Don’t judge a book by its cover…or in this case – its name! From the sign above the front door, it is not hard to guess what lies inside at the Sushi House. But choose to enter, and a different world awaits you.
Owner Diana Johnson started her sushi empire in Westmont about 20 years ago within the St. James Crossing Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Ogden Avenue and Pasquinelli Drive. Currently, four locations – Westmont, Downers Grove, Oak Park and Wheaton – provide a fine dining option for sushi and Japanese food lovers.
Previous locations in La Grange and Naperville have transitioned to staff ownership allowing the next generation of sushi chefs to cut their teeth and build their own foundations. It also enables Diana the time to engage more fully with her core group of restaurants and continue expanding the offerings.
The Westmont location is divided into two distinct dining areas. Entering the front door, a vibrant sushi bar with a dozen place settings is flanked by a cozy seating area where it’s easy to engage in table to table conversation. This area gets quite lively at peak times.
For a more subdued or relaxed vibe, a second and adjoining room provides a quiet and almost reverent atmosphere. This is a great room for meetings, date night, special occasions or larger groups.
The first thing everyone notices are the glass enclosed and refrigerated cases displaying some of the the freshest fish in the suburbs. Directly behind them, the sushi chefs lead by head sushi chef, Felix, practice their craft in plain view. Choose your seating and prepare to be overwhelmed with the number of Japanese and sushi choices.
Regulars may enjoy a bowl of honey, chili roasted peanuts or if seated at the sushi bar, octopus salad which combines julienned octopus strips in a fiery chili oil along with a few sesame seeds – A true taste bud awakener.
The menu runs deep in every category, including appetizers. Shrimp and vegetable tempura is as light and grease free as you’ll find anywhere with broccoli, onion, sweet potato, green pepper and zucchini as well as shrimp sided by a light soy dipping sauce. Shrimp shumai delicately wraps shrimp in a light dough covering, which are steamed and served with a spicy peanut sauce.
Salads can be traditional or non-traditional as with gome ae, which combines chilled, boiled spinach with a sweet peanut butter based sauce and toasted sesame seeds. One of my favorites.
While many soup options abound as a full dinner option, included with many lunches and dinners are smaller bowls of either miso soup or vinegar based hot sour soup. With snacks, appetizers, salads and soups, pacing is required for the main event.
Sushi can be divided into 4 main categories. Sashimi is raw fish, artfully presented often on a bed of julienned daikon radish. Place the fish on top of rice and Nigri for “sushi” results. Sushi Rolls incorporate fish, rice and other ingredients into a cylindrically rolled art form, which is cut into five to eight bite-sized pieces or fashioned into a hand roll, which resembles an ice cream cone.
Both sushi and sashimi can be ordered by the individual piece or in pre-set combinations. Popular selections are tuna, salmon and yellow tail. Each table has a colorful chart to assist in navigating the many options.
The Chicago Fire Roll is an example of perfection. A raw spicy tuna mixture is rolled in seaweed and sent back to the kitchen. There it is lightly tempura battered, flash fried for seconds leaving the inside cool and creamy and plated in six pieces on a hot oil mixture. Spicy hot, light and cool on the interior, the combination makes it a Sushi House favorite.
The Spicy Angel Roll combines shrimp tempura and chopped spicy octopus rolled in seaweed paper with rice on the outside. The roll is topped with alternating spicy tuna, spicy scallop and avocado slices. A sweet unagi eel sauce completes the presentation.
Other delicious choices include the Haru Roll and the 2014 Roll.
Most sushi is typically served with two standard accompaniments. The green paste like substance is wasabi, a Japanese horseradish. It’s used to add additional heat to an item, or as an add-on when mixed into soy sauce for dipping. Pickled ginger serves as a cool and refreshing palate cleanser and an aid to digestion.
Hand rolls are presented in a hand sized, ice cream cone wrapper of seaweed paper stuffed with your favorite ingredients. Mine is a mixture of spicy tuna, avocado and “crispies,” which are the flakes left over from tempura batter. A drop of unag, or sweet eel sauce, completes my hand roll.
For non-sushi diners or those wanting to supplement their dinner, there is an entire world of fine Japanese options available. Szechwan Grouper takes fresh grouper pieces and cabbage in a spicy (only slightly) Szechwan sauce, which has a bit of sweetness to offset the heat and serves the dish over rice.
Peking Shong Guo arrives as either a chicken or shrimp dish, incorporating mushrooms, green peppers, chili peppers and other fresh vegetables into a rich sauce.
Several large soup style dishes are available. In Niku Udon, thick spaghetti like noodles are covered in sliced beef and onions. The resultant broth has a mild onion soup flavor making this dish a sturdy meal by itself.
Fried rice comes in all of your favorite combinations. The combo mixes beef, shrimp, pork and chicken with a variety of fresh veggies ensuring every spoonful contains a main ingredient. It arrives in a stylish wooden cask and is large enough to generate a doggie bag.
Hot and Spicy Scallops is another favorite dinner entree. Scallops are lightly battered, fried and bathed in a spicy and sweet garlic pepper sauce. Plated on a bed of steamed vegetables and sided with rice, the presentation is picture perfect.
While the entire menu is available for lunch, two specials stand out. The Sushi Lunch features seven pieces of sushi selected by the sushi chef. On my last visit, shrimp, yellow tail, red snapper, tuna, sea bass, salmon and mackerel were joined by 6-piece California Roll combining a crab stick, avocado and cucumber.
The other popular lunch selection, especially good for non-sushi diners, is the bento box lunch. Bento boxes are attractive trays with compartments each housing a small portion or sampler of a particular item. Think modern day TV dinner. The Buddha Bento (one of a half dozen combinations) pairs veggie fried rice, Gome Ma, Shanghai dumplings and an avocado and cucumber roll.
Dessert options are limited as the emphasis is on the previous courses. A popular finish is to order a selection of Mochi, ice cream balls wrapped in a soft and silky rice dough. Choose from mango, green tea, strawberry, red bean and others.
Diana has assembled an experienced staff to assist in traversing the world of options the Sushi House’s menu provides. Additional features are a strong carry out program, delivery and catering. Beer, wine and sake are all available.
In the last year, Sushi House has picked up the 2016 People’s Choice Award for best sushi in Westmont and the 2016 Best of the West Award for best sushi in the western suburbs. While awards are nice, standing the test of time is also important, and after nearly 20 years, Sushi House is a world apart.
• WHERE: 830 East Ogden Ave., Westmont
• HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10p.m. Monday through Friday ; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
• DRESS CODE: Casual
• INFO: 630-920-8948 www.mysushihouse.com/westmont
• RESERVATIONS: Accepted
• PARKING: Easy
• WIFI: Available
• NOISE FACTOR: Lively/Relaxing
• PRICING: $$
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