For Chef Gene Kato, design is all about “takumi,” the Japanese concept of artisanal expertise. “I like to focus on one thing and perfect it,” said Kato, who designed River North’s Sumi Robata Bar.
Antunovich Associates and G2 Builders helped Kato realize his minimalist vision, which is based around the central element of Japanese robata-style cooking: charcoal. Cedar and oak furnishings reference the “sumi,” or charcoal, used to cook the restaurant’s vegetable and meat skewers—no gas or electric stoves mar the authenticity of the 16-foot barbecue bar experience. A subtle bamboo floor continues the theme, but does not scream typical Asian-influenced design.
The exterior explores the aesthetic of Japanese storehouses. Elsewhere, dark grainy material mimics the texture of real wood, playing off the light stucco that makes up the frontage’s top half.
Sumi Robata Bar’s basement further distills the design philosophy in service of Charcoal Bar, a lounge focused on providing classic Japanese cocktails. The walls are charred black like the space’s namesake. Most guests think the effect is achieved through painting or wallpaper, Kato said, but it is actually the result of a long day he, his sous chef, and mixologist spent hand-charring 100 wood planks. A traditional Japanese fireplace ties together the local materials and the design’s Japanese spirit.