I had been on the road for a few days and ended up in the northern suburbs of Chicago one evening. I was tired of burgers, didn't want a pizza, thought about going to find a steak, but I soon lost interest in that. I realized that I hadn't had seafood for a while, but didn't feel like finding a seafood restaurant. However, sushi came into my mind and while I was tempted to go back to one of my all-time favorite sushi places - Blu Fish - I decided to seek out another place for sushi. (Click here to see my entry on Blu Fish.) Looking through Urbanspoon, I found a sushi place in Northbrook - Kamehachi. I got the address and put it into the GPS. In less than 10 minutes from my hotel, I pulled up in front of Kamehachi.
The original Kamehachi has a long history in the city of Chicago. It is recognized as being the first place to get sushi in the Chicagoland area. In the mid-60's, Marion Konishi, a young Japanese-American mother of two from San Diego who grew up in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, moved to Chicago with the help of relatives who ran restaurants in New York. She opened Kamehachi in 1967 - the name roughly means "8 turtles" in Japanese. Turtles and the number 8 are considered a sign of luck and longevity in Japanese culture. Trying to make a go of a cuisine that was completely foriegn to the meat and potatoes crowd in Chicago in the 60's, Konishi worked as a server, greeter, sushi chef and cook at the restaurant. Working with Japanese men whose upbringing viewed women as subserviant, Konishi's firm and forward manner in her restaurant garnered her the moniker of "The Dragon Lady".
Kamehachi's first location was on N. Wells St. in an area that was sort of a hippie/Bohemian enclave in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. Kamehachi's unique cuisine caught on with the laid back neighborhood and was a favorite of many of the young and rising stars who graced the stage at the famed Second City theater just across the street. Notable actors such as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis all dined at Kamehachi in Old Town before they became famous.
Marion Konishi passed away in 1990 and her daughter, Sharon Perazzoli, took over Kamehachi. Four years later, she moved the original restaurant from the small building they had been in for nearly 25 years to a larger location two blocks south to the corner of Wells and Schiller. (see map) In 1999, the Northbrook location opened and three years later, Kamehachi opened a location in the Streeterville neighborhood in Chicago. Perazzoli and her daughter, Giulia Sindler, (pictured right) oversee five Kamehachi locations across the greater Chicagoland area.
The Northbrook location is in a shopping/restaurant area along Shermer Road across from Village Green park in what would be downtown Northbrook. (see map) I had never been in that part of Northbrook before and was surprised to see a number of other restaurants in the immediate area. I made notes of what I saw while I was driving around so I could go back and try some of the places at a later time. I was able to find a parking spot right in front of Kamehachi on Shermer Road.
I went in the front door and soon found out that it even though it faced the road, the front door of Kamehachi is actually on the opposite end of the restaurant facing the parking lot behind the building. However, a young server saw me come in and asked where I'd like to sit. There was a sushi bar and a small bar opposite the sushi chefs. I took a seat at the sushi bar and she dropped off a menu for me.
The restaurant, itself, featured a contemporary decor with recessed can lighting in the ceiling. A series of Japanese-inspired prints hung on the wall on the east side of the restaurant. The dining room was large and comfortable.
A young man came by to ask me what I wanted to drink. I asked for an Asahi beer, but they only had Sapporo. That's fine with me. Asahi is usually No. 1 with me for Japanese beers while Sapporo is No. 1A.
Other than sushi, Kamehachi has a number of cooked entrees including chicken or steak teriyaki, Chilean sea bass, and sukiyaki - slices of tender beef simmered with cabbage, tofu, onions and mushrooms and served with Japanese noodles. Speaking noodle dishes, Kamehachi features a number of entrees with all types of noodles - thick noodles, thin noodles, tea noodles and some others - many of which can have beef, chicken or seafood added.
But I was there for the sushi and I was hungry. I had only had a breakfast bar during the course of the day and I started out by ordering two of the Spicy Tuna Roll Deluxe - a regular spicy tuna roll with cucumber and avacado added. It's like a California roll, only with tuna and the spicy mayo added. I was surprised when it came out so soon - less than five minutes after I ordered and the restaurant was pretty busy. The Spicy Tuna Rolls were, well, sort of bland. They didn't have quite the zip in taste that I've had in other tuna rolls at other places. I will say, however, that the wasabi was pungent and very forward when mixed with the soy sauce, and the ginger was some of the freshest and best tasting that I've ever had.
I then ordered up some of the Chu Toro (medium fatty tuna), smoked salmon, regular tuna and yellow tail. The order of sushi also came up rather fast. I tried the Chu Toro first and found it to be nice and chewy, but it had a hint of a fishy taste, sort of like it was getting toward the end of its shelf life in the sushi bar case. The smoked salmon didn't have much of a smoked taste to it, which was very disappointing. I love a good smoked salmon and Kamehachi's was not that great. The yellow tail and regular tuna were all right. They weren't anything special in taste. I thought the whole meal was sort of average, at best.
The sushi I had at Kamehachi was all right - it wasn't the best I've ever had, nor was it the worst. I also thought it was a little expensive for what I got. I didn't think the sushi had the great taste sensation that I look for in sushi, but the wasabi did help and the ginger was probably the most fresh ginger I'd ever had at a sushi restaurant. Still, I was good and full after the meal and I wasn't sorry that I found Kamehachi. If anything, finding Kamehachi opened up other possibilites of eating establishments in the immediate area. (Photo courtesy Michelle Reitman)