Oak Park’s lovely and well established Sushi House now has a cute baby sibling down the block.
Where the more upscale Sushi House is reserved and refined, the fast-casual, pan-Asian Hutong Cafe was intended to be bright, cheerful and a lot of fun.
Oak Park’s Aria Group Architects designed the sister restaurants for owners Bob and Diana Johnson. Diana’s brother, Simon Wang, also co-owns the café.
“We wanted [Hutong] to be more affordable, approachable and a bit younger,” says Aria president Jim Lencioni.
Open and bright, the 74-seat eatery is divided into small zones, each with its own individual character.
Up front, there is a handful of tables and chairs, as well as a terrific channel-back upholstered banquette. Covered in a series of assorted Asian-inspired red, orange, gold and neutral floral fabrics, the banquette’s back resembles a quilt made from beautiful Japanese kimonos.
In back, there’s another stretch of banquette along with a sequence of booths, both of which also feature the colorful channel-back seating. The booths are enclosed in funky, rough-hewn wooden structures.
“By adding separation and definition between the booths — and the booths and banquettes — it added scale and created spaces within spaces,” Lencioni says.
The architecture team focused on using natural materials throughout. “Natural materials are more enduring, less trendy, and they make [the space] more approachable,” Lencioni says.
In addition to the booth structures, spaced and angled raw wood beams create a demarcation between the dining room and the ordering line. Honey-colored wood tables are paired with simple, contrasting dark wood chairs. Floors are black polished concrete.
Aria added Asian touches without making the café read “literal Chinatown,” Lencioni says.
Slate gray and rich cranberry red (which boldly covers the open ceiling), were therefore selected as the restaurant’s main colors.
A giant gold line drawing of Hutong’s mascot — a pigtailed Asian girl greedily slurping from a bowl — fills the eatery’s slate-gray front wall.
“We wanted this place to be fun, and the [little girl] helped bring the fun into the concept,” Lencioni says.
Ambient lighting gives the room a casual, informal tone, and was used throughout. Up front, the team placed a collection of whimsical white “origami” pendants, while simple contemporary globe fixtures hang over the booths and ordering counter.
Lining the eatery’s west wall, a series of large colorful boards lists menu items. The boards also feature food photography as well as a large black-and-white vintage snapshot of a typical hutong, or neighborhood, in Beijing, China. Functionally, the boards guide guests from the door to the counter. But “they became part of the décor as well as part of the ordering process.”
Says Lencioni: “It’s all the little details that help pull it together and make it work.”
1113 Lake Street
Oak Park, Illinois 60301