I love checking out new restaurants, and our city has plenty of those to offer. Rare is the weekend in Chicago when there is not at least one new restaurant opening. As exciting as it is to dine at the soon-to-be hot spots and scope out the latest offerings from up-and-coming chefs, you've got to have your old stand-bys as wellthe kinds of places where you can order without glancing at the menu and always leave satisfied.
I've found that people who like sushi tend to be pretty passionate about it and require regular doses. Those sushi fixes can really add up, which is why you have to find a reliable place that serves fresh fish at prices that won't break the bank. For me, that place is Jaiyen, a sushi bar on the north end of Boystown. The Broadway Street space may not be the most dazzling you'll ever lay eyes on. But, it's clean, cozy and cute in an offbeat way. What matters is that the sushi is consistently fresh and tasty.
Priced from $4 to $7, the basic rolls like spicy tuna, ebi tempura and Philly maki are a steal. The more elaborate chef's special rolls range from $7.95 to $12.95still a super value for the quality and quantity of sushi you get. Best of all, Jaiyen is BYOB, so you can grab some sake or sushi-friendly wine and not have to worry about cocktails padding your bill. As if that weren't enough, you may be able to find coupons for Jaiyen on Restaurant.com that you can either use to whittle down your tab a little bit more or indulge in some of the pricier rolls or appetizers that you wouldn't normally order.
I always go into Jaiyen with the intention of starting my feast with some low-cal edamame, but usually end up ordering one of the delicious deep-fried starters instead. I'm a bit of a crab rangoon fanatic, and I can confidently endorse Jaiyen's as an above-average version. They always come out piping hot and golden brown, and not over-fried like so many places serve crab rangoons. For something a little different, but just as delightfully bad for you, try the deep-fried spicy tuna. Who needs plain spicy tuna wrapped in seaweed and white rice when you can have it mixed with avocado and cream cheese and then battered and deep fried. You won't want to go back to the sushi version, I swear.
After a few fried nibbles, I like to ease into my sushi extravaganza with a couple of pieces of nigiri. The super white tuna is my favorite, but I've sampled many pieces of nigiri at Jaiyen and they've all been good. I consider that a barometer for the quality of a sushi bar because it's a heck of a lot harder to mask less-than-fresh fish when it's not wrapped up in rice and smothered in cream cheese or tempura.
I have to have a Philly roll whenever I eat sushi, and with fresh smoked salmon and a generous smear of cream cheese, Jaiyen's version never disappoints. I'm also a big fan of the spider maki, a treat made with soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado, masago, unagi and spicy mayo. You can't go wrong with the colorful rainbow roll, which packs crab, tuna, salmon and whitefish into one delicious piece of sushi.
Make it a point to try at least one of Jaiyen's less conventional rolls, like the jade dragon, which combines unagi, hamachi, radish sprouts and avocado. It's topped with tobiko and wasabi mayo, which gives it a memorable kick. The dynamite roll is a more souped-up version of the spider maki. In this version, the soft shell crab is fried and cream cheese is added. One of the most unique, and surprisingly good, rolls is the Mexican. Hamachi and whitefish are given some south-of-the-border heat with jalapeño and cilantro. Meanwhile, cucumber and a squeeze of lemon make the roll taste fresh and light.
I never even pretend that I won't be having dessert at Jaiyen because they have mochi ice cream. The green tea is my favorite, but the strawberry, mango and coffee flavors are also fantastic. For added indulgence, the sticky sweet balls of ice cream are presented with a generous dollop of whipped cream. They're the perfect ending to an always-satisfying sushi fix.
Jaiyen is located at 3734 N. Broadway; call 773-404-0555 or visit www.jai-yen.com/index.html .
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