The New York-based team behind the hip Lincoln Park speakeasy-style omakase spot will expand their local footprint this weekend with a sleek new sushi restaurant at a Gold Coast hotel. Sushi Boutique, a slightly more casual sister location to Sushi Suite 202 in Lincoln Park, has an opening date on Saturday, October 2 inside Claridge House at 1244 N. Dearborn Parkway. The space was previously home to Juniper Spirits & Oysters, which closed last year during the pandemic.
Sushi Boutique aims to provide a more relaxed experience than its upscale predecessor and attract diners who are still learning Japanese cuisine. Executive Chef Jordan Dominguez (Sushi Suite 202, Noyane, Momotaro) will offer a sushi menu featuring familiar makis like spicy tuna alongside rolls, chef-selected ‘omakase boxes’ and rolls like the Tartar Candle at 25 $ (A5 wagyu, gobo kinpira, shishito) and the YULO at $ 50 (botan ebi, king crab, shiso, uni, truffle, caviar).
Tucked inside the 500-square-foot ground floor space of Claridge House, the restaurant will seat eight people alongside the bar and 20 seats inside. An outdoor patio space is also in the works, but these plans are not yet finalized.
Dominguez also plans to offer an izakaya-inspired menu, showcasing pub-style classics like kushiyaki (grilled skewers) with bites of miso black cod and glazed trumpet mushroom kabayaki. “We are trying to do [the menus] more accessible, so once we have a general consensus with the guests – “we trust these guys” – we can push the funky dishes, “says Dominguez.
Sushi Suite 202, the brand’s first outpost in Chicago, debuted in January 2020 in a room on the second floor of the Lincoln Hotel. The six-seat omakase restaurant offers 17 courses over an hour for $ 125 per person. It’s a more chic experience than older brother Sushi by Bou, the New York mini-chain that serves $ 50 omakase meals in 30 minutes. Founded in 2018, the brand has been criticized for its praised and controversial chef, David Bouhadana, who is white but used a stereotypical Japanese accent while speaking English to customers. The company operates outposts in its home city, as well as Miami and New Jersey, and plans to open another new site in Chicago by the end of 2021.
In another wrinkle, Sushi Boutique is designed to appeal to women, adds Dominguez. Sushi Suite has amassed a predominantly male clientele – perhaps the Chicago equivalent of New York’s famed Sushi Bros., drawn to the cachet of an expensive dinner party. Instead, the new restaurant aims to attract groups of women who want to socialize and relax in their surroundings. “They want good food and be left alone, have fun and be themselves,” he says.
Restaurants across the country have used various tactics to attract women. Some genres, like steakhouses, are tainted with a legacy of ‘men only’ politics and ever-present relics like the ‘women’s menu’ – identical to men’s, priceless. Attempts to curb sexism, not to mention the genre’s bizarre projections on food, have produced disappointing results. The steakhouse chain STK, in hopes of selling a fresh, “feminine” image, suffered a backlash in the early 2000s after launching a spate of spooky and overtly sexual commercials.
Last fall, the Zena Hotel debuted in downtown Washington DC with a purported focus on empowering women – a theme manifested in a huge portrait of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made with 20,000 hand painted stamps. Observers also quickly pointed out that the opening chef at the Zena Hotel bar and restaurant inside was a male.
Sushi Boutique won’t take such a clumsy approach. Instead, Dominguez and his team will try to cultivate a female clientele with its complex ‘feminine’ cocktail menu, showcasing drinks like Amaterasu (Toki whiskey with black truffle, tamari demerara with mushrooms), named after from the Japanese sun goddess, and Inari, or fox alcohol (haku vodka, melon, ginger-sansho cordial, sparkling vanilla-coconut sake).
The lessons of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have touched all corners of the industry, and Dominguez is eager to have fun. “COVID has forced us to reassess everything, and people just want to feel comfortable at the end of the day,” he says. “Food can be pretentious, but sometimes you want to have a good time and be a bit of a candle in the process.”
Sushi shop, 1244 N. Dearborn Parkway, scheduled to open Saturday, October 2.