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With spring and summer comes variety of hot new restaurants

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As San Diego heats up this spring and summer, so too will a variety of enterprising dining, dancing and event venues. Large in scale and backed by big names, the latest entrants to San Diego’s hospitality scene will offer international flavors and stunning vistas.

In Little Italy, a new 4,800-square-foot restaurant helmed by famed Baja chef Javier Plascencia will open in the new Ariel Suites high-rise tower at Kettner Boulevard and West Beech Street. Plascencia is best known for a series of high-end Tijuana restaurants and as a guest mentor on the ABC television show “The Taste.”

The name of the new Little Italy eatery is Bracero: Cocina de Raiz; “bracero” is Spanish for laborer. The menu will feature modern Mexican cuisine.

A rendering shows the plans for Bracero in Little Italy, a highly anticipated new restaurant by Baja chef Javier Plascencia. Courtesy image

With construction about 60 to 70 percent complete, Bracero is set to open in late spring, said Rodolfo Farber, partner with project and construction management firm Jaime Partners.

The building is designed to blend in while being a modern addition to the neighborhood, Farber said. The terraced exterior includes a lot of glass. “What’s interesting is what’s inside,” he said, noting the interior will include patios, kitchens and bars on two floors.

The interior design is being done by Hollywood firm Bells and Whistles. Bracero’s top floor will offer coastal views and upscale dining; downstairs will be more casual.

This is Jaime Partners’ first project with celebrity chef Plascencia and restaurant owner Mexiterranean Hospitality LLC, but not its first in Little Italy. The firm recently finished work on the American cuisine-focused Kettner Exchange, which Farber described as a “great project” with considerable input from the city’s nonprofit Civic San Diego.

Other notable local projects for Jaime Partners include Enlightened Hospitality Group restaurants’ Searsucker and Herringbone, and the former Gingham, Gabardine and Burlap.

“There’s always a learning curve, but we have the framework and the know-how,” he said. “Restaurants are intricate, but at the end of the day to see the finished product and know the clients are happy with it, that’s great. Projects are ultimately about humans.”

Cohn Restaurant Group is readying what’s considered its most ambitious project to date, a $10 million, 24,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor restaurant and event center at the east end of Harbor Drive. The venue replaces the paddle-wheeler Reuben E. Lee, an iconic floating restaurant that closed in 2004 and sank in 2012.

Coastera, on Port of San Diego property adjacent to the Cohn’s Island Prime & C Level, is expected to have a summer opening, said Cohn spokeswoman Stephanie Chavez. The cuisine is described as modern Mexican.

David and Lesley Cohn, with partner and chef Deborah Scott, are working with developer Sunroad Harbor Island Inc. The late Graham Downes was the original architect; the architecture firm Gensler is now handling the project.

Coastera is designed to offer dining, banquet, wedding and event space with panoramic views of the San Diego harbor and skyline. The restaurant will seat more than 300 guests; the event center could hold more than 1,000 guests on an outdoor floating deck and 300 in the banquet room, according to the Cohn Restaurant Group.

The Cohns already own and operate 22 restaurants in the San Diego region and two in Maui.

On track for an April opening in the Gaslamp Quarter is the nightclub Omnia San Diego, a complete overhaul of the former Stingaree. The club is expected to feature big-name deejays and debut after Hakkasan Group’s flagship Omnia nightclub opens at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas in March.

The multilevel San Diego venue will have indoor and outdoor spaces, upscale finishes and high-tech audiovisual effects, according to nightclub owner and operator Hakkasan Group.

Hakkasan Group is a London-based entertainment, dining, nightlife, and hospitality company with operations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East; it’s owned by an Abu Dhabi-based investment company called Tasameem Real Estate LLC. After acquiring a controlling stake in San Diego’s Enlightened Hospitality Group in 2014, Hakkasan expanded its San Diego presence to include the Stingaree nightclub and the restaurants Herringbone and Searsucker.

Also in the Gaslamp, Water Grill will open in March. With two stories and 11,000 square feet, the massive restaurant and event venue replaces the Italian-style Palm Restaurant at 615 J Street.

The menu will have prime meats and seafood entrees, such as Santa Barbara spot prawns, Chilean sea bass, wild Eastern sea scallops and squid ink pasta. San Diego native Fabrice Poigin will serve as Water Grill’s executive chef.

The décor will include antique nautical elements, wooden walls and leather booths. Private dining options will include a lower-level space known as The Gallery, with room for 20 guests. An upper-level East Village space will accommodate 20 guests and afford views of J Street.

Costa Mesa-based King’s Seafood Co. is the parent company of Water Grill, which also operates King’s Seafood in Mission Valley and Carlsbad, and Lou & Mickey’s in downtown San Diego. This will be the third Water Grill location, joining spots in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

On the top floor of the renovated La Plaza building at the corner of Wall Street and Girard Avenue in La Jolla, a 3,750-square-foot restaurant with views of the Pacific Ocean will open in March. The building formerly housed Jack’s La Jolla.

Catania will have coastal Italian cuisine, and is the brainchild of owner Arturo Kassel and Whisknladle Hospitality executive chef and partner Ryan Johnston, according to spokeswoman Cindy Nixon.

As the story goes, Kassel and Johnston envisioned the restaurant concept after taking a two-week, 1,400-mile road trip through Italy in 2008.

Bluemotif Architecture is working on the project, which will include considerable patio seating. The menu is being developed by Catania’s executive chef Vince Schofield.

The food is described as “simple, seasonal and authentic Italian coastal cuisine” prepared with wood-burning ovens and grills, and paired with Italian wines, craft Italian beers and local beers inspired by Italy.

-McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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