According to The Story of Sushi: An Improbable Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson, the very first traditional sushi restaurant appeared in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. The establishment named Kawafuku catered primarily to Japanese immigrants and gained a solid following. As a result, Japanese chefs began flocking to California to open similar restaurants, and by the 1970s health-conscious American celebrities had discovered the delicacy. Sushi began to gain traction on the West Coast as chefs capitalized on locally available ingredients like crab and avocado. Once the ever-popular California Roll took hold of the burgeoning sushi-loving community, creativity and accessibility took hold of American sushi menus.
Over the past 50 years, colorful maki rolls, nigiri pieces and subtle sashimi have grown in popularity across the country. In fact, the number of specialty sushi establishments in the United States has grown to over 15,000 over the past half-century. When served in Japan, sushi is a celebration of simplicity and freshness, while in the United States, extravagant maki rolls tend to dominate menus. Drawing on a traditional trio of ingredients including seaweed, seasoned rice and fresh fish, these rolls create opportunities for creative chefs to stand out from the multitude of restaurants serving sushi in the United States.
Inari Sushi and Sake Lounge, 7428 W. North Ave., has been a fixture on Restaurant Row in Elmwood Park for a decade. Sara Kate, the spot’s owner, spent years running Tank Sushi in Lincoln Square and has connections to the folks behind Sushi Wabi, the landmark sushi bar on Chicago’s Randolph Street that closed in 2012. Drawing on the wisdom of chefs from some of Chicago’s top sushi houses, helped Kate and her dedicated team embrace creativity in their line of custom maki rolls.
Sure, Inari stays true to tradition by offering simple sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls that honor Kate’s long career for tangy quality ingredients, but their specialty rolls have evolved way beyond the California roll. typical. Consider Inari’s Flaming Dragon Specialty Roll – this upside down roll is stuffed with shrimp tempura, scallions and sweet spicy mayo before being topped with fresh salmon, super white tuna, black tobiko and red, green onions and sesame seeds. The offer is literally set on fire before landing on a customer’s table; the flashy offering is a favorite among regular Inari customers.
Those looking for a different kind of heat will enjoy the Diablo roll filled with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, and fresh jalapeno. This spicy offering, topped with crunchy tempura, spicy mayonnaise and sweet soy, is sure to please hot heads everywhere.
The creativity continues with Inari’s alphabet-tilting STAY Rolling Roll, featuring letter-focused ingredients: salmon, tuna, avocado, and yellowtail. The offering is a delicious lesson in spelling. The festive X’mas Specialty Roll lets a well-known color palette drive the dish. Look for ruby-hued tuna, snow crab and tobiko to join green-hued cucumber and avocado in this ode to a festive time of year. The memorable roll is meant to be enjoyed all year round.
Precede any offer of Inari maki rolls with a piping hot bowl of homemade miso soup or an innovative appetizer offer. A healthy summer roll, found among Inari’s rotating menu of daily specials, attracts health-conscious visitors. Instead of nori and rice, this maki-inspired starter is wrapped in carved cucumber and sweet sauce. Inari’s Spicy Tuna Dumplings enjoy a particularly memorable presentation with tuna and crabmeat tossed in ponzu sauce hidden behind thinly sliced avocado scales.
Though rooted in Japanese tradition, Inari’s offerings celebrate the best side of American sushi cuisine while remaining both elevated and refined. The decade-old sushi bar offers deceptively complex, chef-led creations with customer comfort in mind – a remarkable combination on North Avenue.