With a long history of restaurant excellence on his résumé, studying his way under big name celebrity chefs in Southern California to operating his own notable restaurants in the valley, those who know or who’ve worked for Chef Richard Hyman as well as dined at his establishments, will tell you of his unwavering demand for excellence, a commitment to the highest quality and his relentless pursuit of perfection.
After a two-year absence from the restaurant scene due to an industrial accident, Chef Hyman, along with a handful of local investors, has opened his newest venture known as fē•nix in the heart of Lodi and is sure to be a hit with “foodies” and families alike.
Chef Hyman got his start at the Beverly Hills Hotel, working his way up the line in an old school French Brigade kitchen under very serious chefs. He followed that experience with a stint under famed chef Joachim Splichal at the Max Au Triangle, also in Beverly Hills.
“It was an amazing creation kitchen,” Hyman said. “Joachim inspired a lot of cooks. This was the incarnations of the first wave of the celebrity chefs of LA.”
After moving to the Central Valley, Chef Hyman made his name known preparing his creations at Le Bistro, Stockton Joe’s, and Mezzo Restaurant in Stockton. In 2014 he was the executive chef at the River Mill in French Camp when a kitchen fire injured him.
“There was nothing that was going to keep me from getting back to the restaurant business,” Hyman said, as he pondered different options during his recovery. “I was ready to pick up where I left off.”
After searching for a location and organizing a staff, which included recruiting his Chef de Cuisine, Lance Hatcher, who has his own love for food and 24-year prominent experience in the industry, fē•nix is open with its imaginative, eclectic and above all, delicious fare.
The setting of fē•nix is modern and airy but remains a place that preserves the dignity of haute cuisine while discarding the pretensions of old-style restaurants. The menu lists original dishes with ingredients from local sources including San Joaquin Valley produce, local grass-fed Prime Angus beef, seafood from the Pacific and Pacific Northwest, and wines from Lodi, Napa, and Sonoma regions.
This is a chef who loves strong flavors and is fond of cooking traditional ingredients in new ways.
“You can’t make good food without good ingredients,” Chef Hyman said. “Just like ‘you can’t make a silk purse with a sow’s ear;’ when a chef starts with the right ingredients, it’s going to be delicious.”
The fē•nix menu boasts no less than 10 appetizers that Chef Hatcher chooses to call “shared plates” served similar to tapas style.
“What we see a lot is couples will order a few selections and share them,” Hatcher said. “We’ve tried to put an ‘umami’ of flavors into every bite”
According to Hatcher, ‘umami’ is one of the five basic tastes together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness. It can be described as a pleasant taste with a long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.
Hatcher said that the shared plate technique allows diners to “course out” without feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.
“If you’re leaving with a doggie bag, you’re doing it wrong,” Hatcher said. “Also you shouldn’t have to feel you need to go somewhere else to feel full and satisfied.”
Some of the featured starter items include the maple glazed pork belly which has been braised and compressed in a lacquer of brown sugar, served with yam planks and a yam puree.
The “Chef Snax” is an ethnic creation that comes from the kitchen based on the Jewish gribines, crisp chicken skin cracklings.
Hatcher said the innovation comes from kitchen workers who would season the chicken parts and fry them up with flour. They decided to put it on the menu and it caught on.
“For years and years, I would be cutting up chicken and this was what was left over,” Chef Hyman said. “It’s like popcorn chicken, crispy and satisfying.”
Their cavatelle (spelled with e not i) is a pasta made from ricotta cheese tossed with lobster, caviar, corn and a butter sauce.
“It’s more of a dumpling than a pasta,” Chef Hyman said. “Corn is fresh right now; the cavatelle (is the) perfect summer dish.”
Featured entrées include the “Twice Cooked” New York Steak with potato dauphinoise, roasted garlic, and mushrooms.
Hatcher described the preparation of the steak stating the first bake was a sous vide method where the steak is vacuum sealed with herbs and spices and cooked under pressure, placed in a water bath temperature-controlled steam environment. The second bake entails a pan sear finished with garlic butter and mushrooms – juicy and flavor-packed on the inside, crispy-crusted and well-seasoned on the outside.
The fē•nix Alaskan halibut is baked with a bruschetta of heirloom tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and olive oil served with “celery three ways,” a creation of diced celery root, pureed celery, topped with celery leaves.
There are an additional eight entrées priced from $24 to $38.
“Our thinking here is out-of-the-box with some items, and others, are very simple,” Hyman said. “Either way, there’s something nice about it. Nothing is prepared arbitrarily.”
Hyman said he named his establishment after the phoenix, the bird that rose from the ashes, regenerated and reborn, but using the dictionary phonetic spelling to make it unique. He said the image not only fit himself, but others associated with the restaurant.
“I was fortunate and blessed to have people believe in me and back me, it’s nothing short of amazing to see the support,” Hyman said about his comeback that required three surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy and put him out of work for two years. “If I was still in LA, I would be just another guy in a hospital. It would have been the end of my career.”fē•nix
117 W. Elm St.
Lodi, CA 95240
Phone (209) 400-3950
Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday: 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.