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You Don't Have to Gamble with Blowfish at Ai Japanese Restaurant and Lounge

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 16, 2011 9:40PM

2011_12_16_blowfish.jpg Translated from Japanese, "fugu" (blowfish or puffer fish) literally means "river pig." The fish contains a toxin called tetraodontidae that, if only one milligram is ingested, is enough to kill a man. For this reason, sushi chefs must be licensed to prepare fugu for consumption.

Yet the most adventurous of eaters and braggarts — I've been both at various stages of life — relish the opportunity to eat fugu. Which brings me to a press release I received a couple of days ago from Ai Japanese Restaurant and Lounge in River North, reminding me they were "the only restaurant in the surrounding Midwest states that is licensed to serve fugu."

The autumn and winter are the best time to try fugu, as that's when the fish fattens for hibernation. Chef Toyoji Hemmi is licensed to prepare the fish and used to split his time between Ai and the now-closed Tsuki in Lincoln Park. The press release from Ai manager Sandy Lim reads Hemmi will be serving fugu four ways this season: Fugu Usuzukuri (fugu Sashimi with boiled fugu skin served with ponzu sauce); Fugu Nabe (fugu, monkfish, Japanese watercress, Tokyo onions, Shiitake mushrooms, Enoki mushrooms, Shimeji mushrooms, tofu, soybean cake, potato noodles, daikon, carrots, and Yuzu in a hot pot served with a ponzu dippingsauce); Nikogori (fugu skin in a savory gelatin); and Hirezake (fot sake with fugu fin).

Ai started their fugu serving season yesterday and, should you decide to take the plunge, the restaurant requires a 48-hour advance notice because of limited supply.