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The “smoked” tuna sashimi with monkfish liver and wasabi at Juno

A Fish Tale

by Lisa Shames | Photography by Anthony Tahlier | CS magazine | July 29, 2013

Remember when sushi was considered exotic? As much as I hate to admit it, I do. I vividly recall the first time I tried it even though I had more than my fair share of Japanese beer (it was raw fish, after all). That initial taste led to many others and eventually to a job at one of L.A.’s top sushi bars, where, after working for two years as assistant manager, I learned two important lessons when it comes to nigiri, maki and sashimi: the simpler the better and, more often than not, they’re best enjoyed at the sushi bar rather than a table.

Those are strategies I still follow today and ones I recommend for getting the most out of the recently opened Juno in Lincoln Park.

Take, for instance, the “smoked” sashimi. The dish is hard to miss and not only because of its unique presentation that includes a smoke-filled glass dome covering two ceramic spoons filled with slices of yellowtail, tuna or salmon sashimi. Once the cloche is lifted, the smoky aroma is perceptible to neighboring diners in the Zen-like back dining room as well. (Be warned: That Zen aspect doesn’t apply to the noise level, which can get loud on a busy night.)

OK, at first glance the dish might seem to go against my keep-it-simple rule. But at its essence are pristine pieces of raw fish that simply get a subtle flavor boost from the addition of smoke and minuscule toppings like garlic chips and crunchy pieces of freeze-dried sweet corn. This modern riff on sashimi works for me. That is, when served at the sushi bar, where it arrives as a separate course. But not so much at the table, where on our visit it was simply part of the barrage of plates plopped down all together, even though our server assured us when ordering that wouldn’t be the case.

The high quality of the fish and meticulously crafted sushi rice at Juno don’t come as a surprise since it’s headed up by Arami vet B.K. Park. His departure from that Ukrainian Village restaurant was met with major outcry from his fans, many of whom get welcomed at Juno with fist pumps and heartfelt greetings from the sushi master. When it comes to Chicago’s reigning sushi chef, Park definitely tops the list, and not just because of his rock-star hair. (Newcomers Carlo and Melvin Vizconde, the twin chefs who head up Kai Zan, and the chefs at the Gold Coast’s Masaki are contenders, too.)

Park’s finesse with fish is all over the menu at Juno. There’s the trio of eel sushi—unagi (freshwater), anago (saltwater) and shiro (white)—recommended by my server. “You can really notice the difference between them,” she said, and she was right. She was also spot on with her cold sake recommendation of the lovely Eiko Fuji Honkara. In addition to fine rice wines, Juno features some Asian-inspired cocktails, including the terrific Stray Dog with shishito-infused mezcal, grapefruit and a dusting of togarashi salt on the rim of the glass.

For the most flavor for your buck, don’t miss the daily nigiri and sashimi specials. The live hotate—a Maine scallop extracted from its shell just minutes before serving—is topped with a gentle brush stroke of yuzu juice and sea salt. Perfection.

Things get a little fuzzier with the more creative sushi dishes, including the sake yaki roll of grilled salmon, shiso and crushed almonds. While the roll’s combination of ingredients work well together, this sushi purist isn’t convinced the Meyer lemon-mayo sauce it comes with is such a great idea. I’m not sold either on the toro tartare—too small and not enough oomph—or the charcoal hand roll, a do-it-yourself dish that involves a mini warmer to heat the seaweed before you fill it with a mixture of either lobster or tuna.

Perhaps the best way to experience Park’s expertise and that day’s freshest seafood is at one of the seven seats reserved at the bar for his multi-course omakase. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the other diners who didn’t opt for his tasting menu felt slighted, as I did, that our seats in front of the glass refrigerated fish cases didn’t provide any interaction with the chef or, for that matter, any of the four chefs working there.

But Juno is more than just raw fish. For the non-sushi side of the menu, chef Jeffrey Hedin, formerly of Leopold, has created some tasty options. The texture of the grilled baby octopus was perfect and paired well with the edamame, artichoke hearts and preserved lemon. My favorite, though, was the diver scallop, especially its accompaniment of crunchy sea beans.

Glitches aside, Juno is still a welcome addition to the city’s sushi scene. In these days in which so-called sushi seems to be everywhere—looking at you, Walgreens—it’s encouraging to find someone still willing to follow the traditions and hard work of this ancient (and delicious) art form. Domo arigato, Park.

Juno
2638 N. Lincoln Ave. 872.206.8662
junosushi.com

Open for dinner Sun.-Thu. 5-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm

Appetizers $4-$12
Nigiri and Sashimi $4-$12
Maki $9-$15
Entrees $14-$22
Desserts $8

What to Eat
“Smoked” sashimi, diver scallop, eel trio, salmon sushi, hotate (scallop sushi), grilled baby octopus, and yellowtail and scallion roll

Face Value
Sushi chef B.K. Park isn’t the only local industry vet here. Partner/GM Jason Chan was most recently at Little Italy’s Urban Union.

Board Room
Those beautiful serving pieces are made from exotic, waterproof wood and were crafted by Park and his kitchen staff.

Subtle Soy
Unlike at other sushi restaurants, you won’t find bottles of soy sauce on the table or at the sushi bar. And those ubiquitous mounds of wasabai are less apparent here, too. Translation: The sushi is good enough on its own, especially since many come topped with complementary sauces. Soy sauce is there for the asking.

Writing on the Wall
The black-and-red front dining area sports a hipster vibe, including a mural of a geisha with an electric guitar and words of wisdom written on the wall.