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Restaurant revival

Even in the context of the ever-changing restaurant business, La Jolla is currently going through some wild times.

New restaurants have brought increased competition and world-class chefs, while established heavyweights are undergoing major changes in an effort to remain at the top. While change seems to be sweeping across La Jolla’s dining scene all at once, the proprietors of some of La Jolla’s most successful restaurants say the ongoing evolution of our local restaurants is simply part of the business.

George’s at the Cove, which since it opened in 1984 has been one of the most successful restaurants in La Jolla and all of San Diego, is no more. In its place stands George’s California Modern, the result of a $2.5 million renovation project that completely changed the restaurant’s look and updated its menu, as well. California Modern opened this week as its owner, George Hauer, said the fact that George’s at the Cove continued to experience success was no reason to avoid changing things up.

“Our contemporaries think we’re crazy to take a successful restaurant and, in essence, implode it to make way for a new concept,” Hauer said. “But our goal is to be in the forefront for the next 20 years, and that requires we take a risk.”

At least one of Hauer’s contemporaries is in complete agreement. Bill Berkeley opened Jack’s La Jolla, with its three separate but incorporated kitchens, on Girard Avenue last year. The restaurant has enjoyed initial success, but Berkeley dismissed suggestions that his restaurant’s presence on the scene forced Hauer’s hand.

“I think it was just time for him to do it,” Berkeley said, “and I think it looks fantastic. George just renewed his lease, and every 20 years or so you want to do a major facelift.”

Jack’s La Jolla is anchored by chef Tony Di Salvo, who Berkeley lured to La Jolla from New York’s Jean-Georges restaurant by making him a partner in the restaurant. At George’s California Modern, chef Trey Foshee is also a partner and will be changing up the restaurant’s menu to match its modernized look.

“The menu will have the flexibility to change as often as necessary,” Foshee said. “We will be fearless with offerings.”

Dean Loring is the proprietor of Cody’s, which has enjoyed 10 years of success in La Jolla. He also saw the George’s overhaul as part of a restaurant business where present-day success guarantees nothing for the future.

“Established restaurants need to change their identity and their decor,” Loring said. “It’s just a necessity of the business world, to stay fresh and avoid becoming tired and staid.”

Top of the Cove, a restaurant that has been a fixture on Prospect St. for decades, is also undergoing a major renovation after being purchased by the owners of the downtown restaurant and nightclub Stingaree. Sky Room, the famously intimate restaurant at the top of the Hotel Valencia tower, will open soon after undergoing a change in its look and dining offerings. Clay’s, on the top floor of Hotel La Jolla, recently reopened after a major overhaul.

In addition to the old favorites that are embracing new beginnings, brand new restaurants are bringing new touches to La Jolla’s dining scene. Jack’s instantly became one of La Jolla’s most popular restaurants. Cendio recently opened on Prospect St. boasting Latin American and Carribbean flavors tailored to meet California tastes, and Loring will soon open the Burger Lounge at the corner of Wall Street and Herschel Avenue in the Village.

“The impetus for that is to offer an alternative to the full-service fine-dining restaurants and provide the public with a venue that provides all-natural, high-quality products in an intimate environment.”

Loring’s Burger Lounge will feature all-natural beef served on home-made buns with home-made fries and shakes.

“It’s something that’s not available in La Jolla right now,” he said.

Loring said La Jolla has always been a highly competitive area with lots of restaurant turnover because of the unique demographic of diners in the area.

“It’s a unique environment in that it has a higher concentration of tourists,” he said. “So you have to be able to take care of them and still be a place that locals want to frequent, which means providing consistently high-quality food and service. You can’t just bank on your location or your view, or things like that. The world is littered with restaurants that had a great view but failed.”

Berkeley said he was proud to be a part of a dining scene in La Jolla that features incredible depth in terms of the quality of its restaurants.

“You could just go on and on naming all the great restaurants in La Jolla,” he said.