RA Sushi

Fact: I am a sushi fiend. I double, triple, and quadruple heart sushi. Seriously, I could eat sushi every day of the week... in fact, there was one lazy week last summer in which I ordered from my favorite neighborhood sushi spot four days in a row (and only broke my streak because I had lunch plans on the fifth day!). While I tend to favor sashimi or simply prepared nigri, I am always up for any type of sushi, be it from the more traditional end or fusion rolls with a heavy Midwestern influence. So of course, when RA Sushi invited me to sample items from their new menu, I immediately grabbed Mario (who loves sushi as much as I do) and booked it down to the Gold Coast for an evening of bites mixing traditional with newer flavors.

The Arizona-based mini-chain offers diners Japanese-inspired dishes and creative cocktails in an upbeat atmosphere filled with energetic music and bright colors. We arrived at the tail end of their Thursday evening happy hour and found the restaurant packed with a young after-work crowd (and yes, they were all very happy by that point).
I was obsessed with the awesome red bubble lamp sculptures and couldn't stop photographing them!

We started our meal with edamame and a round of specialty cocktails; I chose the Blushing Geisha: lemonade mixed with Skyy Raspberry Vodka, Chambord & lemon sour. Wooeeee... this delicious little cocktail was perfectly balanced and deceptively strong. I think the menu description says it all: "looks innocent but look again, she might not be."

Mario chose a more traditional (but just as delicious!) cocktail: Emperor's Margarita, made with PatrĂ³n Silver, Combier Liqueur d’Orange, lime juice, Japanese yuzu & agave nectar.

Our appetizer plate contained a sampling of each of RA's seasonal specials: Red Sebream Carpaccio, Red Seabream Nigiri, Tuna California Roll, and the Langostino Strawberry Salad. While I enjoyed all of the specials, it should come as no surprise that I really loved the Red Sebream Carpaccio and the nigiri; both bites were so fresh and bright! I also appreciated the addition of the truffle salt, which gave the fish a lovely earthiness.

Red Sebream Carpaccio: sliced Red Seabream and lemon topped with spicy yuzu dressing, organic micro greens, truffle salt & lemon zest

Red Seabream Nigiri: Red Seabream on rice, topped with spicy yuzu dressing & truffle salt

Tuna California Roll: classic California Roll topped with a tuna mix of avocado, cucumber, bell pepper and cilantro, finished with togarashi, garlic chips & black pepper soy sauce

Langostino Strawberry Salad: Langostino, strawberries, cucumber and avocado over arugula; tossed in citrus vinaigrette and served with kiwi wasabi sauce & truffle salt (such a fun mix of flavors!)

After our seasonal tasting, we moved over to the specialty roll side of the menu. Of course, we had to start with the roll that RA is known for, the Viva Las Vegas Roll: crab and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed, lightly tempura battered and topped with spicy tuna, crab mix and sliced lotus root, finished with a sweet eel sauce & spinach tempura bits.
This was unlike any other roll I've had before - there were so many different flavors and textures, but they all manged to work together in perfect harmony. Plus, you can't beat the beautiful presentation!

We then moved on to the Shrimp Calamari Tempura Roll: calamari and shrimp tempura with cucumber, avocado and cream cheese, rolled and topped with crunchy tempura bits, served with sweet eel sauce. Granted, this is a fairly standard roll, but I have to say that I really enjoyed RA's version, thanks to the seriously addictive sweet eel sauce!

We ended with another of RA's specialty rolls, the RAllipop: tuna, salmon, yellowtail and spicy tuna mixed with lettuce, asparagus & cucumber wrapped in lobok, served skewered with garlic ponzu sauce. Again, RA wins for presentation! I also enjoyed their use of lobok - the mild, crisp flavor allowed the combination of fish to take center stage.

Seriously, how cute is this sushi lollipop?!

Although we were completely stuffed, we couldn't leave without trying the Sweet Mochi Trio (strawberry, vanilla, and mango) after our server raved about it. The sweet traditionally prepared mochi ice cream was the perfect ending to our night!

In addition to the seasonal specials, RA Sushi is also currently hosting its largest annual fundraiser, Nicky’s Week, through Sunday, May 31. During Nicky’s Week, RA Sushi will donate 100 percent of sales from a variety of menu items and beverages to St. Jude to help support the hospital’s lifesaving mission.

You can try all of this deliciousness and more at RA Sushi: 1139 N. State St.

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon  
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own. 


The Brass Monkey

A mix of classic 1970's music ranging from ABBA to Dolly Parton to Marvin Gaye? Check. A dining room complete with bold colors, brass accents, velvet booths, and a mirrored ceiling? Check. Check. A Julia Child-inspired menu that includes groovy favorites such as bologna sliders, TV dinners, and Baked Alaska? Check, check, and check. That, my friends, is the The Brass Monkey experience.

A few weeks ago, Diana, Ashley, and I made our way over to the West Loop for the Brass Monkey media dinner. Quite honestly, we initially had no idea what we were getting ourselves into; based on the concept, we all pictured a night filled with flashing disco balls, Jell-O molds, and Farrah Fawcett posters. Rather than the kitschy/cheesy representation of the decade that usually dominates themed restaurants and bars, we found a surprisingly elegant, but still funky and fun version of the 1970s behind its brass door (yes, it seems like a bit of oxymoron to equate elegance with the '70s, but trust me on this one).

The '70s-inspired restaurant offers a unique dining experience with two distinct menus: diners can choose from the Brasserie menu, featuring French-inspired fare or the Hits of the '70s menu, featuring a contemporary take on '70s classics. During our dinner, we had the chance to sample dishes from both menus - while there were some definite standouts from the Brasserie menu (the Skuna Bay Salmon and Spanish Calamari Salad in particular), let's be honest, we were most excited about the classics from the '70s side. I mean how can you take a trip back to the '70s and not partake in the retro dishes?!

The front of the restaurant contains a room filled with boxes of vinyl - diners can flip through the hundreds of options (rock, jazz, blues, pop - pretty much every genre is covered!) and pick albums to listen to on the provided record players/headsets. The room also doubles as very cool private dining space, which is where we were seated for our dinner.

As Ashley always says, every good meal starts out with glasses of bubbly!

Almond encrusted Cheese Ball with grilled baguette, Ritz crackers & pepper jelly
While the Bologna Sliders reminded me the most of my childhood (although we ate ours with peanut butter) and the Fish Styx were most definitely the best version I've ever encountered (they actually tasted like fish and not the standard fried mush), ultimately, the Cheese Ball was my favorite of the appetizers, thanks to the combination of the perfectly crunchy sweetness from the almonds and the buttery Ritz crackers.

Fish Styx: marinated and breaded cod with house-made tartar sauce

Bologna Sliders with fontina, caramelized onions & pickles

Sloppy Joe: ground lamb in a tangy BBQ sauce with pickles & fried onion

Wild Boar Meatballs with roasted grapes & a classic grape jelly glaze

Duck Breast with smoked sweet potato, caramelized apple, haricot vert & a maple demi

Pork Chop & Applesauce with fried baby potato salad
This was the clear winner from the '70s menu - everyone at our end of the table loved the tender, moist pork chop and sweet, slightly spiced applesauce (pork + fruit = deliciousness!).

Spanish Calamari Salad with wild boar sausage

Skuna Bay Salmon with kale, roasted cauliflower, French lentils & tomato relish
This flaky, melt in your mouth salmon was my favorite from the Brassiere menu (although the Spanish Calamari wasn't far behind!).

Amish Chicken: chicken confit, roasted potatoes, spring beans & swiss chard

TV Dinner: short rib meatloaf with a A1 glaze, mashed potatoes, peas & creamed corn (how cute was the plating?!)

Fried Brussels Sprouts

White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

My favorite cocktail of the night came with a Tang rim!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with cherry pineapple relish, candied walnuts & vanilla gelato
I've never been a big fan of pineapple cake, but surprisingly, this buttery, flavorful cake was my favorite dessert of the evening.

 S'mores with a graham cracker brownie, toasted marshmallows & cinnamon gelato

After dinner, Diana and I were treated to a tour of the expanded space. Brass Monkey is actually part of a 90,000-square-foot building that houses office space, several event spaces, and an upcoming distillery. Along with the rooftop patio that comes complete with sweeping views of the skyline, my other favorite space included this fun color-changing staircase (I'm convinced I need one of these in my house!)

The gorgeous views from the enormous rooftop space made me wish I had brought along a tripod and wide-angle lens. The rooftop isn't open to the public quite yet, but once it does, I guarantee it will be the place to hang out, thanks to the perfect, unobstructed views!

We ended our night with a bathroom tour; okay, I realized that sounds weird, but the restrooms at Brass Monkey are definitely worth visiting (even if it's just to peek at the fab Playboy wall!)

You can get your groove on at The Brass Monkey: 401 N. Morgan St. Weekly specials include Meatloaf Mondays (specialty meatloaves), TV Dinner Tuesdays (three-course prix fixe dinner), and Be Childish Wednesdays (specials from Julia Child's cookbooks).

Brass Monkey Brasserie on Urbanspoon
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.