Lobster Crypt

Sometimes fresh seafood just isn't enough to keep a restaurant afloat, even when the main course is dressed like a cowboy and the joint's interior looks as if it were pilfered from a Sesame Street set. At least that's what Phil Romano (Macaroni Grill, Eatzi's, Fuddruckers, Cozymel's) may think about Lobster Ranch. After barely five months in business, Romano skewered the fledgling crustacean homestead in Preston Center on Monday. "It wasn't doing the sales that we wanted it to do, and I didn't think it had wheels on it," says Romano, who linked with real estate investor Luke Crosland to develop the New England seafood concept. "Man, I'm 63 years old. I got 40 years left of my life. If I got a project that I don't think meets the criteria to move along and expand, then I'm gonna zip it up." He adds that he has no plans to revive the ranch or craft another concept in the space. Romano gave this same zipper treatment to We Oui, his French restaurant in the Crescent that lasted just six months. Hope he isn't getting anything vital caught.

Romano isn't the only one bolting doors. Jeffrey Yarbrough shuttered his Liberty noodles restaurant on Lower Greenville Avenue this weekend just a week after he opened a new Liberty at the Pavilion shopping center on Lovers Lane near Inwood. Officially, Yarbrough says the move was a simple relocation. "It's the evolution of Liberty," he insists. "We knew it needed a bar and private dining." Yet he hints he hadn't originally planned to scuttle the place, and he has no definitive plans for his restaurant's carcass. "I'm talking to a couple of chefs about doing a very cool chef-driven concept there, and then I'm talking to someone about doing something casual there."...Steve Kelly, who assumed the executive chef post at Mi Piaci in the wake of departures by Todd Nelson and Joel Harloff, has left Phil and Janet Cobb's Tuscan restaurant...Rino Brigliadori, who founded Modo Mio (recently sold) in 1997 with his father (also named Rino), is poised to open another restaurant in a budding strip mall adjacent to Blue Mesa on the southeast corner of Highway 121 and the Dallas North Tollway. Rino's Ristorante, scheduled to open in January, will be a casual Italian restaurant serving moderately priced entrées topping out at around 15 bucks...Smith & Wollensky, the posh steak house founded in Manhattan in 1977, formally announced that it grabbed the cavernous Humperdink's Chophouse space (12,000 square feet on 2.3 acres of land) along the Tollway for some $3.75 million. Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, which generates some $70.6 million in annual (2001) sales via 15 restaurants around the country, plans to open its Dallas installation in the second quarter of next year. S&W's Manhattan unit is the largest-grossing à la carte restaurant in the nation.

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