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Best Design: A Sense of Place 

Osaka Sushi & Steak sets a mood.

Richmond restaurants tend toward predictable decor: brick walls, exposed pipes and/or tin ceilings, local art, and the usual booths and four-tops opposite long, backlit bars. And sometimes, pretty hideous bathrooms.

We've watched owners pull in designers but skimp on their budgets. And sometimes intentional anti-decor really works: Mamma 'Zu is a popular example.

Occasionally, a new restaurant unveils a beautiful interior that's unlike anything else in town, such as Osaka Sushi & Steak in the River Road II shopping center.

Co-owners Chris Tsui and Hai Truong opened their first restaurant in Short Pump in 2003. By the time they opened their second place last May, it was Truong's turn to decorate. The Vietnamese sushi chef pored over books in Virginia Commonwealth University's interior design library and borrowed every idea he thought might work. Take the scaled-down cherry bar from Las Vegas and colors that would "look contemporary but classic," Truong says, "that wouldn't go out of style next week."

He created a stone waterfall to accentuate the sushi bar and gold pendants to light the banquette. Cherry wood chairs, wall trim, tables and shelves are warm and modern, and blue pearl granite countertops mimic the look of fish scales, setting off the restaurant's artful sushi and sashimi creations.

The 89-seat interior continues to evolve as Truong has plans to add metallic wallpaper in the hallway and a large wall-mounted sculpture of a Zen rock garden. "We want people to feel very relaxed here," Truong says, "not to have that rushed feeling." Particularly when they're in the immaculate tile restrooms surrounded by art and flowers. S

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