By Annette McGivney | Photograph by John Burcham
Many restaurants proudly call their menus “fusion.” But at downtown Flagstaff’s new Lotus Lounge, the offerings are so deliciously cutting-edge that they make “fusion” seem cliché. “Our concept is more aligned with ‘Pan-Asian’ meets American,” says Genie Kuester, the restaurant’s manager. “People ask if we’re a sushi restaurant, and I always say we are, but we also offer other delicious Asian-inspired selections.”
But sushi is a main attraction. A brightly lit bar on the first floor of the spacious two-story restaurant allows customers to watch their rolls being made. Other Asian influences include menu choices designed around the Japanese pub concept of izakaya. Even the craft cocktails include a mix of Asian liquors.
Perhaps the only traditional aspect to the Lotus Lounge is its building, which was constructed in 1917 and served as Flagstaff’s main post office until the early 1960s. Now, colorful Japanese lanterns dangle from the ceiling, and local art lines the walls. On the second floor, patrons can sit along a balcony overlooking the sushi and cocktail bars, or they can choose one of the tables that line large windows over San Francisco Street.
Javier Cortes, head sushi chef and kitchen manager, has spent the majority of his restaurant career rolling sushi and slicing fish in Flagstaff. Before leading the kitchen at Lotus Lounge, Cortes worked for Flagstaff sushi restaurant Karma, as well as Sakura, in the DoubleTree Hotel, and Teppan Fuji.
“In addition to the menu, what makes us unique is the freshness of the fish,” Cortes says. That doesn’t come easily to a landlocked mountain town, but Cortes uses a Hawaii-based service that flies fish to Flagstaff the same day it’s caught. Menu selections change depending on what fish is flown in each day.
For Mardi Gras, Cortes obtained fresh crawfish and created a “Viet Cajun” stew. Meanwhile, co-manager Mark Greenwalt recently dreamed up a lamb entrée that was smoked with green tea and braised with Chinese spiced bourbon. Mainstays include magically crispy Brussels sprouts fried in sake and miso sauce, and poke made from tuna or other seasonal fish. Also to die for: salmon brûléed in a garlic ginger ponzu sauce.
And be sure to save room for green tea ice cream and a craft cocktail invented in-house by the staff “mixologists.” A Lotus favorite is the Fresh Fashions, a Pan-Asian spin on the traditional Old-Fashioned. It combines Akashi Japanese whiskey, Ancho Reyes liqueur, mole bitters and citrus oil to create a uniquely smooth and delicious combination of flavors. Just don’t call it “fusion.”
Lotus Lounge is located at 106 N. San Francisco Street in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-779-6971 or visit www.lotusloungeflagstaff.com.