Down-home dining in the Gaslamp

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

RMD Group’s second restaurant venture in the Gaslamp Quarter holds some big surprises, starting with its newly constructed rooftop patio overlooking the bustling Fifth Avenue. If the rare sight of customers peering down from three floors above on this street doesn’t grab your attention, then the quirky design appointments flowing throughout Rustic Root’s ground-level dining room will.

Rustic Root Restaurant-bao-bao-sliders

Fronted by a sidewalk patio, and adjoining RMD’s Don Chido restaurant, Rustic Root stands out the moment you pass the outdoor host station. The wall to your right shows off columns of white ceramic plates, seemingly suspended in midair. Further back is a display of faux deer on Astroturf, raised and illuminated as if belonging to a prairie museum in central Montana.

On the opposite side of the room is a well-stocked bar featuring a panel of wooden rolling pins at one end. And hovering over the expansive dining room are various-sized colanders — lots of them mingling with the ceiling lights.

Should these homey visuals begin triggering your appetite for elk chops, fried chicken and bison meatballs; you’ve come to the right place.

Stairs and an elevator lead to the rooftop patio, which opens July 4 as an alternative zone for drinking and noshing by day or night. Adorned with gaslamp light posts and equipped with a large bar and separate kitchen, it’s exactly the kind of above-street perch this thriving avenue of bars and restaurants sorely lacks.

Rustic Root Restaurant-Fried-chicken

Chef and managing partner Antonio Friscia presents a succinct menu of dishes long revered in our homesteads for their warm and hearty qualities, whether they’re of American origin or not.

His bison-pork meatballs as an appetizer are lean and mean, thanks to their low-fat content (perhaps too low) and the delicious, creamy whiskey sauce lacing them. They tasted part Italian, part Swedish.

Friscia resurrects his classic Green Goddess salad that was a longstanding hit during his kitchen years at Stingaree, a Downtown nightclub that shuttered before he joined the RMD Group. The tarragon-based dressing is made from scratch, providing a sea foam-green blanket to lettuce, chopped eggs and sliced mushrooms — just like hip moms of the ’60s used to make the salad to impress company. What a treat.

We started also with carnitas bao bao sliders offering a blissful mélange of flavors and textures from Japanese pickles and crushed peanuts tucked inside puffy steamed buns. The shredded pork was teasingly sweet from red sugar, making them fierce rivals to authentic Asian buns.

We proceeded to mac ‘n cheese, which was acceptably creamy and elevated by smoky applewood bacon, a huntsman-style recipe with a Spanish kiss from manchego cheese. Rustic Root Restaurant-Bison-pork meatballs

While deciding on entrees, we imbibed on a couple of “timeless cocktails” from a list that names them only by the years they were invented. Their ingredients and one-line clues are stated below, leaving customers to either guess or defer to the staff for their actual names.

The 1895, for example, is a classic Presbyterian combining whiskey, ginger beer, bitters and lemon juice. The 1980, made with vodka, orange liqueur, blueberry syrup and lemon juice, is easier to figure out if you attended parties televising “Sex in the City” while sipping on none other than cosmopolitans.

We chose the 1902, which translates to a daiquiri as they were made before Ernest Hemingway brought fame to the drink with his preferred addition of pineapple juice. Using only white rum, lime juice and simple syrup, it was refreshing and no less boring.

Before eating here, the Gaslamp district was the last place I ever considered for finding good fried chicken. Friscia’s version now ranks at the top of my list.

Rustic Root Restaurant-Double-cut pork chop

Served with tender butter beans and ginger-spiked sweet potato puree, he brines the boneless chicken parts overnight before dredging them in buttermilk and flour. But rather than feed them to the fryers at that point, they rest another day on racks, which results in a firmer, crispier batter.

My companion’s double-cut Duroc pork chop was equally impressive. The designer knife he chose from a wooden box presented by our highly likeable waitress glided effortlessly through the chop’s shocking girth. Hickory-smoked sea salt and reduced balsamic made it all the more flavorful. Served with fried Brussels sprouts and so-so fingerling potatoes, the reigning sidekick was rhubarb chutney spiked with star anise. Think Christmas in July.

Amid several other entrée choices such as elk chops in Mexican mole, halibut encrusted in Japanese spices (furikake), and a burger comprising ground short ribs and brisket, there is hope for vegetarians in butternut squash ravioli. They’re dressed in browned butter, sage and walnuts.

Fabulously rich Grand Marnier cheesecake and butterscotch-mousse cream puffs capped off our meal. Although if you’d rather finish with lasting warmth in your belly, an aged scotch by Glenmorangie, Macallan or Highland Park will surely exemplify this playfully rustic dinner experience.

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Designing a Moneymaker

Written by David Klemt

Image source:

RMD Group has designed some incredibly successful venues. The most notable amongst their projects is likely FLUXX, located in San Diego. Unlike traditional design firms, partners and past Nightclub & Bar Show speakers Dan and Dave Ranzella and Mike Georgopoulos approach projects from the perspective of operators, a key element to their success. As many operators know, working with a designer who has never actually owned or managed a bar, nightclub or restaurant can be frustrating. As operators themselves, RMD Group knows what to focus on throughout the entire build and what works.

When designing a space, Dan, Dave and Mike put their emphasis on optimizing the customer experience while keeping the design and build-out within budget. RMD Group’s main design considerations are maximizing space and creating the desired flow, maximizing efficiency in operations, guest and staff safety, durability of materials selected and obtaining the client’s desired look and feel. In terms of finances – a major area of focus for RMD – the group cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your costs at all points of the build and understanding that limited funding will dictate design choices. These choices encompass the layout, lighting and sound, build materials and flooring.


Unlike some other designers, RMD’s first concern is operational infrastructure. The location of bars, bar storage areas, the kitchen, service stations and restrooms are the first order of business. Next up is maximizing the efficiency of bottle service should a venue offer it. Ever the innovators, RMD has developed multi-tiered VIP tables. Storage is built into multiple levels with pullout drawers for backup supplies. Reducing the number of steps it takes for a server to attend to their tables properly means more time with your VIP guests.

“The more items that you can keep at that bottle service table, the less trips back and forth to the kitchen or storage area by your bottle service waitress or your server assistant, spending more time at the table actually mixing drinks for clients and upselling,” says Dave Ranzella.

Another RMD Group innovation is custom-built VIP seating, which has become fairly standard now within the industry. These booths are designed with built-in storage for removable cushions. When your guests are ready to stand or dance on your booths the cushions can be removed and stored for a safer, more stable platform. Additionally, removing the cushions means they won’t be damaged by high heels. These booths are also multi-level which means the number of people who can be seated at your tables is effectively doubled.

The design group also employs a concept they refer to as Shrinking the Field. Through the use of curtains, Spandex and other room dividers, bars and entire sections within a venue can be closed off on slower nights or shifts.  Furniture can also be used to give an empty space a busier feel, and it can be removed as the venue becomes busier.

Lighting & Sound

As any operator and bar manager knows, sound and lighting design is crucial to the success of any nightclub or bar. Lighting and sound add ambiance, inspire a mood, shape a room and energize your guests. Choosing your lighting and sound designers can be just as important as selecting an architect and interior designer.

When considering your options, you need to understand who you intend to have controlling the audio inside your venue. Will your patrons have access to such controls or will you keep that out of their hands? Also, how prominent do you intend the sound and lighting to be inside your space? Will your music be front and center and in your face like that of a dance club or live music venue or will it be in the background like a bar or lounge?

While it may be tempting to buy the biggest and best when it comes to speakers and the rest of the sound system, realize that your space will dictate the size and number of speakers and your audio will only be good as the quality of the formats being used by your DJs. Speaking of which, DJ booth placement is another important factor to consider. You can either choose to install the booth in a permanent location or utilize a mobile DJ platform. Again, your music choice will help you make this decision. For example, venues playing EDM should have the DJ booth very near the crowd while open format venues should place it further away. Don’t forget about lighting controllers, either. A system like Lutron will save you money in the long run and it’s important to remember that your lighting is only as good as the one programming and controlling it.


There are a lot of options out there flooring, all with their pros and cons. For instance, concrete is your most cost effective option as the only actual cost is the finish. However, it’s horrible for acoustics. Linoleum is also cost effective and durable but can look cheap. Carpet, unlike concrete, is great for acoustics, is widely available and therefore comes with a short lead time and allows for colors and patterns to run throughout the entire space. Unfortunately, carpet also stains easily and absorbs odors and liquids. Other options are stone, wood and engineered wood. On the plus side, every one of those options looks fantastic in just about any venue, regardless of the theme. However, stone and wood are expensive. Engineered wood is less costly than the other two options but when damaged cannot easily be repaired.


Upholstery is one of the final – but more fun – of the design element considerations. The main materials you’ll be considering are vinyl, leather and fabric. As any bar owner knows, vinyl offers plenty of options in terms of colors, is readily available and therefore enjoys a short lead time, doesn’t stain or absorb liquids and odors easily, is ideal for outdoors and is inexpensive. Of course, vinyl also looks inexpensive and that can affect the perception of your venue and your brand.

Leather is, of course, more expensive but offers a rich appearance and feel. However, the issue with leather is that is not the best choice for outdoor areas. Also, it can tear and crack over time. The option with the biggest swings in terms of pricing is fabric. The colors, patterns and textures available give you a lot of freedom in terms of design. Also, soft fabrics are inviting and comfortable for your guests. Fabrics can be very expensive and will stain and absorb liquids and odors.

Learn more about designing a venue and maximizing the customer experience at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show!

Fluxx Team Opening New Roof Top Restaurant in the Gaslamp


Rustic Root under construction

Rustic Root: Opening May 8th

Antonio Friscia, Chef/Partner at Don Chido opens Rustic Root – offering locally sourced ingredients farm to restaurant.

Type of food?

Rustic Root will showcase a dynamic menu of Rustic American Cuisine with a spotlight on locally sourced meats, produce, seafood, and house-made ingredients.

Located on 535 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 – Reservations call (619) 232-1747


Find the best things to do in San Diego this weekend.

rusticroot-rRustic Root
As one of the Gaslamp Quarter’s most highly anticipated restaurant openings, Rustic Root offers classic American dishes with modern twists, as well as an expansive craft cocktail menu. Menu highlights include carnitas “bao bao” sliders, firecracker shrimp, Furikake crusted hamachi, and lobster pappardelle. 535 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter, 619.232.1747.

Big new show ‘CabaRAE’ to open at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

A 10,000-square-foot space at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is undergoing renovation that will turn it into a 400-seat theater and nightclub that will play host to CabaRAE, a variety show directed by Alan Goldberg, a former Cirque du Soleil director.

The $5 million project will be nothing like Hawaii has seen before, Goldberg told PBN this week as he stood outside the space on the ground floor of the Tapa Tower. It will feature performers from around the world, including acrobats and other RAE’s, or “random acts of entertainment.”

The two-hour show, which is scheduled to make its debut in August, will feature music, comedy, magic and a Liza Minelli impersonation by performers from Las Vegas, Berlin, Australia, London and Paris.

Goldberg, his wife, Wanda Azzario-Goldberg, and Dave Renzella of RMD Group of San Diego are financing the project. They began negotiating with Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii, about a year ago to lease the space, which has sat empty for several years.


Mexican Cuisine at Don Chido

baja-inspired mexican cuisine

DonChido1-copyRMD Group, Ken Lovi, and Chef/Parter Antonio Friscia join forces to bring you Don Chido, an authentic, stylish Mexican eatery in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The menu showcases regionally influenced, handcrafted Mexican cuisine that features locally sourced and quality fresh ingredients. An authentic Santa Maria grill is designed to cook mouth-watering, wood-fired meats and other dishes. To further tease the palette, they offer a rustic selection of local wines from Mexico and Spain along with a progressive variety of infused tequilas and regional mezcals. Don Chido combines a classic, home-style Mexican cuisine with a stylishly diverse and electric atmosphere that delivers a distinctive lunch, dinner, and late-night dining experience!

Don Chido will serve lunch and dinner daily from 11am to close in the restaurant and patio, and a late-night menu in the lounge. Reservations are currently available for opening night. Don Chido is located at 527 5th Avenue. Connect with Don Chido on Facebook at, and follow Don Chido on Twiter @DonChidoSD and Instagram @DonChidoSD.

Original Article

Food & Drink Blotter — April 2014

An authentic Santa Maria Argentine Grill will fuel the kitchen at Don Chido, a new Gaslamp restaurant specializing in home-style Mexican cuisine that’s expected to open by early May. Backing the venture is RMD Group, the operators of Fluxx and Sidebar nightclubs, along with Ken Lovi of the Knotty Barrel Gastropub and chef-partner Antonio Friscia. The team has begun fully renovating the 4,000-square-foot space that previously housed Fred’s Mexican Café. The bill of fare will include fire-grilled steaks, smoked shrimp and achiote-marinated pork tacos made with fresh corn tortillas, all served amid star chandeliers and an art wall made entirely of Mexican blankets. Inventive cocktails and wines from Mexico and Spain will also be available. 527 Fifth Ave.;


CHEF SWAP: Antonio Friscia to open Don Chido

Herringbone nabs Jordan Davis; Antonio Friscia to open Don Chido; Nicolas Bour to Loews

Fish Public’s executive chef Jordan Davis has been lured away to…Herringbone La Jolla. Davis is a talent who worked at L.A.’s famed tip-to-tail spot Animal as well as the James Beard winner Boulevard (San Francisco) before joining Tracy Borkum’s restaurant group. It’s a good hire for exec chef Brian Malarkey, who parted ways with his original chef Amanda Baumgarten last year (Baumgarten’s now cooking well at Waypoint Public).

In January, restaurant and nightclub giant Hakkasan Ltd. bought a controlling stake in Enlightened Hospitality Group, which includes restaurants Searsucker and Herringbone, plus Downtown nightclub Stingaree. Now, Stingaree chef Antonio Friscia has signed on with RMD Group (Fluxx, Side Bar) and Ken Lovi (Knotty Barrel) to be chef-partner of their new project up the street at the former Fred’s Mexican Café and Marble Room. The first phase of the project will be called Don Chido, a “sophisticated cantina-style Mexican food” joint slated for a tentative May open. “Chefs aren’t really known for Mexican food,” says Friscia, “but we cook it for our staffs and eat it all the time.” They’re going to have carne asada cooked on a Santa Maria-style grill over wood or charcoal. A taco bar will serve the late-night crowd with housemade tortillas. And Friscia says he’ll use local, sustainable ingredients as much as possible. The bar will also have a huge tequila list and craft cocktails. The designer on the project is Davis Ink Ltd., who handled Stingaree and Side Bar. Friscia’s regarded as one of the more talented chefs and quality human beings in San Diego, and “his day” always seems just around the corner. Let’s hope this is it. His own project, Gaijin Noodle + Sake House, shuttered last year, of which he says: “The issue there really was everyone came there to eat and they didn’t drink. I’d sell a ton of food and no alcohol. You’ve got to sell alcohol to survive as a restaurant. It was a heartbreaker. I put my heart and soul in that place.”

Rancho Bernardo Inn spared no cost renovating their signature dining room, turning the classic El Bizcocho into the modern Avant. They hired Charlie Trotter alum James Kozak as the chef de cuisine, working under executive chef Nicolas Bour. But Kozak ended up leaving a few months after the opening, and now Bour been hired away to become the executive chef of Loews Coronado. Looks like Loews will be doing a major revamp in the near future with Bour as the lead dog.

We’re also hearing that Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge chef JC Colón has left the building. For now, Tim Kolanko—exec chef for parent company Blue Bridge Hospitality—will step in and take over the line. Kolanko can cook, even if he’s got bigger concerns (including Blue Bridge’s forthcoming Coronado steakhouse, Stake).

Original Article



RMD Group to open Mexican restaurant

Don Chido will take over the old Fred’s Mexican Cafe space this May

DonChido1-copyWhat happens when you combine nightlife entertainment pros with a top chef and a dining/hospitality expert?

Something magical, and in San Diego, that magic comes in the form of Gaslamp Mexican eatery.

This May, get ready for Don Chido, a spirited Mexican restaurant taking over the old Fred’s Mexican Café space by RMD Group (FLUXX, Side Bar, F6ix), Ken Lovi (founder and CEO of The Knotty Barrel) and renowned Chef Antonio Friscia (Gaijin Noodle + Sake House, Campine, etc).

This first step into San Diego’s culinary scene for the RMD Group will take on handcrafted Mexican cuisine in an inviting, 4,000 square-foot space. Menu highlights include smoked shrimp cockteles (Mexican shrimp, cucumber, diced tomatillo, white onion, jugo de tomate, lime and cilantro); tacos al pastor (fire roasted pineapple and achiote marinated pork shoulder), enchiladas de mole (housemade corn tortillas, chicken mole, soffritto rice, garnished with cotija cheese, lime, shredded lettuce, radish and crema) and the Don Chido Especiale (wood fire grilled ribeye steak with ancho chili garlic butter, chipotle lime wild Mexican shrimp, charred housemade chorizo, frijoles refritos, avocado, chile rejeno, house-made corn tortillas, charred globe onions and garnished with red guajillo sauce.) Wines and cocktails reflective of Mexico and Spain will be on deck.

Don’t expect a FLUXX-lookalike here. Design details will feature an art wall made of Mexican blankets, star chandeliers and custom maraca wall sconces. Find housemade tortillas at the center Taqueria stand, which plans on staying open late for those on the nighttime taco prowl.

Lunch and dinner will be served daily, 11 a.m. to close in the restaurant and on the patio. A late-night menu will be offered in the lounge.

Don Chido will be located at 527 5th Ave., downtown.

Original Article

Spring Madness

Gaslamp and East Village eateries giving their all to Padres fans

Alex Owens | Downtown News

The San Diego Padres aren’t the only Downtown residents who use Spring Training to get ready for the baseball season.