Monday, September 12, 2011

Vic & Ikes - Downtown Pensacola Continues to Grow

One of my favorite parts about moving to such an old city as Pensacola is the architecture. I love the old buildings with the arches, the second-level balconies and the history behind it all. It's fascinating to think of all the dreams imagined as merchants & pirates, poets & militia strolled down Palafox. Vic & Ike's is an American Bistro with its roots based on the principles of the American dream. The inspiration for Chef Nick Fawal to pursue his dream came from his father who arrived in America and worked to make his dream come true. Its a tough road, but Chef Nick seems to be working his way down many of the right paths.

Vic & Ike's on UrbanspoonI had been hearing about elevated American food for sometime, making Vic & Ike's high on my list of places to try. I found a coupon, and that sealed the deal: Got to go. This particular coupon offered a survey to let them know what I thought, and my husband (the real coupon finder), filled it out thinking the survey would go to Corporate Drone #68, but to my surprise it found itself in interested hands, specifically those of Chef Nick. My first visit to Vic & Ike's wasn't great, and although I would have returned eventually, Chef Nick's concern with my experience is what ultimately encouraged me to return so soon after my first visit.

The first time, Ben & I arrived at about 8 on a very slow weeknight and although it wasn't super late, we were the only diners. I loved the berry salad, which featured a bright & fruity vinaigrette coating fresh berries, bleu cheese & candied pecans. My husband & I both had scallop dishes, seared scallops with strawberry risotto in my case, and the drunken-style for him. They were not seared, likely because they hadn't been completely dried before being placed in the pan or because the pan wasn't hot enough; overcrowding the pan perhaps. Regardless, the scallops appeared more poached than seared. Ben was expecting something of a sauce, but that seemed to be missing. The strawberry risotto wasn't very strawberry and a bit too acidic.Both dishes seemed a bit heavy on the spinach (and I like spinach; it was cooked quite well).

We weren't offered dessert, but the chalkboard by the door is what encouraged me to want dessert from the start of the meal; I wanted to try the Lemon Marmalade Cheesecake. After I ordered, as the waiter approached the kitchen, I called to make it to go. He thanked me when he brought it back with the check. I am not one to eat my dessert at home, but I had already interrupted him cleaning the dining room around us and I didn't want to continue to be in the way. Overall, not impressed.

It was Chef Nick's handling of this news after the fact that lured me back to Vic & Ike's so quickly; only a couple weeks went by before Ben and I found ourselves in their dining room once again. The French martini was suggested by my waiter. I asked which of two he liked, and he suggested this, totally different from the fruity drinks I'd considered. With a coffee and chocolate flavor, it was delicious. I loved this waiter: he was personable, suggested many things, then asked questions and waited for the answer. The beginning was going well.


The crab cakes above fried green tomatoes, dusted in corn meal and pan fried with a mustardy creole remoulade sauce was very good, with lots of crab in the cakes and a great contrasting bitterness to the tomatoes. This tasty dish was surpassed by the bisque though, with chunks of potato and crab. It was amazing, and we should have ordered a bowl because I wanted to eat it all. We also tried the cool cucumber gazpacho; loads more flavor than I expected while maintaining a true, fresh cucumber flavor. If you can judge a chef by his capacity to make a soup or sauce, these were certainly gaining high marks.

Our entrees let me down. The duck was a bit tough and over cooked while the accompanying asparagus was so lightly blanched it was almost raw; the honey lime sauce added a subtle sweetness but was sparse. The potatoes were plentiful and tasty. The veal Marsala was a let down for me, bad enough that I didn't take my leftovers home. That's right, I wasted food. I can just see my mom shaking her head and my dad ordering me to eat two more bites. The sauce was very thin and didn't have enough flavor while the veal was over cooked and tough, unable to be cut by fork; one piece was burnt. I should have listened to my server who hadn't steered me wrong in my drink or appetizer choices. The broccoli was well cooked and tasty.

I wised up on dessert when the bread pudding was touted as the best in house. I tried it, and in my excitement to get that first bite, forgot how to take a good photo. I jest, this whole experience caused a complete blackout on camera use. In my defense (all be it a weak one) it was dark.

The bread pudding was delicious. A drizzle of vanilla angalaise cushioned the sweet & soft dessert. It was sweet, but not overly so, and the whipped cream was only very subtly sweetened (if at all) so while a large portion of what should be a very rich dessert, this wasn't overly rich or opulent. It was satisfying to my desire for something sweet without being overwhelming.

At the end of dinner, Chef Nick stopped at our table in a manner he seemed to be accustomed to, just checking on the experience and seeing what we thought. We talked about almost everything stated in this review, and he was genuinely interested in everything we had to say. When we finally told him that we had been corresponding over the internet from the survey, he realized why we were talking to him to so in-depth. It was a real pleasure to meet the chef & talk about our dinner with him. I would certainly return to Vic & Ike's in the future; it is refreshing to go someplace that you know the management genuinely cares about the experience they are providing.
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