Step into Sushi Ai (which translates to "sushi love") and it's as if Captain Kirk teleported you to the Buddha Lounge in Brighton, UK - except you're really in a strip mall in Palatine. The only thing that's out of this world here is the food.
The space provides plenty of mood with red tiled walls, black wood accents, world-trance rhythms and subterranean vibes. Order a bracing Asian Pear martini before you mull over Head Chef Sam Lee's extensive menu: more than 25 appetizers, salads, sashimi, maki rolls, specialty maki, sushi entrees and kitchen entrees.
Dynamite, unusual appetizers from the sushi bar include the dramatic Dragon Fire - a soft-shell crab, asparagus, and fresh water eel wrapped with thinly sliced yellow fin tuna, splashed with chili sauce, and served in a Barcardi 151 pool of fire. All key flavors are perfectly balanced and the fish is bright and clean. A hot starter, Kushi yaki, is a nice counterpoint and you can get your two skewers laced with grilled chicken, scallop, shrimp or filet.
Over 20 specialty maki make it unbearable to choose. Should you go with the Sexy Lady - spicy salmon over Snow crab or for an entirely different mouthful of black and white ricewith spicy mini lobsters, avocado and cucumber (Tornado Sunrise)? Kitchen entrees, served with miso soup, house salad and rice, check in at a baker's dozen and range from a flavorful grilled Sea Bass to braised beef short ribs. With such a large selection of both raw and cooked Japanese contemporary cuisine, inspired maki, select premium sake, wines and specialty martinis, everyone leaves Sushi Ai satisfied and vowing to return.