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Sake Tumi Stands Out From the Crowd

Korean barbecue, maki sushi among highlights

Jun. 7, 2012
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Situated on the block of Milwaukee Street between Wisconsin and Mason, part of a thriving scene of bars and restaurants, is Sake Tumi. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a long sushi bar that dominates the dining area. Sake Tumi's original menu was a pioneer in Asian fusion, offering a few Korean items along with Japanese cuisine. That tradition continues, as today's menu expands its options for Korean food and adds some Chinese dishes as well.

Many patrons come here for the sushi, and the specialty maki rolls ($16) are quite eye-catching. The sinuous Dragon combines unagi (freshwater eel) with cucumber and avocado. The Volcano lives up to its name, with an interior of octopus and masago (smelt roe) and a topping of tuna tartare with unagi sauce. Traditional maki are less expensive, starting at $4 for avocado maki and topping out at $8 for spider maki prepared with soft-shelled crab. There are more than 20 choices for nigiri and sashimi ($5-$12). Maguro toro, the luscious fatty tuna belly, is among them, though today many are shunning tuna in favor of more sustainable fish like hamachi (yellowtail) and hotate (scallop). The hotate is an especially choice piece of sushi, with a soft, almost creamy texture.

A must is an order of tempura fried green beans ($6). This starter, made with a thin, crisp batter, arrives fresh and hot. Lunches offer a good value in bento boxes ($7-$15). The meal begins with a standard miso soup, and the lacquered boxes include a salad, rice, some tempura green beans and a choice of a main item.

The lunchtime choices are Japanese and Korean. At dinner the choice of entrees expands quite a bit. Tempura dinners ($12-$18) are of vegetables, shrimp or a combination of both. Again, the delightful batter is perfectly crisp.

At dinner, patrons should strongly consider ordering Korean barbecue. From its early days Sake Tumi was known for its exceptional kalbi ($22), beef short ribs marinated and sliced in the Korean manner. Bulgogi ($17), beef marinated in soy sauce with garlic and a hint of sugar, is found on most Korean menus. But this version uses rib-eye that is extremely tender—a far better cut than you will normally find. It is also a little sweeter than most other versions.

The tweajigogi ($16) is slices of pork in a marinade of hot pepper paste. If Korean barbecue pork is poorly trimmed, it can be quite fatty. Here, however, pork loin is used to good effect. This is the dish for those who enjoy kimchee.

Friday and Saturday evenings offer domi-gui ($21), a red snapper grilled whole with spicy marinade and served on a bed of baby bok choy. It arrives a glistening red, thanks to the hot pepper, and it is every bit as delicious as it looks. This is a stellar Korean entrée.

Details matter at Sake Tumi, down to the tempura batter and the trimming of the meat. Even the house salad stands out by using mixed greens with a distinctive ginger dressing instead of cheaper iceberg lettuce with a chain-restaurant dressing.

The dining room remains one of the most attractive for local Japanese dining (and the best for Korean). The bar offers sake and a nice selection of beers. The wine list is especially good for a Japanese/Korean restaurant, with about 40 choices from around the world. Despite considerable competition, Sake Tumi remains a top pick because of its setting, its specialty maki sushis and its Korean barbecue.

Sake Tumi

714 N. Milwaukee St.

(414) 224-7253


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