California's Best New Restaurants Score High On Looks and Cuisine

Here's the inside scoop on the top-notch eateries sprouting up all over the state.

1. Everything about Girasol, the new Studio City restaurant from Top Chef alum CJ Jacobson, evokes the rustic. The space, designed by LA–based Gulla Jonsdottir of G+, features weathered bronze hardware and walls of singed wood, a rugged counterpoint to the design's true showstopper: a colossal wooden sunflower suspended from the ceiling. Jacobson’s farmers market addiction and love affair with herbs shine through on the menu, from a starter of roasted squash with raw chestnuts to an amazing grilled octopus salad atop baked eggplant and toasted lovage (drizzled with rosemary-ash oil, natch); 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City, 818-924-2323

2. For a restaurant that takes its name from the Italian word for “naughty little boy,” Monello—located, appropriately, in San Diego’s Little Italy—is quite grown-up in its design and street-food concept. Dianne Harsch of San Diego–based Studio Emphasis modernized the idea of the Old World trattoria with stamped-concrete walls and white faux-leather banquettes. Full-height windows provide an alfresco effect, which is especially vibey during aperitivo (a more chic version of the American happy hour). craft cocktails, such as the grappa-infused Bensonhurst or the Rock & Twist—made with Monello’s own 27-ingredient sweet vermouth—are served alongside small, appetite-inducing piattini (small bites) from chef Fabrizio Cavallini; 750 West Fir St., Ste. 102B, San Diego, 619-501-0030.

3. Chef Jeff Cerciello, French laundry alum, has opened a larkspur outpost of his famed Santa Monica Farmshop restaurant, bringing his hyper-seasonal California cuisine to Marin County. We savored every moment of the crispy artichokes with burrata and the wood-fired pizza with foraged mushrooms and duck prosciutto, but we were equally enchanted by Commune Design’s chic farmhouse-inspired decor featuring works by California artisans. jute macramé light fixtures by venice–based richard lewis are draped from the ceiling in the main dining room, and subway tile from Sausalito’s own Heath Ceramics adorns the bar area. Be warned: a large-scale black-and-white photo mural depicting farm folk meandering through a cornfield takes on a psychedelic flavor after a jalapeño-infused top-shelf margarita; 2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, larkspur, 415-755-6700.

4. At Roka Akor in San Francisco’s Jackson Square, Northern California style is in full effect—that is to say, the modern Japanese restaurant is anchored by muscular architectural elements soulfully rendered in warm woods. A 20-foot bridge of Monterey Cypress leads patrons from the entrance to the main dining room, where a Matt Gagnon Studio Scissor Wall, made of interlocking wood slats, shows hints of light and lots of beautiful texture. anchoring The open kitchen is a cedar-fired robata grill, which is surrounded by an elegant Japanese shou sugi ban–style charred birch counter. Such rarefied delicacies as melt-in-your-mouth Australian wagyu beef and sweet wild-caught king crab, both prepared on the grill, seem even more momentous as they rise from the ashes (so to speak); 801 Montgomery St., san francisco, 415-362-8887.

5. Catherine and Justine Macfee, designers of the new Chalkboard restaurant at Healdsburg's Les Mars Hotel, preserved the double-barrel vaulted ceilings and original crown moldings of the space formerly known as Cyrus. In line with the rugged sophistication of the small-plates menu from Chef Shane Mcanelly (think Dungeness crab tater tots and smoked eggplant Parmesan), the Macfees juxtaposed such modern elements as teal corduroy banquettes with gray-washed French bistro chairs and hand-forged metal wainscoting. And in design befitting a restaurant named Chalkboard, a token slate emblazoned with daily specials is hung near the entrance; 29 North St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030.

Originally published in the Winter '13 issue of California Home+Design. Click here to subscribe.

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