Apparently, developers in Chicago have been searching for a luxurious spot for a Nobu Hotel for a decade. The renowned Japanese restaurant and hotel chain features Oscar-winner Robert De Niro as a partner, and the actor stood with chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the 90-degree heat today in the West Loop as city officials —including Mayor Rahm Emanuel— broke ground on the 103-room hotel that will finally give Chicago a taste of chef Nobu's fine-dining cuisine.
De Niro said he tried Matsuhisa's food about 30 years ago and was instantly won over: "I said if you ever want to open a restaurant in New York let me know, because I knew it would be terrific," De Niro said. "Because Japanese restaurants at that time were very —kind of not so exciting? What he was doing was so great."
Officials said to expect a ribbon cutting for the development at the corner of Randolph and Peoria at the end of 2017. It will feature a 10,000-square-foot Nobu restaurant on the ground floor that includes an indoor/outdoor bar along Randolph. It will also house a rooftop bar and lounge.
While non-committal about the menu —he does have some time— Matsuhisa said his staff in Chicago will use local ingredients. He has some familiarity with Chicago, as his chef friends include the late Charlie Trotter and Takashi Yagihashi.
"We're going to start researching now," a confident Matsuhisa said of Chicago's culinary scene, "...I know a lot of great chefs, I have a lot of connections. Chicago has a lot of foodies, people eating great food."
Emanuel mentioned how Chicago has hosted the James Beard awards the last two years, but Matsuhisa said that had little impact on his plans for Chicago, plans that have been in the pipeline for years. "I'm just looking for customers smiling, enjoying my food," he said.
Chicago's the next chapter for the Nobu restaurant empire that includes 35 restaurants in 10 countries. Nobu debuted in 1993 in New York and the Chicago outpost is among 10 restaurants in the pipeline. Restaurants in New York and Malibu, Calif. are celebrity magnets. DeNiro, who said he hasn't visited Chicago in years, said Nobu will give him more of a reason to come visit.
De Niro's stop in Chicago was a brief one, having arrived earlier Monday morning with a planned departure for Monday night. He'd been stuck in meetings, and hadn't had a chance to dine at any Chicago restaurants. Likewise, he declined to take a side in the New York/Chicago pizza debate: "Oh, that I don't know."
The actor's comments come at a time when Chicago's saying goodbye to one of those simpler Japanese restaurants from a different era. After 34 years, Itto Sushi is closing in Lincoln Park. Looks like upscale spots like Nobu and Momotaro nearby in Fulton Market are here to stay.