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David Lissner
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Seafood to die for: Fugu in Chicago

Ai's fugu sashimi. (Photo ©2012 by Leah A. Zeldes.)

Ai's fugu sashimi. (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes.)

If you’ve been checking off the “100 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” here’s a chance to get one more … though you might want to save it for last.*

Through the end of March, Ai Japanese Restaurant and Lounge in River North currently offers fugu, a potentially deadly Japanese delicacy. This mild-tasting blowfish carries a toxin that can be fatal if the fish is improperly prepared. Ai’s Chef Toyoji Hemmi is the only licensed specialist serving fugu between New York and Colorado.

fugu receipt


Ai offers fugu four ways: fugu usuzukuri, sashimi style with citrus-laced ponzu sauce, $40; nikogori, fugu skin in savory gelatin, $8; fugu nabe, a Japanese hot pot also containing monkfish, noodles, mushrooms and vegetables, $40; and hirezake, fugu fin in hot sake, $7.

Reservations are required 48 hours in advance, with advance payment for the fugu portion of your order.

If fugu isn’t your thing, or dining companions are squeamish, Ai also offers a variety of all-you-can-eat deals in the lounge and restaurant, ranging from $21.95 to $35.95, plus 50-percent discounts on bottles of wine and sake on Mondays.

* I’m now up to 98, myself. Anyone know where I can get squirrel or phaal in Chicago?