By Frank Sabatini Jr.
After sitting empty for nearly a year, the space left behind by Social Experiment in Hillcrest has sprung back to life with a new tenant named Rakitori. The word is a play off the concept that both ramen and yakitori skewers are served under one roof. “There’s nowhere in this area that does a combination of the two,” General Manager Matthew Lowe said.
The restaurant was launched on Oct. 24 by chef-owner John Kook, who worked at several locations for Nobu and in restaurants throughout South Korea. Lowe said that imported and local craft beers, plus assorted sakes, will be available “any day now” once the restaurant receives its beer and wine license. 530 University Ave., 619-501-4091.
The former Lei Lounge in University Heights will soon become Madison, an upscale bar and restaurant venture spearheaded by Jeffrey Fink of FLUXX and Matt Sieve, formerly of Isabel’s Cantina. With mid-century and modern design implements nearly in place, such as intricate wood joinery and vaulted ceilings with sky views, Madison is due to open in late December with a menu combining Mediterranean and Southern California influences. Chefs Mario Cassineri of BiCE has designed the menu, and Tony Gutierrez, who previously worked at La Strada, Opera Café and BiCE, will oversee the kitchen. The redesigned space features a full bar and state-of-the-art sound system. 4622 Park Blvd., madisononpark.com.
Tracy Borkum of Urban Kitchen Group is reinventing the 3,500-square-foot space in which she previously operated Kensington Grill and Fish Public. Conceptual details so far point only to a casual take on her successful Cucina Urbana and its spinoffs in Del Mar, Irvine and Newport Beach. The yet-to-be-named restaurant is slated to open in February. 4055 Adams Ave.
Negociant Winery in North Park is up and running since holding its grand opening throughout the final week of October. It coincides with the release of a limited production of 2012 Syrah, available only on tap in the tasting room. The chicly designed space encompasses an outdoor patio, a winemaking area and a bar that serves craft beer as well. Sandwiches and charcuterie boards are also available. 2419 El Cajon Blvd., 619-535-1747.
S&M: Sausage and Meat celebrated its one-year anniversary on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Since launching last year on Park Boulevard with an array of gourmet sausages, flavored bacon and a stylish cocktail bar, the restaurant has opened an offshoot location at Quartyard in the East Village. 4130 Park Blvd, 619-344-2177.
A four-day remodel at Barrio Star in Bankers Hill has resulted in a conversion to counter service, plus windowed garage doors in front and several other light cosmetic changes. Famous for its Latin cuisine with Asian touches, not to mention its blood orange and jalapeno-blackberry margaritas, the kitchen has combined its lunch and dinner menus while adding more options. 2706 Fifth Ave., 619-501-7827.
The daily brunch service held upstairs at Gelato Vero Caffe in Mission Hills was recently discontinued due to lagging weekday sales as well as customer overflows on Sundays, which the small kitchen couldn’t handle, sco-owner Aaron Rabinowitz aUS. The space will remain available as a seating area and might be used for pop-up dinners coordinated by the café’s former brunch chef, Kirstin Green. Rabinowitz adds that the second-floor kitchen has begun cranking out more baked goods available for purchase on the ground level. 3753 India St., 619-295-9269.
Chef Jimmy Tessier attributes the sudden closure of Local Habit to “a combination of the owners running out of money and being pigeonholed into a cuisine,” referring to the Creole slant the Hillcrest restaurant adopted this year after completing a renovation. He also cited the sporadic closure of Fifth Avenue for sewer work as another reason, saying that the restaurant lost significant business because of it.
Tessier and about 15 other employees received word on Oct. 6 that the doors would be shut for good, which coincided with a Facebook posting from the ownership thanking patrons for their support.
“I kind of had a feeling something was up because business had been slow,” added Tessier, who was recently filmed discussing organic food by an independent producer from Los Angeles for a pilot culinary series yet to be picked up by a television network. 3827 Fifth Ave.
A new chef is in the house at Counterpoint in Golden Hill, which has entered into its sixth year of business. Fred Keller arrives from Chicago’s highly acclaimed Roka Akor after working as a private chef on a yacht in the Caribbean. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, his other gigs have included stints at Bistro d’Asia in Coronado, a restaurant in New Zealand, and the former Martini House in Napa Valley. Keller has revised the menu at Counterpoint with dishes spotlighting freshly sourced seafood and house-made pastas. 830 25th St., 619-564-6722.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.