we were hoping that the rumors weren't true about Hop Leaf not allowing children in the dining room but alas it's true as we found out on New Year's eve, looking for an early dining experience that is more special than Huey's with our 2 year-old in tow. Right across the street from HopLeaf is Hama Matsu, so we crossed Clark and decided to give it a shot. I have this silly snobbery or anxiety where I tend not to trust restaurants that try to cover two cuisines at once, so I was a little hesitant with HM's "Korean/Japanese" claim to fame. I'd also read in the Reader I believe that it was "pricey" and in post X-mas financial ouchiness I was a little wary of going someplace too expensive. But I'm happy to report that 1. we had a thoroughly enjoyable meal and 2. it was reasonable for the amount of food we got.
We started with gyoza, a potato croquette and beef and asparagus rolls. The gyoza was flatter and crispier a little drier than I like, but the filling had a decent bite of ginger. The croquettes were sort of gussied up versions, not just mashed potatoes in panko but potatoes with veggies and I believe beef in it as well. (This isn't a reflection of some sort of mystery meat this is just me being distracted by my son and not reading the menu carefully). But they were good and I quite enjoyed the beef asp rools, which were also crispier than those I've had (I think I'll never fully recover from the somatic experience of eating them at katsu). They also brought some little pan chan-ish morsels: a cold potato salad, grilled zuke and pickled raw cabbage salad that was lovely. Along with the apps they brought a bowl of rice out to our son which kept him occupied and happy, the sushi guy sent over a crab stick for him to munch on and a bowl of miso came with my husband's dinner which he and the little guy slurped up in no time. They also sent the classic Japanese (or more like Japanese-American perhaps?) "salad" of iceberg lettuce with a creamy ginger dressing and carrot shavings. I could have stopped with apps and gone home perfectly sated.
I had gringo sushi which I didn't do on purpose but I was craving crab so I had a spider roll and cali rolls and then unagi. I planned on also ordering some actual sushi sushi (raw fish) but got too full on all the apps and the rolls. All were fine although the crab in the spider roll was sort of cold, seemed like it had been fried and then chilled. The unagi was especially tender, really melt in your mouth. When I asked the sushi guy about it he said that they don't smoke their own unagi ("nobody does" is what he said, I wonder if this is indeed true) but that theirs tastes moister because it doesn't come vacuum packed. So that was my unagi tutorial for the end of 2004.
My husband had the beef bee bim bop, lots of garlic and fresh veggies which he mixed up with the egg which appeared to be cooked to perfection. We're no bee bim bop experts so not much to say but he was happy and especially enjoyed the leftovers the following day. We ended our meal with this iced cinnamon tea which they sent out gratis. I could have really lingered over this but at this point my child was doing that cling to the side of the body fidgety thing and adults without children on New Year's eve dinner dates were starting to arrive so we thought it best to leave quick and gracefully. The total for all of this was $48. Not cheap but not bad for lots of food. It's BYOB and we didn't know that so next time I'd stop at Buy-Low on the way and grab something.
The service was really quite good, our waitress was quiet but had pretty amazing timing. The room itself is little and cozy feeling, I liked the canvas covering the lights on the ceiling which sort of softened the glow. The only part of the meal that was strange was the woman standing alongside the sushi chef. She was apparently not capable of smiling at any patron and I found the surliness a little off putting. But I can handle the cranky waitresses at Sun Soo Gab San so I know better than to let it damper a meal but I just simply wished she would have smiled. (Um, Happy New Year . . .)
It wasn't a mind-blowing food experience but overall I was pleased with the quality of the food and the variety of the menu items. I know there's better sushi in Chicago, but it's nice to have a place like this in the nieghborhood I live in.
If anyone else has had any experiences there I'd be interested in hearing about them. Thanks.