Proposed overhaul of Restaurant Row’s Chart House wins approval

Looking north at the outside area of The Chart House on Restaurant Row in Cardiff.
(Don Kohlbauer/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A proposal to transform Restaurant Row’s aging Chart House restaurant into a high-end Mastro’s Ocean Club won permit approval from the Encinitas Planning Commission Thursday, Feb. 4.

It was the second time the proposal had gone before the commission and this time around its reception was much more upbeat. A year ago when the item first went up for public hearing,the commissioners postponed their decision and directed the project’s backers to rework their plans, noting that the iconic, 1950s beachfront building is in a highly visible spot along Coast Highway 101 and thus deserves extra special attention.

Among other things, the commissioners said at the time that they were keenly interested in preserving the existing building’s unusual pyramid-shaped exterior and the initial renovation plans didn’t do that. They also asked for changes to the landscape plans, the elimination of a stucco wall and a reduction in the proposed alcohol service hours.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, commissioners said most of what they previously sought now was incorporated in the plans. Instead of a stucco wall, there’s a mock stone wall. Equipment screening panels that would have changed the shape of the building’s roofline have been eliminated and the landscaping now is proposed to contain native plants.

Commissioner Brett Farrow, an architect who lives in Cardiff near the Restaurant Row area, said the changes were definitely an improvement, but said he wasn’t really all that fond of the replacement surface for what was previously planned as a stucco wall, calling the new surfacing “lick and stick” stone. He’d rather they used real beach cobbles, he said.

“I’m not telling you to do it --- it’s just a suggestion,” he quickly added.

Commission Chairman Bruce Ehlers said he, too, didn’t like the thin, fake rock surface, but said that at least it was better than stucco and he wasn’t going to “dictate what kind of stone” they should use.

The commissioners did make one change, however, as they unanimously approved permits for the project Thursday night, Feb. 4. They reduced the proposed alcohol service hours, declaring that alcohol service on an outdoor patio area must end at 10 p.m. each night in order to match what’s being required of other new restaurant operations along Coast Highway. And, they said, indoor service of alcohol must end at midnight and indoor live music must stop a half hour before that.

Monica R. Briseno, the representative for the project’s developers, had asked the commissioners for some flexibility, saying the new Mastro’s Ocean Club shouldn’t have the same hours as the neighboring Pacific Coast Grill because it’s a different type of operation. The new Mastro’s Ocean Club will have a tiny outdoor patio area --- 265 square feet --- compared to Pacific Coast Grill, which has 1,806 square feet, Briseno said as she asked for longer outdoor patio drinking hours.

Briseno sought an extra half hour on Mondays through Thursdays, and an hour and a half on Fridays and Saturdays.

When it came to indoor operations, Briseno noted that Mastro’s Ocean Club will not allow dancing and will only have up to three musicians at a time performing strictly dinner music, so it isn’t likely to become a rowdy place.

The company operates a string of upscale, steak and seafood restaurants around the country. Diners are required to observe a dress code, and beachwear and athletic attire are not allowed, a company web site states. Nearby Mastro’s Ocean Club locations include Malibu and Beverly Hills

Commissioners said they didn’t want the new club location to become the “last call” spot in town and said they worried that later alcohol service hours could cause noise problems for Cardiff area residents.

“Kraken (a nearby bar and restaurant) has had noise problems and they’re not too far away,” Ehlers said.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union Tribune