Better Half and I like to treat Time Out Chicago's 100 Best Things We Ate this Year as a kind of to-do list, and Arami had the added bonus of being highly recommended by a friend of ours.
To be honest - the seared fish that Time Out was so excited about was good, but certainly not one of the best things I ate all year. The fish was indeed buttery, the crust was spicy, the dressing creamy with a hint of lemon, and the seaweed salad was fresh and delicious. All of that is true, but nonetheless, I wouldn't say that the combination was somehow mind-blowingly incredible. Still, it was a tasty start. I was drinking a warm cup of sake (yes yes I know, but it was cold out) which was adequate but not thrilling, and Better Half had some wonderful jasmine tea, delicate, floral, and almost too elegant tasting. He also got a bowl of miso, which was very good, and especially to be praised, in my mind, because it was just plain miso. Nothing exciting or fancy. I'm all about culinary innovation, but honestly, when it comes to miso, just do it right. I've yet to taste a "twist" on one (ours has carrots!) that was better than the original.
Next up was a mushroom salad. Big, buttery slices of grilled mushroom in a delicate citrus and sesame dressing. It was delicious, though if one really, really wanted to nitpick, I'd say that the flavor balance wasn't quite right - the citrus was basically lost in the earthiness of the fungi. Which wasn't a problem, but how exciting it could have been if it were more pronounced. Overall, it was good, but not something I'd have to order again if I came back.
Next up was the sashimi. Oh. my. god. Better half had a few pieces of nigiri - yellowtail, salmon, and the medium fatty tuna. I had the Madai, which is like a red snapper, and the Suzuki, which is a sea bass (both were specials for the night). Wow. The pieces were teensy, but the fish was out of this world. Tender, rich, and phenomenal.
But the real treat was about to come - the Hirame spicy Tako roll, with fluke, octopus, and ginger apple dressing. Thsi was, quite possibly, one of the most delicious pieces of sushi I have ever had in my life. It was absolutely mindblowingly incredible. The fish and octopus were of top quality, and the overall texture was silky smooth, but the flavors! So delicate, so wonderfully complimentary! So absolutely amazing! Seriously - you HAVE to go and try some of the rolls.
What came next was kind of the slow come-down after the peak. The braised short rib donburi was pretty good - the short rib was so tender you could pull it apart with chopsticks, and it tasted great, particularly with bites of the hot pepper and pickled asian pear garnish. But the sauce on the rice was rather too salty, and just not as good. Then came the arami ramen, which Time Out's critic had also raved about, and which we decidedly did not enjoy. The broth was not only a salt mine, but the flavor was just, I dunno, not appealing. The noodles were slightly hard? Maybe they are supposed to be that way? But it does not make for pleasant eating. The pork belly was fine, but for me at least, the broth kind of threw the whole thing.
I had been hoping for some kind of exciting desert to top it all off, but alas. They have mochi and gelato (one of the flavors is blood orange sake) which both sound great, but not when it's -10C outside.
The check was not exactly a pleasant sight when it arrived - the meal set us back $100 plus tip. Yowzers. But honestly, I don't think we could have done it for much less. We could have skipped the drinks, of course, but food-wise, that's kind of the amount you need. I think if we come back - and I hope we do, because seriously, it's amazing sushi - we'll try some of the other appetizers (the mussels, salmon, and scallops all call to me), invest in a chef's selection of sashimi, and get a couple of rolls. It will not be cheap, but I bet it'll be fantastic.