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Oba shows flair with Japanese fare


1285 Elmhurst Rd., Des Plaines; (847) 228-8810;

Hours: Open for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Monday-Friday and at 5 p.m. for dinner Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $6-$10; entrees, $11-$18; dessert: $4-$6; sushi/nigiri, $2-$3.50.

Try: Bacon-wrapped scallop cake, mushroom stuffed with crab.

Tips: Lunch specials. Casual attire. Beer, wine and sake. Sit-down or carryout. Local delivery.

In a bite: Japanese restaurants are proliferating as appetites for the cuisine continue to grow. Oba offers a decent outlet for locals from the Des Plaines area.

Updated: July 15, 2011 2:22AM

First-time diners at Oba Contemporary Japanese in Des Plaines will do well to allocate ample time to give the multipage menu a thorough perusal.

For such a small place (it seats about 40 at booths and a sushi bar), Oba offers an extensive array of Japanese fare, from sushi and sashimi to raw and cooked maki rolls.

Regular customers also have given good marks to the entrees, including braised short rib, pan-fried sea bass, and chicken, salmon and steak teriyaki. Entrees, which come with miso soup, rice and salad, are reasonably priced from $11 to $18.

While many familiar appetizers are available, there are a number of contemporary, inspired dishes. Two that we sampled — bacon-wrapped scallop cake and mushroom stuffed with crab — clearly demonstrated the nearly two-year-old restaurant’s creative bent.

The former featured a tasty mix of minced scallop, blue crab, red peppers, shallot and chive wrapped in braised, marinated bacon and served with plum teriyaki sauce. Our other starter consisted of four slightly-larger-than-bite-size, lightly battered mushrooms stuffed with snow crab meat and served with a spicy mayonnaise sauce.

With 20 signature rolls as part of their repertoire, Oba’s knowledgeable sushi chefs combine classic ingredients to create new textures and flavors designed to satisfy the appetites of the most discerning devotees to the cuisine. For example, Kiss of Fire is an unusual roll that’s served flaming; it incorporates crab meat, avocado and cucumber and is topped with red snapper.

We turned to old favorites — soft-shell crab and Caterpillar roll (freshwater eel and cucumber topped with avocado) and found both made good eating.

Three noodle entrees — udon, soba and rice — are available, as are multiple seafood delicacies from otoro tuna and sea urchin to salmon roe and mackerel. The nigiri or sushi come two pieces per order.

For dessert, try green tea mochi: ice cream enrobed in a sweet and chewy rice wrapper.

Oba Contemporary Japanese sits on the end of a nondescript, tired-looking strip mall. Inside, the place was clean and uncluttered. But there’s no question that its attractive food, the big draw for locals, outshines the decor.

Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.

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