By opening Phlight, a tapas restaurant and wine bar, husband and wife Jay and Nikomi Arroyo are spearheading an effort to revitalize Uptown Whittier, a quaint stretch of storefronts and restaurants in The 562, an Area Code most people I know haven’t heard of, let alone visited. Phlight could easily popularize The 562, with its soaring wood ceilings, easy vibe, and Chef Daniel Salcido’s compelling 31-item menu.
Phlight is a play on a flight of wine, plus a play on the wine bar’s location: Philadelphia & Bright.
The wine list at Phlight is intriguing, with many affordable bottles, plenty of unusual by-the-glass options, and interesting descriptors. Each glass we tried was stellar. Fleur du Cap ($8 glass) was a 2004 unfiltered Chardonnay 2004 from South Africa, described as tasting “golden – lime & butterscotch.” I sure couldn’t taste lime and butterscotch, but the Chardonnay was a crisp knockout. Another winner was the Fontana Fontal ($7 glass) Tempranillo Crianza 2003, from La Mancha, Spain, described as “raspberry & cinnamon – buttery finish.” I would certainly order both wines again, but could also see myself exploring Phlight’s other tantalizing options.
Coconut and panko-crusted crab cakes ($12) were served with carrot and cabbage salad and doused in aioli. I would have preferred the spicy plum sauce that was listed on the menu, since I’m not crazy about flavored mayo, but the quality of the lump crab meat was indisputable.
Although Chef Salcido focuses on Spanish cuisine, he includes several seldom seen Chamorro dishes, native to Guam. An interesting Chamorro dish was Chicken Kalaguen ($8) – grilled, chopped chicken tossed with lemon and shredded coconut, plated on spicy red pepper strips. The dish was served cold, and could have used the sweetness of the fried plantains, another listed ingredient that didn’t manage to reach the table, but it was still pretty flavorful. I never thought I’d say this, but the portion size was actually too generous. Turns out a little Kalaguen goes a long way.
A dish that played better on the menu than on the plate was the brown sugar & ginger short ribs ($12), braised with caramelized coconut and red wine reduction. The short ribs were a little too fatty, and the flavor wasn’t strong enough. Which was surprising, given the enticing ingredients.
Another plate that sounded a little better in theory – pistachio-crusted scallops ($16). The jumbo sea scallops were well-prepared, but the Jamon Serrano that encircled the scallops was wan, and the pistachio crust could have used more crushed pistachios. Still, I enjoyed the cabbage and Grand Marnier sauce.
A resounding success was the gargantuan dome of baked elbow macaroni & cheese ($8), which blended three Spanish cheeses, plus chunks of Jamon Serrano, Spanish sausage & artichoke hearts. The crusty top was a good textural counterpoint to the oozing core.
We finished strong with the baked Iberian crepes (4 for $9), filled with white squash, Shitake mushrooms, Spanish Garrotxa and Idiazabal cheeses. The crepes were expertly prepared, soft on the interior and crispy at the edges, plated with sweet port wine sauce to balance out the savory fillings.
With portions so large, we didn’t have much room for dessert. Of course, at any restaurant, if the desserts sound good enough, I’ll find the stomach space. Unfortunately, none of the three desserts generated as much excitement as the savory menu. Mexican chocolate soufflé, flan, and coconut custard just aren’t good enough.
The two of us split six dishes, which turned out to be about two dishes too many. The portions were gargantuan. Still, the menu was so original it was tough to resist. I look forward to returning to continue sampling those great wines, and to sample dishes like filet mignon and applewood-smoked bacon meatballs with Manchego & caper Dijon cream sauce; octopus & calamari 3 ways; and espresso bean, guajillo chili & Mexican chocolate crusted filet mignon with red wine au jus.