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Shiso, Old Town

by Krista

449 West North Avenue

Date of Last Visit: Monday, November 8, 2010

The Victims: Many. All from Grubwithus.com, a very fun and Web 2.0 way of going out to dinner with like-minded strangers, singles and couples alike.

The Damage: $25ish? Maybe $30. I forget.

The Background: There are two things I want to talk about today. Firstly, it’s sushi rolls in America. And how when I was in London, I used to beg and plead for interesting rolls. Fun rolls. Rainbow rolls, where the sushi chef topped any roll coming out of the kitchen with the most colorful things he could get his hands on, regardless of how it all tasted together. Dragon rolls, where that same sushi chef would would shape and dress his sushi rolls into animals. Like dragons. Yes, I’m serious.

In London, the sushi chefs were purists. You rarely saw a Philadelphia roll on the menu. (Yes, that a sushi roll with cream cheese and chives.)

Now that I’m back, I have to ask myself: REALLY? I MEAN REALLY?!? WHAT WAS I THINKING? Because if you give a sushi chef in America–the land of options–a blank check, you end up with this:

That, my friends, is the Volcano Roll.

Yes, the volcano roll: hamachi, escolar, avocado, masago, red tobiko, black tobiko, tempura crumb, unagi sauce and spicy mayo.

Thankfully, the Golden Triangle wasn’t as visually disturbing. In fact, it was quite tame in comparison to the Volcano. But note that each piece of the roll has been shaped into a triangle. Sacrilege!!! Ingredients? shrimp tempura,cream cheese, tobiko, avocado, spicy sauce, masago mayo, green onion, tempura crumb outside topped with unagi sauce and wasabi mayo.

Behold, the Crunchy Spicy Tuna: tuna, masago, spicy mayo, chili oil, cucumber and tempura crumbs. These were very spicy and strangely addictive.

And here, the Shiso Signature Roll: smoked salmon, avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, and cream cheese deep fried. wrapped with rice and black tobiko. served with unagi sauce and spicy mayo on the side.

And then there was the Tiger. Deep fried soft shell crab, cilantro, kaiwardi cucumber, avocado, masago mayo, topped with tamago, and green onion. Note the tiger stripes.

I’ve gone backwards, however, in my telling of the meal.  Because we also had some calamari to start, which was tough and dry. A seaweed salad, which was actually quite delightful. And some spicy miso soup, which was also quite good.

Throughout it all, the staff was sweet and efficient. Perhaps too efficient. I felt a little rushed, with little space to breathe between bites.

The Other Thing I Wanted to Talk About: Since I’ve been back, everyone’s been very kind and asking about my repatriation and how it’s going and what I’ve noticed about life in America after being gone for so long. The list is long and I won’t bore you with all the details, but I do notice that the uniform for  men seems to be khaki trousers and a blue shirt. American football–particularly on Sundays–seems to be much more important than it was when I left. There are way too many commercials on American television, and they’re all SHOUTING at you, desperate to grab your attention. And in the grocery store, there’s hardly any real food. It’s all in boxes and cans.

But what I really wanted to talk about is how life moves on, which was something I was very much aware of as I moved back. My single friends in Chicago are all married. My married friends in Chicago now all have kids. I thought it was timely that as I was pulling together my thoughts on this post, Sasha over at The Happiness Project London wrote this.

Where I am at the moment is why I love a new venture like Grubwithus, a social dining concept. To borrow their own description from their Web site:

Grubwithus connects people in the real, physical world. Every meal presents opportunities to befriend and network with an amazing array of personalities. So the next time you are looking for a place to eat in Chicago, make it social and eat at a Grubwithus meal!

We created Grubwithus Socializing to expand our offline connections and meet new people in Chicago. Being recent transplants to Chicago, we wanted to meet new people, but didn’t want to hang out at the bars and clubs every night. We thought it’d be much more fun to bond at the best restaurants in Chicago over a family-style meal. And so Grubwithus was born.

I’ve dined out twice now with Grubwithus (Korean BBQ post coming up next) and have had a great time on both occasions. While the food at Shiso may have seemed a bit odd at times to a returning expat, it’s rare that I’d go out for sushi with 12 people and be able to try such a variety of dishes. And it’s even rarer still to be able to say to 11 other people, “Hey, let’s go all the way up north to this Korean barbecue place I’ve heard about.” (Or Ethiopian. Ethiopian is up next.) It would take about three months to find a date that worked for everyone. Grubwithus does all the organizing for you. All you have to do is show up. And on both occasions, my meals have been extremely good values. $30ish. Not bad.

The Verdict: Shiso is fun and the staff are sweet. Are they going to win any awards, food-wise? Probably not. But will Grubwithus win any awards? I hope so!

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USA USA December 3, 2010 - 3:36 pm

As an American in London who has been outside the US for 3 years, I would be extremely curious to hear what else you’ve noticed! The first thing I always notice is how loudly people speak, like they think everyone is listening to their conversation and fascinated by it. (A piece in the NYT referred to this as “unafraid of being overheard” which is a more polite way to say it)

Grubwithus December 3, 2010 - 3:37 pm

Thanks for writing about Grubwithus, Krista! 🙂

Kate December 3, 2010 - 3:40 pm

This looks like a lot of fun!!

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