Chef Naoki has fond memories of his first job at a Japanese fish market. We asked him to share some of his tips and tricks when selecting the very freshest fish for your home.
First and foremost, your nose will tell you the truth!
Most importantly, a fresh fish will smell slightly salty, like the sea and never have a musty or “fishy” smell. Once the sniff test is complete, take a moment to look your fish right in the eye. A fresh fish will have eyes that are a bright, clear, moist and plump. A grey or cloudy eye is a sure sign that the fish is past its prime.
Next, how about those gills?
Chef Naoki explains the importance of checking the gills for color and clarity. When a fish is first caught, the gills are bright red with a clean feeling. As time goes on, the gills turn brownish-red and become slimy. Damaged scales or broken gills could represent mishandling of the fish.
How does the flesh feel?
Finally, if the fish monger will allow it, gently touch and poke the flesh. A fresh fish will feel cool, wet and slippery – never sticky. The fish’s skin should bounce back with the same buoyancy as your own. If it doesn’t, it means that the fish has softened and will not be worthy of your recipe.
Chef Naoki’s shared his favorite “work perk” from the fish market – the pleasure of sampling a different fish each day as his employee meal. His favorite fish is any from the Mackerel (saba) family because of the unique and exceptional flavor. Try the very special mackerel, yuzu kosho, ponzu sheet sashimi, next time your visit.
If you’re looking to host a unique private dinner or corporate event in Chicago, Lettuce Entertain You’s Naoki Sushi is the perfect spot.
Nestled inside the historic Belden-Stratford building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Naoki is a sushi experience like no other – A speakeasy-style Japanese sushi restaurant where the fish is always freshly sourced and the sake is always flowing.
Many have had dinner with us – dining either in a cozy booth or at the sushi bar watching the master himself, Chef Naoki, prepare dinner. In a secret spot like Naoki Sushi, you may not know that you can host a private event. Our room is perfect for company outings, rehearsal dinners, showers, birthdays and much more!
Hosting groups from 10 – 65 guests, your guests will be escorted through our secret entrance, through the kitchenm which leads to Naoki. Whether you are hosting a seated Omakase dinner or a reception-style event with Naoki’s favorite bites, the space and food are sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Chef Naoki can also teach your group the tips and tricks of making sushi. Classes are available for lunch or dinner and include guided instruction straight from the sushi master himself. Enjoy hand selected sake and wine paired with great appetizers while you roll the rest of your meal on your own!
Treat your group to an experience that they’ve never had before with Naoki Sushi. We make sure that everyone is taken care of and that there’s plenty of sushi to sample and try. Have wary guests who don’t like raw fish? No worry, we offer hot dishes like Hamachi Collar, Grilled Salmon or Robata-Style Lobster.
Please call us at 773-868-0002 to learn more about hosting your special event!
Chef Naoki is passionate about quality. Each ingredient is meticulously sought out, prepared and plated to showcase a blend of Japanese tradition and modern flair. One example of Chef Naoki’s appreciation of the fine details is fresh grated wasabi. And Chef Naoki even grates it in the the traditional Japanese style, on a shark fin.
Wasabi rhizome is the root of a wasabi plant and is only found in specialty markets. Wasabi roots have a short shelf life and the flavor you get from freshly grated wasabi is second to none – heat that is milder than horseradish, with a more intense flavor. What makes Naoki’s wasabi truly amazing is how it is grated by hand, for each and every order. The fine groves of the shark skin stretched across the pallet creates a delicate grind similar to sandpaper. The root is delicately ground in a circular motion. What results is a perfect paste-like consistency that is served at Naoki Sushi each night.
If you’re a sushi pro, you’re in for a wasabi treat! If you’re new, prepare to have your wasabi standards set high at Naoki Sushi. Reserve your table with us here.
Uni, the edible part of Sea Urchin, is a Japanese delicacy that people either love – or, just don’t. The intense salt-of the-sea flavor, coupled with the creamy texture is a favorite of many, especially Chef Naoki. Learn more about our current Uni offerings; Santa Barbara Uni and Hokkaido Uni from Chef Naoki, below.
Let’s start state-side with Santa Barbara Uni“California Gold” is the highest grade of uni that has a vibrant, bright color and is more firm in texture. It’s melt-in-your-mouth sweet and delicious.
Now for Hokkaido Uni.
“Grade A Hokkaido ” is the highest grade, best quality uni from Japan, and Chef Naoki’s personal favorite. It has a deep orange color and a balanced flavor that is sweet and has a delicate ocean freshness.
Hokkaido Uni on the left. Santa Barbara Uni on the right.
What is the main difference between the two?
The uni from Santa Barbara tends to have a sweeter flavor, whereas the uni from Japan tends to have a creamier, smoother texture and a more balanced sweet, yet ocean-y like flavor.
If you’ve never had uni, here’s why you should try it.
High quality uni is both rare and delicious. Rumor has it that uni contains a natural euphoria causing chemical that affects the pleasure receptors in the brain.
Naoki is now open Sundays! Join us for dinner, starting at 5pm and nosh on what many consider the best sushi in Chicago. Or, choose to stay tucked in at home and order sushi delivery HERE. To celebrate our Sunday service, every table that dines at the restaurant on a Sunday in October, will receive a $25 gift certificate for the next visit.
Make your reservation HERE. We can’t wait to see you this Sunday!
Like every master, there is always a story about how they crafted their art and Chef Naoki is no exception. He wanted to prepare food that he enjoyed eating and started his sushi journey as a dishwasher at a Japanese restaurant when he was twenty. Chef Naoki studied hard to learn the art of sushi making, the importance of knife skills and has often joked about the time he sliced his finger open when he first started his apprenticeship.
Chef Naoki shared with us the different types of Sushi knives, their names, what they’re used for and what he prefers to work with. There are over 20 different knives used to prepare sushi, ranging from vegetable knives to butchering blades. Chef Naoki highlighted a few that every Sushi Chef should have: a Gyutou, Deba, Yanagi, and Usaba.
Gyutou | Chef’s Knife
Gyutou knives are the Japanese equivalent of European chef’s knife. Chef Naoki says that this knife is the ideal all-purpose knife that’s easy to maintain, has versatility and stays sharper longer. He said that he can break down a tuna, fillet a salmon and then cut some basil, without pause. He also said that he keeps a gyutou in his knife bag at all times.
Yanagi | Slicer
Yanagi knives are a long single-edged traditional knife used for precision. This knife is incredibly sharp and best used to cut sashimi and other tender fish. Chef Naoki has a yanagi knife that he received as a gift, when he was 23, which he still uses.
Deba | Butchery
The deba blade is primarily used to butcher or fillet larger fish and comes in a variety of different sizes and weights.
Usuba | Vegetable Knife
Usuba knives are very sharp and are used to precisely chop up a variety of vegetables with ease.
You can see Chef Naoki’s talent and passion for his craft in all of his dishes. Enjoy his hospitality and workmanship at Naoki Sushi.
Thursday, May 18th, 5:30PM – Reservations taken throughout evening.
On May 18th, join us at Naoki for a very special five course Japanese dinner, curated by Chef Naoki and paired with some of his favorite sakes. Selections will include Konteki “Pearls of Simplicity and Fukucho “Moon on the Water”. Pricing is 89.00 per person, not including tax (plus gratuity). Call 773 – 868-0002 to make your reservation.
Chef Hisanobu Osaka will host a sumptuous Kaiseki dinner at Lincoln Park’s acclaimed Naoki on Thursday, March 23rd. Prior to coming to Lettuce Entertain You, Chef Osaka was a protege of both Iron Chef Morimoto and New York’s famed Daniel Boulud.
Kaiseki is a culinary art form akin to Japanese haute cuisine – balancing taste, texture, appearance and even the colors of food. To this end, only the freshest seasonal ingredients are used and finished dishes are carefully presented on plates chosen to enhance both the appearance and the theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.
Join us for this truly unique dinner ~ Call 773-868-0002 to make your reservation.
To get to it, you’re led through Intro’s kitchen to an unmarked door, behind which is a little gem of a restaurant, somehow light filled and lively even though it’s basically a windowless sushi closet. Shutting out the outside world lets you focus on Nakashima’s silken truffle chawan mushi and outstanding fish, including some vibrant traditional rolls (for instance, the refreshing shiso-leaf-topped cucumber) and Naoki-style sashimi (perhaps radiant bursts of sliced madai with charred mushrooms and plums).
In a year filled with delicious new restaurants, it’s easy to forget the one that started it all. In January, behind the already acclaimed Intro, Lettuce Entertain You debuted a high-end sushi spot helmed by chef Naoki Nakashima. His commitment to carefully sourced seafood and equally exceptional execution results in mosaics of thinly sliced hamachi adorned with aji panca, scallion, and ponzu or truffle chawanmushi in dashi broth.
Naoki serves exceptional sushi in a space that’s both very unique and very comfortable, and it’s the combination of those factors that make it one of our favorite new spots of the year. The Naoki space was originally the private dining room of L20, a fancy restaurant inside the Belden-Stratford building in Lincoln Park. The main space is now called Intro, while Naoki is accessed by walking through the kitchen. It’s not as formal or fancy as you might expect – it reminds us of the type of high-end but not stuffy sushi experiences common in Tokyo, where you can sit at the bar or one of a handful of tables for an intimate and enjoyable experience. Dinner here is expensive, but all good sushi in this city is, and the price is absolutely worth it for an excellent sushi meal.
If you like sushi and Al Capone, you’ll certainly love this Lincoln Park sushi spot from the folks at Lettuce Entertain You. Not only does Naoki have some of Chicago’s best raw fish and architecturally composed sashimi plates, but the only way to get to the speakeasy-like dining room is via a gangster-style sashay through the Intro kitchen. Once inside, you’ll commit crimes against your waistline, sucking down irresistible delights such as truffle-perfumed chawanmushi egg custard swimming in soulful dashi broth or an entire lobster split and ready for dipping in citrus-infused ponzu.
Considering its Midwestern locale, Chicago has long been stigmatized as more of a meat-and-potatoes town than a seafood town. But also considering the caliber of chefs and restaurants in Chicago, on par with the best in the world, it’s not surprising that the city’s seafood cred has skyrocketed. With places like Naoki Sushi, which quickly established itself as one of the best places for fresh fish in the city when it opened back in January, diners could be forgiven for thinking Chicago is set right on ocean shores. It raised the bar for sashimi, maki and nigiri, sourcing some of the most pristine ingredients and preparing them with astonishing precision. The overall dining experience is also pretty cool in and of itself, as the restaurant is hidden behind the Intro kitchen. Must-order: Among the flawless offerings, highlights include hamachi sashimi with aji panca and the mackerel nigiri with yuzu koshu.
I’d kind of forgotten that Naoki came in 2016, until it was time to make this list, because I like it so much that it sort of faded into the background of permanent Chicago spots. This tiny sushi lounge hidden behind Intro is not exactly what you’d expect from restaurant giant Lettuce Entertain You, but its level of freshness and innovation easily matches any sushi spot in town. My favorite raw bite (from their sea urchin special) of the year came from here, and while it’s not exactly a cheap date, if you love Japanese food it’s a must-do.
“Two marks of a great sushi chef are the quality of their rice and the texture of their tamago or omelet. Nakashima’s rice—whether it’s underpinning nigiri or coating the walls of a maki roll—features distinct toothy grains seasoned with sugar, salt and the faint whiff of kombu or seaweed. His tamago isn’t the desiccated, over-sweetened lump found at corner sushi shacks, but instead has a souffle-like lightness and briny finish imparted by a touch of shrimp paste”.