Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Japanese Cuisine Offers Specific Overtures, Beyond Sushi

3956 W. Touhy, Linconwood

If you include sushi, or more specifically maki, I've eaten Japanese food dozens of times in the 21st century, at several different places.

But while other Japanese staples like tempura and steak teriyaki feel rather familiar, I don't think I've expended my pacific overtures beyond seaweed, rice and spicy tuna, etc., since eating at Benihana and Ron of Japan, perhaps once each, back in the '90s 

So in choosing a Japanese restaurant for my Chicago Dining World Tour, I wanted to pick somewhere that wasn't a tried-and-true sushi bar, nor even a group-dining type of Japanese steakhouse.

Hence, on a recent Friday night, my mother--the correct Japanese word seems to be neither mama-san nor okaa-san, but "haha"--and I went to Renga-Tei in Lincolnwood. Though the restaurant has been at the corner of Crawford (Pulaski) and Touhy since 1991, I've never been there and my mom perhaps only distantly.

I had noted some praise on Yelp for the steak teriyaki and sushi at Renga-Tei. So while it wasn't particularly exploratory, or revelatory, my mom and I shared an order of California rolls and a Combination meal with beef & salmon teriyaki, shrimp/vegetable tempura, rice, salad--with a nice citrus vinegrette dressing--and miso soup.

Truth be told, we could likely have gotten the same things at any "sushi joint," while--like seemingly most Japanese restaurants of any sort--Renga-Tei has a sushi bar.

But not only did we get what we wanted--and enjoyed it all--I really wouldn't have known what else to order.

The rice was terrifically fresh, both on its own and on the maki, the teriyaki sauce quite good--as was the steak and salmon it was on--and the tempura a pleasure I was happy to revisit.

So although this wasn't the most eye-opening nor palatte-widening of my gastro-ethnic expeditions, the good food, pleasant service and attractive decor made Renga-Tei a fine choice for rediscovering a bit more of Japan and its cuisine.

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