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Fē-nix: A Rebirth of Taste and Style

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Chef Richard Hyman has always had a burning desire to open his own restaurant. Rising from the ashes like the Phoenix firebird, his new restaurant, Fē-nix (Old English) is not only the culmination of his lifelong dream, but also the re-energizing of Richard’s own body and spirit. It was not without a lot of hard work, determination and two years of healing from the gas oven explosion that left him with second- and third-degree burns, skin grafts and several surgeries that he was able to make such an extraordinary comeback.

The essence of his indomitable spirit is obvious upon first entering the restaurant. Fire meets water in the soothing aqua and char-blackened color scheme, complemented with brilliant, abstract prints by local artists. Chef Richard is in his element, as he painstakingly torches the cheese on the toast for the Dutch Onion Soup. He is happy as a clam, as he sprinkles the mussels with cilantro before serving it all up to us with a couple of glasses of his best wine.

Chef Richard does not dwell on the incident, only calling it life changing. “I received so much support from the community and it gave me a chance to connect with my two sons.” He believes it also afforded him the opportunity to refocus on his goal. “I’ve been in the food business for 30 years, and this gave me the chance to do some soul searching.” Originally from Brooklyn, Richard relocated to Southern California and then worked his way up to Stockton and then Lodi. He loves the Valley’s agrarian roots and he is proud to present 90 percent of his menu as local. “My menu is very eclectic and metropolitan, giving you big-city choices in a small town.” He believes there is a whole generation of farmers growing up who enjoy going out to eat and want something new and exciting. “They want to taste the duck, the potatoes, and they want the best ingredients, and they want something unique.”

But the score is in the scallop, so when Chef Richard presented the Dutch Onion Soup floated with slices of sourdough laden with cave-aged Gouda and herbs de Provence, I could hardly contain myself until the photos were complete. And then, oh, my filet of sole! Where to find mussels a la pozole swimming with hominy in achiote broth? But only a taste, since the Twice Cooked NY Steak accompanied by creamy potato gratin, roasted garlic, mushrooms and garnished with fried leeks was calling my name. And there was more to ogle over, with the Orange Glazed Muscovy Duck Breast resting tenderly on a bed of tasty ratatouille and roasted pearl potatoes. Last but not least, we were treated to Chef Richard’s homemade Lemon Pepper Pasta with prawns, crisp zucchini and tangy capers. The real treat was to watch Lance, the chef de cuisine, deftly roll out the pasta and cut it into the black pepper-speckled noodles that make the base for this piquant dish.

Chef Richard was kind enough to take the time to sit and chat with us about the things that are important to him. He believes that what he has to offer is a unique dining experience. He explains the twice-cooked label he calls sous vide, a French method of cooking, in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags, then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for hours, or, in some instances, days. Chef Richard uses this method to ensure that his in-house-cut meats are evenly cooked without overcooking the outside. When they’re tossed on the grill just long enough to sear the outside, the result is a very tender and juicy steak. “Not everyone does this,” he claims. “Anybody can fix mussels, but not in pozole. Anybody can cook a chicken breast, but not serve it with my combinations.”

Chef Richard says his daily objective is to satisfy 120 people who are expecting him to put something delicious and good in their bodies. “I believe that food should be more than just stuff you put in your mouth. It should be tactile and emotional.” ■

If you are in the mood for a dining experience that is totally new, imaginative, eclectic and, above all, delicious, reservations for Fē-nix are encouraged and can be made online at Operating hours are: Closed Mondays and Tuesdays except private events; open Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Wednesday through Sunday, the bar opens at 4:00 p.m.