The long wait.
My efforts to secure a reservation also failed as the restaurant was booked for months in advance. Then life got in the way. The beau's elderly mom fractured her pelvis and steadily descended into dementia. We eventually moved away from Humboldt Park to the modernist complex where she lived in the Gold Coast. We quickly discovered Mirai, a cozy place where we could grab a sushi bar seat almost anytime. Kai Zan faded into the recesses of my memory as I eagerly tried other local sushi restaurants.
But I never forgot Kai Zan. Everyone I spoke to who had dined there, raved about the sushi, the food, and the ambiance. Every so often, I would make a a reservation and the stars would not align. One time we had to cancel our reservation to take the beau's mom to the emergency room. Another time I had to work late to meet yet another sudden and unreasonable deadline for a client at my last job. I really regretted that one because that job let me go a few months later, making my Kai Zan sacrifice for naught.
Verdict: Well worth the 6 year wait for the raw fish items.
But at $65 for 10 courses, the omakase menu seemed like a great deal and overall, most of the menu items excited me. Escolar and Maguro Pearls, Oyster and Scallop Shooters, a Fiesta Maki and Sashimi looked deliciously promising. Plus everyone I knew who had dined there raved about the omakase menu. So after a quick discussion, we went for it.
The first bite of the first course, Madai Carpaccio only deepened my obsession with Kai Zan. Madai, or red snapper, varies greatly in quality and can be rather ghastly if the quality is poor, with a scaly, squishy and generally unpleasant texture. For this reason, I never order madai and only eat it in a sushi set, or omakase menu.
The courses came quickly, almost too quickly for my taste. Every time this happens, I find myself longing for the leisurely pace of dining in Italy where long breaks between courses let each course settle in while diners sip wine and chat. Only in America, where diners rather than employers pay the bulk of waitstaff wages, do I feel the pressure of their need to turn tables and maximize their income as a backlog of course dishes pile up on the bar. Sigh. Hopefully one day I will enjoy the equivalent of Kai Zan in Italy where I can slowly savor every delicious, heavenly bite of raw fish.
The Grand Finale: Abundant Sashimi
I bade a sad goodbye to the Fiesta Maki and had our server immediately pack it to go. A glance at the sushi counter where the chefs served up gleaming trays of nigiri, sashimi and other delicacies confirmed my worst fears of a heaping plate of Sashimi. As the grand finale of the omakase menu, the Sashimi course drove home the utter gluttony of the experience. A 10-course meal should more than satisfy any appetite especially when it features over 4 different types of shellfish, not to mention truffle oil, tempura crunch, quail egg and mayo.
My heart sank at the sigh of the gorgeous platter of sashimi that I could no longer enjoy. Beautiful slices of salon, maguro tuna, escolar, and yellowtail gleamed under the rustic lights beckoning in vain to my ruined appetite. The beau and I choked down a few slices of fish and had our server pack the rest to go.
"You can always cook it," said the chef working right in front of us behind the bar. He said it kindly, perhaps trying to console me that not all was lost.
I shook my head vigorously at his suggestion. "Nope. It will make the perfect lunch for tomorrow," I told him. Day-old sushi is perfectly edible and always satisfies this sushi slut. At least I know what to order next time: old-school madai nigiri, sashimi and appetizers featuring raw fish and shellfish.