Sakura - Salem, IL
Sushi of any kind rarely appeared on the small town restaurant scene-- especially in the Midwest-- but we are no longer a people of just meat and potatoes. Raw fish was introduced to the diets of Rural Southern Illinois when Sakura first opened in late 2013. By their hand, eel and octopus grew into a known- and often feared- local nigiri.
I once feared the concept of eating raw and exotic fish. The most adventurous I ever got came from the grocery store refrigerator in a boxed California roll. My husband's sense of adventure dragged me unwillingly into Sakura's doors. Ever since, we try to find every reason to return.
Every meal begins with a bowl of miso soup. The tofu is cut into small pieces, and the seaweed is sliced equally to float in the broth. The taste is unlike anything the American pallette regularly experiences. It walks the line between sweet and savory.
At lunch hours, Sakura provides bento box themed dishes where each component is separated in a large square box. Both sushi and cooked dishes are available to be served in these lunches, often accompanied by fried rice, tempura veggies and a California roll. Entrees of noodle dishes and other cooked Japanese dishes are available at all hours, featuring larger portions of what is in the Bento boxes, sans the extra goodies.
The highlight of the menu, howver, is the variety of sushi. The negi hamachi, yellowtail roll, is the first I select upon every visit. Negi hamachi is rolled simply with a piece of yellow tail and green onion wrapped in sushi rice and nori. The green onion provides a layer of flavor to join with the smooth texture of the yellowtail, making it one of the easiest raw rolls to eat. I found it to be a useful introduction to sushi.
I have a deep love for all manner of tempura rolls, and Sakura's salmon tempura only strengthened that love. Unlike the tempura roll from Burlington, Iowa's Shokai Sushi, the salmon itself was tempura fried for Sakura's roll. It was joined by crab meat and Avocado within the roll of sushi rice and nori. The soft avocado paired with the crunchy strips of tempura fried salmon at the center acts as a sauce on the inside. The flavors pair well, and it is perhaps one of the few preparations of avocado I enjoy.
Sakura is a gem at the heart of a small interstate town, and I jump at the chance to visit it again. It is ran by a slim staff, and there are even signs warning that the service may be slow from time to time. It can be, but I always find that the qualifty of food makes up for the wait. Next time you go down interstate 57, make a stop at Salem, Illinois' Sakura.
You can take a look at their menu, or stop by their facebook page for more information.
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An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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