Chef-scientist Homaro Cantu gained fame for his futuristic culinary style at his high-end cutting-edge restaurant, Moto. Now he’s opened iNG, an informal Asian eatery for those who want to experience some of his playful modernist cooking techniques sans the hefty price tag.
The restaurant’s sleek Asian-mod design — along with a wait staff that communicates with the chefs in the hidden main kitchen below via headsets — contributes to the impression that iNG is both a tasting and a testing lab.
iNG, an acronym for imagining new gastronomy, opened recently in the space that formerly housed another Cantu production, the now-defunct Otom. The new restaurant was designed to be “clean, modern and comfortable,” Cantu says, so “the thought goes into what you are tasting on your tongue.”
Architect Ron Vari Jr. says that simplicity, indeed, was the driving inspiration behind his contemporary design. iNG’s décor is about “keeping things as simple and as minimalistic as we could to allow the food and the concept to speak for itself.”
Even in its simplicity, the room is striking. At the very front of the house is a small open kitchen where chefs busily prepare fresh hand-pulled noodles. The area — with windows that open onto the sidewalk, and a patio during the summer months — was designed to “to bring the inside out and, depending on the season, the outside in,” Vari says. “We wanted people to become intrigued by what was going on inside.”
Vari covered the walls of the room’s front area, along with the base of the kitchen counter, with horizontal planks of utility-grade distressed oak, which he stained dark brown. (The brown wood flooring is made of higher-grade white oak.) Vari selected the primitive oak because its character flaws contribute to iNG’s Asian aesthetic, he says.
The restaurant’s walls change as one moves further into the space. On the east side, the entire expanse becomes a “wave wall.” The undulating floor-lit structure is covered in small glistening white tiles and is designed to evoke “a porcelain curtain” that softens the room, Vari says.
The bright laboratory-white tiles repeat over a flat stretch on the west wall, where they cover the restaurant’s service bar, and are punctuated by a convex red Lucite bubble window. (The minimalist dining area has no lounge or main bar.) The window gives diners a peek into the service bar without allowing them fully inside — again, adding to the illusion that there’s something top-secret going on at iNG.
Once past the bar, the wall returns to wood. And the wood carries over to face the very back of the room, which functions as a “cold kitchen.” Here, for example, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze foods such as iNG’s signature dessert waffles.
Vari uses swaths of red throughout the space, and these add a lively color punch to his otherwise neutral brown/white palette. There’s a gleaming red plexiglass-topped communal table that stands along the bar wall. And the precisely arranged wood dining tables that fill the main dining area are coupled with red low-slung velvet sofas and Lucite chairs.
The architect says he included these strong red accents because red is a quintessentially Asian color, and it symbolizes such positive concepts as good luck and success. Cantu says he wanted to use red at iNG because it is the color of the miracle berry that Cantu and company have been experimenting with and promoting at the restaurant. The small red West African fruit tricks the tongue into perceiving flavors differently. Sour foods, for example, can taste sweet after ingesting miracle berry.
Vari also included some high-tech elements in his design. For the restaurant’s main signage, he projects fast-changing images of the eatery and its crew on the glass front transom. And he uses HyperSonic Sound speakers in the entryway. The HSS speakers shoot concentrated sound beams — here a talking presentation about iNG — into each individual diner’s ear as he or she enters.
Says Vari: “The technology behind the scenes found its way into the design, if you will.”
951 West Fulton Market
Chicago, Illinois 60607