It looks like the 700 block of North Wells will get a lot hotter now that chef Gene Kato (Japonais) has revealed he'll open Sumi Robata Bar at 702 N. Wells, just down the street from where Alpana Singh will open the Boarding House later this summer. Kato, who previously announced he'd open Sumi along with other concepts in the building, is shooting to open this project in late summer or early fall.
Kato is working with local architecture and interior design firm Antunovich Associates to create the minimalist look with natural wood, stone, charcoal and water. The design reflects Kato's vision of takumi, which is Japanese for artisan craftsman or craftswoman. "It's about doing one thing and perfecting that and focusing on that one thing and doing it better than anyone else," Kato said.
That one thing will be robata, where Kato will cook with 100 percent Japanese charcoal without any gas or electric at a 16-foot bar where diners can look on. While you won't see things like ramen on the menu ("Who wants a big bowl or ramen in the middle of eating skewers of meat and vegetables?" Kato asked) Sumi will offer various sashimi because, he said, it's "light and it's a great complement to the robata." The space will also have an open dessert bar where guests will see traditional Japanese jelly- and fruit-based desserts, as well as some ice cream and cakes, being prepared.
The 70-seat restaurant, which will also have 25-seat, 1,200 square-foot patio evoking a Japanese Zen rock garden along Huron, will comprise the first two floors of the building (initial reports had Kato dividing up the space into three distinct concepts; he's still not ready to reveal what will be on the top floor). Each long-and-narrow floor is about 2,000 square feet. The first floor will have the robata grill and main dining room; the second floor with feature an eight-person tatami room and separate lounge that Kato said will have a vibe like the Aviary or Violet Hour.
Sumi Robata Bar will reflect a kura, a Japanese storehouse that allows for the main space to appear as minimal as possible while other belongings are stored in the kura. Kato is working with artisan designers to build out the restaurant, and that includes sourcing his chairs from an Australian-based Japanese designer named Fukutoshi Ueno. "He typically does pieces for art galleries, but these are his first pieces in the U.S.," Kato said. "[The stools] had to be functional and he wanted to maintain the same cosmetic feel he originally created."
The restaurant will also feature a large, iron Japanese tea kettle from the Meiji period in the late 1800s. The idea to hang the antique kettle stemmed from an irori, a traditional sunken Japanese hearth. "It's a design element for people to reconnect with the restaurant," Kato said. "The goal for me is not just to introduce a new concept of food but a whole new way of dining and experience for Japanese restaurants. No one has taken a true Japanese experience and brought it up to date in an updated environment. That's what I want to do and that's what Sumi is going to be for Japanese restaurants."
· Alpana Singh's New Venture is The Boarding House [~EChi~]
· Gene Kato's New Concept [~EChi~]
· Japonais Alum Gene Kato to Open Sumi Robata Bar, Among Other (Still-Secret) Things