Call it the Disney effect—the expectation to be entertained and amused at every turn, including when one goes out to eat. If you dig well-thought-out decor, interesting lighting elements and an obvious desire to be different, here are three new (or, in one case, relatively new) spots that are doing something fresh and different in restaurant design.
Occupying a huge space at the west end of Fifth Avenue, Bondi, San Diego's only Australian restaurant, is a looker. The large space is divided into three sections: the public bar, the café bar and the kitchen bar. The kitchen bar—the restaurant's largest room—offers the most to look at, with its centerpiece metal sculptures, large enough to hold a party of eight inside. The sculptures, which flow from ceiling to floor, are made up of hundreds of boomerang-shaped pieces that cascade down into the circular enclosed seating areas.
Equally as dramatic are the four semi-private tables at the back of the room, divided with subtlely lit opaque glass separators. Between the glass panes are pressed pieces of indigenous grass (native woods and plants are used throughout the restaurant. Tying the earthy theme together are three interior walls composed of big chunks of red-colored ire ore, held in place behind a sort-of delicate chain-link fence.
Too often, high ceilings mean disaster when it comes to a restaurant's sound system, but the folks at Bondi figured out how to place speakers (not too high up) so the music doesn't turn into bass-heavy mush. One critique: What's up with the generic tunes? A little didgeridoo would be awesome; or, at the least, an emphasis on native bands: Midnight Oil, INXS, Men at Work, The Bee Gees—the possibilites are endless. 333 Fifth Ave., Downtown. www.thebondi.com.
Currant's as subdued and refined as Bondi is big and bold. The restaurant, attached to the Sofia Hotel on Broadway (sadly, for some, the former Pickwick Hotel and Piccadilly dive bar), is what you might expect if Edgar Allen Poe had opened an eatery and asked Vivienne Westwood for decorating advice. Or if Alice, 20 years post-Wonderland, drew on her whole Queen of Hearts' garden experience for inspiration.
Currant's dominant colors are black, red and gray—from the old-school red double doors leading to the kitchen to the steel-gray velvet sofas in the bar/lounge area to the black-and-white diamond-shaped-tile floor. But the two most charming elements are the modern-gothic faux-candle chandeliers and the zinc cutout trim that runs along the edges of the tables and the bar. There's also a topiary-lined patio that comes as close to a European sidewalk café as you'll find in San Diego.
Currant's prices are what you'd expect from a place so elegant (mid-$20s for an entrée), but the happy-hour special is much more affordable. From 4 to 6 p.m. daily, selected wines are $5 a glass, bottles are half-price and the perfectly apportioned-for-two cheese plate is $5 as well. 140 West Broadway, Downtown. www.currantrestaurant.com.
Sake Up @ The Guild
While Bondi and Currant are newly opened, The Guild's been around for a little more than a year. Last month, the retro-modern eatery opened an upstairs sake lounge (The Guild serves only beer, wine and sake), complete with a cute sake sommelier with a cute name, Miki.
Like he did for the main dining area, Guild co-owner Paul Basile, whose workspace/studio is adjacent to the restaurant, designed all the furniture.
There's something about the new digs that conjure a hip Icelandic ski lounge—probably due to the room's exposed wood-beam ceiling and concrete-block walls, into which have been cut high, narrow windows. Or maybe it's the room's centerpiece—a long communal table with bench seating. The entire restaurant displays the work of local artist Chris Martino, but the lounge is the best spot to take in Martino's stunning Not Quite Pop series.
Sake Up opened around the same time The Guild brought on a new executive chef, Craig Jimenez. Jimenez has been slowly adding his own touches to the menu (lots of seafood items), including sushi appetizers for lounge-goers.
The lounge is open Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. with DJs coming in on Thursdays. 1805 Newton Ave., Barrio Logan. www.theguildrestaurant.com.