Out of the hundreds of new places that open here every year, there's always a crop of five or six that stand out. This year, the East Bay was lucky to welcome places like Pizzaiolo, Caribbean Cove, and Pappo, as well as the Temescal Lanesplitter Pizza, where more than a few Express writers get sloshed. But to our minds, some of the region's most exciting food comes from Anthony Paone's kitchen at Sea Salt. It's a bit of a miracle, too. Not only did Paone design a sophisticated small-plates, sustainable-seafood menu in six weeks -- the entire restaurant was started on a whim of owner Haig Krikorian's -- but at the time the chef was already working on opening T-Rex, the Lalime-Krikorians' high-tech BBQ joint. Casually beautiful, Sea Salt is the kind of place where you want to linger. Dishes like Manila clams steamed with cilantro, jalapeño, and cardamom and seared steelhead accompanied by pea greens, horseradish creme, and steelhead roe capture the imagination -- and the kitchen pulls them off. We won't begin to declaim the majesty of the lobster roll, mostly lobster, butter, and bread. Damn.