New restaurants in Richmond ran the design gamut in the past year, from the understated but tactile surfaces at Café Rustica to the polished Moshi Moshi and Carytown Sushi with their mod-Asian interiors. The warm personality of Karsen's, the colorful intimacy of Si, the urban knowingness of LuLu's: All raised the level of visual attitude.

Other favorites include Verbena, where view-obscuring stained glass and a gargantuan schefflera tree were banished, and a handsome uptown aesthetic breezed in within a record three-week transformation; The Halligan Bar & Grill, which revived the once-gorgeous Kitchen Table from its flood-ravaged self into a firehouse theme park for adults. Every detail is so thoroughly conceived by Henrico County firefighter Shawn Gregory that even the wait-staff are draped in dangling red suspenders.

Showiest of all is the day-to-night stunner deLux, orchestrated by Helen Reed and her team at H.L. Reed Design, to the exacting specifications of well-traveled restaurateur-partners Jared Golden and Michelle Williams. The place has the scale and wow factor to keep its clientele energized and reminds us that Richmond wears lots of different costumes.

Beauty can be good for business. "In the last 10 years probably, restaurant owners are starting to see that their clientele are asking for a different level of detail and design," Reed says. "People have traveled and seen other places, and owners are conscious of how the design does affect business, how the comfort and design of the space influences clients to come back." Her firm's local projects, besides deLux, include a spectrum of tastes, from the colorful Carena's Jamaican Grille, where Happy the Artist has left his mark; Sette, with its warm industrial sheen; Dd33 Asian Bistro, whose red-and-gold detailing is sexy and dramatic; and a list of others: Ipanema Grill, Hondo's, Bookbinder's Grill, Bottega Bistro and the upcoming Gibson's at the National Theater.

For many customers, dining out is theater, and the staging and presentation are nearly as important as the food itself. But our critics remind owners that dazzle is best when the fare matches the visual setup and that good service matters even more than great décor. S

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