Ah sushi. Just one facet of Japanese cuisine that has taken the world by storm. Most people think of this food as being super Japanese and simply means “raw fish”. On the contrary, sushi was originally invented in Southeast Asia, and sushi actually refers to the vinegar laden rice that upholds the meal. It wasn’t until the early 1800s in Japan when the sushi and sashimi (raw fish slices) were combined as we consume it now. It was referred to as Edo (Tokyo’s old name) style sushi. While most people focus on the quality of the fish, in reality the sushi rice is considered of greater importance to the overall dining experience. In Japan, a sushi chef can’t begin to serve fish until he has mastered the art of preparing the perfect batch of sushi rice. If you want a great movie to see the training and art of sushi at its finest and most old-school, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi. While I’ve experienced sushi in Tokyo, I managed to find a little slice of the homeland just around the corner from my house in Westmont, IL in the form of Yokohama Japanese Restaurant.
Now it may not be in the most glamorous place in the world: in a small strip mall next to train tracks and a water silo, but as I’ve learned throughout my travels around the world, never judge a restaurant by its appearance (however hidden, strange, or non-descript it might be). When we walked through the door, we were actually the only people in the restaurant, and the stoic sushi chef who was meticulously scrubbing down his workstation greeted us with a konichiwa! We were quickly seated and had our menus placed in front of us. Looking over the menu, they had a plethora of sushi options that ranged from individual pieces (~$1.50~4 per piece) to combination platters of sushi and sashimi (~$20-25). We naturally started with drinks, and I wasn’t sure what to get until I saw something called Ramune under the sodas. So when it came to my table, Janice knew what it was, but I was greatly confused looking at this uniquely shaped bottle. Our waitress popped the top of the bottle with something that looked like a metal rod, and suddenly a glass marble of sorts dropped into the middle of the neck yet somehow didn’t fall to the bottom. It turns out that this bottle was introduced to Japan by a Scottish chemist who was selling lemonade soda which was subsequently promoted by local papers as a preventative for cholera. When I tried to drink it, it was really hard to imbibe the lemon-lime soda I could liken to a more subtle Sprite in nature. I had to somehow use my tongue to push it up while allowing enough space for the soda to flow. I eventually was like a sugar crazed rabbit flicking my tongue on the end of one of those water bottles that attach on the side with the metal spigot. Long story short, Janice finally figured out that the strangely notched neck had a resting place for the marble which didn’t help since I already had finished 3/4ths of the bottle. The thirst was real.
Regardless of my sufferings in the name of quenching my thirst, we ordered our food. Janice got a mix of spicy hotate (scallop) rolls, California kani (crab) rolls, and a tamago sushi roll. As for me, I was quite hungry, so I got a katsudon. We waited quite awhile for our food which was kind of surprising given that we were the only people in there, but it was a sign that they were making everything fresh and taking care to make each piece perfectly. Before we got our main course, we received complimentary bowls of miso soup and a kind of noodle salad. I love miso soup in any form because it was warming our souls on that frigid night along with the wonderful earthy, savory umami flavor that Japanese cooking is notorious for. The noodle salad was ok, and the white dressing that it was drowning in tasted kind of like ranch but not as tangy. Eventually, our food came out, and the care the staff took in preparing the meal showed through in every piece of sushi. The spicy scallop rolls weren’t terribly spicy, but the seaweed wrapping mixed with the slightly salty scallops to perfection. I was more of a fan of the California rolls since they had a mix of smooth avocado, sweet crab meat, and crunchy cucumbers. The tobiko fish eggs on the outside were the icing on the cake or the crown on these king crab rolls since they added a salty contrast to the vinegar soaked sushi rice. As for the tamago, it was a part egg and part rice sushi roll was a bit too bland for me, but it’s wildly popular in Japan and elsewhere in the Far East. So much so that even famous Korean rapper G-Dragon perhaps unknowingly sported a dodgy hairdo paying tribute to the eggy treat. Then there was my katsudon. The word katsudon is a portmanteau of the Japanese words tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl dish).
Surprise surprise, that’s exactly what my meal was: a moderately sized bowl packed with rice on the bottom and then topped with a melange of egg, fried noodles, and fried pork cutlet pieces. I couldn’t go wrong with all of that protein and carbs, and I really didn’t. The pork was plentiful and lightly fried with a crumb-laden crust. Mixing the pieces with the rice and noodles proved to be quite the hearty meal that filled me up but did not leave me bloated, uncomfortable with a greasy taste in my mouth, and with a bad case of the meat sweats.
By the end of the meal, we were greatly satisfied with our meal, and the price we paid wasn’t bad at all compared to more glamous/popular sushi joints. So, if you want to get quality sushi at reasonable prices with friendly service, check out Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Westmont! Sayonara!