Cuisine constitutes a major part of Japanese culture, from tea ceremonies to hand-making sushi to bobbing for lychee on Halloween. Try on a new tradition with today’s Groupon to Ai. Choose between the following options:
- For $55, you get a six-course prix fixe meal for two (a $120.90 value).
- For $110, you get a six-course prix fixe meal for four (a $241.80 value).<p>
Each prix fixe meal includes:
- Kabocha corn soup (a $4.50 value/person)
- Ice sake ceviche (a $6.50 value/person)
- Tempura moriawase (a $9.50 value/person)
- Orange maki (a $14.95 value/person) and firecracker maki (a $6.50 value/person)
- Beni toro nigiri (a $3.50 value/person), spicy hamachi toro nigiri (a $4 value/person), and tuna avocado nigiri (a $3.50 value/person)
- Yume choco (a $7.50 value/person)<p>
Chef Toyoji Hemmi and the team at Ai handcraft gourmet Japanese fare, blending vegetarian soups and rolling unconventional makis. Each meal begins with a bowl of kabocha corn soup, an intermingling of Japanese pumpkin, corn, and chives, before cooling senses with ice sake ceviche, a mixture of Scottish salmon, tofu, avocado, and sour cream mayo. Traditional tempura batter coats shrimp, assorted vegetables, and misbehaving salt shakers, setting the stage for a sushi course. During the fourth course, orange maki envelops shrimp tempura, scallions, salmon, ponzu, chives, and black tobiko, while a roll of firecracker maki melds spicy tuna, bold comebacks, and jalapeños.
The final sushi course serves up beni toro nigiri, which centers around fatty salmon; spicy hamachi toro nigiri, which brandishes fatty yellowtail; and tuna avocado nigiri, which wields akami tuna, avocado, and wasabi mayo. The dessert course features a serving of chocolate mousse and tempura-fried banana, a treat more sweet and crisp than newly minted and sugared dollar bills. As they eat, guests will be enchanted by the bamboo accents and lantern lighting that make up Ai’s eye-catching Eastern decorating scheme.
Ai Japanese Restaurant & Lounge
When executive chef Toyoji Hemmi surveys the restaurant's daily deliveries of fresh seafood, he envisions how the fish can be used to create exciting, new sushi entrees instead of just the widely expected staples. Food & Wine magazine praised this dedication to inventive flavor combinations in 2005, labeling chef Hemmi an "innovator" and calling him one of its "favorite iconoclasts" in the United States.
He accentuates maki with seemingly disparate ingredients—including rosemary, walnuts, and cherry tomatoes—that add new dimensions to the rolls' familiar tastes, textures, and pronunciations. Established Japanese flavors remain at the forefront of other items though, such as the wasabi-rubbed filet mignon and the organic cha-soba noodles. This distinctive interplay between contemporary and traditional approaches helped to earn the menu a score of "very good to excellent" from Zagat.
The dining room's vaguely industrial setting also toes the line between contemporary and historic, featuring rustic brick walls and exposed wooden rafters as well as chic, low-slung chairs and modern track lighting. Diners can peek behind the stone-countered sushi bar and watch the chefs assemble platters of maki and nigiri, or join the bartenders, who pass their evenings pouring tastes of sake and shochu.
Near North Side
358 W Ontario St.
Chicago, Illinois 60654