THERE IS NOTHING subtle about Katana, the new Japanese restaurant in River North—and that’s exactly the point. The eye candy starts mere steps from the door of the 13,000-square-foot space, formerly Bin 36, with the large square bar and the soft yellow-hued light surrounding it. Those futuristic-looking machines on the bar that chill glasses instantaneously with a glowing mist of CO2 add to the show. Freestanding curvy blond-wood booths dot the expansive dining room. There’s a moss and rock garden in the middle of the space and amoeba-shaped light fixtures overhead. Not far away, the sushi bar offers the six diners sitting at it a more serene, albeit still lively, setting.
“I tell my friends, it’s like we designed a restaurant James Bond would take his girlfriend to,” says General Manager Jason Chan (Juno, RPM Steak), who was brought on by Innovative Dining Group, in part to give local cred to the operation. (IDG also has a Katana on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, which opened 15 years ago, and in Dubai, as well as other Japanese-leaning restaurants.) “Nowadays, you have to entertain your guests.”
Part of the entertainment should include a cocktail from mixology vet Michael Simon (Acadia, Celeste). I’d recommend Beerus the Destroyer, Simon’s version of an Old Fashioned that swaps in mezcal for bourbon. A riesling-infused agave nectar adds an unexpected but pleasing viscosity to the drink. There’s also an extensive sake-by-the-glass program and Japanese whiskeys.
Katana’s multipage menu takes a something-for-everybody approach with raw, cooked, traditional and more modern Japanese dishes to choose from. (Those who want to skip the required reading can opt for a custom omakase experience.) Katana imported two of its L.A. chefs, Jose Melendez (executive chef) and Robert Juan (executive sushi chef), to preside over the kitchen here, although the Chicago menu isn’t just a carbon copy of the original.