First and foremost I should say that I am not a working professional magician (though I intend to be one someday) so you should probably take everything I have to say with a grain of salt. Also, there are many far more experienced magicians on this thread, and so far I would recommend their advice over mine any day, so if any of these said magicians offer advice that is different or contradictory to mine, take it.
With that out of the way . . . it sounds to me like your goal in performing magic is what Paul Harris calls the Moment of Astonishment---a moment in which all the spectators' preconceived notions about how the world works break apart, the floor is pulled out from under them, and they are left floating in a sea of impossibility; no answers, no explanations, just pure astonishment.
I think this is probably one of the best mindsets to have in magic---it sure beats being in it for an ego boost from fooling other people. If you don't have Paul Harris's Art of Astonishment books, I'd highly, highly reccommend getting them (all three volumes). There's plenty more in those books about the Moment of Astonishment, as well as tons of tricks to help unleash it---a few of my favorites that spring to mind are Whiplash, Invisible Palm Aces, Juke, Solid Deception (if you want to make your ACR truly astonishing, try this) and the Anything Deck.
Also, I've had some really great reactions with mentalism effects. I think mentalism is extremely powerful because it's not about what's happening with the cards (or whatever props you may be using) but about something much more personal and intimate: people's thoughts. Some of my favorite mentalism material comes from Jay Sankey (especially 22 Blows to the Head) and Banacheck's PSI Series. I've also heard really good things about the work of Richard Osterlind and Derren Brown, but I don't have any of their material so I can't offer an opinion on it.
Hopefully this will help you in your search for ideal effects. But please keep in mind two other things. First, magic, in its purest sense, doesn't happen in the tricks, it happens in the spectator's mind. You seem to grasp the idea that technical skill does not equal astonishment (but it sure doesn't hurt), but the tricks themselves are really only a tool to get at something much deeper. The magic comes from the spectator's mind, and you get this through presentation and rapport.
Second, if your ultimate goal is astonishment, you need to routine for it. Going up to a table and doing three complete mind-blowers in a row is going to be an overload to your audience. A magical act, no matter how short, has rising and falling action leading up to a climax, just like any well written play, book, song or movie. I'll be the first to admit that sponge balls are pretty silly when you think about them, and you're not going to make anyone cry over their magical beauty, but they're fun, and they get good reactions from laypeople. You need to get them warmed up to magic (and to you as a performer) before you hit them with something like Paperclipped.
Sorry for this long-winded post, but it's a topic I feel very passionately about. I hope I've been of some help to somebody who'll read this. I'm going to end by paraphrasing something Alan Munro has said several times in this forum: Restaurant magic is a Public Relations job for the restaurant. The magic is secondary. It's not unimportant by any means, but, as is usual in the restaurant business, the customer comes first.