(visited October, 2004)
If I had written a letter to the proprietors of Japonais in Chicago the “morning after,” this is what I would have to say:
To Whom It May Concern:I had the opportunity of dining with you last night. I had a dinner with two good friends whom I had not seen since college. I was quite frequently through Chicago on business and had chosen your restaurant from among many that I have wanted to try. Despite the high commendations from colleagues, friends and many reviews proclaiming your establishment to serve the best sushi in town, I was unfortunately disappointed with my experience with you. I regret my decision and write to share my thoughts as a patron to a business that I believe, could improve. Specifically, a couple of the items that I ordered were devastatingly disappointing. They did not arrive as they had been described on the menu. Nor did their substantiality justify the price. My “Summer Roll” [described as “ahi tuna filled with cucumber, avocado, and uni with wasabi vinaigrette”] was embarrassingly small and contained no identifiable uni, and little of anything else. Also, despite careful examination by my friends and I, none of us could find any “tuna and salmon tartare” rolled in my $16 “Tuna Tuna Salmon” maki mono [described as “salmon tartare topped with sliced tuna, avocado sauce and wasabi tobiko sauce”]. Upon inquiry, our server assured us that it was “incorporated into the rice.” We weren’t convinced by this response (and, quite frankly, neither was the server).
To your chefs’ credits, there were a few items I found satisfactory. The “’Sizzling’ Samurai” ($22) was a good sampling of seven different tartares. Particularly delightful were both the Ebi, which was sweet and tender, and the Akami with the quail egg. However, I believe the lobster and crab were cooked and therefore not really “tartares.” Also, I wished that there was enough scallop tartare inside the cucumber cup for me to at least get a true tasting. Lastly, the menu said that it came with “mini maki rolls.” Instead, I received a basket of unremarkable sesame covered wonton chips with which to “scoop out” the tartares from their creative votive-candle-like containers. As for your sashimi, the presentation is gorgeous. But, I wonder if a good third of the price has been spent on the superfluous orchid blossoms, tea leaves, and bed of shoestring daikon on which my two nearly paper thin (but very fresh) cuts of tuna reclined? At first appearance, I thought I had ordered a plate of flowers and fluffy white radish shreds.
On the up-side, your restaurant does do some things well. For one, I was happy with my “Kaiso” seaweed salad. More surprisingly, I found that your kitchen’s forte was not in the surf, bur rather in the turf… Your “Filet Mignon” was the most impressive dish I had. It more accurately reflected both its description and pricing. The taste and texture was velvety and it was cooked as ordered. As well, your “Foie Gras Torchon” with the poached apple presented a nice pairing. The beautiful and generous disc of foie was delightfully pinkishly fresh and luscious.
Japonais’s service was snappy, attentive and very cordial. However, it seems your staff is ill-coordinated as we had at least five different servers throughout the meal – which made for a difficult way of getting results when orders were missed, misdelivered or forgotten…
I had requested a fax of your dinner menu a couple of days before I arrived. The prices for dishes on the fax did not match the prices listed at the restaurant. (The “Sizzling Samurai” was listed as $18 instead of $22; the Maki Monos were listed as $15 instead of $16). I found this, doubtlessly just a minor oversight, to be yet another missive.
From the overbooked seating to the reviews and “hype,” I realize that Japonais is not struggling for patrons. Despite Japonais’s awkward locale, you have done wonders with the space you inhabit. You definitely know hot to “set” a swanky scene for chic-Chicago. I just wish you had food to match.
I wanted to share my disappointments with you. Unfortunately, they were enough to discourage me from returning to your restaurant, or recommending it to my acquaintances any time soon.
I send this, with,
The Ulterior Epicure
600 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60610
312.822.9600– Horrible: Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad…
* Okay: Go there if you want to get food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: I’d come back and probably recommend it to a friend.
*** Good: Would recommend to close family. Makes my “short list” of go-to’s.
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. had to look for mistakes.
****** Speechless: ‘nough said