ANI is good. REALLY good. Open since March of this year, ANI i s located in the former Chizakaya space on North Lincoln Avenue, and is a gem in this otherwise desolate section of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Chef Shin Matsuda, also of Arami, is behind the restaurant, which features an extensive sake selection, sushi, and other Japanese dishes.
Among the menu’s offerings include sashimi, maki mono (rolled sushi), hot and cold small plates, offerings from the robata grill, and ramen.
ANI also features a temaki cart, allowing for an interactive experience. Chef Shin rolls out an airline service cart and personally creates a choice of select hand rolls right at your table. What an incredible personal touch!
The main dining room at ANI seats 40. A back lounge seats an additional 16, along with a 6-person chef’s table. Decor is simple, Japanese-inspired, and includes photographs of the owners’ family.
Beverages at ANI focus on sake, so I relied upon our incredibly informed and friendly server to guide me, and her recommendation was on point. Sake at ANI is served “pour over style.” A sake glass is placed in a wooden box, and the sake is poured so that it overflows the glass and into the box. Once the glass is finished, the remaining sake can be poured into the glass, or consumed straight from the box. It was the perfect pour for two glasses!
As our sake was being poured, Chef Shin rolled out his temaki cart, and got to work making three different hand rolls right in front of us.
The temaki cart, truly a used airline cart, not only allows personal interaction with the chef, but imparts the same experience one has when sitting at the sushi counter. We learned that the longer sushi rolls sit, the mushier the nori, or seaweed wrapper, becomes. Nori is best eaten when crisp. We were also able to get to know Chef Shin better, as well.
My favorite of the three hand rolls from the temaki cart was the sake (salmon) roll, with avocado, cucumber, red onion, yuzu aioli, masago, and salt. Chef Shin was more than willing to accommodate my soy allergy, and modified the roll to exclude any soy, which I greatly appreciated, especially in a Japanese restaurant.
We also tried the hamachi (yellowtail) hand roll, prepared with jalapeno, scallion, kizami wasabi, and nikiri, as well as the maguro (bluefin tuna) hand roll, with cilantro, avocado, jalapeno, rayu, and salt. Both were delicious.
We then enjoyed some beautifully presented sashimi, which included my favorite sake and hamachi. The sake was incredibly buttery, fatty, fresh, and just melted in my mouth. The hamachi was just as nice.
To break up the seafood, we then gobbled up flavorful and crispy brussel sprouts, with togarashi (Japanese chiles) and bonito flakes. Even my non-vegetable eating husband loved them!
Another must-order item at ANI are the tako yaki – octopus beignets served with tonkatsu sauce (similar to a thick Worcestershire sauce), bonito flakes, and kizami (seaweed). The fluffy batter was filled with chunks of octopus and were perfectly executed. These fried balls of goodness were polished off within minutes of delivery.
We then tried two items from the robata grill. My favorite were the prawns and my husband’s were the scallops. Both were fantastic.
We finished the savory part of our meal with the hamachi, maguro, and cilantro roll. Yellowtail, bluefin tuna, jalapeno, avocado, and masago (fish roe) were perfectly tucked into the simple, yet tasty, roll.
The desserts are no oversight at ANI, and I recommend saving room for at least one. None are heavy, some are refreshing, and all are delicious, composed, and beautifully presented. My favorite was the matcha financier, which was served resembling a semi-open faced macaron. Made from a green tea-flavored cake, with ice cream, fruit, and mango sauce, this dessert had a nice balance of earthiness and sweetness.
The whipped chocolate panna cotta, which was served in a donut shape, along with a shortbread cookie, yuzu marmalade, and melon, was my husband’s favorite. Lightly speckled with sesame seeds, I loved it, as well.
The almond mousse, served atop a peppercorn shortbread crust, and topped with a lemon curd sauce, sugared slivered almonds, and lychees, was light, flavorful, and a nice end to a truly remarkable meal.
Our entire meal at ANI was exquisite. From the food, to the service, to the sake, to the hospitality, everything was on point.
ANI is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Pick-up and delivery are also offered. Perfect for dinner with a group of friends, your family, for a date, or even on your own, I will definitely be back for the perfect salmon, wonderful sake, knowledgeable service, and beautiful desserts.
3056 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657
While my meal at ANI was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.