Way back before Little Italy became San Diego's hottest dining neighborhood — rife with celebrity chefs and buzzy eateries — there was a much-talked-about restaurant in residence known for its progressive food and wine, driven by an ambitious chef. Opened in 2010, it was called Red Velvet Wine Bar and sat on the corner of Kettner and and Fir, where Underbelly lives now in the base of the Jonathan Segal-built "Q" Building.
Red Velvet offered a concise, creative and weekly-changing menu crafted by executive chef Luke Johnson, who previously cooked at the mega-respected Alinea in Chicago and Los Angeles' Melisse. His food impressed critics, garnering great marks up until the intimate, 24-seat restaurant closed, somewhat suddenly, just a year later.
After Red Velvet's too-early demise, Johnson landed at The Sky Room at La Valencia Hotel, where his fine dining plates continued to rack up accolades until it also shuttered in late 2012. Johnson then stepped away from the kitchen, and for the past few years has concentrated on being a stay-at-home dad.
But fans of his food will be glad to hear that he recently re-entered the industry, landing at The WineSellar & Brasserie. Remarking on the great culinary strides that San Diego has made in the interim, Johnson told Eater that he's looking forward to bringing his style of seasonal fine dining to the French-inspired restaurant, which has been in Sorrento Mesa for 29 years. Excited just to cook again, the chef plans to have the bulk of the menu refreshed by the end of July, saying that it will be modernized and more representative of the dishes he once put together at Red Velvet.