“I think that part of artistry and a part of beauty needs to be incorporated into anything that we are going to consume, whether it’s a cocktail or any food item,” said Stewart Weinstein, executive chef at the newly-opened Lotus Lounge. “You kind of eat with your eyes, so if something’s not visually appealing, I think it kind of makes you hesitant to want to pick up your fork, pick up your chopstick.”
The Hotel Monte Vista’s new Pan-Asian restaurant celebrated their grand opening on Dec. 13 in the Old Flagstaff Post Office, which remained empty for almost three years after the Seasoned Kitchen supply store moved out.
Now, fully open just in time for the hotel’s 90th anniversary, Lotus Lounge is offering selections of Asian cuisine fit for casual dining, date night and everything in between.
“It’s been one of the smoothest restaurant openings I’ve been a part of,” said sushi chef Ray Morrissey. “We have a lot of hard-working people so that made it easy.”
The chefs are quick to point out that everything is made in-house, ensuring quality food on which they can put their seal of approval.
“When you enjoy what you do, that extra work is not even a big deal,” Morrissey said. “We take a lot of pride in the food that we put out so being able to know that, from start to finish, every single thing that goes on the dish we made, and we made well, it’s a really good feeling.”
Despite Flagstaff being almost 7,000 feet above sea level, the fish the restaurant receives is typically out of the water less than 12 hours before it arrives. Weinstein had previously worked at several other sushi restaurants which partnered with the Honolulu Fish Company, a Hawaii-based company that prides itself on freshness and quality; roughly 10 percent of fish caught are accepted by their scrutinous inspectors following each day’s catch. When Weinstein came on board the Lotus Lounge team, he reached out to the company to establish a business relationship.
“My dad kind of said it best,” he said. “He’s a doctor, so he said as a doctor, you want to surround yourself with other qualified, smart individuals who have the same drive that you do, and it’s very similar in the chef world; I want to surround myself with purveyors who have the same mindset that freshness is key.”
Many of the dishes on the menu allow the fish to stand on its own rather than cover its light flavor with excessive ingredients like more American-style sushi restaurants may do. Some of the options include nigiri, slices of raw fish over rice; uramaki, which is a roll with rice on the outside; futomaki, a roll with rice on the inside and nori on the outside; sashimi, raw fish served with pickled ginger and wasabi; and their special house rolls.
“We just really want to showcase the top-quality ingredients that we’re getting,” Morrissey said.
The cocktails are likewise carefully crafted. Jeremy Meyer, the restaurant’s general manager, brings his years of experience as a bar manager at Criollo and part-owner of Root Public House to create unique drinks that showcase some of the flavors of Asia.
The Fresh Fashions cocktail plays off the classic Old Fashioned by mixing together Akashi Japanese whiskey, Ancho Reyes liqueur, citrus oil and mole bitters which give the drink a chocolaty, mildly spicy taste on the back end without overpowering the rest of the ingredients. An ice sphere and orange peel finish the drink off.
“Jeremy did a lot of mixology stuff so you probably couldn’t get this anywhere else in Flag,” said marketing director Genie Kuester. “We juice all of our own juice and infuse all of our own stuff.”
Looking forward, Weinstein plans to introduce a late-night menu with special small plates and more drink options. Sake and wine pairings are also in the works.
“I put a lot of pressure on my staff and it’s great because they’re able to handle it,” Weinstein said. “I’m not the only one that can be creative. There’s so much talent in my guys and my gals back here, that I lean on them a lot for their ideas and their creativity. I want them to help this restaurant grow as much as I can.”
The Lotus Lounge is open Monday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m., Friday from 5-10 p.m., Saturday from 3-10 p.m. and Sunday from 3-9 p.m. at 106 N. San Francisco St. Find them on Facebook to check out the full menu and for more information.