Those traveling through University Circle lately might have noticed the bright, bold signage for Ninja City Kitchen and Bar, the new casual concept from Bac Nguyen, who also operates the four-year-old Bac Asian Bistro in Tremont. That sign is just one of the many pieces falling into place in advance of the August 14th opening.
That signage hints to the playful décor that awaits diners inside the 1,000-square-foot space on Euclid (11311 Euclid Ave., 216-860-0510, ninjacity.com). Bac describes the vibe as “fun and industrial,” with a comic book theme. "The name is tongue in cheek,” he says. “The whole point is to pay homage to '80s kung fu flicks, comic books and video games.”
The split-level property was home to the legendary Boarding House jazz club. It has since housed the very short-lived Luchita’s Express, which closed in 2011. Rough-hewn timber walls and exposed brick form the shell of the space, which is accented by pops of stainless steel courtesy of the HVAC ducting, industrial pendant lights and a massive, toupee-stealing ceiling fan. Colorful wall panels will feature custom-made art depicting “Ninja City,” a fictional comic book world dreamed up by Bac.
Ninja City will seat approximately 80 inside — both in the main-floor barroom and upper-level dining room — and another 15 out on the railed-in patio that juts right onto the sidewalk. The two spaces are united by a glassy garage door panel that lifts up on nice days.
Bac’s original concept for the space was strictly fast-casual, with customers staying only long enough to eat their lunch or dinner. But, he says, the concept evolved after discussions with neighborhood leaders. “I had been thinking about doing a quick-service, Chipotle-style restaurant, but University Circle said they wanted more bars and restaurants. So we kind of ended up with the best of both worlds, where we get that quick-service type menu but in a full-service format with a bar.”
Using a format that’s increasingly popular, guests will tick off their food choices on a paper chit using provided pencils. The main focus of the menu is a build-your-own-bites section, where diners select a delivery vehicle (banh mi, rice bowl or bun), protein of choice (chicken, pork, shrimp, tofu), veggies (pickled carrot, bean sprouts, jalapeno, kim chi…) and sauce (ginger soy, lime aioli, roasted peanut…). A starters section includes items like edamame, green papaya salad, spring rolls, pork Rangoon and tom yum soup. There also are pre-built meals like Vietnamese noodle salad, bacon and egg ramen, and BBQ pork buns. No single item is priced above $8.95. The menu was designed and tested in Tremont, says Bac.
“This is a pretty fixed menu that will not be evolving,” he explains. “This is about having a very specific set of items that we do and do very well. I’m taking what I’ve learned from running Bac all these years and distilling it down to this.”
Bac envisions an evolving clientele throughout the day and week. During lunch, Ninja City will be a student and family friendly café. Happy hour might bring in older students and faculty. Dinner will attract a broader regional audience, perhaps, while late nights and weekends will be a little louder and a little wilder thanks to a DJ. Bac intends to serve food “at least” until to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The bar program was designed by longtime Bac bar manager Chris Flood.
If all goes as well as Bac hopes, don’t be surprised to see future Ninja City locations down the road. But first, opening day…