The Guild is a feast for the eyes right from the get-go. The shifting colors on the illuminated bar, cleverly notched wood chairs and sleek metal accents all combine to create a rather seductive atmosphere. The back window of the restaurant looks into a metal-furniture workshop and, if you're lucky, you may get to dine with a shower of sparks as your backdrop.
Located in Barrio Logan, The Guild's goal is to draw enthusiastic diners to this lesser-traveled neighborhood for a food-and-design experience. It's a restaurant on the edge in more ways than one. The custom furniture includes a large honeycomb acrylic dining table and hand-crafted, one-armed chairs reminiscent of those grade-school desk/chair combos. The chairs are handsome and comfortable, though potentially dangerous after a couple of cocktails.
The Guild's short yet creative menu is an intriguing collection of generously portioned taste plates that are meant for sharing. I had a tiny moment of panic when I first looked at the menu because a lot of dishes come topped with some kind of foam. It may be because I watch a little too much of Bravo's Top Chef-fellow fans of the show will remember all the drama that ensued this past season over contestant Marcel's obsession with foam. Are foams and other similar food gimmicks all show and no go? With apologies to Maureen Dowd, is foam necessary?
As it turns out, at least in The Guild's kitchen, the concept is not always just novelty and, in some cases, is downright delicious. The best use of foam as a flavor enhancer was in the tuna tartare dish, where silky cubes of raw tuna and avocado were crowned with creamy wasabi foam which, when all mixed together, created a supremely tasty concoction that had my friends and me jockeying for the last forkful.
Also successful was the Unexpected Greek Salad, named for its layered, deconstructed appearance and topping of tzatziki (a Greek yogurt) foam. The roasted pasilla chile, stuffed with queso fresco, feta and gorgonzola cheeses, came with a little dish of foam, which was a bit superfluous since the dish was already draped in a nice cream sauce. The seared yellowfin, crusted with black and white sesame seeds, was the hit of the night and refreshingly foam-free. The moist slices of fish were speared on the ends of skewers like little fish lollipops, making it easier to dip into the spicy chile sauce or sesame oil that came alongside.
The chef, a painter by trade, obviously has an eye for color and presentation. The trio of grilled fish tacos, nestled in a grooved metal dish, seemed almost too pretty a picture to eat, but they were too appetizing to resist.
In the end, the only truly suspicious foam was the murky cilantro-lime stuff floating atop my Guild Legacy margarita, one of the restaurant's signature cocktails made with soju (a Korean alcohol distilled from rice and other grains, used because they don't have a full liquor license). Let's just say that it's probably a better bet to stick to beer or wine here. The wine list is a good mix of selections from interesting boutique and small wineries. Almost everything is offered by the glass, which is great-but even more appealing for commitment-phobes like me was the half-glass size that enabled me to taste something new and different with every few sips. My friends and I attempted to drink through most of the list on our visit and were quite successful.
As with any new restaurant, there are kinks in service and organization to work out, but overall I was impressed with The Guild. It's obvious, from the handmade furniture to the care put into the food preparation, that the restaurant is an expression of the passion its owners have for creating a different kind of dining experience. So while Barrio Logan might not yet be the next big thing, I hope that The Guild and other eateries that follow can find success and longevity there because we could all use a few more places to have a good meal.
The Guild serves coffee from 7 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday; lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; and dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Salads and smaller dishes are $5 to $9, the larger dishes $10 to $15.
The Guild Restaurant & Lounge
1805 Newton Ave., Barrio Logan