It doesn't take a fortune-teller to predict success for the new Sushi House (5041 West 117th Street), which opened last week at Town Center Plaza. It's the first Sushi House outside Illinois from a chain created by real estate developer Robert Johnson and his Beijing-born wife, Diana. The Johnsons have already opened three Sushi Houses in different suburbs around Chicago. When Robert's older brother, Tom Johnson (who spent ten years as managing director of Hallmark's Culinary Concepts division), decided to start his own restaurant company, the Johnson Hospitality Group, he joined forces with his sibling, sister-in-law and wife to open the Kansas Sushi House.
The elegant space was designed by Gould Evans Goodman Associates, who used polished Russian birch for the tables, walls and three private tatami rooms. Walls are the color of ancient celadon pottery, green tea is served in clay cups fired with a jade-glaze interior, and napkins are ... paper. It's sophisticated but not formal. Only the house saké comes warm and from a porcelain bottle; the more premium brands are chilled and offered in virile, squat shot glasses, the kind that Akira Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai might have used to swill back a few before going out to battle the evil bandits.
Behind the sushi bar, chef David Loo (imported from the Westmont, Illinois, location) oversees the sushi preparation. In a tidy corner kitchen, another team of cooks prepares the tempura, teriyaki and beef negimaki dishes. There's a reason that this hipster sushi shop is in the suburbs. "Demographics show that the taste for sushi follows education, travel and wealth," Johnson says. "Not so much the level of those things, but the mindset. And young people gravitate towards sushi."
That was evident from the buff, tan customers who piled into the restaurant on its opening night. There wasn't a patron over forty at any of the tables. But maybe it wasn't just the high-style look of the place or a taste for sushi that lured them. If they had already seen the Sushi Fortune-Telling Web site, they might have been looking for love and career possibilities in all the right places.