Ah, Chicago Restaurant Week....Imagine if you could sample from some of the greatest restaurants in Chicago? Every style of cuisine would be included: American, Italian, Mexican. Along with some of the lesser known types such as Gastro Pub, Eclectic, and Fondue. Now add onto that fantasy by imagining that the head chefs at these restaurants combed through their extensive menus and compiled only the best choices all wrapped nicely for you to handily choose from. And not only did they compile the top favorites of their menu, they bundled it up in a fair price that offers you the best deal for three or four courses offered. Insert holy music here, but I assure it's no revelation but reality manifested in the form of Chicago Restaurant Week. As part of our Ignite Your Passion monthly focus, we set out to explore something that's our deep passion, food. And not just any food, the delicacies of one of the top Japanese restaurants in the city, Mirai Sushi located at 2020 West Division Street.
Going on its sixth year, Chicago Restaurant Week looks to recreate much of its success gained from past events. Not much has changed since its initial week long bash, going so far as to keep the same pricing from last year which grossed $20.9 million from over 440,000 participants. And why you might ask? Like WTTW, it's all due to spenders like you. Making a 28% increase in traffic, a large bout of revenue is attributed not to fine dining snobbery but fledgling foodies having their metaphoric cherries popped in the upscale cuisine arena. This year 250 local restaurants made the cut and were allowed to showcase the crowd favorites from their menus at the going rates of lunch $22 and dinner service $33/$44.
Following a recent passion of ours which originated from a past article, (Night Out Ideas for the Health Conscious) 4-Star Explorer decided to make a middle of the week journey out to Mirai Sushi restaurant. Coming in I, Shavon "Vonnie" Coleman along with photographer/assistant/whipping boy Chris Thompson, were pleasantly met with a clean well ordered dining space with a seemingly open kitchen space lining the right and back of the restaurant. Bright yellow paint splashed over the walls, modern Japanese decorative paintings along with just the right amount of lighting create a warm casual aura before a word from a waiter is ever uttered.
Sitting down with Mirai Sushi lead manager, Mark Ramirez, 4-Star gained some deeper knowledge of the eatery's history. Mirai's doors have been opened since 1999 by owner Miae Lim. Proving quite the restauranteur she has since opened Japonais in 2003. Executive Chef, Jun Ichikawa, has been the leading culinary master of Mirai since 2002. Mark wowed us with examples of accolades and personal awards gathered since Mirai's doors opened. For the last four consecutive years, Mirai has gained what some would deem "the only restaurant award that matters," the Zagat Award for Restaurant Excellence. (For more on exactly what Zagat is click here) Mirai currently has the Zagat food rating of 27 out a possible 30. During our interview turned playful banter, Mark proclaims, "we don't compromise on food. [Our owner] is very focused on keeping to authentic Japanese but also modern style. It's traditional Japanese done right." And one would only have to take a look at the menu to see this concept among the house favorites. For the cold dishes, Sakana Carpaccio, $12, a sushi roll filled with thinly sliced tuna; salmon; and whitefish with a sweet garlic sesame soy sauce, seems to be a sushi staple. While Shrimp Togarashi, $12, a platter of butterfly shrimp sautéed in a Japanese seven spice sauce served with rice, is the hot plate favorite. We were told anything doused in the restaurant's signature Togarashi sauce can set even the snootiest palate a flame with flavorful bursting greatness, which is why Mirai is beginning to bottle the salivate inducing substance for take home purchase. Admitting that he is a foodie explorer, Mark prides himself on a couple things: his "true foodie" experience visiting the varying communities and cultures of the city and being a native born Chicagoan. He proved himself the proverbial man about town as he was off to another meeting shortly after.
Later, during the meal, we got a chance to speak with fellow manager, Michael Peterson, as we mulled over ideal eats. The prefix menu highlights follows:
$44 PER GUEST
(Does not include tax,
Gratuity or additional beverages)
Shrimp, ginger and scallion dumplings with a sweet and sour soy sauce
Lettuce Wraps (choose two)
Tofu, Chicken or Pork with spicy dipping sauce
Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura
Tempura battered shrimp and vegetables
Panko Chicken Satay
Panko breaded chicken skewers with sweet mustard tonkatsu sauce
Spicy octopus roll topped with spicy tuna tartar and unagi sauce
Panko shrimp breaded roll topped with soy marinated salmon
Tuna Tuna Salmon
Poached salmon roll topped with tuna and wasabi sauce
Traditional Rolls (Choose Two)
Tuna, Spicy Tuna, Salmon, Shitake Mushroom, or Cucumber Roll
Tofu, Chicken or Shrimp Togarashi
Sautéed with Japanese seven spice sauce
Chicken or Salmon Teriyaki
We went with Traditional Rolls of Spicy Tuna and Cucumber which offered a refreshing start to the meal. Chicken Togarashi for the entree, ended with me literally scraping the plate due to its tangy sauce. The Togarashi sauce approaches the classic spicy and sweet flavor combinations tossed with succulent white meat chicken and fresh snap peas and broccoli. And we each split the dessert of Mochi Cakes which are these odd but fun little pods made of rice sheets but resemble marshmallows in consistency with ice cream tenderly nestled inside. And of course, drizzled with chocolate sauce for added food heaven affect. 4-Star Explorer has given many awesome reviews to past restaurants but it is my official record as main contributor to this online publication that I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED BETTER SERVICE. ANYWHERE. PERIOD. I don't have a freakin' note of improvement to divulge. Even the restroom was great! It had some floating sink design going on that at first glance you'd think was an optical illusion or something. Mark mentioned that Mirai was all about precision and Michael brought it home with Mirai Sushi's mantra for success "food, service, ambiance."
Here's some helpful tips to aid you in your excursion to future Restaurant Weeks:
- Make Reservations-as restaurant traffic will be very busy during this time.
- Befriend the Server-often times they can give you dish suggestions and answer any questions.
- Don't Be Afraid to Venture off the Prefix Menu-if something looks good on the regular menu, try it!
- Take a Friend or Two-we all know that dinner is best enjoyed with friends but it can also be strategic. Going in a group of at least 3 can allow you to have more freedom trying different food off the menu. You might also want to try a new starter and then be able to split the cost.
Today marks the final day of Restaurant Week. So borrow $20 or $30 bucks from anybody you know. Or dip into those precious income tax lined pockets of yours and get to the nearest participating restaurant. Visit ChooseChicago.com for more info and happy eating! Tell us some of your favorite Restaurant Week dishes below.
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