Not being familiar with the area on my last trip to Chicago, I was surprised at finding a Mitsuwa Marketplace almost across the street from my hotel. On that trip, I managed to ask a couple of people for a Japanese restaurant recommendation. Kurumaya, in nearby Elk Grove was the unanimous choice. Thus I made Kurumaya my choice for dinner during my overnight stay in Arlington Heights.
The restaurant is located in a rather unassuming location fairly close to O'Hare.
The interior is also pretty humble looking....in fact the checkerboard tablecloth made the place look like a family Italian restaurant!
The Servers were all very nice; almost motherly, and the menu was quite extensive. With what seemed to be a little bit of everything from sushi and sashimi to robata type dishes.
What I found really charming were the little black book on top of each table......
Each book was filled with illustrations of the dishes on the menu, combined with ingredients and some little slogan like "good taste!"
An item on the menu grabbed my attention, the Hirame Carpaccio.....it seems that these type of Pan-Asian-European dishes are appearing on menu everywhere. In fact, I make a pseudo version myself at home. I'd recently had the salmon belly carpaccio at Okan, which I thought was really a miss, so I thought I'd check this out. It turned out that I should've passed on this as well.
At almost fourteen bucks, this was a disappointing dish. First off, the presentation left much to be desired as it looked like something you'd find washed up on the shore after a storm. Secondly, there were four slices of hirame cut so thin you could almost see through it. From the wakame to the very salty ikura to the couple of pieces of iceberg lettuce and the ponzu dressing this was very underwhelming.....
I'd also ordered the maguro yamakake, which I later ofund out cost me nine bucks and looked like this....
The maguro had the mushy texture of "saku" (cut and refrozen) fish.
Thinking that I needed a change of plans, I went with the no-fail option, Chicken Karaage....which turned out to be another disappointment.
The portion size was generous, but I was not fond of the batter which was gummy and too thick. I prefer light and crisp. The flavor was very mild and this was all white meat which made the chicken pretty dry.
Usually, at this point I'd be stuffed silly, but for some reason I still had a bit of room. The first three dishes had been pretty disappointing and it was over ninety degrees and humid outside so you could cross off the udon. One of the neighboring tables ordered the gyutan and some other grilled dishes which looked quite pale and I could not make out the scent of binchotan, so no-go there either.
Of course, if my Japanese was worth a damn or if I could read kanji, I might be able to decifer the greaseboard that was presented to nihon customers. Another couple, either sansei or yonsei came in during my meal and didn't get the specials menu either. Though I'm guessing that the women here were so nice that they'd go over the menu with me if I'd ask, but I didn't want to bother them.
There was one thing I could look at....the handy-dandy little black book:
And so I ordered the Butakakuni, which turned out to be the best item of the evening.
Not the most photogenic butakakuni and it certainly didn't melt in my mouth, but the flavor composition was quite good; savory soy sauce with a touch of sweetness. So at least my meal ended on a high note.
As a whole, I really can't recommend Kurumaya and strangely enough, Tajima kept coming to mind while I was having my meal here. I thought the women working here to be nice enough and the menu is vast.....that black book is charming, but I don't think I'll be returning, unless someone can give me a compelling reason to.
Kurumaya Japanese Kitchen
1201 E Higgins Rd
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007