Hand rolls are arguably the most underappreciated sushi variety. Unlike maki and nigiri, these inconspicuous cylinders aren’t about showing off—warm rice and raw fish are all but hidden under a blanket of dark nori. But two new Chicago joints are out to prove that even though it may not be ideal for Instagram, the hand roll tucks away a tasty science.
The menu at Sushi-san in River North is exhaustive, but the hand-roll bar promises diners an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Once seated, guests are asked to choose a three-, four- or five-piece tasting that isn’t available on the menu circulating the main dining room. Why the exclusivity? Chef Kaze Chan argues that this type of sushi should be gobbled up as soon as it’s constructed; even a 30-second delay in service could spoil the experience. “If you don’t enjoy it at that moment, it can get soggy,” he says.
He’s right: The textural elements change as you make your way through the morsel. That first bite is the most divine—the seaweed is crunchy, the rice warm and the fish buttery-soft. All three courses start with refreshing negi hamachi (yellowtail with green onion) and end with a deeply indulgent baked umami scallop roll, creating a satisfying progression.
Each piece is handed directly from the chef to the customer, which requires a certain level of back-and-forth banter that’s just as enjoyable whether you’re dining solo or with a small group. Ignore Emily Post’s advice here and start eating before your companions are served.
At Anaba Handroll Bar in Wicker Park, that personalized service is ingrained in the team behind the 15-seat bar. “We decided that it was just as important to [hire] based on personality as it is that someone has years of sushi experience,” says co-owner Susan Thompson, who partnered with chef Soon Park on the restaurant. “For what they’re doing, it’s really about customer service.”
Dreamed up by the folks behind vegetarian mainstay Mana, Anaba allows guests to select a three- to six-course meal or choose from the à la carte menu. Expect all the usual suspects (salmon, blue crab, spicy tuna) alongside a few stellar veggie rolls, including garlic-and-soy oyster mushrooms and sesame-roasted squash.
Whether you go full fish or dabble in the nontraditional, Thompson says you’re bound to be impressed: “It’s that first bite into the nori that people are just blown away by. It’s something [you] can’t describe until you experience it.”