Best Restaurants

2012 Best Restaurants: Tastemakers

Here's to four bright lights of this year's dining scenes


Jim Smart/The Designer

Stewart Woodman had an idea to have a New York graffiti artist paint one of the dining room walls in his new fine-dining restaurant. At some point, while driving to his cabin, he was gripped with doubt and questioned whether it was the smartest move. His designer never hesitated. He answered the chef’s waver with resolution: “If you want to make a statement, make it. Don’t water it down. Go with your gut.” If you’ve been to Heidi’s 2.0, you know what a commanding presence that wall has.

“These days, with food television and great recipes available online, people can eat great meals at home, so I think it’s important to put together an atmosphere that caters to the customers you want coming in to your restaurant,” says designer Jim Smart. “It should be a place to enjoy not only for the food, but your companions, the conversations, etc. If the walls are painted cream and there are beige drapery and lamps around, you might as well be home.”

Working with creative people who normally call all the shots is Jim Smart’s gift. He is like the babel-fish who can translate a chef’s world into the right design for him or her. This is important, because just as not every chef uses foie gras, not every restaurant should use the same pendant light. Smart’s work on moto-i is nothing like his work at Franklin Street Bakery, and thank goodness for that, because one trades in sake and the other in scones. In places built strictly for an experience, as restaurants are, Smart has a balanced vision from both the eater’s and the chef’s point of view.

Smart’s next two restaurant projects include the coming downtown spot Mona from chef Lisa Hanson, which promises dark Old World charm with edgy modern touches, and the light, healthy, and easy-eating Birdhouse project with the Woodmans, which, we’re sure, will be entirely different.