I worked in relatively wealthy Hinsdale in 1969, as a print boy at a shop where we published in alternating runs, and embarrassingly unspoken irony, the conservative Chicago Tribune and a smattering of smash-the-state newspapers. These latter titles included Rising Up Angry (“We’re outlaws. Dig it. Right on, brothers and sisters!”) and several publications issued by various factions of SDS (my co-worker and high school friend Cary and I were "members" of the Elmhurst College chapter).
Due to a misprint Cary spotted in one of these papers, we had the excuse we needed to drive down to Chicago after the graveyard shift and meet up with Mark Rudd of the Weather Underground. In front of a huge steel door (mounted to fend off police attacks) we explained to Comrade Rudd how, with a few tweaks, he might enhance the graphic appeal of his revolutionary publications. He listened politely (or as politely as one could, after what I’m assuming were many weeks of much nicotine and amphetamines). Then he went back to work bringing down Amerika. Just kids.
When summer was over, I went to college to learn to become a bourgeois homeowner and my friend Cary went on a multi-state crime spree, carrying a sawed-off shot-gun, liberating money from banks and eventually spending his thirties in a federally subsidized maximum security dormitory.
So I have some history with Hinsdale and some experience with the challenge of balancing conflicting tendencies.
You can tell that Nabuki has to tread as lightly as an undercover Wobbly trying to rap to the workers about unions in a company shop. Our Asian server introduced the menu by offering something to the effect of “We have some raw fish items,” and then she scrunched up her nose as though to say, “If you can believe anyone would eat something like that.”
Of course, sashimi was definitely one of the things I wanted to eat, and we started with a mackerel that our server said was flown in from Tokyo that day. It was, as she described, a very light tasting fish (which is fine, though I’m also fine with the more funky tastes of this particular fish). The fish came with a fair amount of citrus-based sauce, and some might feel the slightly acidic sauce was overwhelming, though the delicacy of the fish made it pleasant for me.
My entrée, recommended by our server, was a Wasabi Filet.
There could be no faulting the quality of ingredients in this dish: the steak was perfectly done. The wasabi flavor, though, was way laid back (probably because they use fresh wasabi, which I understand can be relatively mild) and seemed to reside exclusively in the veal reduction. Structurally, this dinner was challenging to eat: it had to be disassembled before consumption, as it was not possible (at least for me) to cut the meat while it was perched on rolling logs of asparagus and a squishy squash platform with a Phyllis Diller wig of fried potato threads on top. No doubt, though, the dish looked fantastic. I probably could have taken more wasabi, but I’m guessing the kitchen wants to be careful about pushing too much heat on a relatively expensive cut of meat like this (you don’t want civilians returning it because it’s too hot).
Last summer, I visited The Portage (3938 N. Central, Chicago), and I mentioned to one of the owners that the menu seemed “safe.” He concurred, explaining that because they were just starting out, they didn’t want to take a lot of chances. Totally understandable.
Nabuki is also a relatively new restaurant, and it’s clear they’re trying to tread the line between acceptability and adventure. I’m guessing they will get to the point where they feel secure about pushing the boundaries, but for now they’re probably prudent to hold in that impulse and let it out slowly.
18 E. First