In the Pool Room at the legendary Four Seasons in New York City, the centerpiece is the 11-foot-by-11-foot Carrara marble pool, original to the 1959 Mies Van Der Rohe and Phillip Johnson architecture. "It's the most ingenious way of using the sound of bubbles to sooth the jangled nerves," says co-owner Alex Von Bidder. "With its fiber-optic lighting, it glows beautifully at night. The little waves are duplicated by the soft rippling of our metal chain curtains. It's a mesmerizing effect."

In this era of celebrity chefs, food preparation itself is a major design vehicle. Open kitchens (with their requ­i­site wood-burning ovens and rotisseries and their battalions of scurrying white-coated cooks) send the intoxicating aromas of good cooking out across the dining room, a seductive message of warmth and hospitality. They bring energy and excitement into the room, and allow the chef to relate with customers: one eye on the stove, one on the dining room. The newest take on exhibition cooking is the Robata grill or Robatayaki bar, where diners select ingredients and watch chefs cook over open flames. Architect Jeffrey Beers, with almost 100 restaurants and lounges to his credit, put one in at Ono in the new Gansevoort Hotel in New York and one at the $4 million Japonais in Chicago.

To appeal to as many diners as possible, new restaurants now encompass a variety of spaces - with different roles and moods - under one roof. At Japonais, Beers cleverly carved up 10,000 square feet into six different "environments," including three dining rooms, a sushi bar, a lounge area with a water wall, a nightclub, and a riverfront dining patio. "You can return many times and never feel that you've seen the whole restaurant," he says.