Sunday, August 9, 2015


When I think of Wasabi, I think of my first experience with the Japanese horseradish.  It was actually my first real experience with sushi.  A friend of mine took a few of us to a sushi bar and ordered a bunch of stuff.  When the plates arrived, there was a blob of green sitting at the edge of one which I took and popped in my mouth without knowing what it was.  That probably was not the smartest move ever made.  As one might guess, this was wasabi and it was very painful going down.  While I have since learned how to handle it and i have actually come to enjoy it, this first experience still comes to mind when I here the word.  A few of years ago, a Japanese restaurant opened in my neighborhood called Wasabi, I thought that it was another sushi restaurant, which would have been fine, but there are many sushi restaurants in the area, so I kind of put it on a back burner to visit at some future time.  I found out recently though, that while wasabi has sushi, it focuses on small plates and specializes in ramen.  There have been several very good ramen places that have opened in Chicago recently, and as I like ramen, I decided to check it out.  The building that Wasabi is in is a former Mexican restaurant and has a shape like a Spanish Mission.  The walls, inside and out, are all dark gray with the exception to the brick wall behind the sushi bar/dining counter.  The room is rather narrow with the bar and the tables (all four tops) are a bit close, so it could be a bit difficult to move through the dining room when it gets crowded.  I sat at one end of the bar so I had a good view of both the open kitchen and the dining room, which did get crowded by the time I left.  Wasabi does have a good list of sushi, but I was there for the ramen so I didn't try it and will have to return for that.  While I was having the ramen, I figured that I would also have room for a few things on the small plates and skewers menu.  I started with Takoyaki.  Takoyaki is supposed to be a fried ball of dough with a lot of chopped Octopus which is usually served with a dipping sauce and Bonito Flakes.  This was all of that and it was very good.  I say supposed to be though because I have run into several restaurants that were serving takoyaki that was not takoyaki and contained something other than octopus.  I was very happy to have octopus.  The balls were fluffy and flavorful and the bonito flakes, while plentiful, were not overwhelming.
My next small plate was something highly recommended by my waiter.  He recommended getting a skewer and specifically, the Fried Chicken Thigh.  His argument is that the ramen takes a long time to make and has a lot of ingredients so you should expect that it should be very good.  The skewers are very simple and focus on a single ingredient, so it should take some skill to make it stand out.  The best of the skewers, in his opinion was the fried chicken leg because the thigh has the most fat and hence, the most flavor.  With his glowing recommendation, I tried it.  It was very simple as could be expected and the meat was well seasoned, juicy, and flavorful.  While it was good, it wasn't as exciting to me as it apparently was to him.
For the vegetable portion of my meal, even when I go out I try to have at least one dish that has a good focus on vegetables, I had Crispy Brussels Sprouts.  They were well browned, cut, and served with Toasted Almonds and Miso Sauce which provided an even more savory flavor than would normally expected.  As they were browned, they were pretty crispy as the name stated and very good.
I saved the Ramen for last because that kind of made sense to me.  In actuality, everything arrived, for the most part, at the same time, so I could have eaten it in any order that I wanted to.  I just had it in the order that made the most sense to me.  The Ramen that I had was called Spicy Roasted Garlic Miso Ramen.  It actually starts out with a pork base broth like tonkotsu and is actually very similar to their Tonkotsu Ramen.  In addition to the broth and the noodles, it contained Pork Belly, a Soft Boiled Egg, Marinated Bamboo Shoots, Bean Sprouts, Sesame, Scallion, Roasted Garlic, Garlic Chips, Chili Threads, and Sesame Oil.  The difference between this ramen and the tonkotsu is that this has bean sprouts, garlic, and chili threads, and the tonkotsu has wood ear mushrooms.  In any case, it is really good.  It's rich and spicy and has a lot of noodles in addition to the many other ingredients.  While there is a little bit of a learning curve for eating ramen, use the large spoon to take a scoop of the ramen and eat off the spoon with chopsticks, the food is satisfying, so the experience is good.

The menu at Wasabi is pretty big so you have to make multiple trips to become an expert.  From what I tried though, I would very much enjoy returning to further become an expert.  The food and service were very good and the waiter was very helpful.     

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