By Jay Bennett
Seems most of the time, when a restaurant touts its happy hour, it boasts nothing more than $2 domestic bottles and some free chips and salsa. Whee. So when you discover a true happy hour bonanza, you want to rejoice because you feel you've found a salve to ease the discomfort of these troubled economic times.
If you want bonanza, look no further than Fenix Eatery & Bar, at Camelback and 40th Street, where, in the past few months, the French bistro has installed a sushi bar and instituted a happy hour special that truly is special. I'd already liked this place. I saw it as a spot where you could easily pop in and make a small dinner out of its extensive appetizer menu, which includes a wonderful bowl of mussels and an equally delicious serving of mac 'n' cheese.
So, from 5 to 7 p.m. every day, you can choose from a happy hour menu that includes a couple of different sushi rolls for $4 each; a caesar salad, edamame, or shrimp tempura for $4 each; the aforementioned mac 'n' cheese for $6; the aforementioned mussels for $8; and numerous beer, wine, sake, and martini specials. You have to sit at the bar to take advantage, but big deal — it's a nice bar with friendly service and a flat-screen on which to watch the D-Backs flail away at the baseball.
New sushi chef Micki Hudson started at Fenix in May after working eight years as a sushi chef in Phoenix, Tucson, and Oregon. The native of Nagoya, Japan, says the sushi element of the established bistro has been slow to catch on but is starting to attract a clientele that might've steered clear of Fenix before. "People were coming in for their French food," says Hudson. "But now there are different groups of people who are coming in."
Firecracker: It's beautiful and delicious.
For our happy hour visit, Hudson whipped up a couple of tasty classics — spicy tuna roll and California roll — for me and the missus. On a non-happy-hour visit, we tried some of her creative signature sushi rolls on the menu and were quite pleased with the outcome. Yes, denizens of the Arcadia, consider Fenix a new go-to place for sushi. You won't be disappointed.
Sushi rolls: At $4 apiece, they're winners at Fenix.
One of Hudson's creations is the delectable Firecracker, an appetizer consisting of several pieces of raw salmon topped with a salsa made of diced cucumbers, apples, and mint. It's all sprinkled with bits of almond and a little taste of spicy chili dressing. Trust me: It's as good as it sounds. You know how you can't help but order certain things on a menu even after you've sworn you would branch out and diversify? Consider the Firecracker as something we'll always order at Fenix.
Another one of Hudson's taste treats is the shrimp tempura. Her twist on the classic dish features lightly breaded and deep-fried pieces of shrimp in a shallow dish filled with an awesome spicy-sweet honey chile glaze. Mmmm. Most de-lish.
Shrimp tempura: Spicy meets sweet! (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)
So, with a Firecracker, a spicy tuna roll, California roll, a tempura, and two bottles of crisp and refreshing Stella Artois, the bill was $26. Where I come from, that's a bargain. Darn good food, too.
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I really hope Fenix's happy hour kick-starts business for owner/chef Omar Matmati. He told me that ever since the Wild Oats anchoring the strip mall in which Fenix resides closed three months ago, the number of dining patrons has decreased. When a popular grocery (it was bought out and closed by Whole Foods) closes, traffic just plummets, to the dismay of its neighbors. Hopefully, cooler weather will help Fenix, because when the temps dip, diners can enjoy al fresco dining on Fenix's bistro patio. Sure, you overlooking a parking lot, but it's still a nice touch.
I urge fans of cheap eats to check out what Matmati and Hudson are cooking up at Fenix, an underrated bistro in a neighborhood full of really good restaurants.
In the meantime, if you know of a great happy hour that you'd like to see covered in Budget Beat, hit me up at email@example.com.
Fenix Eatery & Bar 3942 East Camelback Road 602-952-0013 Lunch: M-F 11-3; Dinner: Daily, 5-10; happy hour: daily, 5-7. http://www.fenixeatery.com