On a recent trip to Chicago, I got into my hotel in Lincolnshire, IL one evening pretty late. I was tired and just wanted to get something to eat. I didn't want bar food and a steak would have been too much. I remembered a sushi restaurant that I'd driven by a number of times that was just down the road a mile or so by the name of Wakaba. I decided to throw my bags in my room and head down the road for some sushi.
The name "Wakaba" is Japanese for "young leaves". But I really don't know what that has to do with the Wakaba sushi restaurant located in the River Run Shopping Center on Milwaukee Ave. in Deerfield. (see map) The restaurant has been open since 1997 and is owned by Midong and Haeyoung Choi. Even though the Choi's are natives of Seoul, Korea, they claim the restaurant is 100 percent Japanese. By day, Midong Choi's main vocation is as an attorney. At night, he trades in his coat and tie for a traditional sushi chef robe and headband. His wife runs the kitchen full time at the restaurant.
The interior of Wakaba is typical of most Japanese/sushi restaurants. It's well-lit and filled with oriental-style furniture for the tables and chairs, as well as numerous oriental pieces of artwork on the wall. A number of plants are throughout the place giving it sort of a Japanese garden vibe. I'm guessing that must be the reason for the "Wakaba" name. On one wall, they have a flat screen television playing a continuous loop of a tank full of tropical fish. They must figure that it's a lot cheaper to maintain a flat screen and a DVD player than it is to futz with actually having a tropical fish aquarium.
I sat at the sushi bar and they appeared to have a lot of good fresh fish to choose from in the glass cooler (above right). I got a menu from the waitress and ordered an Asahi beer. It had been a long day and I needed a cold beer.
Wakaba offers much more than just your standard sushi on their menu. They have a number of Japanese entrees that Haeyoung Choi makes up in the kitchen just off to the side of the sushi bar. But I was interested in sushi that evening and that's what I got.
The first thing I noticed was that they had toro (fatty tuna). I got a piece of that to go along with a spicy tuna roll, a couple pieces each of sweet shrimp, yellow tail, regular salmon and smoked salmon.
Being that it was only me and two other gentlemen in the restaurant, the sushi chef (I'm guessing it was Midong Choi) took care of me pretty quickly. He also threw in a couple of the deep-fried shrimp heads that I'll take if they're free and leave if they're not.
The spicy tuna rolls were not very good. I can't say they were all that spicy and the tuna was like mush. They had a seaweed wrapping around them and I only got five pieces (most places will give you six).
The toro was fine, but the yellow tail was very fishy in taste. The smoked salmon wasn't all that smoky and the regular salmon, too, had a heavy fishiness to its taste. The sweet shrimp were the best of the tastes that I had that evening and even they weren't much to write home about.
I finished quickly and just wanted to get back to the hotel as I had some e-mails to return and needed to go to bed rather early. I finished up and the sushi chef said, "You eat so fast! You want more?"
I begged off and told him that I was tired and needed to get back to the hotel. The whole time I was thinking, "Geez, I may need to get back to the hotel in case I get sick!" Thankfully, I didn't get sick from the sushi at Wakaba.
Wakaba wasn't very good that evening. I don't think they've been able to stay in business for 14 years by having sushi that was as bad as what I had that night. I'm hoping it was just an anomaly, but I'm not certain I'm willing to give Wakaba a second chance. Not with a number of other sushi restaurants in the area.