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posted: 7/22/2014 5:30 AM

Karma's Asian-fusion continues to delight in Mundelein

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  • Karma's Korean barbecue-glazed rib-eye comes with sticky sesame rice and wilted ginger spinach.

       Karma's Korean barbecue-glazed rib-eye comes with sticky sesame rice and wilted ginger spinach.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Firecracker shrimp starts off dinner with a bang at Karma in Mundelein.

       Firecracker shrimp starts off dinner with a bang at Karma in Mundelein.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Karma's ribs are accompanied by a sweet and sour slaw, scallion rice and a spicy, chili glaze.

       Karma's ribs are accompanied by a sweet and sour slaw, scallion rice and a spicy, chili glaze.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Chef Paul Choi joined Karma as executive chef earlier this year and has upheld the restaurant's reputation for well-crafted Asian-fusion cuisine.

       Chef Paul Choi joined Karma as executive chef earlier this year and has upheld the restaurant's reputation for well-crafted Asian-fusion cuisine.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Junmai Dai Ginjo sake is available at Karma in Mundelein.

       Junmai Dai Ginjo sake is available at Karma in Mundelein.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Karma's 85-seat dining room is certainly eye-catching.

       Karma's 85-seat dining room is certainly eye-catching.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Karma adjoins the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Mundelein.

       Karma adjoins the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Mundelein.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Thomas Witom
Daily Herald Correspondent

Chefs and menus have changed at Karma since my initial visit shortly after the Mundelein restaurant opened in 2002. Though the premises it occupies is now anchored by a hotel with a different nameplate (DoubleTree by Hilton Mundelein Hotel), Karma essentially maintains its original Asian-fusion culinary orientation.

Building on that base is Paul Choi, who came aboard early this year as executive chef. He has 17 years cooking experience; he has operated his own eatery, Sura in Chicago, and, most recently, was top toque at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Highland Park.

Choi brings a multicultural contemporary food sensibility that combines an Asian background with classical French cooking techniques. Diners will find Karma's menu explores the cuisines of Korea, China and Japan mingled with American influences.

You enter the eye-catching 85-seat restaurant by passing through an airy lounge. The first thing guests encounter in the high-ceilinged dining room is a stand of green glass bamboo stalks that are illuminated at night. A far wall is fitted with a silently flowing waterfall.

The center of the room is split in two by a narrow, rectangular reflecting pool from which protrude what appear to be white cones of sand. Tables flank the water feature, and banquettes run along the room's perimeter walls.

Karma draws its breakfast, lunch and dinner traffic from the hotel's guests, but also pulls in from surrounding suburbs a number of locals and others who have discovered its fairly priced, high-quality fare.

A recent dinner there began with firecracker shrimp, a generous-sized, shareable starter in which lightly battered and fried shrimp spill out invitingly from a black cardboard Chinese takeout carton. The bite-size crustaceans picked up flavor and a bit of zing from scallions and sesame chili sauce.

Among other appetizers were seared ahi tuna with wild arugula, seasonal grape tomatoes and ginger-soy; lettuce wraps with ginger tamarin chicken, shiitake, bell peppers and a sesame-peanut sauce; and carpaccio, Togarashi seared beef, seasonal greens, cilantro flatbread and wasabi vinaigrette.

Regular entree choices numbered a dozen, including three noodle dishes.

Korean barbecue-glazed rib-eye showcased Choi's expertise. The steak, served with sticky sesame rice, came medium-rare as ordered and with a mouthwatering glaze. It was topped with wilted spinach seasoned with fresh ginger.

My dining partner relished the salmon filet from Alaska's Copper River, one of the evening's specials. It came plated with a mélange of peas, shredded bacon, potatoes and cabbage in a sweet-pea Chardonnay sauce.

Still other main-course possibilities on the menu were mandarin orange chicken, grilled mahi-mahi, Karma ribs, Asian barbecue salmon, filet mignon, and an interesting surf-and-turf of seared sea scallops, whole prawn, braised short rib, spinach and a kimchi croquette.

A limited number of desserts are on offer, but you needn't look farther than the green tea ice cream sundae. A perfectly executed treat served in a gigantic white bowl, this sundae features caramelized bananas, heaping scoops of ice cream, mounds of chocolate chip-studded whipped cream and a garnish of fresh strawberries and blueberries. Definitely shareable.

In addition to dispensing red, white and sparkling wines, seasonal cocktails, sake and a variety of imported beers and local microbrews, Karma's bar also turns out several dessert-worthy drinks.

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

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