It’s been five years since Otto Phan moved from Texas to open Kyoten, his tiny and spendy eight-seat sushi studio in Logan Square. The chef has now unveiled a more casual and relaxed omakase sequel next door. Phan, in defiance of advice from friends and colleagues, argues that Kyoten Next Door, which costs $291 less per person, will be the better restaurant.
“Kyoten Next Door is more about the customer and about respecting their budget and time,” Phan says. “Even I often don’t want to sit down and commit three hours to a meal. You don’t have to be a sushi expert to eat there and you don’t need an encyclopedia to appreciate it.”
Kyoten earned a reputation for its ambition with 18 highly specialized set meals at around $450 a head. At three hours, it’s also a lengthy affair that requires a month of planning from Phan. Phan, a very quotable chef whose refined hype skills follow P.T. Barnum's tradition, says he feels fortunate to work in a city where a pricy and niche establishment can thrive.
Already open by reservation only, the 10-seat restaurant — right next door to Kyoten at 2513 W. Armitage Avenue — features Edomae-style omakase in its most classic sense with a keen focus on composing ingredients in a manner that allows them to speak for themselves.
Phan has debuted with an 15-bite omakase menu for $159 per person, noting that his portions are generally larger than those seen elsewhere in Chicago. He promises new options as the seasons change. “I know there are people who miss me from my old days when I wasn’t so expensive, so I like to be able to offer that,” Phan says.
In the chef’s view, classical sushi is special, uncomplicated by “fluff” — like small plates and cooked food. It’s too often gussied up for Instagram with overwrought platings and needless dollops of caviar. Kyoten Next Door is Phan’s response to sushi devolving into a “party scene.”
Designer Su Yang, also behind a remodel at the original restaurant, weaves another classical Japanese concept, wabi-sabi, into the dining room. Derived from Buddhist philosophy, wabi-sabi is a worldview attuned to the nature of life that defines beauty through three states: imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. The space offers a blank canvas for chefs to build upon yet integrates contemporary touches, including colorful wall art created by Yang and modern furniture inspired by German design.
“It makes people want to fall down the rabbit hole, which takes special talent and instinct,” Phan says. “[Yang has] a very clean and elegant style, and the food at Next Door will be clean and elegant as well.”
Since arriving in town in 2018 from Austin, Texas where he owned Kyoten Sushiko, Phan made a splash in Chicago. The chef was also laser-focused on a coveted Michelin star, but when the pandemic began and Phan transitioned to selling $120 takeout boxes of high-end sushi, the challenges of keeping the business viable through a time of turmoil shifted his priorities. He also consulted on Hinoki Sushiko, but left shortly after it opened along the Elston Industrial Corridor. When the restaurant opened he touted the notion of opening multiple locations in areas, like the South Side, that didn’t have an abundance of quality sushi restaurants.
“I was very much a vain young man, once upon a time, and I certainly wanted Michelin stars,” Phan says, adding: “Not having stars has never stopped me from doing what I want to do very audaciously, so I’m blessed.”