The master is back. Never mind the menu at Tanoshii. Instead put yourself in the loving, providing hands of Sushi Mike, who established his legend at Hama Matsu in Uptown and now has his own place up the street in Andersonville.
Come at an off-hour so you can have his full attention. Tell him your likes and dislikes and he'll take care of the rest. This is not your typical yellowtail and California roll joint. Each piece Mike and his assistant surprised us with was a work of art that demanded to be photographed before being enjoyed. And, oh, what enjoyment: This was quite simply the best sushi I have ever had, and among the top three meals I've had in Chicago.
Testament to Mike's well-deserved reputation, the place was packed when we went, only its third night of operation. Yet everything was already in full stride, although the waitstaff was a little underworked, seeing as how everyone was opting to sit at the bar instead of the tables.
Gold Coast prices in Uptown, but fortunately it's justified by the craft and performance of Sushi Mike behind the counter.
Hema has expanded her kitchen and opened a second location in Lincoln Park, but no growing pains were visible, and she continues to be Chicago's worst-kept secret, though curiously there are few if any Devon Street locals eating there.
With a second dining room it's a bit easier to get a table and service is merely "spotty" (formerly "very spotty"). There are even two restrooms now, though walking through the kitchen to the back washroom was always fun in the past.
The food is still remarkable and one of a kind, as far as Chicago Indian goes, and Hema is still a warm presence (as is her young son?/grandson? who plays video games at a free table). Come late and enjoy the comic relief at closing time as Hema's manager turns party after party away at the door, only to have the regroup outside and return with a tale of woe for Hema, who will proceed to seat them, rendering the 9:30 closing time purely theoretical, to the chagrin of her staff.
Except for the lack of community seating, it felt like Munich. Fun atmosphere, authentic food.
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Once again, Andie's fails to disappoint.
The texture of the chicken was superior: rich in flavor, moist and tender yet fully cooked. The basil leaves didn't seem as fresh as the ones I'd had at Thai Binh a few nights earlier, but were adequate. I splurged the extra 95 cents and got it on a bed of couscous, which was tremendous. Mom had an eggplant dish that was nicely garnished with green olives. Dad's gyros looked a bit plain -- that's what he gets for opting for white rice -- but tasted good. It took my entire constitution to stop myself about 75% through my plate. As much as I wanted to finish, I wanted leftovers to savor later, and I also wanted to save myself for baklava.
And, oh!, what baklava! Large, diamond-shaped pieces, sprinkled with crushed pistachios -- nice touch! -- and drizzled in honey and a light chocolate. At $2 per, the best bargain on a bargain-rich menu. Our waiter Jeff read our minds nicely: We ordered two pieces of baklava, but without needing to be told he knew to whom to deliver the plates -- Dad and me -- but brought an extra fork and a large serrated knife so Mom could have some, too.
The food was rather bland, despite the unique experience of authentic Vietnamese. Substandard service. Waitress wasn't sure whether my entree was avilable, so she took a second choice, but I'm not entirely sure which one, if either, I ended up with.
Side-by-side, Reza's and Andie's continue to duke it out with reasonable prices and enormous portions. Myself, I hope Andie's prevails. I swore I would leave with a doggie bag, but I couldn't get enough of my couscous; each bite melted and encouraged another. And with most entrees around $10, it won't bust anyone's budget.