Wok'n Fire trying to establish itself as sushi destination
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Sushi lovers should check out the newest Wok'n Fire sushi and stir-fry restaurant in the Arboretum of South Barrington lifestyle center.
One of six restaurants in the group (others are in Elmhurst, Addison, St. Charles, Wheaton and Burr Ridge), this one bears the signatures of its peers, including a giant Buddha statue at the entrance. Décor could best be described as "upscale suburban shopping mall," and I don't mean that in a bad way.
Arboretum of South Barrington, 100 W. Higgins Road, (847) 428-7192; woknfire.com
Cuisine: Sushi and Asian stir-fry
Entrees: $11.95 to $18.95
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
The main menu is divided into several sections, intended to be mixed and matched, since the order isn't particularly logical: Appetizers (hot and cold), soups, salads, specialty maki rolls, traditional maki rolls, sides, wok-tossed dishes, noodle dishes and desserts. The back of the menu lists chef's specials, more sushi and specialty sushi platters.
Lunch specials, served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., also are listed. A separate gluten-free menu exists, just ask for it.
There is a separate bar menu, served both in the restaurant and in the adjoining lounge. Standouts on that menu are many sakes, some available only by the bottle, and such wicked-sounding signature cocktails as Lights over Tokyo, Blushing Geisha and Dragon's Breath Bloody Mary. I thought I'd sample those at another time when I have a designated driver.
Instead of alcohol, we chose tea, expecting an Asian restaurant to have a superior assortment. However, just three choices were offered — black, green and white. The green tea we chose, even though it was made with loose rather than bagged tea, lacked flavor, except for a bitter aftertaste.
Miso soup was our first-course choice. The white soybean broth with tofu, seaweed and green onion was tasty and not overly salty. It could have benefited from more cubed tofu, though.
Sushi came next, and since our table faced the sushi bar where three Asian chefs were hard at work, we felt confident our fish would be fresh, which it was. A wealth of choices faced us, including 17 traditional maki rolls. After much deliberation, we chose the fantasy roll and the negihamachi roll.
The two rolls arrived artfully presented on one plate, both curved to hint of dragon's tails. Yellowtail, salmon and scallion comprised the filling of the negihamachi roll, our favorite of the two.
Our compliments to the chef who made the rolls small enough for each piece to be one mouthful. So often sushi roll slices are too large and present a dilemma when trying to decide how to eat them.
The fantasy roll was more complex, containing tuna, red snapper, Sriracha sauce, scallion, tempura flakes and a sprinkling of orange-colored flying fish roe. The roe added a bit too much salt, but I enjoyed the spicy kick at the end. A nice touch, not on the menu, would have been a small dish of pickled cucumbers, Japanese-style, to absorb the heat.
Moving on to main courses, I chose the so-called Szechwan stir-fry with shrimp and brown rice. All stir-fries offer a choice of white, brown or vegetable-fried rice, and protein choices of tofu, steak, scallops, chicken or shrimp, varying in price from $8.95 to $13.95.
The Szechwan, although less spicy than more authentic Szechwan dishes, was a mélange of colorful vegetables, properly cooked al dente, including bean sprouts, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, red and green peppers, carrots, onion, peapods and bamboo strips. There were not enough shrimp, but the overall flavors were very good. Spice lovers can always ask that their dish be made hotter than average.
My companion ordered the pad thai — rice noodles, tofu, egg, bean sprouts, scallions and crushed peanuts in a sweet-and-sour sauce. Her request for extra crushed peanuts was quickly accommodated. The flavor balance tilted too much to the sweet side, which we later realized could have been modified with squeezes of lime juice. Only a couple of lime wedges were served, so, again, asking for more would not be out of line.
Of six desserts on the dessert card, just two are made in-house. We split the warm ginger apple crisp with caramel sauce and ice cream. I recommend this one, but I'd prefer more apple crisp and less ice cream.
We attributed some minor service snafus to either inexperience or a lack of thorough training. We had to ask for water and low-sodium soy sauce. Our server poured our tea before it was sufficiently steeped. No one bothered to clean away a few food scraps that escaped onto the table from our plates until we asked.
Overall, I found Wok'n Fire to be a pleasant break when shopping at the Arboretum. It's also a destination to consider when hungry for sushi.
• Restaurants are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
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