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Spring brings with it the debut of two ocean-influenced concepts never before seen in San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter gets a taste of Las Vegas with the March opening of Osetra. In Rancho Bernardo, Pearl, also opening this month, offers the newest in cuisine from Hong Kong and China.

Osetra is the dream child of Alessandro Minutella and Vincenzo LoVerso, partners in the Gaslamp’s Greystone and Panevino. It’s designed by Marnell Corrao Associates, famous for Las Vegas monoliths, including Bellagio and the soon-to-open La Reve. Taking over the First National Bank Building at Fifth and E, Osetra is a “restaurant of tomorrow,” says operating partner Jimmy DiMatteo. Osetra integrates food with entertainment in the form of a wine tower, ice bar, lobster tank, oyster bar and open-floor design.

The three-story, climate-controlled wine tower—the world’s third tallest, behind ones in Singapore and Las Vegas—holds 10,000 bottles visible from 360 degrees. A person known as the “wine angel” is hoisted up the tower to retrieve wine selections. The restaurant’s 240 seats all offer some sort of eye candy and people-watching —the wine tower, the bar, the fish tanks, the active kitchen and the street below.

“We looked around and saw steakhouse after steakhouse and decided to bring seafood on an unparalleled scale to San Diego,” says DiMatteo, who owns Jimmy Love’s, a mainstay in the Gaslamp for the past decade. “We chose the name Osetra because it embodies the finest in seafood.” (Beluga and osetra are known to be the world’s finest caviars.)

The multimillion-dollar restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, has been three years in the planning. It has involved extensive renovation of the 100-plus-year-old building, including removal of some of the bank’s original vault doors. The largest of the building’s dwarf-sized vaults has been kept intact. A sign on the walk-in safe in the basement reads: “The oldest vault in San Diego, 1882.” It holds the restaurant’s liquor inventory.

Former San Diego Port Commissioner Susan Lew, who brought Emerald to San Diego 12 years ago, has decided she needs another jewel. She selected Pearl, a high-end restaurant with sophisticated cuisine from Hong Kong and China served in a state-of-the-art facility. (Picture laptop plug-ins and private rooms with screens for board meetings.) Unlike cavernous, bare-bones Emerald in Kearny Mesa, Pearl is aesthetically pleasing, from the restaurant’s entrance to the view of a private lake (from the all-window dining area). Swathed in red, cream and wood tones with black accents, Pearl, the former site of Anthony’s Seafood in Rancho Bernardo, was designed by Mok Wong Kin-Ming, principal of Ming Yip Design in Hong Kong. The restaurant seats 400 indoors; 80 for lakeside dining

“I wanted San Diego to have the hottest in dining from Hong Kong,” says Lew, who travels there at least three times a year. Visitors to Pearl are greeted in the lobby with a martini bar and a live-seafood and wine display. The pairing of wine and Chinese food is one of Pearl’s nuances.

“Most people don’t think of having wine with Chinese food, but it is a perfect marriage,” says Lew, who brought in a consultant from Hong Kong to select varietals to be matched with chef Sam Wong’s cuisine. Pearl’s dinner menu of more than 200 items is written in Chinese, Japanese and English, complemented by photographs, and includes a “dieter’s delight” section. At lunch a dim sum menu is offered, featuring five different teas and an explanation of their health benefits.

Lew’s passion for authenticity extends to places guests will never see, like the kitchen. There, a rare nonslip, non-oily white marble floor imported from China supports the heart of the house.

rossman Side Dish

Chow Line
When you’re stationed on a Navy ship, you want to get a “float” that’s got a good galley. Thanks to Terra chef Jeff Rossman, there may be more good chow to go around. A Navy officer who dined at Terra was so impressed he enlisted Rossman to give a class to 15 cooks at the 32nd Street Naval Station. It was tough, Rossman says, cooking for 75 in the Navy’s warehouse-sized galley that handles thousands of meals at a time. “They didn’t have whisks and stockpots for the small group.” But that didn’t stop Rossman and his charges from treating top brass to a meal of pumpkin raviolis, wild mushroom bisque with basil oil, Cornish game hen and a filet mignon with lobster risotto. Definitely not your father’s (or mother’s) Navy.

Contact Patricia Walsh at patricia@sandiegomag.com.
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