Sushi. I find that you’re either a sushi person or you’re not. You can never convince someone to like sushi who isn’t down with eating raw fish. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact I like it that way. Because of this, sushi is never a “trendy” thing like cupcakes or macarons that “foodies” flock to. You won’t find a fleet of sushi trucks tweeting their locations for the bicycle riding hipsters. Sushi bars were “chef’s tables” long before high-end restaurants figured out they could charge a mint to let someone eat in the kitchen. No trend. Sushi just is. It’s simple and clean but can be oh so memorable. People who like it are always looking for that, and remember those places where they find it. Ora is one of those places.
We were looking to go out for some dinner with our friends Jen and Erik and they recommended sushi. I’d already heard about Ora from Erik so I was eager to go there and try it out. Cheryl and I had been searching for some good sushi here in Chicago but weren’t finding too much that wowed us. Let’s just say our search ended at this cozy little place on Clark in Andersonvile (man there’s a lot of good stuff going on up there)!
Ora is fantastic. First of all it’s BYOB (I love this aspect of Chicago dining, it’s so different from the east coast where I grew up). Second, Jen suggested we all go for omakase, chef’s choice, and we’re glad she did. It was pretty quiet in the restaurant on a Wednesday night so we had prime seats at the bar where we could watch the talented chefs do their stuff. I stopped counting but we each had at least six pieces of nigiri, some of the best miso soup I can remember, and a couple rolls to finish off the night. I’m sorry I can’t remember all the different kinds we had but they were your regular culprits, yellowtail, salmon, tuna, etc. There was a smoked salmon one even Cheryl liked. She is not a fan of smoked salmon at all but this was very delicately smoked. You got the smokiness but it was in the background. The biggest hit was the “Jordan special” (one of the chefs). I feel really bad I can’t remember what it was but I do remember “yuzu ponzu” being mentioned. The chefs commented they were trying to save that one for the end because it’s so good (it is) and everything after that would be a let down. Not true, but I will admit the next piece did not match the Jordan special. My very happy taste buds were still dancing and couldn’t figure out why I was interrupting them.
Almost all the pieces were finished with a chef’s soy sauce which is lighter and less salty than the soy sauce you pour to dip in. Want to know how flavorful their creations were? I did what everyone does upon sitting down at the sushi bar, poured some soy sauce into the little dish and then…never used it the entire night. Didn’t need it. Everything was seasoned perfectly. Even the pickled ginger we were given as a palate cleanser (oh man it’s all coming back to me now!) was delicious. Not too gingery, not too pickled. And seriously, the miso soup, one word: umami.
Throughout dinner the chefs were talking to us and the staff was very friendly. I also didn’t find it overly expensive, very affordable. All this makes me want to run back to Ora. It wasn’t so much the fish (which was fresh and bright and clean) but the accents the chefs gave to the fish. Yuzu, citrus, heat, umami, it was an extremely flavorful dining experience. Next time I’ll take better notes, promise. Sushi people will understand.
UPDATE! UPDATE! 3/14/2012 – We’ve since returned to Ora and the quality of food and service remains high. I can also tell you some more about what we ate as we ordered off the menu this time. The rolls they make here are very creative. The surf and turf roll and the scallop roll were delicious and unlike any other I’ve had. Once again the nigiri had many layers of flavors, the one I really liked was the 7 spiced escolar. Its the 7 spice that gives off the heat, not fire heat but a subtle low heat that arrives late and lingers. Very nice. Had the yellow fin-avocado with garlic chips and wasabi aioli again as well as the Jordan special. The phone photos below do not do the rolls justice!