Macku Sushi

Restaurants, Japanese Lincoln Park
3 out of 5 stars
Photograph: Martha Williams Macku

If you tend to overlook the fine print on menus, you could initially miss what makes Macku stand out among other sushi slingers. Its offerings seem standard at first blush: appetizers of maguro and tempura, soups such as udon, a handful of entrées including unagi don and cod, and a small list of sashimi, nigiri and maki. But look closer and you’ll find that tempura appetizer is whitefish stuffed with shrimp and basil then lightly battered and fried, and the panko-breaded cod entrée is swimming in chocolate miso and topped with razor-thin slices of strawberry. That sashimi isn’t just a hunk of hamachi on a plate: It’s sitting on beet rounds, surrounding a mound of arugula puree.

Fans of the now-shuttered Kaze may recognize some of these playful juxtapositions—it’s what made that Roscoe Village restaurant so popular before it closed abruptly last September. Chef Macku Chan, who helmed Kaze at the time, brought most of those dishes to this restaurant, plus additions including sashimi and nigiri with inventive toppings.

But even a line-by-line reading of the menu doesn’t eliminate all surprises: When our server brought out the tempura appetizer, he pointed out that the lightly fried cod, resting in a parsley beurre blanc dotted with chile oil, was topped with a dollop of whipped cream to counteract the sauce’s heat. Turns out you can’t really taste that cream at all, so it does little to quell the fire that lingers in your throat after each bite. Yet the cod was perfectly fried, hinting at a dichotomy that can sum up a lot of the food here: The buildup (informed by the descriptions and presentation) leads to a slight letdown; the promise of exciting flavor unravels when one taste overwhelms all others.

That’s not to say the dishes are unsuccessful. Even though you can’t detect the sugar and seven-spice sprinkled on the nickel-size fried river crabs once you dip the little dudes into Japanese curry, you’ll still be tempted to take a spoon to the curry once the crabs are gone. And although the basil sprinkled on top of the already full-flavored mackerel sashimi will have you wondering where that promised spicy ginger sauce is, you’ll still love every bite of the extraordinarily fresh fish. The asparagus-pudding dessert, another Kaze holdover, will have you thinking you’re about to embark on a crazy train to flavor town—until you taste it. And even though you can’t pick up much asparagus for all the strawberry sauce surrounding it, you’ll eat the whole thing anyway.

Only the maki, which offers few surprises either on the menu or on the plate, delivers exactly what it promises. As far as maki goes, the rolls have well-balanced textures and subtle flavors—yet somehow they’re the least memorable part of the meal.

By: Laura Baginski


Venue name: Macku Sushi
Address: 2239 N Clybourn Ave

Cross street: between Webster and Greenview Aves
Opening hours: Dinner
Transport: Bus: 9, 74.
Price: Average main course: $15
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