An undesirable wintertime seat freezing by the window at Hayashi Japanese Restaurant in Gurnee is completely worth the discomfort. The food at this amber-lit and Asian-styled eatery is top notch.
Hayashi offers a mix of hot and cold appetizers, sushi dinners and cooked entrees, combination plates and bento boxes, and fish-free food for pickier eaters. The bar is well-stocked with a standard wine list, 11 types of sake, plum wine, Ramune pop (a unique Asian soda with a marble in the bottle's neck) and three Japanese beers (Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin Ichiban). Something on the menu for everyone combined with fresh and delicious food has made me a customer for years, and I doubt I will ever fall out of love with this place.
Hayashi Japanese Restaurant6641 Grand Ave., Gurnee; (847) 856-0270
Cuisine: Sushi and cooked entrees
Setting: Intimate, ethnic
Entrees: $12 to $25; rolls: $4 to $14
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
To start our meal, we ordered the asparagus beef maki, edamame, shrimp tempura and kaiso salad. Edamame seems to be one of Hayashi's specialties. It's always crisp and never overcooked. The kaiso sSalad of cucumbers and seaweed was a fresh, sweet accompaniment that paired perfectly with the edamame. Extra long pieces of shrimp fried in a light batter were splayed out on the plate. It wasn't tough, the batter wasn't too doughy: this was tempura at its finest. The asparagus rolled up in thinly sliced beef, covered in teriyaki sauce is a favorite maki of mine, but I was a little let down this time. The dish was lukewarm and the meat a little tough.
When our entrees arrived, our table overflowed with yellowtail, eel, mackerel, seabass and sea urchin roe nigiri along with an array of California, caterpillar, crispy tuna and signature Hayashi maki rolls.
The first thing to know when eating at Hayashi is that each piece of nigiri has a dollop of wasabi underneath the fish. I never remember to request it without, but I always wish I had. The wasabi can be a little overpowering, especially if you're not used to it. All told, the rolls were packed tight, the rice was cooked perfectly, and the fish was flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Hayashi has incredible unagi (eel), so make sure you try it. If you are turned off by spicy foods, avoid the Bloody Tuna Roll (crab, avocado, cucumber, tempura crunch, tobiko, seared tuna and spicy sauce). I could barely handle one bite of that heat. The Crispy Tuna Roll (tuna, shrimp, crab, avocado, tempura crunch and masago, wrapped in soybean paper) was a standout, packed with taste and a nice interplay between the soft fish and tempura crunch.
The House Special Roll (tuna, salmon, hirame, hamachi, cucumber, masago, sea bass and crab) was a little disappointing. I love large amounts of fish in a roll, but only if it doesn't come at the cost of efficient eating. This roll was so robust that it took two or three bites to finish one slice alone, and at that point, the insides had escaped all over the plate and turned into a big mess. Eat this one with a fork.
The sashimi dinner (various thinly sliced raw fish served with shredded radish) and tempura and sushi Combination C (a mix of rolls and tempura vegetables) were both very good, with fresh fish and that same light tempura batter from the shrimp appetizer. We couldn't identify much of the saba sio yaki (broiled fish with salt), save for the mackerel, which was cooked well and thankfully had no bones.
For dessert, we had mochi ice cream. It was a good standard dessert, but I laughed because it came with a fork and knife. It was so frozen we had to cut it with a knife. I let mine sit for a little bit so it would be easier to eat.
On a final note, make sure that if you go with kids, you sit them away from the aisle. We brought my 18-month-old nephew and he sat at the end of the table -- everything the waitress served, she put down in front of him. Had we not noticed and moved things away, he could have been burned by hot food.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.