Epicurious Eating: Phi Bar and Bistro
Published Thursday, 05-Nov-2009 in issue 1141
Do not assume that the new Hotel Indigo will swaddle you in the namesake color. Figuratively speaking, green is her preferred choice.
Branded under the Intercontinental Hotel Group, this expanding chain of “boutique” properties has Mother Earth beaming over its loyalty to water reduction and eco-friendly cleaning products and for supporting well-known environmental charities. The company’s sustainable practices hardly end there, however.
From more than 30 properties scattered around the globe (and dozens more in the pipeline), the San Diego location is the first to include a full commercial kitchen used for servicing the ground-floor restaurant named Phi Bar and Bistro. That muddled basil packing your martini, for instance, originates from a 13th-floor roof garden. The frying oil used for crisping some rather oddly adorned potato fries ends up at a bio-fuel company once it gets old. Other kitchen scraps are composted. And if you decide to toss your doggie bag to a band of canyon coyotes on the way home, the container will eventually biodegrade into the soil because it’s made of corn “plastic.”
Situated in proximate eyeshot to the hotel’s sparkling lobby, the U-shaped bar and surrounding dining areas are faddishly appointed with vibrant colors, illuminated high tops and a flowing water partition. Clean and easy lines run freely through the scheme, as do occasional luggage toters arriving and departing.
Sadly, multiple flat-screen televisions broadcasting sports games the night of our visit seemed offensive to the sleek layout, especially with music playing simultaneously from a sound system. It was a classic case of electronics injecting clubby jock-bar overtones into an otherwise stylish, tempered space. When will this trend ever end?
As of last week, wine and cocktail lists had not yet been printed. To our rescue was Adriana Tietz, the bar manager originally from Brazil who developed a proficient knack for mixology after moving here several years ago.
“What liquors don’t you like?” she asked.
“The brown ones,” we both agreed.
Minutes later, she returned with two Prairie Organic Vodka concoctions punctuated with ginger-infused simple syrup, a stick of fresh sugar cane and lots of ice. It’s named The Vivacious – so severely refreshing and gently sweetened that we drank them down like Kool-Aid. Equally titillating cocktails would follow: the Sweet and Gin’tle with gin, lime juice and house-made basil syrup; the Sunset Cliffs margarita combining tequila and prickly pear puree; and moscato wine with plum slices, cloves and vanilla bean, which tasted like Christmas in a glass. Magnificent inventions.
The kitchen offers one or two entrees every night to augment a menu of smaller plates that could be classified as heavy hors d’oeuvres. We stuck to those permanent offerings, skipping over a small selection of garnished cheeses and diving straight into Pacific lump crab salad from the “garden fresh” category. A well-conceived salad, the fluffy crabmeat was layered over sweet, cherry-red piquillo peppers and crowned with a slice of grilled lemon. Pita chips and a so-so match of balsamic-strawberry dressing were served alongside.
There are two varieties of fries: traditional cuts made from sweet potatoes and sprinkled with “aged cheese” and chipotle sauce; and waffle-shaped from the white species. We chose the latter, served in a wire basket and tossed with blue cheese crumbles and red Thai curry sauce. But the curds and the curry didn’t connect, no matter how many times we came at them with our minds wide open.
Onto the “feisty feta” hummus, it’s a dandy shareable that left us wondering why we never thought about folding together these two ingredients when entertaining. The feta proved an ideal salt component and fat contributor to the pureed garbanzos, while bits of chipotle snuck up from behind like a love interest surprising you with a goosey hug.
The section titled “Quarter Bites” lists three types of sliders served in pairs or sample combinations. We tried the Angus with feta sauce, which I think was the feisty feta hummus playing the role of condiment. Our other choice combined roasted chicken with mole sauce, crispy onions and unidentifiable cheese. As far as sliders go, they were a notch more rousing than those served at a zillion other places.
The menu progresses finally to a newer trend food – flatbread pizzas. All three varieties incorporate ricotta. Too busy for my liking was one additionally topped with roasted chicken, blue cheese, pecans, apple wood bacon and a syrupy sweet red chili sauce. Eliminate just two of the ingredients, and I’d have reached for a second square. The other, constructed with white cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan and artichoke relish tasted sensibly comforting to the very last piece.
In lieu of dessert (outsourced mini confections), we beamed up for a peek at Phi Terrace on the ninth floor. There, a small bar operates to the tune of loungy seating and skyline views from what might rank as the “greenest” getaway in downtown San Diego.