The Great Indoors

At Fizz Supper Club, it's hot California food and a cold garden

With nearly 4,000 restaurants of various shapes and sizes operating in this city, a distinguishing angle or characteristic for new entries is all but indispensable. Fizz Supper Club, across the street from Bank of America's Dark Tower, has certainly got the angle: The better part of the restaurant is an outdoor garden, with splashing fountains and saplings of Italian cypress trees that resemble lichen-covered flagpoles. But in a city when even warm days are often a little chilly, I wonder if it's the best angle. This isn't much of an alfresco town.

And no wonder. At lunch recently, the Insider and I sat in sunshine in Fizz's sheltered garden, rubbing and blowing on our hands like city slickers huddled around a back-country campfire. Both of us fervently wished we'd brought sweaters.

"It'll be warmer near the water," the hostess said half-jokingly, seating us at a table on the arc of one of the fountains. Actually, the burbling water made it seem dank; it was like sitting in the bottom of a nearly drained swimming pool, with the last few drops gurgling down the drain and the walls all around a claustrophobically pale blue.

The chilliness of the patio is not an insurmountable problem. Places such as Zinzino and the Patio (both of which have covered or partly covered terraces) use space heaters mounted on lamp poles to bring a bit of warmth and comfort to diners who would otherwise be shivering. Failing that, there remains the hope and possibility of dazzling food. Fizz chef and co-owner Pino Spinoso offers what he calls an "American bistro" menu reflecting "Mediterranean influences" -- just the sort of thing we all love, even if we're not sure quite what it means.

My eye gravitated immediately to the word "spicy" attached to the rabbit and couscous timbale with harissa sauce ($6.25). Spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather, but the merest suggestion of heat appealed to me, and (unlike the Insider, who made a face) I like rabbit. The chunks of meat turned out to be buried in the neatly molded couscous, with a surprisingly tame, reddish-brown harissa sauce napped all around.

The Insider's broad bowl of garbanzo-bean soup ($4.50) was almost like a stew, with big chunks of garbanzos and flecks of carrot and zucchini to add color. It offered a heartiness we both appreciated.

One benefit of devoting so much of a restaurant to an outdoor garden is that servers are likely to be better-prepared than at places where alfresco dining is erratic and rare; at Fizz, service in the garden is as adept as it is inside. Orders were taken promptly and precisely, plates cleared, water glasses and the bread basket continually replenished.

The cavatappi ($9.50) -- long corkscrew pasta -- was sauced with a blend of salmon, paprika, mascarpone, and cream. The sauce clung nicely to the pasta but tasted too salmony for me; there was no other flavor to balance the fish. The roasted chicken ravioli ($9.25), on the other hand, was a more subtle dish; its sauce of mascarpone, mustard, and green peppercorns was savory and nippy at the same time.

The Boss and I returned for dinner one evening when a cool drizzle foreclosed the option of outdoor seating. We were immediately shown to a window table, with a chair on one side and a sofa on the other. The inside of the restaurant is dominated by an undulating bar, festively tiled and topped with an arrangement of colored votive candles. It's intimate, welcoming, and warm, a universe separate from the garden's.

The strong, slightly bitter flavor of Indian curry dominated the coconut broth accompanying the steamed clams ($7.95) and unpleasantly permeated the shellfish themselves. But the won ton stuffed with shrimp and nectarine ($5.75) caught a nice sweet-citrus tang that was deepened by the accompanying dish of jicama-plum salsa.

The Boss is generally not keen on fish, but the lamb chops with pistachio crust were unavailable that evening (substitute: rib-eye steak), and he settled on a grilled salmon fillet ($11.95) with a hoisin glaze and a bed of ginger leeks. The hoisin sauce (along with the thorough grilling) kept the fish's gaminess in check. As a starch bonus, the kitchen threw in a couple of croquettelike blobs of mashed potato that had been pan-browned. A happy Boss ate it all, without complaining (as he so often does after eating fish) that he was still hungry.

Pan searing gave the halibut ($12.95) a nice crust, and the fish was cooked through without drying out. Halibut might be the real chicken of the sea; it has a good firm texture, a gentle flavor, and it takes well to a variety of preparations. Here the fillet lay on a bed of black beans and chipotle lime cream (a vaguely Gulf of Mexico combination), with two flat cakes of basmati rice and shredded zucchini that were otherwise unadorned yet richly satisfying. (If you think rice is just dull filler, basmati will rock your world.)

One advantage of fish is that it tends to leave room for dessert. Fizz's dessert menu is traditional, and brief to the point of being perfunctory. But the few choices are all solid ones. Vanilla-bean creme brulee ($3.50), served in a broad, shallow bowl, was like a sweet skating rink, with a thick crust of broiled sugar atop a substratum of rich, smooth custard. The filling of the chocolate cheesecake ($3.75) had been whipped to a meringuelike fluffiness. And the hazelnut-apricot torte ($3.75) was made by a hand cautious with sugar and skilled in the art of flaky, crisp pastry.

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