Aja Restaurant - Design Bureau






Aja Restaurant

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Texture is one of the most basic principles of design. It can add to or distract from a well-designed item—or, as the case may be, the design of a restaurant or a dish. Both Ajarestaurant’s executive chef Ariel Bagadiong and interior designer Andre Landon of EDI Architecture share a similar appreciation for texture—a detail that is crucial to their respective professions.

“We used lots of different textures for this project,” Landon says, describing the décor of the restaurant housed inside the Dana Hotel and Spa in Chicago. “Bringing all these materials together is really an intuitive process. You have to ask yourself if they feel right together or if any are jarring and then edit out the ones that are not supportive of the overall idea.”

Landon came on board when the Dana Hotel was just a name, taken from the Sanskrit word for generosity. Drawing from his 15 years spent in Southeast Asia, Landon focused his design around textures, materials and open spaces and created the hotel and restaurant to feel almost like a home. The building’s small footprint played a defining role in the layout. “We envisioned the space as being free-flowing, from the second-floor hotel lobby to the bar to the restaurant on the first floor. We wanted that circular connection throughout the public area,” says Landon.

There’s a certain philosophy of mimicking the ingredient’s natural environment. If it’s sushi, we might present it in a way that resembles a wave forming in the ocean.

A fireplace serves as a focal point on the first floor, opposite the main elevator and staircase. Directly upstairs, a sushi bar is enclosed in translucent steel mesh, which creates a sense of privacy. A carved-wood wall runs the entire length of the hotel on the first and second floors, exuding a warm vibe, while an abstract, backlit metal panel floats in front of the staircase, creating a sense of contrast in the room. “We chose the wood wall as a backdrop to the activity, the furniture and the people that exist in the space,” says Landon.  “The metal panel was definitely more random, but still very interesting.”

As restaurant-goers at Aja absorb their visually sensational surroundings, Bagadiong designs his own texturized creations in the kitchen. His menu relies upon traditional preparations and familiar dishes. “We wanted to keep the menu clean, flavorful and simple,” he says. “We made it more approachable by going back to original techniques and ingredients.”

Reflecting upon a culinary creation instead of a structural one, Bagadiong echoes Landon’s perspective of using texture in meaningful ways. “There have to be different textures in a dish. I try to balance it by including a variety, whether it’s crunchy, chewy or soft, because that will excite the client. If it’s just one level of texture, people get bored,” he says.

Like Landon’s design, Bagadiong’s food presentation at Aja is rooted in Asian influence. He notes that where Southeast Asian cuisine is more relaxed, Japanese cuisine is more structured and clean. “With Japanese cooking, we have to play with the simplicity of the ingredients,” says Bagadiong. “There’s a certain philosophy of mimicking the ingredient’s natural environment. If it’s sushi, we might present it in a way that resembles a wave forming in the ocean.” Bagadjong also depends upon his own Filipino heritage to remain inspired and creative in his work. “My passion for Asian cooking is inherent. I’m always looking at places like Thailand, Malaysia and India in order to find ways to take their dishes and make them better or change them up.”

Text by Lauren Del Campo


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