Dining on Design

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in late October, and I am awaiting my interview with noted restaurateur Pat Kuleto when I receive a frantic phone call from his publicist informing me that he is at the hospital waiting for his son’s surgeon to provide an update. I immediately assume the reason for the call is to reschedule, but, no, he just wants to push our conversation back a little while. When I do speak with Pat, within an hour from our originally scheduled time, he is as calm as if we are meeting in his office, a notable characteristic for a man whose creative background would lead one to believe that he is full of emotion.

Turns out his son had a mishap on an ATV at Kuleto Estate, a 761-acre ranch on the eastern edge of Napa Valley, resulting in the aforementioned surgery on his foot. Said mishap took place just moments before the winery was set to host a private event with a guest list that totaled 300, but Pat took it all in stride.

He has earned the right to relax. Over the course of his career, he has designed more than 190 restaurant interiors, starting with San Francisco’s established favorite Fog City Diner, which he completed in 1985. He is adamant about never doing the same concept twice. “To me, every project has its own story to tell, and there is every possible different situation happening in restaurants,” something he is aware of thanks to his experience in the service industry. He began his restaurant career as a busboy, waiter, and cook, and therefore possesses an understanding of how a restaurant needs to work from a server’s perspective, something that many restaurant designers lack. He also has a passion for innovation, five-star cuisine, and fine wine, and thus combines them all in each of his establishments, where he pairs with top chefs who can execute his visions.

His current portfolio includes Kuleto Estates (which had a record season in 2009, harvesting an unheard of 190-plus tons of grapes), Boulevard, Farallon, Jardiniere, Martini House, Waterbar, EPIC Roasthouse, and Nick’s Cove & Cottages. It is only upon mention of this last property that Kuleto’s animated personality begins to shine. Nick’s Cove is more than a restaurant; it is an entire hospitality project on Tomales Bay that was restored by Kuleto and opened in 2007 after an arduous eight-year renovation. “Nick’s is a classic place,” he says. “It is an 80-year-old fishing village that I bought 10 years ago. I restored the cottages and restaurant. There is a 400-foot-long pier, and I put in some boat slips, which is natural, since it has always been a little fishing port.”