First Bite – Macku Sushi by Rachel Gillman

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I take my raw fish seriously. Mercury poisoning be damned, I eat sushi at least three or four times a week…the more often, the better. My affinity for Japanese food borders on obsession, which is why I was deeply disappointed to see Kaze close. One of the best sushi spots in Chicago, this Roscoe Village restaurant developed a reputation for culinary creativity, especially with their signature sashimi and nigiri. Fruit, spices and unexpected combinations made Kaze’s maki both distinctive and delicious.

Macku, the new incarnation of Kaze in Lincoln Park, reunites the original chefs and retains the same spirit. A small, intimate space with brick walls, dark wooden floors and moss green accents, it’s a Zen backdrop for intense eating. The white tablecloths signal serious dining and the chefs deliver. Tempura gets a gourmet makeover with basil-wrapped whitefish and black tiger shrimp, lightly battered and paired with Japanese mountain vegetables over a parlsey beurre – an electric green soup with sweet undertones. The spicy tuna wrapped in avocado was another successful twist on a traditional dish, served with flavorful spring rolls that deserve their own permanent spot on the menu.

While the makimono list features all the usual suspects – rainbow, dragon, spicy tuna and spider – they’re expertly prepared with premium fish. The spicy tuna, mango, shrimp and eel roll was one of the best, along with hamachi ebi tempura filled with yellowtail, crispy shrimp, cilantro, avocado and jalapeno for added kick. To really experience the talented chefs of Macku, focus on the signature sashimi and nigiri. Fresh basil, sweet arugula puree and fried shallots are just a few of the unusual ingredients that make Macku’s sushi shine.

The Madai with sea bream and toasted pine nuts is drizzled in a balsamic reduction and plated with a large leaf for added effect. I liked the Mebachi even better, a savory combination of big eye tuna, pickled onions, burdock root, chives, truffle oil and soy. This is sashimi on steroids with big, bold flavors and it looks almost as good as it tastes. One more recommendation is the Shiro Maguro nigiri, a thick piece of white tuna layered across rice and topped with a creamy banana wasabi puree. The nigiri selections are pricey by the piece, but it’s worth sampling at least one of the experimental combos.

Compared to the quality, Macku’s prices are fairly reasonable, although the sake list creeps upwards towards $60 for a small bottle. The most expensive roll is only $14 and the cooked entrees – including duck, venison and cod – are all $16 and under. While the Kani nigiri with crab and sea urchin is a splurge at $7 for a single piece, it’s still an affordable indulgence.

Kaze might be a fond dining memory, but Macku will create new ones. It’s a welcome addition to Chicago’s sushi scene and one of the best new spots in Lincoln Park.

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Oak Tree's New Look in the 900 Shops

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shopping at the 900 Shops on Michigan Ave. can work up quite an appetite. Although I'm not a big shopper, I am a frequent guest there mainly because of my better half. Even though my window shopping is limited, I tend to venture to the 6th floor to check out Oak Tree, my favorite restaurant in the building.

After closing down for several weeks to renovate, Oak Tree reopened with a new look and new menu items. The layout remains very similar but the colors are more inviting and modern. Mosaic tiles along with soothing colors accent the room. The food continues to be tasty, but folks are raving about their Epicurean Toasted Cheese items. Some of the new sandwiches featured include:

"Roquefort & Pear, Candied Pecans, Mozzarella, Spinach and Fig Preserves"

"Ham & Gruyere, Arugula, Mozzarella and Grilled Onions"

"Cheddar & Asparagus, Fontina, Spinach and Ham"

"Turkey & Cranberry, Roquefort, Spinach and Mozzarella"

"Cheddar & Fig Preserves, Watercress, Grilled Onion and Roquefort"

A few new "900 Coolers" were added as well, such as the "Cucumber-Lime Cooler", "Raspberry-Mint Agua Fresca", and "Citrus or White Grape Spritzer". These drinks are very refreshing and a welcomed break from the normal colas. Don't forget to ask about their new desserts. The cookie tray is nicely done with a variety of scones, brownies and cookies. The prices have increased a bit, so if you're a frequent guest don't be too surprised.

Oak Tree is located on the 6th floor in the 9oo north building and is open for breakfast, lunch and a very late lunch. Log onto for more information.

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