Roll With It

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June Issue View more

Nabuki, 18 E. First St., Hinsdale, nabukihinsdale.com 

By Phil Vettel

It’s hard to believe (hard for me, anyway) that Nabuki has been operating in downtown Hinsdale for nearly a dozen years. I reviewed the place in January 2011, when it was just a few months old, praising the flowing, contemporary design and executive chef Juan Perez’s Latin-accented Asian creations.

Eleven-something years later, Nabuki is pretty much how I remembered it. The place has expanded a bit to the east and west, and the menu has expanded as well (general manager Steve DeKoker added a line of yakitori dishes and lettuce wraps a few years back), but the dining room still has its stunning good looks, and chef-partner Perez is still running a very good kitchen.

Nabuki was founded by Peter Burdi; Burdi also owns two-doors-down Il Poggiolo, which he opened first (in 2009). Successfully operating two restaurants for more than 11 years doesn’t make Burdi the Mayor of First Street, but he’s got to be in the running.

Tuna tataki

As for those enduring good looks, Nabuki’s interior by Katherine Ingrassia Design features bamboo flooring and sculpted white walls that resemble water. Diners can take a table or grab a seat around the sushi bar.

Asian tacos, which have been on the menu since day one, are still the go-to appetizer, consisting of a quartet of crispy wonton shells filled with chopped spicy tuna and avocado, along with spicy mayo and unagi sauce for dipping. These delicate one-bite snacks disappear so quickly, I’m surprised Nabuki doesn’t offer a jumbo taco platter as well (if you’re a party of four, I recommend placing a double order).

Tuna tataki is presented like spokes on a wheel, radiating from a center of shredded beets; each strip of barely seared tuna is topped with avocado and ponzu. Spring rolls offer a satisfying exterior crunch and an interior of bok choy and shiitake mushrooms.

Sushi and sashimi are a big part of the menu, of course, highlighted by the shareable Sashimi DX (shorthand for deluxe), a 15-piece chef’s-choice assortment; my plate included salmon, akami, escolar, yellowtail, and madai. It’s not the most elaborate sashimi platter I’ve ever seen, but the portion is impressive.

Piccadilly roll 

Maki rolls are abundant. There are 16 of the sort of rolls every sushi house offers (California, rainbow, spider, etc.) and another eight “Chef’s Special Rolls,” including a very good Piccadilly roll of tempura lobster, scallions, and avocado, wrapped in soy paper and striped with spicy mayo and unagi sauces.

Customers in the know ask for certain specialties that aren’t listed on the menu, such as the Robosuta roll, made with lobster, cucumber, avocado, asparagus, and Japanese pesto. 

“It’s our not-so-secret menu,” Burdi says. “Chef Juan’s list of sushi rolls goes into the hundreds.”

Entrées display the chef’s fusion leanings. Scallops arrive on little beds of mashed potatoes, surrounded by edamame beans and sliced shiitake mushrooms and topped with a subtle white-truffle miso sauce. Other entrées include salmon with a Korean chile glaze, skirt steak with ginger demiglace, and the signature JP Chicken—chunks of panko-breaded chicken with a sweetened soy-garlic sake sauce.

Desserts are decidedly Western in style, led by such sweets as chocolate lava cake and Godiva chocolate mousse. There are some gentle Asian accents in the crème brûlée, made with green-tea custard, and the salted caramel cheesecake, paired with a chocolate ginger sauce. The liquid option is the chocolate martini, made with bourbon, chocolate liqueur, and butterscotch liqueur.

Asian tacos

The beverage program features a dozen or so sake options, a handful of craft cocktails (the Cold Fusion, made with Japanese whiskey, is very good), and a sophisticated and modestly priced wine list that includes Left Coast’s white Pinot Noir (not ever to be confused with the dreck that is white Zinfandel), a soft and lightly acidic wine that matches extremely well with sushi and sashimi.

The arrival of warm weather will add seating to Nabuki and the rest of the Hinsdale dining scene. The village will restrict traffic on First Street to a single westbound lane, reserving the remaining space for outdoor dining. “No tents,” says Burdi about this year’s layout, “but tables under market umbrellas, along with new decks and planter boxes.” It should be a festive summer along First Street. 

Photos courtesy of Robin Subar