South Kawa

“This would be a really great place to bring a date, if you didn’t want anybody to see you together,” my friend said as we walked into South Kawa in Bridgeport. Stuck amidst a slew of wing joints and dollar stores blocks away from U.S. Cellular Field, the sushi bar has only been open for a month, keeping a low enough profile that Google Maps doesn’t know it exists yet. Apparently nobody else does either. At 7:45 on a Friday night, all but two of the seats in the restaurant were empty, and they stayed that way over the two hours that we were there.

It would be a mistake to prejudge South Kawa’s food or service based on its lack of traffic, however, as both were more than satisfactory. We started our meal with edamame, hoping to quiet our grumbling stomachs while we waited for three friends whose bus never came. The beans were delicious–firm, fresh and hot, with the perfect amount of flaked salt shaken on top. They came out within five minutes of us ordering, and were gone in as much time. Our waiter laughed when we asked for a second helping: “I told you so!”

With a mound of pods left on the table and our friends on their way by cab, we gave in to hunger and ordered our sushi. The menu features a variety of rolls and pieces ranging from the simple to the elaborate, alongside a limited range of non-sushi appetizers and entrees. I split two of their more extravagant rolls–the Fallen Angel and the Sweet Sixteen–with two companions, along with the less showy salmon and avocado roll. We also ended up with a bowl of yaki udon, and the chicken skewers from a series of yakitori options based on our server’s second suggestion–his first was to get all five types, ideally washed down by three cold beers and a baseball game.

The yakitori skewers were small but well-grilled, and the sweet sauce was good enough to warrant some skewer twirling. The yaki udon came in a generous portion, with firm noodles and a sauce that managed to be salty without crowding out other flavors. The Fallen Angel roll–crab meat, seaweed salad, tempura bits and avocado with scallops and roe on top–was good, but the salad somewhat overpowered the crab. Both the skewers and the roll were listed as spicy, but as somebody who tears up at an extra drop of Tabasco sauce, I imagine that a person looking for heat would be disappointed by both.

The Sweet Sixteen, which topped tuna with salmon, was given a punch up by the inclusion of mango, which lent a pleasing sweetness even if its mushy texture didn’t contribute much. Selected from a back page of rolls like the “Sexy Mama” and the “Anaconda,” both the Sweet Sixteen and the Fallen Angel were beautifully presented–a mosaic of colors and textures accented by the sauces drizzled on top. All were prepared by a lone, headband-crowned sushi chef at a bar set into the wall across from our table. In terms of taste, hearty isn’t a term usually ascribed to sushi, but it fit here: the fish was thick cut, and our hungry group left almost unanimously full.

South Kawa really shines on service. Though tea wasn’t on the menu, my friend was brought some free of charge on request. Save for the yaki udon, all of our food came out within ten minutes of ordering, and the noodles quickly followed. Our servers were always on hand but never hovered, a hard balance when waitstaff outnumber patrons. The restaurant’s decor was as sparse as the crowd, limited to a large stylized koi pond painting and a flat screen twice its size that loomed from across the narrow restaurant. Yet the servers’ friendly banter kept the emptiness of the restaurant from feeling oppressive.

The instrumental background music switched to a lullaby as we left South Kawa. “See you soon!” our waiter called. We wandered onto Halsted, as lazy, full, and well-cared for as the koi glancing from the back wall.

3417 S. Halsted St. Monday-Thursday, 11am-3pm, 4pm-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-3pm, 4pm-11pm. (773)940-1238