I never thought I'd see the day when I could count the number of untried BYOB sushi spots on my 10 chopsticks-grubbing fingers. But that's right where I found myself last Thursday, when a visit from a good friend left me in charge of selecting a sushi restaurant where a gang of five of us could overeat.
I reluctantly tabled the suggested Coast Sushi Bar and Tanoshii (been there, done that) and Itto Sushi (great, but not BYOB) and presented three options from my ever-dwindling list of still-to-try places. We were hungry and crabby and crammed in one car—which made proximity the sole reason we settled on T-Spot Sushi, 3925 N. Lincoln Avenue.
After circling the streets for parking and silently worrying about the wait time, we walked into an empty restaurant. Too eager for miso to worry about what that might imply, we grabbed one of the funkiest tables I've seen at a neighborhood sushi place. T-Spot doesn't jibe with what Steamer and I are typically attracted to: totally traditional, unfussy spots. But we seem to be in the minority, as T-Spot joins the ranks of recently-opened urban-hip restaurants. The sleek bar, black walls and giant flat-screen TV aside, I was totally into our very MTV table, which was surrounded by a sink-into-me couch and a smattering of round, ottoman-like seats.
After propping myself up with two pillow (when I say sink, I mean sink), I turned my attention to the menu and the icy cold bottles of Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban cluttering our table. I may be effectively eating my way through Chicago's sushi scene, but I can't seem to do it without a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in hand. I figured it was about time to give Japanese beer (and sake) a try. First up: two giant bottles of Sapporo Premium (who needs Fat Tire?), priced at $2.79 each at the ever-convenient Binny's.
The Japanese rice lager fits the "keep it light" bill when it comes to beer and sushi: golden brown in color, a little sweet and pretty light in flavor. I started guzzling it like water because it tasted, well, a little bit like water. That didn't bug me too much. Give me hamachi, not hops! Or so I thought. I poured a second glass and the Kirin's tangy flavor and light hop spice won me over.
After going nutso on the beer, we brought the same give-it-to-me attitude to the menu: a round of miso and edamame to start, followed by a boatload of sashimi and nigiri (settling on mostly super white tuna, hamachi and mackerel) and a bunch of maki, including an argument-inducing three orders of spider maki (diversity lost to our craving for soft shell crab), two orders of spicy tako maki (octopus, seaweed and mushrooms) and, at our waitress's insistence, the most popular of the menu's signature maki: the $13 Chicago Fire, an assemblage of spicy shrimp, super white tuna, red tobiko, unagi sauce, spicy mayo tempura crunch, avocado and spicy sauce.
Good timing ruled; Every item came to our table at once, and the pieces started flying. With a larger-than-usual group, the conversation immediately turned to and remained mired in the food. We quickly decided that everything was fresh…and I could stop here, because that's really all that matters for me when it comes to determining good sushi.
But the great sushi ranking involves a number of other factors, and who were we to shortchange our nit-picky sides? A few of the pieces were a little small, but nothing worth lamenting. The spicy sauce rocked, a creamy orange mayo spiked with a red dot of Thai hot sauce, and though I've had mixed experience with it in the past, the tako maki was slightly chewy (as it should be) and not at all fishy.
But the signature maki, like the decor, took an MTV route: it wasn't really about the fish. We had a tough time distinguishing the individual flavors, and we all pessimistically chuckled about tempura crunchies' astounding success in taking over the sushi world.
We had just about come to a "good" conclusion when the bill came. At $42 per person (sans booze, oh my!, and our waitress was kind enough not to charge us the $10 corkage fee mentioned in the menu), T-Spot isn't my new sushi secret. But next time I'm looking to wow a member of the MTV generation (like my Japonais-loving sister), T-Spot will be it. I'll just stick to the simple stuff.
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.