might have that little something extra I was hoping for.
I met Steamer, decked out in a hoodie, Reeboks and a new down jacket he had called to tell me about, in the north Loop. We cut across the city to Just Grapes, a pretty smart wine shop that had those sweet wine dispensers that let you dole out a tasting portion for a few quarters. While we didn't take a swig, we did benefit; our choice of wine, a 2005 Adler Fels Sauvignon Blanc, was the only under-$10 Sauvignon in the cooler at $9.99, and was marked 10-percent off because it was included in the current by-the-pour offerings.
We paid for the bottle and walked west, peering into Avec and quickly debating—then striking down—the idea of cabbing it to a less dressed-to-impress area. But Reeboks turned out to be acceptable footwear for Izumi, which is certainly stylish but not oppressively so. It was relatively empty when we got there, and we were seated at a shadowy two-top opposite from the sushi bar. It has plenty of signature hipsville characteristics: exposed brick, exposed timber ceiling and subtle lighting.
I dug the menu. The list of specialty rolls was lengthy, balanced (that dreaded tempura crunch only made a handful of appearances) and inventive (one roll featured strawberry slices), with all maki at or under the $15 mark. I usually have to beg Steamer—an avowed nigiri fan—into sharing some rolls, so when he started rattling off some maki he was into, I knew Izumi had something going for it.
Our wine was poured and put into a silver chiller. Though it had come refrigerated, it wasn't ice cold, and my first sip tasted sweeter than I had anticipated, though as the bottle chilled, a crispness rounded out its melon flavors. And while the wine exhibited lightness, the rolls we had settled on—Rainbow and Latin—bore a refreshing weight.
I'm used to bites of maki that taste flimsy, but these pieces were tightly constructed and satisfying. The Rainbow—a basic California roll topped with salmon, tuna, unagi, yellowtail, mackerel and shrimp—tasted like sliced bombs of rice and fish. And while I've always thought it to be a pretty stylish roll, the cilantro- and yellowtail-stuffed Latin, rolled in red fish eggs and dressed in hot-hot-hot chili sauce, took the cake.
From there we moved on to nigiri, trying mackerel, yellowtail and fatty white tuna. Again, the pieces were sizable and fresh, and we began to bemoan the fact that we are an extremely talented pair of sushi eaters, capable of scaling small mountains—of not-dirt-cheap fish.
Service was attentive but minimal—refilling our wineglasses before they reached the bottom, and taking our next order after just the right amount of time had passed between finishing the last bite and really wanting the next. We finished up with a spicy tuna handroll for me, spicy octopus handroll for Steamer, and two more pieces of that divine fatty tuna.
What we did hold back on impressively was the booze. Yeah, we finished the bottle. The impressive part is that we didn't order another one. In perhaps the coolest BYOB move around, Izumi has a full, lychee martini-slinging bar—complete with wine. Bring your own to go a bit cheaper…but keep in mind that divine failsafe: the ability to shell out a little bit more for a second bottle.
In the end, we paid about $75 for our meal, not exactly cheap but certainly fair. It was also a pretty telling price point: Add this one to your list of BYOBs that fit the special occasion bill—even in sneakers.
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.