November 05, 2005

'Body sushi' uses woman as buffet table


November 4, 2005
Chicago Sun Times

The "body sushi" special at Kizoku Sushi and Lounge isn't special so much for the fish as for the platter it is served on: a semi-nude woman.

The River North restaurant began offering the $500 all-you-can-eat dinner special in its private lounge about two weeks ago by word of mouth. Customers must make reservations in advance, and there is a four-person minimum.

Ever since the restaurant at 358 W. Ontario sold the first special to two couples last Sunday, it has logged 19 more reservations, co-owner Eddy Pinto said.

"It might be a little risque, but why not? It's done in a very tasteful way. And we're all perverted in our own minds, right?" said Pinto, 42, a former wine and liquor director at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.

Pinto got the idea for body sushi while at a karaoke lounge in Japan about 10 years ago. He inquired about a curtained-off room he saw on his way to the bathroom, with a padded table surrounded by chairs, and before long, he and his girlfriend were at the table with eight Japanese businessmen, eating sushi off a completely naked woman.

At Kizoku, the woman -- a belly dancer and friend of Pinto's from Las Vegas who goes by the name Tabitha -- wears a G-string, some cellophane, a few strategically placed seashells and little else. The sushi is placed atop bamboo leaves arranged on her thighs, stomach and chest area. None of the food touches her skin, Pinto said. Soup or salad and dessert are included.

"It's like wearing a leaf bikini," Tabitha said.

Kizoku co-owner Darren Huang, who is half-Japanese, said the practice is a centuries-old tradition in Japan, done these days at high-end restaurants. It has been seen elsewhere around the world, including in Australia, though rarely in a favorable light. In China last year, a restaurant advertising a "Feast on a Beauty's Body" was fined because authorities said women were being violated and didn't have the proper health certificates.

Tim Hadac, spokesman for the Chicago Public Health Department, said the body sushi at Kizoku doesn't appear to be problematic "from a public health perspective," though he added, "We're never thrilled when people eat raw products" such as sushi.

But a spokeswoman for the city's Business Affairs and Licensing Department said inspectors would be checking out Kizoku to make sure no nudity regulations were being violated. "As long as there are certain areas of her body that are covered, I believe they are in compliance. However, we will have to look into it just to make sure," Rosa Escareno said.

Tabitha, 24, admits body sushi is "risque and edgy" but says she doesn't feel objectified.

"The same people that have a problem with it have a problem with the Victoria's Secret fashion show on TV. I don't even think about it," she said. "I'm a performer. I'm all about the theatrical. It's a dining experience."

As for the sushi, it was "good," according to Howard Johnston, 26, of Palatine, the first customer to try the body sushi last weekend with his fiancee and a neighbor and his girlfriend. "But I don't know if it was worth quite that much."

Posted by Wintermute at November 5, 2005 09:30 AM