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posted: 5/22/2013 6:00 AM

Kawa in Grayslake a sushi standout

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  • Sashimi delux is on the menu at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.

       Sashimi delux is on the menu at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Wu Du works the Mongolian grill at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.

       Wu Du works the Mongolian grill at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill offers a nice array of sushi.

       Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill offers a nice array of sushi.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Sushi chefs Andy Au, left, and Jimmy Li create satisfying rolls at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.

       Sushi chefs Andy Au, left, and Jimmy Li create satisfying rolls at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Tropical Roll is one the signature sushi rolls at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.

       Tropical Roll is one the signature sushi rolls at Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • With fresh seafood, flavorful sauces and top-notch service, Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake is a crowd pleaser.

       With fresh seafood, flavorful sauces and top-notch service, Kawa Japanese Restaurant and Mongolian Grill in Grayslake is a crowd pleaser.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Billock
Daily Herald Correspondent

Kawa in Grayslake brings a modern edge to traditional Asian dining.

You walk in to a loud and spacious dining room that is also warm and inviting; red fabric drapes from the ceiling and Japanese art spans the wall. You can style your dining experience to fit your mood: a table in the dining room, a seat at the sushi bar or (my favorite) a traditional Japanese dining room with cushions on the floor, rice paper walls and no shoes allowed.

The menu at Kawa, 100 S. Atkinson Road, offers a seamless blend of Japanese, Mongolian and a little bit of Thai with its wide array of both hot and cold appetizers and entrees, sushi, grilled food and noodles. On the night my family dined the ambiance, service and food were all above average, and we're already planning a return visit.

To start our meal, we ordered a tableful of appetizers: tuna carpaccio, honey salmon, snow shrimp tempura and chicken and corn soup. The tuna (pan-seared, served with ponzu and wasabi aioli) and salmon (marinated and wrapped around spicy crunch, also with wasabi aioli) were both cold sushi appetizers. The fish was smooth and soft and left us wanting more. Both were slightly spicy, but not so much so that you needed a gulp of water to cut the heat. The snow shrimp came with a coconut cream sauce that held a strong honey flavor -- a great pairing for the sweet and tender shrimp. As for the soup, a little bit of soy sauce amped up the flavor and it was full of large pieces of chicken and corn (instead of tiny chunks you might encounter at other restaurants).

Kawa is smart about its sushi. Have you ever felt cheated at a sushi place because you ordered a great sounding roll, but when it arrived, you got mostly rice and very little fish? Well, Kawa opts to make shorter, heftier rolls with a thin layer of rice. Customers receive a more filling and satisfying experience, knowing the cost of the roll went to top-notch quality and quantity of fish.

We ordered a sushi banquet of unagi (eel) and shiro maguro (white tuna) nigiri, and the Black Dragon, Sexy Mama, Kamikaze and Dynamite rolls. All were, simply put, fabulous. The fish was incredibly fresh, flavorful and oh-so delicate. The rolls didn't crumble on the journey from plate to soy sauce to mouth -- even when I dropped my piece from a lack of chopstick prowess.

The real sushi standout was the Sexy Mama roll. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado and tobiko come wrapped in cucumber strips instead of rice. I'd never seen anything like it; it almost looked like a fruit plate because of the bright colors. The roll was flavorful and refreshing, and would be a great meal on a hot summer day because it seemed to cool you down.

Kawa's all-you-can-eat Mongolian grill is also served with intelligent design. Rather than starting right away and risking being too full to go back for more, the restaurant offers a single-plate purchase with the ability to upgrade to all-you-can-eat after you finish your first dish and gauge your hunger level. From our point of view, it was a great way for Kawa to show the importance of their customers' business -- no one feels cheated out of money.

When you order the grill, you start by picking out your ingredients from a salad bar-esque buffet. Some of the meat is frozen (we assumed so it could stay out longer), but overall, everything was crisp and fresh. Our first round included steak, shrimp, water chestnuts, broccoli, noodles, mushrooms and peapods. You give your dish to the cook, pick your sauce and he throws it all down on a huge round flat-topped grill. As someone with food allergies, the grill's cleanliness is pretty important to me -- luckily it was extremely clean. The chef also was sure to check everything on the plate to make sure the food is fully cooked, and you won't get your food until he's satisfied. As with all Mongolian grills, the flavors all seemed to blend together into one overall taste and the real standouts were the sauces. Our first plate had Mongolian sauce, and our second had teriyaki. The difference was huge.

To end our meal, we ordered the standard green tea mochi ice cream and a slice of deep-fried cheesecake. Although the cheesecake was frozen in the middle and had a lingering fryer oil taste, the mochi was delicately flavored and I could slice it with a fork -- a vast improvement over other sushi restaurants' frozen-solid mochi.

Kawa clearly considers their customers to be their best asset, and it is reflected in the food and service. Make this your new go-to sushi place. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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