Understandably, the buzz surrounding the opening of Nobu Chicago has been muted. Ownership, a team that includes Robert De Niro, announced intentions to expand to the Midwest in 2013, bringing the Japanese restaurant that attracts celebrities in New York and LA to Chicago. Now seven years later, Nobu finds itself searching for relevancy as the pandemic has rewritten the rules for restaurants since March.
While founding chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s menu doesn’t have any new additions for the Chicago audience, the company did enlist Karen Herold and Studio K for the restaurant’s design, and she worked alongside Shawmut Design and Construction, a nationally known firm. Herold counts restaurants like Girl & the Goat, Federales, and Maple & Ash in her design portfolio. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of the Nobu Hotel, an 11-story building on the northwest corner of Randolph and Peoria. The building is among the tallest along Randolph Restaurant Row, a strip that includes restaurants from Iron Chef Stephanie Izard, Michelin-starred Elske, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
A rooftop bar opened over the summer will remain open, as reps say patrons will no longer need reservations. The roof will feature more of a lounge feel, but if the weather cooperates it will provide Nobu with an outdoor dining option that health experts say is safer versus dining indoors.
A sidewalk patio was shown in preview renderings, but Nobu is forgoing outdoor seating until 2021. Renderings also showed floor to ceiling windows that swung open; that would have been a boon for increased airflow. The windows that crews installed do not open. A rep says the project evolved along the way as construction even stopped for a while as the developer sought financing. But as photos show, the tables are spread out beyond the six feet that lawmakers require.
The West Loop has several tasty upscale Japanese restaurants nearby including Yugen, Momotaro, and Omakase Yume. The story is that De Niro liked Matsuhisa’s food so much in California that he wanted him to open a restaurant closer to New York, where De Niro lived. So the two decided to partner on a restaurant empire. But are Chicagoans still excited, especially after seven years of being teased and during a pandemic that has diners thinking twice about eating indoors?
Take a look around. Nobu Chicago is finally open.
Nobu, 854 W. Randolph Street, open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.