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Inside the Six Stunning JBFA Restaurant Design Finalists

Behold, the six restaurants whose design teams are finalists for the 2013 James Beard Award for Restaurant Design and Graphics. These restaurants and their cutting-edge — or just plain beautiful — designs span from Los Angeles (Farmshop) to New York (Isa). There's a penthouse with a view in Miami (Juvia) and an award-winning building with color-changing skin in Houston (Triniti). And José Andrés has two restaurants in the field this year with both the Las Vegas outpost of Jaleo and his newly reopened Minibar in Washington, DC, both up for nominations. In a departure from years past, this award takes a comprehensive look at all design elements of a restaurant (including graphics) and is split into sub-categories of 75 seats and under or 76 seats and over. Here's a look at all six:

75 Seats and Under

Farmshop, Santa Monica, CA. [Photos: Elizabeth Daniels]


Location: Santa Monica, CA
Owner: Jeff Cerciello
Designer: Commune
Also nominated last year for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics, Santa Monica's Farmshop is the creation of former Thomas Keller Restaurant Group culinary director Jeff Cerciello. Commune Design was responsible for the look and feel of the restaurant that Eater LA writes serves "seasonal California cuisine" and includes a market offering artisan wares and, of course, cheese, charcuterie and more. Cerciello's wife Kira Cunningham serves as Farmshop's creative director) and she tells Eater that it was immediately clear to her that Commune was the right firm for the job in creating a "raw but elegant space that was above all really comfortable." Cunningham was going for approachable and so the restaurant uses natural materials in their raw form (such as perhaps the subway tiles lining the walls), but combines those with elements like teal mohair banquettes and dark walnut tables.

Cunningham also explains that, like the rest of the restaurant, the design was a collaboration with local artists and artisans who were responsible for the mural in the back, the macrame light fixtures, those walnut tables and more. Beyond that, she says, "Farmshop needed to have character and SOUL." The James Beard Foundation isn't alone in recognizing Farmshop's beauty. The restaurant/market was also nominated for LA's Stone Cold Stunner in the 2012 Eater Awards.

Isa, Brooklyn, NY. [Photos: Daniel Krieger]


Location: Brooklyn, NY
Owner: Taavo Somer
Designer: Taavo Somer
New York City restaurateur Taavo Somer's Isa opened in summer of 2011 in a space that Eater NY reported was gutted and rebuilt with "a large hearth and open kitchen, triangular floor tiles, huge wooden ceiling beams, and large open doors, allowing the tables to spill out right onto the street." As the New York Times noted in a styles section cover story back when Isa opened, Somer designs his restaurants himself — with Isa, he was striving for a "primitive modern" aesthetic that also involves firewood stacked against a wall and furniture that is "vaguely Scandinavian."

Beyond the space itself, Isa has become well-known for its menu collages that are changed daily, as well as its artistic website. Isa has been called one of America's sexiest new restaurants and won some design praise from the New York Times interim critic Eric Asimov in his one-star review of the restaurant. It's worth noting that about a year ago, Somer kicked out his original team of chefs and revamped the restaurant's menu in what became known as IsaGate.

Minibar, Washington, DC. [Photos: R. Lopez]


Location: Washington, DC
Chef: José Andrés
Designer: Capella Garcia Arquitectura (Juli Capella and Miquel Garcia)
This past November, José Andrés reopened his acclaimed six-seat tasting menu restaurant Minibar in Washington, DC — now in larger digs boasting a staggering 12 seats. Famed Spanish design firm Capella Garcia Arquitectura was behind the redesign that includes whimsical furniture from Italian designer Cerruti Baleri. In the lounge space, there's an arm chair that Eater DC notes "appears to be made out of marble but is actually silkscreened upholstery."

A designer at DC design firm CORE tells Eater DC that the actual dining room was intended to be neutral ("almost like a gallery space where the food takes center stage") with blackboard walls for research & development and golden domes cut from a sailboat's hull hang overhead. Minibar's bathroom is also a glittery mind-bender. Curbed DC has a terrific breakdown of the Minibar design elements, including the armchair and a trippy infinity mirror — that cactus couch now resides next door in the newly opened cocktail lab Barmini.

76 Seats and Over

Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas [Photos: The Rockwell Group]

Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

Location: Las Vegas, NV
Chef: José Andrés
Designer: Rockwell Group, David Rockwell
In late 2010, José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup brought their Spanish tapas concept Jaleo to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. This particular outpost (there are three in the Washington, DC area) is headed by chef Rodolfo Guzman and features a Paella Grill that a press release notes "features an open-fire, wood-burning cooking surface that can hold four 36-inch paellas at a time." The Rockwell Group designed the 7,200 square foot space — complete with two wooden bars — with embroidery patterned walls to evoke the sense of being inside a mantilla, or a lace shawl commonly worn by Spanish women. As Rockwell told Eater in 2011, Andrés "wanted the restaurant's furnishings, materials and artwork to be made in Spain." He also explains that the restaurant within the restaurant é by José Andrés — the always-hot eight-seater — has a chalkboard and drawings by Spanish artists.

Juvia, Miami Beach, FL. [Photos: Michael Stavaridis]


Location: Miami Beach, FL
Owner: Jonas and Alexandra Millan
Designer: Alejandro Barrios Carrero Designs
Juvia billed itself as a "culinary collaborative" when it opened in February of last year, given its "cast" consisting of two executive chefs, Laurent Cantineaux and Sunny Oh. But design has been part of that collaboration as well. The Alejandro Barrios Carrero-designed penthouse space offers killer views of Miami and, per Eater Miami, a "vertical rainforest-inspired" garden designed by botanist Patrick Blanc. The design has won the restaurant plenty of accolades: Juvia was a strong contender for Miami's Stone Cold Stunner in the 2012 Eater Awards and won Esquire's Restaurant Design of the Year. Esquire points out that the 10,000 square foot penthouse also has a retractable roof on its patio, an amethyst bar, and "tables of white oak and petrified wood and an open kitchen blazing at full tilt."

Triniti, Houston, TX. [Photos (except where noted): Gary R Wise]


Location: Houston, TX
Owner: Ryan Hildebrand
Designer: MC2 Architects (Chung Q. B. Nguyen and Chuong Q. B. Nguyen)
Houston chef Ryan Hildebrand's Triniti won itself an architectural award mere months after the much-anticipated restaurant opened in December 2011. Yes, in March 2012, the American Institute of Architects Houston awarded MC2 Architects the win in the Renovation/Restoration category. Eater Houston points out that Triniti is the collaboration among lots of local talent and Hildebrand explained in an interview, "This place has always been about letting artists be artists. If it's the architect or whoever's making the cocktail or the guys in the kitchen."

MC2 Architects shares on its website that its vision was to balance the historic building with their renovation so that one can see both at once. Three steel columns and three brick columns represent a "triniti" and the exterior of the building is wrapped in a metal skin that, from a street view, "changes from green to orange or vice versa depending on the direction of travel." Forbes describes that skin as an "ingenious metal mesh curtain" and declares that the "design of Triniti is as striking as the food." It is with these design details and more in mind that Triniti was nominated for Houston's Stone Cold Stunner in the 2012 Eater Awards.

· Here Are the 2013 James Beard Awards Finalists [-E-]
· All James Beard Awards Coverage on Eater [-E-]