Arami

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“Sushi is very simple.” B.K. Park interjects this repeatedly as we discuss Arami’s menu. You source the fish properly. You care for it properly. You cut it properly. You attend to the quality of the rice. It’s that simple. Park, who is the chef and a partner of Arami, is the former chef of Mirai, and he has a point.

Sushi restaurants can compete for the most annoyingly elaborate maki, but ultimately it comes down to: Is the fish fresh? The answer, at Arami—an understated, unpretentious West Town treasure—is an immediate yes. The flavors of the fish are pristine, with nightly specials such as aji and shima-aji—members of the amberjack clan and lighter relatives to yellowtail—whispering delicate, floral sweet nothings.

But at the same time, Park is massively underselling himself. His presentations of raw fish employ simple visual elements—a seashell, a precious flower—to construct plates that are enchanting and graceful. And when he goes beyond properly sourcing and cutting, he does so with sophisticated ease. I ate the “secret hamachi” in one bite: I smelled truffle oil, but what I tasted was restraint—and the rush of the velvety fish merging with the crunch of microgreens.

When Park turns to the stove, his food reminds me more of the elegantly balanced plates at Takashi than of the cooked food at most of this city’s sushi establishments. If you eat only one thing at Arami, let it be the togarashi-seared tuna: fatty, luscious pieces of fish layered over a seaweed and kelp noodle salad that matches the yellowfin’s richness with a creamy Meyer lemon dressing.

But the truth is you need to eat more than one thing at Arami. In fact, you should probably plan to eat there twice. Because the fish specials and the nigiri (on their rectangles of tender, well-attended-to) rice, are worth a visit themselves, and there is something else at Arami that demands—and deserves—its own meal: ramen.

The four varieties of ramen are part of the homespun, traditional vision of Troy and Ty Fujimura, the owners. The brothers designed Arami with inviting pale tones and natural-wood tables that are suited as much to slurping a bowl of noodles alone in jeans shorts with a book as to dressing up for a date of sushi sharing. Read into it as you will, but it’s the promise of the former that, as fall creeps in, appeals to me most. The “Arami ramen” broth starts with a pork bone, its richness reduced overnight, yielding a fullness of flavor that, swirled with an egg yolk and laden with meaty pork belly, is a meal of incomparable satisfaction. Even the vegetarian broth shares in the heartiness, with mushroom stock, soy sauce and rice wine lending a sweet-salty base for toothsome udon noodles.

It’s feasible to combine these two experiences into one—the servers will pace out the sashimi and nigiri, then end with a pot of soup with sharing bowls. But the detail that goes into the preparation of each makes them best enjoyed as simply as possible.

By Julia Kramer. Photographs by Mireya Acierto.

Venue name: Arami
Contact:
Address: 1829 W Chicago Ave
Chicago

Cross street: between Wolcott Ave and Wood St
Opening hours: Dinner (closed Mon)
Transport: Bus: 9, 50, 66.
Price: Average nigiri: $4
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