McHENRY – On top of a counter inside Sushi King, chef and owner Tong Dong rolls rice, seafood and some produce together, and then slices into pieces that can be eaten in one or two bites.
He places rolls onto a small wooden boat that is then served to customers, who are sitting at brown booths under wood panels forming an awning, as part of his restaurant’s all-you-can-eat deal.
Sushi King, which opened in May in McHenry, is part of the growing sushi market in the county.
Kumi Sushi in Crystal Lake opened in February as a Japanese fusion restaurant with a trendy atmosphere. Woow Sushi recently opened a restaurant in Algonquin’s Woods Creek Commons, village officials said. Woow Sushi already has restaurants in LaGrange, Frankfort and Orland Park, according to its website.
Crystal Lake also has Kyoto Steak and Sushi on Route 14 in Crystal Lake. Sakura Japanese in McHenry opened a few years ago in the strip mall directly to north of the strip mall with Sushi King.
Kumi Sushi owner Aaron Nei said Chinese food usually is synonymous with take out. With Japanese food, especially with sushi, it’s more like entertainment, especially with the way the food is presented, Nei said.
“People come here to have healthy food,” Nei said.
At Sushi King, Dong, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Amy Lin, wants to end some common misconceptions about sushi.
Sushi is often perceived as being made with raw fish.
“A lot of people that don’t know sushi, when it comes to raw, they would try to avoid it,” said Jamie Zheng, a friend and translator for Dong. “Not everything is raw. They have cooked sushi, stuff that is cooked with seafood in it.”
The owners of Sushi King want more people to try different types of sushi, so they started offering an all-you-can-eat option with made-to-order sushi.
“He wanted to have all-you-can-eat sushi... to come and try and know what sushi is like,” Zheng said.
Sushi, however, usually is more expensive than comfort food at restaurants.
“It’s pricier than anything else because the ingredients they have are more expensive than anything else,” Zheng said. “Seafood is higher than anything price wise.”
The popularity of sushi is growing as people learn more about it, Zheng said.
“More people realize what sushi is and what type of food it is,” Zheng said. “They are actually healthier, but the prices are a little higher. [Dong and Lin] believe it’s a good business to go into because they believe the food is healthier, and also an art: how you make it, and how you put it on a dish. You can say, ‘Wow. it’s not just a food, but something you can enjoy.’”
Dawn Bremer, 42, of McHenry has become a regular at Sushi King.
Recently, while eating with a friend, she had the all-you-can eat option, where the sushi is served on a small wooden boat. She said more people are trying sushi.
The all-you-can-eat option, which is $16 to $19 per person, helps make sushi easier to access for more people, she said.
“I think the quality got better,” Bremer said. “I think it used be really expensive, and people couldn’t afford it ... Sushi used to be a rich man’s food, but now I think, they’ve lowered the price and made it available to everybody.”
Bremer encouraged people to give sushi a try.
“It doesn’t smell fishy, doesn’t taste fishy, it’s not what people would have expected,” Bremer said. “I think it’s fun to try different things. For me, everytime I come here, I try a different roll.”
What: A sushi restaurant with all-you-can-eat, made-to-order boats of sushi
Where: 2078 N. Richmond Road, McHenry