THE kitchens of Kowloon are heating up. The Regent just updated The Plume and created a seafood restaurant, Yu, that lures diners with mermaids and fish tanks with computerised bubbles. An addition to the Harbourside coffee-shop are ovens that produce the kind of breads and pizzas that echo Naples, New York and California. Any glimpse of the Kowloon skyline and it's impossible to ignore the towering skeleton of the Peninsula's addition. Next spring, the wizardry of French designer Philippe Starck will be unveiled. And the restaurants - no one at the Pen is divulging details - will be a force to be reckoned with, local chefs agree. Even Chesa, the Pen's haven of Swiss cuisine and ambience, is undergoing a facelift. Hardly sitting still is the Kowloon Shangri-La. When their latest creation, Napa, the 80-seat California style restaurant, debuts on Monday, they will charge into the competitive ring with their gloves on and homework done. They've imported American chef David Monson, an alumnus of the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck, a California cuisine deity, and Patrick Glennon. Designers and artists were hired to create logos and menu covers, snappy ties and monogrammed shirts. The jazzy wristwatches won't be found on Temple Street. Each piece of glassware from Switzerland carries a three digit price tag. When you turn over the painted dinner plate, the artist's signature is easy to read. When the hotel asked for volunteers among the staff to be waiters, the management was swamped with raised-hands. Napa will feature live music. And when the musicians go on break, recordings from the archives of American blues and jazz will combine vintage with contemporary. ''It has always been my dream to open something like this,'' said Ingo Schweder. The executive assistant manager, food and beverage with French/ German roots who worked for many years in California and New York. When he talks about the details and dishes of his favourite restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Schweder sounds more like a silent partner than a regular customer. California's laid-back lifestyle and informal approach to food is what convertedhim. ''I used to love the haute cuisine type places in New York and Europe, places similar to Gaddi's. But no longer. I'm more American in my taste than French.'' When he pooled ideas with executive chef Peter Schoch, also a veteran of American kitchens, the seeds for Napa were sewn several years ago. The 80-seat restaurant will reign over the 21st floor. The spectacular harbour view will match the menu (salads, pizza, pastas, grilled seafood and meats) and wine list, the latter features benchmarks in the trade such as Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi, Jordan and Far Niente. At a recent staff food tasting a dozen employees were set free with forks and spoons to taste a dozen dishes. Monson stood in the background, watching the flying silverware. ''Any comments? What do you guys think?'' he asked. But his pleas fell on deaf ears. The grilled calamari on cous-cous was a serious contender to the roasted tomato soup with poblano peppers. But the ricotta and leek ravioli with smoked chicken disappeared faster than the three cheese calzone. The hands-down favourite happened to be the most expensive starter, a lobster enchilada with arrugula, prosciutto and pine nuts ($98). Monson, newly arrived in Hong Kong, shook his head. ''What do you expect,'' laughed Napa manager Joe Choi. ''We're Cantonese.''