Blu Coral | Restaurant review
West Town gets a sushi spot, but it's the small plates that stand out.
Probably more than any other type of restaurant, sushi joints blend together as easily as second cousins’ names at a beer-fueled family reunion. Think about it—there’s a requisite blue-slate-black color scheme, minimalist tables flanked by not-so-comfy chairs, a thumping soundtrack that could only be described as “the reason people hate techno,” black-clad servers who are too cool for school, and a menu of nigiri, sashimi, maki, whacked-out Americanized maki and cooked, teriyaki dishes for those who would rather poke their eyes out than eat raw fish.
With so many similarities, why are some places packed while others look like ghost towns? With a few exceptions (the excellent Katsu comes to mind), it boils down to three factors: location, scene and food quality (unfortunately, in that order). Blu Coral, the latest sushi den in town, may not see the payoff for its pioneering location for a while; it’s at the ass-end of Milwaukee Avenue, surrounded by Rainbow Fashion and cheap furniture outlets that lure customers with framed Scarface posters. And given that location often dictates scene, so far the only happenin’ action going on at Blu Coral is a sprinkling of 24-year-old Trixies’ birthday parties.
The quality of food here is a toss-up; the menu is so huge there’s no way the kitchen can do everything well. We almost needed the half-hour it took one clueless server to finally appear to take our order (to be fair, on another visit we had great service).
Dishes from the first page, dubbed “From Sushi Bar,” would be better titled “Japanese-ish small plates.” Of the 16 on offer, standouts include the Dragon Fire—a roll of crispy softshell crab, eel and asparagus bound together by thin slices of raw tuna, drizzled with chili oil and placed on a plate with a pool of rum that’s lit on fire (pictured). Another must-try dish is the Dynamite, bright salmon and pungent oba leaf (a Japanese herb with an interesting peppery-mint flavor) wrapped with mamenori (soy-bean paper), then topped with a blend of raw scallop, shrimp and crabmeat. The pool of ponzu sauce on the plate gives a nice citrus kick to the dish.
“From the Kitchen” heads another equally lengthy page of small plates, which include crispy, spicy ahi tuna rolls whose phyllo wrappers are a great contrast for the creamy wasabi sauce. The bacon-wrapped scallop–and–blue crab cake is akin to an ’80s rumaki—nontraditional as hell but delicious nonetheless. But skip anything tempura; the tasteless breading is too thick and obliterates any flavor inside.
A page of almost 20 “Specialty Maki” is followed by a page listing a dozen “Blu Coral Signature Maki,” making it nearly impossible to choose which rolls to try. Eliminate the cream cheese– and mayo–laden options and you cut your choices in half. Of those, go with the White Sox, a contrast of flavors and textures that includes crispy shrimp and spicy tuna inside and silky superwhite tuna and crunchy black tobiko outside. It’s not for everyone, but the Mackerel Madness is an interesting treatment of the strong, oily fish, where scored, skin-on pieces are wrapped around vinegary rice and topped with diced cucumber and marinated white seaweed. It’s dishes like these that should help Blu Coral stand out from the sea of similar sushi spots.