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Stephen Starr's newest restaurant, Pod, located at 36th and Sansom streets, opened last night. Pod's eclectic menu mixes a unique sushi conveyer belt and creative oriental dishes. (Andrew Margolies/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

The spaceship-like pods in Stephen Starr's trendy new restaurant were lit in all their fluorescent glory last night, as the highly anticipated restaurant opened its doors for the first time. Pod's interactive, neon-lit cubicles and bar dazzled the eyes as much as the high-concept -- and high-priced -- Asian fusion menu. Some 19 strategically placed cameras flashed pulsating, MTV-like images on flat-screen monitors throughout the restaurant. They captured everything from the chattering customers to the sushi being slickly shipped along an elliptical conveyer belt. And a large waitstaff clad in Fembot-esque grey tunics ushered in a quasi-celebrity guest list of "friends of Stephen," University officials and suburbanites. In fact, the only thing missing at the Sansom Street premier of the Penn campus' new restaurant were droves of ordinary Penn students. Pod's opening night crowd skewed older and trendy -- drawing large numbers of turtleneck-and-jacket, Rittenhouse Square yuppies as well as groups of fiftysomething Center City professionals. Hovering around the neon yellow bar, they ordered $30 exotic sakes and wines while taking in the whitewashed $3.3 million surroundings. Besides the dozens of podlike units that orbit the 187-seat restaurant's perimeter, customers lounged on a fire-engine red, couchlike sculpture. "It's kind of futuristic looking, said Carmela DiMaria, a management consultant from Center City who came in for the restaurant opening. "The more I look at it, the more [Pod] looks like a spaceship." Dining for the first time in the upscale restaurant he wooed to campus, Executive Vice President John Fry said Starr's new eatery would draw more people like DiMaria to University City -- instead of having them head to Center City and the suburbs. Pod is the latest in a series of University-led initiatives that have brought high-end boutiques and restaurants to Sansom Common and Walnut Street. Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas complex is scheduled to open on 40th Street this winter. "We want to bring this to Philadelphia and say, OHey, [Penn] is not just a bunch of academic institutions in University City,'" Fry explained. "It has some great retail and restaurants. We're accessible to everyone." But Starr said he didn't know if all students could afford Pod's menu -- although he said he tried to create a more youthful atmosphere with some reasonably priced offerings for the campus location. "[Penn] came to me for pizazz and punch to get people from the suburbs," he said. The highly successful restaurateur owns several of Philadelphia's top restaurants -- including Buddakan, Tangerine and the Continental. Starr's creations not only attract a high-profile clientele but have often revitalized retail in the surrounding area. Customers gave the food rave reviews for opening night but felt the price range catered more to Penn faculty and staff than to students; a full-course meal costs more than $30, without a bottle of wine. And of the 20 or so Penn students who showed up for Pod's first night, most said they doubted their classmates would be regular customers -- or even if the restaurant fit into college student budgets. "Some of the prices are expensive," College senior Kane Anderson said. "It's not Smokey Joe's -- you don't come here four times a week," added first year Wharton MBA student Ben Katz, who thought most students would still try Pod for dates and special occasions.

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