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Epic New Japanese Restaurant Katana Opened In River North Last Week

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 7, 2017 2:23PM

Photo courtesy of Katana.

Despite some recent closures (and talk that the restaurant bubble may be on the verge of a burst), there are still some big summer openings to talk about. Perhaps the biggest (at least in terms of sheer size) is Katana, which opened late last week in River North, in the multi-level space formerly occupied by Bin 36.

Katana, a concept from LA-based Innovative Dining Group, brings together sushi, robata (high-heat Japanese grilling), traditional Japanese dishes, a huge sake list and a large private dining space. This is actually the third outpost for the Katana concept, which has spots in West Hollywood and Dubai.

While the restaurant is from an out of town group, they've brought in some serious local talent. Local sushi legend Jason Chan (formerly of Juno and Naoki) is running the restaurant, and mixologist Michael Simon is heading up the cocktail program. "Jason Chan is the secret ingredient," explained IDG partner Lee Maen.

For all that Chicagoans brag about our access to seafood, Maen found that the local distributors simply didn't have what he needed to create the sushi menu he wants. So he shipped in his own, direct from his purveyors in LA. "We are the largest buyer of sushi-grade fish in Southern California," explains Maen. "I think we're going to have the best fish in town. The fish are arriving by plane, in tanks, and taken straight to the restaurant. This means that Katana will serve some fish that aren't easy to find in Chicago, like golden eye snapper and snow trout. "A sushi fanatic can get the best of the best," says Maen.

The robata menu focuses on small skewers, and offers some obvious hits (wagyu with lobster and uni butter, jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon) along with funky bits like chicken heart. Guests can order straight-from-Japan A5 Wagyu beef by the ounce ($22), which is seared on the super-hot robata grill over special binchotan charcoal.

While the space is huge, it's broken up into a number of experiences with interesting design touches. Massive wooden beams frame the space and, from the upstairs, make it look like the entire restaurant is inside a giant basket. Zen-like gardens break up the seating area, and a special omakase table stretching from the sushi bar (which is made of a single giant slab of walnut) allows guests to experience a traditional tasting menu without having to all face the bar.

If you're a sake lover, Katana will be perfect for you. Sake sommelier Dila Lee has come to Katana from San Francisco, and has some exciting things in store for guests. Highlights include one of the biggest sake menus in town, some exclusive sakes only available at Katana, and plans for tableside hot sake service in the colder months, where each sake on the menu is heated, by hand, to the perfect temperature for that particular varietal.

Maen insists that, despite the ultra-hip interior and large bar space, this won't be just another loud River North spot more focused on scene than food. Instead, Mean is focused on creating energy while maintaining a very high-quality menu; a formula that has worked for IDG in its many restaurant in other cities. "It's not going to be clubby in any way, shape or form," he laughs.

Katana opened for business last Thursday, and is taking reservations now. The complete menu is below.

Katana is at 339 N. Dearborn St.

Katana Menu by artodd1 on Scribd