Chicago will soon welcome another omakase restaurant, but this one comes with a unique twist — it’s inside a 500-square-foot hotel room. Sushi Suite, from some of the investors behind Sushi by Bou, a popular New York mini-chain, debuted in 2018 in the Big Apple and then opened a second location last year in Miami. The third location, named Sushi Suite 202 — it’s inside hotel room 202 — should open next month on the second floor of the Hotel Lincoln in Chicago.
Sort of like a speakeasy for sushi, it’s a six-seat, dinner-only restaurant that serves 17 courses in an hour. It offers five seatings on Sunday through Thursday and six on Friday and Saturday. Customers will pay $125, which covers tax and gratuity, without supplementary courses due to the time constraints. Fish flown in from Japan include Hokkaido uni, botan ebi, and various tuna which will be sliced into tuna flights. Following the lead of other omakase restaurants in Chicago, there will also be an A5 wagyu course, and that excites co-owner Michael Sinensky. Sinensky and business partner Erika London founded the parent company SimpleVenue in 2017, which specializes in taking “underutilized spaces” — say vacant hotel rooms — and maximizing their financial potential.
Opening day is February 14 and Sinensky knows Valentine’s Day isn’t the best time for restaurants: “We want to make Valentine’s Day sort of an amazing day versus a terrible night,” he said. Though $125 is not a cheap meal, Sinensky feels it’s a deal considering how pricey omakase can be. For example, Kyoten, the acclaimed Logan Square restaurant, serves a $220 omakase. Mako, the Michelin-starred restaurant in West Loop, costs $175 for 23 courses.
“Our motto is sushi for the people and we want to feed as many people as possible in an affordable way,” Sinensky said.
Diners will check in at the hotel lobby and staff will give them a room key card. The cost of dinner is like renting a hotel room, Sinensky said. He encourages guests to arrive early and hang out in the lounge. There’s a self-serve sake machine there (three will cost $30), and Sinensky said they’ll have other hotel trinkets like shower caps and toiletries available for guests.
Sushi Suite grew out of Sushi by Bou, a sushi restaurant that serves a signature 30-minute omakase which costs $50. Sushi By Bou is named for its lauded and controversial chef, David Bouhadana. The chef, who is white and from Florida, studied the cuisine in Japan and gained a following in New York and Miami. He’s also been criticized for using a Japanese accent while speaking English to customers. Sinensky downplayed reports and wants to focus on the opening of Sushi Suite.
Bouhadana was part of Sushi Suite, as detailed in this New York Times story from January 2019. Sinensky insisted the sushi parlor in a hotel concept would be run separately without Bouhadana’s assistance. Collectively, Sinensky said he plans to open a Sushi by Bou later this year in Chicago, as well as bring other restaurants to the city. There are now nine Sushi by Bous: seven in New York, one in New Jersey, and one in Miami.
Over at Sushi Suite in Chicago, executive chef Kin Wangchuk will slice up the fish. His resume includes stops at three-Michelin-starred Masa and Cagen in New York. He’ll serve customers at a six-seat counter with a wood bar. If folks want to make a weekend out of things, packages that include a hotel room will also be available.
While Sinensky was interested in Chicago, he didn’t originally plan to invest in it next. But it turned out the owners of The Villa Casa Casuarina At the Former Versace Mansion, the hotel where Sushi Suite opened in spring 2019 in South Beach, has the same owners as Hotel Lincoln. It also didn’t hurt that omakase restaurants like Omakase Yume, Omakase Takeya, and more are enjoying success in Chicago. That doesn’t necessarily mean a proliferation of Sushi Bros, something that New York has embraced.
“I just think people are having more of an open mind in what they’re eating,” Sinensky said.
Sinensky said he’ll have more announcements in two months, but Chicagoans can try Sushi Suite starting next month.