Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
For most, opening a modern homage to traditional Japanese noodle houses would be enough to garner plenty of oohs and aahs. But not when the restaurateurs behind said venture also own a neo-urban gastropub with an illustrious built-in speakeasy and a hotspot gathering place where the eclectic interiors draw raves from even the hardest-to-impress design critics. While unique and the receptor of mostly positive reviews, Underbelly, the aforementioned noodle house, is easily the most understated venue from hospitality duo Arsalun Tafazoli and Nathan Stanton. But not for long.
Come this summer, three interesting upgrades will be completed that will triple the eatery's capacity while introducing new unique features to Little Italy and, in one case, San Diego. Tafazoli and Stanton are adding on a second story that will include an outdoor patio with seating for 30 guests. A percentage of the restaurant's new 1,000-plus square feet will be used to house a collection of rare and limited-release whiskeys spirited away from producers across the world (including Suntory Yamazaki single malt). This will be San Diego's first Japanese whiskey bar and that added component should nicely complement a new raw bar stocked with local oysters and other oceanic offerings, plus an extensive sake list and a craft beer program featuring hard-to-procure brews from the Land of the Rising Sun.
As part of their redesign plans, Tafazoli and Stanton will also be removing the east wall that currently separates them from neighboring Italian eatery, Bencotto. The space between those businesses will be shared, bringing together two of the area's most successful recent culinary additions. Now, this seems much more like an exciting, innovative offspring from the guys who brought SD a wall coated in gold skulls and banquettes covered in Wite-Out-scrawled philosophical miscellany! Underbelly is located at 750 West Fir Street, Suite 101.