Kyoten chef Otto Phan’s second Chicago restaurant, Hinoki Sushiko, opens Friday night along the Elston Industrial Corridor, which is a kind of limbo between Lincoln Park and Bucktown. It’s an area that’s been primed for redevelopment over the last few years even though the Hideout has called the area home for 88 years. More recently Local Foods, a grocer and food distributor, has found a niche, but restaurants — except Ada Street — have failed to take hold.
Hinoki Sushiko’s second floor is reserved exclusively for 15-course omakase with room for 40 (that’s capacity under current COVID-19 regulations). Phan’s style is simplicity, wanting diners to come way impressed with his sourcing. he’s proud of his rapports with fish markets in Japan. Hinoki Sushiko has more bells and whistles compared to Kyoten where Phan’s undisputed priority is the quality and presentation of the sushi. While 14-seat Kyoten in Logan Square — one of the best and most expensive sushi restaurants in Chicago — is a show at an intimate club, say like the Hideout, Phan wants more energy at his new and larger restaurant which is more like a concert at the Metro in Lakeview.
The restaurant’s 50-seat (again, 100 under normal circumstances) first-floor izakaya is more casual, and while Phan’s has input on the menu, it’s not a one-man show. Japanese bar snacks include gyoza and karaage, and a sashimi trio. Gustavo Urbina-Barahona, who worked at Katana and has started his own sushi chain — Sushi Hoshi — helms the first floor. A wooden carving, reminiscent of the Nordic tree of life — a holdover from previous tenant (Fort Willow) — remains. But the shadowy space transitions well into a izakaya, where customers can sip wine, Japanese whisky, sake, and specialty cocktails like Kin-Tosshin (Mars Iwai 45, honey, yuzu, lemon, saffron).
Phan’s hope is to open more Hinoki Sushiko locations. But for now, he wants to see how the first meshes with the area. The pandemic has pushed back the status of Lincoln Yards, the mega development that should redefine that area. Recently, crews razed the Stanley’s — the 52-year-old grocer that closed in 2019 at the nearby corner of North and Elston. While Fort Willow’s former owners (DMK Restaurants) in 2012 opened another restaurant in the area, Ada Street, that was an anomaly for the area. Hinoki Sushiko wants to show that locals are hungry for more.