“Everyone asks me, ‘what’s going to be different about Katana?’” Jason Chan says. The longtime local restaurateur, who serves as general manager for now, is standing in the middle of the 13,000-square-foot under-construction Japanese restaurant and lounge in River North as he asks his rhetorical question about the popular LA-based Innovative Dining Group’s first foray into the Chicago dining and drinking scene. The short answer: many different things.
Locals will find out very soon if Katana — one of the year’s most anticipated new restaurants — is different than the many Japanese spots in town as well as the other outside restaurant groups that have tried to translate their success to the Chicago market. Management is slating friends and family service to start in late July and a grand opening for the first week of August, Chan says. Around two years after IDG took over the former Bin 36 space at 339 N. Dearborn St. — and nearly a year after its original opening projection — construction, as seen in the photos, is now down to finishings. Crews have finished the plumbing, electrical, and structural work and are now working on the wall treatments, floors, tiling, paneling, carpeting, and appliance installation.
What diners will see inside when construction is finished is a large, loungy, swanky open space with multiple facets. Two front entrances lead from Marina City (House of Blues, Hotel Chicago, 10Pin Bowling Lounge) into a 120-seat bar and lounge area that takes up nearly half of the space and includes a 30-seat island bar, lounge seating, and a communal table. The dining room, which includes a six-seat robata bar and eight-seat sushi bar that diners can watch from their tables, is beyond. A rear staircase connects to a balcony that holds three private dining rooms which can be closed off from the rest of the space by electronic screens. There’s also an outside patio overlooking Dearborn Street and a semi-private dining room connected to the bar area. The entire space will have 300 total seats.
Chan believes the sourcing and execution of its food is the top reason Katana will be different. He says Innovative Dining Group is the top purchaser of wagyu beef on the west coast and acquires the second-most amount of sushi-grade fish, believing that the group’s food sourcing connections will give its first Chicago restaurant a high level of Japanese food that rivals the city’s best. Expect composed hot dishes coming out of the kitchen, robata-grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables, and the aforementioned sushi, all overseen by chefs Jose “Junior” Melendez and Rob Juan who moved here from LA. The sushi bar will also serve a daily-changing omakase menu.
The beverage program is another reason Katana will be different than other Japanese restaurants, Chan says. He has hired acclaimed and oft-traveled local barman Michael Simon (Acadia, The Black Sheep, Carriage House, The Bedford, Qui, Charcoal Bar, Celeste, Roof at The Wit) as his beverage director, handling wine and cocktails, and longtime San Francisco pro Dila Lee (Ozumo, Alexander’s Steakhouse) as his senior manager and sake guru. He says to expect a “next level” sake list and classic cocktails “with a fun, energetic spin.” With the bar and lounge area taking up nearly half of the space, the bar program is a big part of its identity.
As seen in the previously-released renderings, Innovative Dining Group is planning a well-designed and well-heeled space. Expect an array of sleek Japanese-inspired features including an impressive wood installation on the ceiling above the dining room that is made of 130,000 pounds of lumber, Chan says. And although much of that sounds fancy, he says the vibe will be laid-back, calling the atmosphere “fun dining” rather than fine dining.
Chan also says that Katana shouldn’t be lumped in with sceney clubstaurants. Even though the LA original is a Hollywood celebrity magnet, he says the Chicago outpost will be different than that one. “(Innovative Dining Group) doesn’t want to try to reproduce or do anything that they’re doing on the west coast,” he says. “What they want to try to do is open people’s eyes and introduce themselves to the Midwest and show the people this is what we’re about — innovation, quality of product, great service, great beverage program, and give them a space that’s really beautiful.”
And IDG is planning to introduce themselves to Chicago with multiple restaurants. Chan says the group is “in negotiations to sign another space for another restaurant soon” — IDG’s BOA Steakhouse and Sushi Roku were previously reported concepts under consideration for Chicago expansions. Stay tuned.