I've been meaning to take the guys from Decibel Audio out for dinner at some point. They're one of my largest dealers and great guys, to boot. I made a point to schedule my meeting with them late in the day and then go out to dinner afterward. The only problem is that there are many, many great restaurants in the vicinity near Decibel Audio, so the choices were overwhelming. One of the guys said, "Well, we could do Japanese."
I asked, "What kind of Japanese?"
He said, "Sushi. There's a great place called Mirai Sushi over on Division Street, but it's a little pricey."
I replied, "Let's go. You guys deserve it."
Now, if the name Decibel Audio rings a bell for some of you movie buffs, it's because the name was featured prominently in the John Cusack film, High Fidelity. Many of the scenes were filmed in the same neighborhood on N. Milwaukee where Decibel Audio is located and Cusack wore a Decibel Audio t-shirt during a number of scenes. I never put the two together until a couple years after I began to call on Decibel Audio and I happened to see the movie. The guys at Decibel Audio said they got inundated by requests for the same t-shirt, so they ended up printing tons of them. "It was our best selling unit of sale," Adam, the general manager, told me at one time. They continue to sell them on their web site and while sales aren't as brisk as they once were, they still sell a handful of them each month.
But, as I'm prone to do with this blog, I digress...
Mirai Sushi is a hip, upscale urban sushi restaurant that is part of a number of hip urban restaurants, clubs, galleries and shops that permeate the Division at Damon area in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago (see map). Former club owner and Korean native Miae Lim (left) opened Mirai Sushi in 1998 and it immediately became the critics choice for the best sushi in Chicago.
Five years later with partners Jonathan Segal, Jeffrey Beers and Rick Wahlstedt, the group opened Japonais in Chicago. The group - minus Segal - opened Japonais locations in New York City and Las Vegas. I've eaten at the Japonais in Las Vegas three times (click here to see the entry of my last visit to Japonais in Las Vegas). I was highly disappointed during my last visit to Japonais with both the food and the service. I related my experience to the guys at Decibel when they told me that Mirai Sushi was the incubator for Japonais and I said, "I think Japonais is highly overrated."
One of the guys said, "I think the same thing about the one in Chicago. It's gone down hill over the past couple of years." I was hoping the same wouldn't be said about Mirai Sushi.
One of the problems with the Wicker Park neighborhood around Mirai is that there is little to no parking available, especially at night when the clubs and restaurants warm up. Thankfully, Mirai did offer valet parking for $10 bucks (plus a two dollar tip for the valet). It was cheaper than taking a cab to and from the restaurant, though.
We didn't have reservations at Mirai, but we were able to get in and get a table when we got there around 8:15 that evening. We each got a menu and ordered up Asahi beers for the table. The place was hopping with a number of people in the dining area. There is a sake lounge upstairs in Mirai, but I didn't really notice a lot of people coming or going from the stairway. I understand that Mirai can get a little crazy on the weekends - I thought it was sort of loud for a Tuesday night.
Boy, where to start. First of all, I didn't think the prices for Mirai's sushi was all that expensive, at least compared to other sushi places I've been to. Their selection of hot Japanese dishes, specialty rolls and nigiri sushi was rather light - it was definitely not a long list of items to choose from. But most of what they had sounded great and were what I'd end up ordering at most sushi places. I did have to get some help from the guys on some of the specialty rolls they had.
One of those specialty rolls - the spicy octopus - came highly recommended. They put spicy octopus inside a rice roll and then top it with a small piece of tuna sashimi. The guys said it was "outstanding". We signed up for one of those along with what Mirai called "tuna tuna salmon" - poached salmon with double helpings of tuna in a roll. We also picked out a spicy tuna roll for starters.
Surprisingly, two of the specialty rolls - the spicy tuna and the spicy octopus - came out very quickly. It was one of the quickest servings after I've ordered I've ever had at a sushi restaurant. I remarked, "I hope this isn't fast food sushi where they make it up in advance."
But from the first taste, I didn't have to worry whether when it was made. The spicy octopus with the tuna on top was just outstanding. And the spicy tuna rolls were also excellent. We had just finished up the two specialty rolls and the "tuna tuna salmon" showed up at the table. It took a little longer because of the poaching of the salmon. That roll, too, was just outstanding. Not as good as the spicy octopus, but still a very good roll.
We wanted to order up some nigiri sushi along with another spicy octopus roll. This time we also ordered a harime roll - fluke and ponzu fish with soft shell crab off to the side. I ordered a couple pieces each of the smoked Scottish salmon, the hamachi (Japanese yellow tail), the ebi (black tiger shrimp), and the toro (fatty tuna). The other guys ordered stuff like eel, soy marinated salmon, regular tuna and squid. I was up for a sushi feast that evening. And the guys from Decibel deserved a nice meal from me.
While we waited for the nigirl to show up, we talked about other restaurants they liked in the area. The new 2011 Michelin Guide for Chicago had just come out and we were talking about having to pick one up just to see what they said about restaurants we were familiar with and what new restaurants we could find in the book. Since this is the first ever Michelin Guide for Chicago, it was making quite a stir with "foodies" in and around the Chicago area.
Our waitress, who was very good, came over to inform me that they were out of the toro that evening. "We just ran out," she said. Somewhat crestfallen, I changed my order to the chutoro, or the medium fatty tuna. She went away, but a minute later she came back and excitedly said, "Guess what? We have two pieces of the toro left! Would you still like them?"
Absolutely! And I'm glad they had them because they were some of the best fatty tuna that I've ever had. And the smoked Scottish salmon was "melt-in-your-mouth" great, as well. Some yellow tail that I've had in the past gets to be sort of mushy and sort of fishy in taste, but the yellow tail at Mirai was very fresh and flavorful with a nice texture with the bite. Of course, we made short work of the spicy Octopus roll. And the hirame roll with the soft shell crab on the side was just outstanding, too. Quite seriously, I could have gotten another one of those, but I knew I'd hit my limit on sushi for the evening.
It's amazing that a land-locked city like Chicago can get such great sushi. But fresh fish is flown into the city on a daily basis from all over the world. One of the guys from Decibel was telling me that rumor has it that the Hare Krishna's control the distribution of fish to 90% of the sushi restaurants in Chicago. I don't know if that's true, but there's a lot of great sushi places in Chicago. Sometimes I take Chicago for granted just because we live close enough and I'm in there quite a bit. But Mirai Sushi was one of the best sushi restaurants I've ever visited. It was much better than its sister restaurant, Japonais. I'm looking forward to trying some new places with the guys from Decibel Audio.