One of the hottest omakase restaurants in Austin, Texas is on its way to Chicago. Sushi|Bar will bring a splashy and spendy 17-course menu to a 375-square-foot space that’s tucked inside another forthcoming River North spot, Lady May.
The coastal Southern bar and restaurant run by a former reality TV star will open later this month at 405 N. Wabash Avenue. Ten-seat Sushi|Bar will follow later this spring.
Ambrely Ouimette, a Connecticut native who began working in sushi at age 16, is the executive chef.
“A lot of the bites I do are about nostalgia from where I’ve traveled, like Italy, Portugal, and Spain,” Ouimette, who worked at Matsuhisa Denver, says. “I still do a lot of traditional things like breaking down the fish and curing, but I just love surprising people. We do a smoked sawara with three types of preserved wasabi.”
“Watching that face people make — there’s nothing better.”
Sushi|Bar applies a distinctly non-traditional approach to omakase — a ritualized and highly formal style of dining — with an ever-changing menu influenced by local purveyors and Ouimette’s culinary adventures abroad. Chicago’s offerings will include site-specific courses and signatures like aged bluefin akami with dehydrated miso and everything bagel spice; and kanpachi with pineapple, passionfruit, and shaved coconut.
The Chicago location will distinguish itself from its Texas and Florida locations with mid-century touches like terrazzo floors, brass fixtures, and a marble green backdrop behind the bar. It will serve 30 patrons each night with 10 per seating. Ouimette says she hopes the design will set diners at ease.
“A lot of omakase at our caliber is a little pretentious,” she says. “There are certain rules of service [like] you can’t talk to the chef. I don’t want [my diners] to feel at home necessarily, but to feel comfortable, relaxed, and involved in the concept and conversation.”
The winding saga of Sushi|Bar began in Los Angeles as a pop-up from founder and chef Phillip Frankland Lee (a Top Chef contestant) that rapidly evolved into a permanent restaurant. In late 2020, Lee and his wife, chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, opened the omakase restaurant’s Austin iteration. It was initially designed as another pop-up, but when the waitlist reached more than 20,000 bookings, the pair opted to put down roots.
By 2021, however, the couple sold the business and have since turned their attention to expanding two of their other brands: smash burger spot NADC (“Not a Damn Chance”) Burger, a collaboration with pro skateboarder Neen Williams. A Chicago location debuts Saturday at 415 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Meanwhile, Sushi by Scratch, another unconventional 17-course omakase spot is set to open a Chicago location later this month in River West inside the former Swill Inn. Despite the split, Sushi|Bar and Sushi by Scratch have a habit of entering markets simultaneously.
Sushi|Bar Chicago, 405 N. Wabash Avenue, scheduled to open in spring.