Summary: Not recommended / Needs to work on service.
I really really want to like this place. The food was tasty and flavorful. The drinks were innovative, unique, and well presented and cute little bottles. The location, on North Wells in the midst of lots of other great spots, was also appealing. However, something just was not right about the place. Worse, observing the staff and chef, I walked away with the general feeling it will never change. And thus, my initial thinking is that I would not recommend this restaurant. There are simply too many options in Chicago and, in my opinion, restaurants rarely get a second chance. That said, I will be watching to hear of improvements and focus on service to make this good restaurant great.
702 N. Wells
Food at the restaurant would most easily be described as tapas. Japanese tapas. Lots of grilled, some fried, and all very well seasoned items on the menu. Their twitter feed describes it as “A traditional robatayaki from Chef Gene Kato. Sumi, which derives from the Japanese word for charcoal, focuses on the tradition and skill of robata grilling.”
With four or five friends, you can easily sample the entire menu and taste all of the different flavors in foods that are available. The actual variety is a bit misleading, however, as there are several that to me seemed very similar. For instance, there are three or four chicken dishes on the menu that all are presented quite commonly with very little difference between them. But, let me be clear: I do feel that the food is fantastic and nothing I am saying is meant to take away from the assessment of quality of the food.
Service is the greatest problem with the restaurant and its not simply with the actual server that was assigned to our table. Rather, it was the experience. It was the pace, the timing, the way in which the menu was explained, and the overall experience dining at the restaurant. It felt, frankly, as if I was dining at a very amateur restaurant. A restaurant that was owned by someone who really loves to cook but has never been involved in actually running a restaurant. I felt as if I were participating in a Top Chef competition very early in the season. Lots of businesses started by ambitious entrepreneurs with amazing ideas but needing a little business acumen come to mind.
Back when Chicago was basically a city of steak and potatoes, menus were fairly straight forward. As food options expanded, great servers and hosts find ways to unobtrusively explain the concept to new diners. On my first visit to Girl and the Goat, seemingly eons ago, I keenly recall how the server went through the menu, gave us a sense of how many items to order, and gave us time to process the menu. This was not the case here. This place is kind of tapas style but uniquely so. Because Japanese tapas is a relatively new concept in Chicago it is very important that they explain to patrons what the experience might be like. We had a couple of awkward moments when orders were brought out and not explained. One of my guests waited patiently for her lamb while another enjoyed his plate with two pieces on it. Little did he know that he was eating both the lamb he ordered and the lamb she ordered. They had been combined on one plate. Ok, makes sense, but who knew? If I’m not clear, you understand how I felt at the restaurant!
In this area, I am told perhaps I did not experience the best of the restaurant as there is a space downstairs that is roomier. As it stood, the upstairs area reminded me a bit of a Chinese takeout restaurant with a few tables, or a Pret a Manger franchise. Basic wood tables, not much space. Nothing fancy or memorable. As I have said before, however, decor alone would never keep me away from a restaurant. Nor would it keep me from recommending. All other things being equal, however, I prefer a nice ambiance with my good food. And less noise.
Based on the good quality of the food, and considering the neighborhood, I would say this place is about average. As long as you know what to order based on your party, you can have a reasonably filling meal for less than $50 per person including a cocktail. Given I know that I could have had the same or better meal at other Chicago restaurants with better service and decor, I’m giving a 3 for value.
I would not recommend this restaurant but would not turn people away from it either. There are too many nice restaurants in Chicago for me to tolerate average, but if I lived in the area and wanted a good, flavorful meal without having to get dressed up or impress anyone, I would certainly visit this place.
In relationship with #foodies,
Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections
For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.