Nabuki sets the stage for their excellent menu by crafting a very contemporary atmosphere. A wire mesh curtain hangs from the ceiling, delineating two dining experiences under one roof. By the entrance is a vibrant bar atmosphere with tallboy tables and a view of the comprehensive bar surrounding a flatscreen television broadcasting the sport of the season. On the other side of the curtain is a more atmospherically lit dining room. A large sushi bar with wrap-around seating takes up one side of the room and the walls are textured and colorful, setting a playful modern vibe. A row of long-tubed Edison bulbs hang as simple chandeliers, and the wall photography reminds diners of the culture in which their dining experience is steeped.
The Asian Tacos were the first to the table from Nabuki’s Cold Appetizers menu.
These four tiny tacos were perfect for splitting with spicy tuna tucked into petite wonton taco shells. A sliver of avocado brings both a bounce of color to the taco and a creamy flavor that complements the tuna beautifully. Three dipping sauces accompany the tacos: Unagi, spicy mayo, or soy sauce. Next, we were introduced to Crabby
Tuna. Freshness is so vital when it comes to the best sushi, and this dish showed us how fresh the flavors at Nabuki can be. It’s made of tangy crab wrapped in a delicately thin slice of fresh tuna, topped with a little slice of avocado, and drizzled with thick, sweet unagi sauce. The studied interplay of cool, fresh flavors here laid a foundation for us to favor sushi for the rest of the evening. Though, this doesn’t appear on the menu, it’s a permanent special due to the constant demand from Nabuki regulars. That’s a refrain you’ll see popping up again once we get to the rolls. We wanted to experience one of their top sellers from the Hot Appetizers menu and were directed to the Crazy Jalapeño.
Though there are hints of fusion inspiration throughout the cuisine, this is where I knew Executive Chef Juan Perez had his own spin on things. The jalapeño is sliced and fried, giving it that tantalizing tempura taste, stuffed with fresh King crab meat and sweet and spicy sauce, like an openfaced jalapeño popper with a sushi flare. The pepper keeps a clean undercurrent of jalapeno flavor at the base of every bite and the spiciness lingers.
Emerging into the entrees, we wanted to try a couple of their sushi rolls. Between the Chef’s Special Rolls, the Sushi Bar Specials, Sushi Combinations, and a list of standards, in addition to a classic selection of nigiri and sashimi, there’s an endless amount of options. However, we were once again led off menu to two of the most requested word-of-mouth specials.
The Stanley Cup roll was created by Chef Juan to celebrate the Black Hawks win in 2013 and has become an off-menu mainstay. Beautifully rolled and sliced into delightful bite-sized sections, this roll consists of rock shrimp, mango, avocado, and cilantro rolled within a crunchy, tempura sweet potato crisp and covered with unagi sauce and chili oil. It’s a smokier roll than usual, with a heft that the meat-and-potatoes crowd would go crazy for. The sweet potato crisp adds the perfect crunch and a side of wasabi really volleys against the fresh cilantro bite. This roll alone is proof that Nabuki is playing an elevated sushi game.
The other recommended roll was the Witches Brew, a much lighter offering.
It’s made with spicy octopus, avocado, and cucumber rolled in seaweed and white rice, topped with lobster meat and mango, and sprinkled with unagi sauce, Siracha, and pumpkin seeds. The mango brings a fruit topnote and the octopus and Siracha introduce a gentle spiciness before resolving with the pumpkin seed’s welcome nuttiness and crunchy texture.
For dessert, we decided to follow Nabuki’s fusion thread with their Green Tea Crème Brulee. This has all the earmarks of a lovely crème brulee, from the smoky caramelized crust to the creaminess of the custard inside to the smattering of strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries piled on top. Though it delivers on every expectation of a crème brulee, the green tea is fully present throughout every spoonful bringing both a light green hue and an aromatic, floral flavor to the sweet after dinner staple.
Nabuki is located at 18 E. 1st Street in Hinsdale, 630-654-8880, nabukihinsdale.com.