She-who-must-be-obeyed and I were in Barrington yesterday and, without knowing anything about the area or its restaurants, chose a nice-looking place called Sagano Japanese Restaurant. Wow! Consider this a highly positive review.
First of all, the menu. There are approximately three dozen appetizers, a couple dozen maki, noodles, donburi, sushi selections, plus a variety of "main courses." And this was just the lunch menu. She-who-must-be-obeyed is of Japanese descent and she was particularly impressed by some of the more off-beat and unexpected selections on the menu. Her comments for inclusion in this review were that the menu included a surprising amount of down-home country-type food (as at Sunshine Café but in far greater numbers), such as an unusual variety of and number of squid, eel, octopus dishes. (Specific examples: unaju, takosu, ika kurisu, and even goma-ae, a spinach/sesame dish.) In part what impressed both of us was the enormous range, particularly in a lunch menu. (FWIW, the dinner menu is substantially the same, plus a few additional dishes, all generally at slightly higher, but still reasonable, prices.)
Prices are reasonable: the appetizers range from $2.95 to $12.95, with most in the $5-6 range. The maki range from $2.75 to $9.50, with most in the $4-5 range. Main courses include tempura, tonkatsu, two bento choices, and a number of grilled selections (including seven different kinds of fish), karashi yaki (with a sweet mustard instead of a sweet soy sauce), and a few others. The entrees range between $7.50 and $12.95. Most expensive of all are the sushi combinations, which start at $11.95 and run to $26.95 for the chef's special (not described on our take-out menu). About two dozens kinds of a la carte sushi are available as well.
We chose one appetizer, tako wasabi (raw octopus with wasabi sauce) and the makonouchi bento (tempura, chicken teriyaki, salmon teriyaki and 1/2 a California roll) and tenju (shrimp and vegetable tempura in a sauce over rice). We received complimentary salads (nothing to write home about, lettuce pretty much soaked in the "standard" dressing) and bowls of miso soup (above average). The lunches themselves were more than generous portions. For example, my tenju had three or four large shrimp plus tempura of carrot, sweet potato, green pepper, broccoli, and green bean. And the tempura was, in her words, "flawlessly done." A very light, very crisp batter. Still hot, not at all oily. Her bento box included far more than she expected, plus three California rolls instead of the promised 1/2. Okay, so the chef could have wrapped the sushi a bit more tightly but the quality was excellent.
For dessert, we split a dessert she said that she has never seen on a Japanese restaurant menu anywhere in this country (and she lived in LA until recently), azuki dango. A mochi-like dessert usually found on skewers. But served, in this case, wrapped in a bamboo leaf (apparently partially flavored with mugwort, a relative of tarragon, and so delicately flavored)and steamed.
Needless to say, we were both impressed. If Barrington weren't so far from home, we'd visit again soon. But for those of you who find your way out west, we'd recommend you drop in.
Sagano Japanese Restaurant
110 North Hough Street, Barrington, IL