Good Karma: Mundelein’s Karma Asian Food & Wine

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Mundelein anymore!

I was not expecting the tranquil, Zen-like interior of Karma, although the restaurant name should have been a tip-off. When you walk into the restaurant from either the Doubletree Hotel lobby or busy suburban Highway 83, it’s a balm to the senses.

Lunch has a Zen-like feel. Sadly, it’s because the restaurant is empty. Perfect for meditation, but not for business. As a hotel restaurant, they do a big breakfast biz, and weekend evenings are jumping. The lunch and dinner menu are currently the same; perhaps re-inventing the lunch menu at a lower price point will bring in the business lunch crowd. Certainly Chef Robert Packer’s food merits a bigger audience.

An overly sweet Gingertini ($10) was quickly replaced with a well-mixed version, needing only a squeeze of lime. Revitalized, it was time for appetizers.

The Tempura Green Beans ($5) were light and crispy and served with a chili-garlic dipping sauce. They quickly disappeared. We also vacuumed down an order of Black Salt & Szechwan Pepper Calamari with Sweet Garlic Lime Aioli ($8). We ended up pushing the Wok-Seared Ahi Tuna Sashimi ($12) around the plate; though the presentation was appealing, the tuna tasted a little tired and the sesame soba noodles were tossed in a cloyingly sweet sauce.

We enjoyed the Karma Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($9/$12), depending on the size you choose), the juicy chunks of chicken stir-fried with shiitakes, bell peppers, peanuts and crispy noodles, served in Boston lettuce cups with ginger-teriyaki and peanut-sesame sauces. Not a fan of the Thai Chili Beef ($19); the Chinese noodles were a little mushy and the mirin-miso beef broth was spicy but had no other noticeable flavor.

The Pacific Rim Mahi-Mahi ($22) made up for it. A seared mahi filet encrusted with chili-spiced shrimp and scallops, the fish was fresh and moist, and the inky-black Forbidden rice and wok-seared veggies were a lovely backdrop, especially drizzled with the Tobiko sauce (more of a light citrus buerre blanc, really).

Saving room for dessert, we managed to put away the Ginger Crème Brulée ($8) and the Banana-Coconut Cake ($8) with caramelized bananas and vanilla ice cream. The brulee was smooth and luscious, although the burnt sugar top should have been crunchier. The cake looked more like a muffin, but had an appealing crumb and rich banana-coconut flavor. Ask for the coconut ice cream instead.

Service was attentive throughout, and the coffee was delicious, so we left refreshed and ready to face the world. We had found our inner zen.

Karma Asian Food & Fine Wine