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Video: Watch Chef Gonzalo create Kuma Sutra sushi. (Video/Mikki McConnaughey and Lindsey Murphy)

Cold Weather Has Sushi Restaurants Kicking It Up a Notch

By Mikki McConnaughey and Lindsey Murphy

Posted: Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014

Contrary to popular belief, a fresh, chilled sushi roll can make for a satisfying and delicious winter meal. Chef Gonzalo, of Simply Thalia, attributes the timeliness of winter sushi to the freshness of the fish during the season.

Proprietor and established Chicago restauranteur Vince Tan opened Simply Thalia four years ago on the pedway level of Block 37 on State Street and Washington Boulevard downtown.

Tan said, “The most critical part is actually slicing the fish, prepping the fish, and then cleaning the fish. That is actually more intricate than the rolling of the sushi.”

Gonzalo said this crucial prep is why he puts so much extensive care and time in preparing his ingredients before any customers even walk in the door.

Normally when thinking of a winter meal, most Chicagoans would probably think those warm, hearty, feel-good meals that they enjoy with friends and family. Most of those “stick-to-your-ribs” meals include overwhelming amounts of calories from steak, potatoes, stews, and other seasonal favorites.

Sushi restaurants tend to kick it up a notch when the cold weather hits. Layers of different ingredients rolled up between sticky rice and seaweed, packed with flavor, is often seen as more of a summer snack to be enjoyed on a patio somewhere.

But Simply Thalia doesn’t worry about their influx of customers easing up during the polar vortex. By keeping up the integrity of their menu by using fresh and flavorful ingredients, Tan doesn’t expect there to lose too many guests.

“Winter is our busy season it seems to be, even though its cold but sushi just sort of melts in your mouth and it has a healthy taste to it, so a lot of people get sushi during winter,” said Tan.

Tan’s theory this winter is that Chicagoans often get tired of traditional holiday food and tend to turn to other options, such as sushi.

In past holidays he’s seen that Simply Thalia continues to serve their usual crowd of people for lunches, being right by many office buildings downtown and hopes that this winter won’t be any different.

“We have a large variety to offer, so it’s really whatever people have a taste for,” said Tan. “Our lunch is always busy, because there’s a lot of corporations and employees who work around here.”

The mission statement of Simply Thalia explains that they provide “authentic, local and favorite dishes of the South East Asian regions,” that are “prepared daily, steamed, boiled, or hand rolled, just like mom’s home cooking.” There are many sushi and Thai classics to choose from on the menu, as well as other Asian fusion cuisines.

“We provide a very healthy version of Asian food. We don’t do anything stir fried all our dishes are either steamed or freshly prepared so there’s little sodium and we even have gluten-free options," Tan said. "So we try to provide the opportunity for a healthier lunch in the Loop without sacrificing a very tasty Asian choice."

Gonzalo said his favorite part of being a sushi chef is experimenting with different rolls. His personal favorites are the Red Dragon, a combination of spicy tuna, cream cheese, scallions, tempura crumbs, unagi, and avocado; and the Full Moon, which is made with spicy salmon, tempura crumbs, and spicy tuna.

One of Tan’s favorite sushi rolls on the menu that customers also love is the Kama Sutra sushi fusion dish, which is described as “orgasmic” on their menu. It includes ebi, mussel, kani kama and scallops, fire cooked with spicy sauce and served over a spoonful of sushi rice with a touch of lime.

Although very visually appealing, as you can see in this Google Glass footage of Chef Gonzalo making it, it lives up to its description and satisfies many guests.

Kuma Sutra Sushi


  • Ebi
  • Mussels
  • Kani kama
  • Scallops
  • Spicy sauce
  • Sushi rice
  • Lime

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