You have to hand it to Illume Bistro for ever opening its doors.
The Little Italy eatery sits in the ground floor of the Allegro Towers high-rise on Beech Street. The space was originally designed to be a condominium unit -- not a commercial outlet. Creating a bar/restaurant in your house is what happens in an episode of “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy.” Not usually in real life.
But Illume is no cartoon. You can order spring onion soup, or something as complicated as paella, with baby octopus, mussels, Spanish chorizo, fregula, sofrito and English peas. Let’s see Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin whip that up in some animated episode of home cooking.
During a recent visit, I commented on how I’d read that celebrity chef Bradley Ogden had put together the menu for Illume. The friendly bartender, who let my companions sample about a half dozen wines before finding one they liked, nearly spun her head “Exorcist” style at this mention. She gave full credit for the menu to chef Matt Richman but admitted Ogden had been somewhat involved two years before the doors finally opened.
Proprietor David Brienza lives in a unit at Allegro Towers. Anywhere from one-third to half of the patrons live in the building -- a good place to call home on Tuesdays, when everything is 20 percent off. Illume is casual and local, and a great idea. In my perfect world, a great downtown condo comes with in-room washer/dryer, pool and gym, and a ground-floor room converted to a full bar that serves wild arugula salad and seared scallops.
Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.