Close your eyes, step inside 1107 Lake St. and you might think you’re in Japan, or at least something vastly different from Downtown Oak Park.
The spot-once home to retailer Alphabet Soup-has been transformed into a lavish sushi restaurant, complete with basement sake lounge and stocked sushi bar.
Entrepreneurs Bob and Diana Johnson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn the 5,000-square-foot space into their sixth Sushi House restaurant. The first one opened in Westmont 13 years ago, with others in Naperville and LaGrange.
Oak Park’s location, which opened last month, offers a new twist: A posh lounge in its basement, with couches, three flat-screen TVs, a banquet room for private parties, and a sake bar, offering an assortment of drinks. The restaurant has a full liquor license.
The Johnsons hired a local firm-Aria Group Architects, which designed Maya Del Sol’s interior and various other restaurants-to create Sushi House’s interior. Bamboo shoots reach for the ceiling, and the floors and tables use bamboo, too. A dragon emblazons one wall and booths are decorated with prints of Japanese plum flowers. Browns and reds are the dominant colors.
Two “tatami rooms”-small private booths with a sliding door-are placed at the restaurant’s front. Diners can sit around a sushi bar, with chefs behind it, and a glass display case filled with various fresh fish.
The menu offers over 50 different sushi rolls, along with cooked options for less adventuresome diners. One favorite is the “Chicago Fire Roll” with rare, spicy tuna wrapped in seaweed, battered and cooked and dipped in spicy sauce, Diana Johnson said. Other rolls contain everything from octopus to sea urchin, or even BBQ eel.
Also popular are the bento boxes. Included is a five ounce piece of meat (chicken, salmon or steak) drenched in teriyaki sauce and grilled. You also get a bowl of soup, battered “tempura” shrimp and vegetables (including purple sweet potatoes or orange pepper), and four California rolls, stuffed with avocado and crab. Desserts include a piping-hot chocolate lava cake and mango cheesecake.
The Johnsons have a home in Glen Ellyn but spend time in a condominium built above the restaurant at 1107 Lake. They have two teenage daughters.
Diana Johnson has spent over 20 years in the restaurant business. She came to America from Bejing, China, unable to speak any English. She started a couple of Chinese restaurants but sold them and switched to Japanese food with the help of an expert chef.
Bob Johnson has family in Oak Park and lived here in the past. He works in the real estate and development industry and focuses on the management side of the family business.
Sushi House was scheduled to open 10 months ago, but the owners encountered some problems-like having to remove the entire front façade and addressing what appeared to be an underground river-that delayed the restaurant’s opening.