As well as it can flip its steak around, Stetsons Modern Steak + Sushi in Chicago knows how to create sushi art
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: June 18, 2015
LF Says: ★★★★.5
As soon as you hear the word ‘sushi’, your mind conjures up images of small, colourful rolls, which you just pop into your mouth, and feel yourself sinking in bliss.
Though they look extremely easy, but let me assure you, they are exactly the opposite to make. The very popular Japanese chef, Nobu Matusiha, once said, “Making sushi is an art, and experience is everything.” I couldn’t agree more with him.
Having had a taste of Japanese cuisine just once before, quite a few years back, I tried it again recently at Stetsons Modern Steak + Sushi, at Hyatt Regency Chicago. Being a vegetarian, I asked them to accommodate my preferences, and well, they did it spectacularly!
Sitting down at the sushi bar, where the chefs were preparing food live for us with swift, nimble hands, I admired the stoneware placed in front of us. A tiny plate, chopsticks with a tiny supporter, a small jar filled with soy sauce, and two tiny glasses for sake tasting were set up in front of us beautifully. Though occupying a very tiny area in the entire restaurant, the sushi bar warrants a closer look with its unique art work on the back wall and bustling chefs behind the glass.
Tales of Sake
The meal started with an asparagus and seaweed salad with Yuzu sauce, served in a small bowl. Tart and refreshing, the refreshing taste of seaweed was balanced well with the earthiness of asparagus. The dressing gave it a tangy flavor, and I devoured it with my chopsticks, as fast as I could!
What is a Japanese food tasting without sake? While our server explained about sakes, she poured one in our tiny, stone glasses. Basically a brewed rice wine, sake is of two kinds – filtered and unfiltered. Our first one, called Ty Ku, was filtered, as evidenced by its clear colour, and had a particularly strong floral fragrance.
Another small bowl was soon placed in front of me, this time layered with shitake mushrooms, sushi rice above it, and then pickled daikon to “make a crunch” as the chefs told me. Again, the earthy mushrooms balanced well with the perfectly cooked sushi rice and pickled daikon (Japanese radish), giving it a tangy flavor overall. One of the most important aspects of Japanese cuisine is its sushi rice. It has to be cooked perfectly – not undercooked, not overcooked, and just sticky enough. The sushi chefs at Stetsons sushi bar have their timing perfect.
My companions, however, were having something more interesting. As I was spooning my rice bowl, I watched a peculiar apparatus placed on the bar, much like those seen in scientific labs, as the bacon dashi infusion was getting prepared in it. Made in a coffee siphon, dashi broth is placed into the lower glass jar and aromatics (grilled bacon, ginger, spring onions) are placed in the upper jar. Heat is placed under the lower glass jar. The heat creates boiling point in the lower glass bulb due to which the dashi broth evaporates into the upper glass jar and gets infused with all the aromatics. The heat is then removed, causing the infused dashi to go back to the lower jar. And the infused broth is then served. As I heard murmurs of appreciations from my companions, I almost wished I was a non-vegetarian…
Another sake poured into our glasses, called Pure Snow, did justice to its name. Being unfiltered, this one was milky white in color, and stronger as well!
What came next was probably the highlight of the evening for me. Three sushi were placed in front of me, and they were unlike any I had ever seen. Called Inarizushi, to put it simply, they are fried tofu balls, stuffed with sushi rice. These ones had the addition of 24k gold leaf flakes on top, giving it that luxurious touch. Texture: melt in the mouth. Taste: slightly sweet as the tofu was marinated in a sweet sauce. Satisfaction: 100 per cent.
Japanese food is all about balance. Sushi chefs put together the different fishes, seaweed and rice in quite a scientific way. The amount of vinegar or salt is carefully measured. And though it is customary to place soy sauce beside you in Japanese restaurant, the biggest compliment you can give a sushi chef is if you don’t use the soy sauce to dip your nigiri or sashimi in it. And I should add, I didn’t need to even look at the soy sauce for everything I had at Stetsons’ sushi bar.
Another sake pouring was followed with an interesting variation of brown rice maki. With finely chopped pieces of avocado, asparagus and pickle daikon rolled up in perfectly cooked brown rice, the dish was accompanied with mango mayo and kabayaki sauce. The veggies livened up the brown rice in color and taste. Swipe it in mango mayo and the maki became effervescent. Swipe it in kabayaki sauce and it became salty and very interesting…
What came next is, I suspect, a fusion of American and Asian, usually served for people exactly like me, who have dietary preferences. Red and black quinoa, sautéed in almond milk, is placed in a bowl, and is topped with tofu, asparagus, mushroom and avocado marinated in sweet spicy sauce. The entire combination is hot and oh so delicious! Spicy and zesty, this is one dish I will come back to Stetsons for again and again. Besides, I have no choice. I tried to recreate the dish at home, I simply couldn’t.
We had five varieties of sake that evening, and we all pretty much concluded that it is something for which you acquire a taste slowly. But perhaps, the best sake I had was served in the end. The Banzai Bunny sparkling sake had a slightly floral fragrance, and a faintly sweet taste. Almost like a dry white wine, it was perfect!
The dessert was probably the most fat-free we all had ever consumed. Served with a play of flavours, it was ecstatic to have a guilt-free dessert finally! It was, to be blunt, water. Yes, a spring water cake – a clear, round ball of water jelly, with kinako powder on one side, giving a sweet kick, and a bit of kuromitsu syrup under it, which gave a stimulating, ginger flavor to the dish.
Stetsons at Hyatt Regency Chicago is primarily known for its excellent steak menu. But few know about its newly installed sushi bar which is serving innovative, perfectly balanced, colorful Japanese fare. Kudos to chefs Tanapat Vannopas, Worawit Russameefeung and Konstantinos Chaidaropoulos. Having a full kitchen behind, the sushi chefs assure that all dietary preferences and cravings can be met with, whether it’s about serving gluten-free sushi, or incorporating bacon in their recipes. For lovers of authentic Japanese cuisine, Stetsons serves a high grade of fishes to its guests, from scallops and jumbo shrimp to Bluefin tuna, uni (edible part of sea urchin) and lobster.
Japanese has long been known to be a healthy cuisine. But it is the precision with which it is made that makes it an indulgence. It’s a long way for the sushi, which was, incredibly, invented as a way to preserve meat in old times…
LF Says: ★★★★.5
Coordinates: 151 E Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois
Soumya Jain is the Chief Editor & CEO of LuxuryFacts. She is also the Co-Editor of ‘The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses’, along with Glyn Atwal, published by Palgrave Macmillan and launched in September 2012. The book is a window into the highly complex Indian luxury market. Soumya is also a visiting lecturer for luxury marketing and online journalism at leading educational institutes in India. She has been invited to speak at conferences and address industry colleagues about the Indian luxury market. Recognising her knowledge of the market, she has been quoted in the media several times, while also contributing articles on luxury in various publications.