It’s always interesting when a fine dining restaurant morphs into a more casual establishment, especially when the head staff (chef, sommelier and bartender) stays the same. This was the case recently when the Fifth Floor restaurant in downtown’s Palomar Hotel closed earlier this year and reopened as the more casual Dirty Habit in May. Open for more than 15 years, Fifth Floor had churned through several high profile chefs, earning high accolades year after year.
After opening chef George Morrone left, The Fifth Floor was home to many other great chefs who have since opened their own places, many earning Michelin Stars, such as Laurent Gras (now residing in New York), Melissa Perello, Laurent Manrique, and Jake des Voignes. Most recently Chef David Bazirgan (‘Baz’) has held top toque since 2011.
The formal, light-filled dining room has been renovated into more casual and darkly lit atmosphere, best described as somewhere between rustic (the heavy barn door) and steam-punk (lots of metal). New is the heated patio which offers as many outdoor seats as there are indoors — it’s the popular hangout since the City’s summer has been milder (i.e. warmer) than usual.
Head bar manager Brian Means’s cocktail list includes many original drinks categorized by Seasonal & Shaken, Stir & Sipped, Barrel-Aged (Negronis, Brooklyns and Old-Fashioned) and Classics with Age. We’ve been back several times to work our way through the list and were never disappointed. The cocktail menu has already changed, but the first drink we had there, the Chupacabra (Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Aperol, Grapefruit Cordial, Fresh Lime, Sal de Gusano) was one of the best. Exhibiting a tart, smokey, spicy and bitter profile, this drink is sadly not on their current menu, but they can probably mix one up if you ask:
Max, our bartender who has since gone on sabbatical, also mixed up a Loveable Trixter (Plymouth Gin, Fresh Lime Juice, Blueberries, Sage), another great summer libation:
Baz’s food remains great. The menu is comprised of bar bites meant to pair with alcoholic drinks. It is mostly comprised of dishes served tapas-style; however, there are larger entree-sized offerings such as ribeye as well.
We firmly believe that the man knows his way with a fryer, and the Chicken Wings were no exception. The chicken is initially cooked sous vide at low temperature to lock in the moisture, but they figured out the secret to frying them and getting the skin super crispy. The wings are very similar to Korean Fried Chicken coated with a sweet soy and chili vinaigrette sauces. They are sticky, but make for an excellent bar snack:
Asian influences can definitely be found on the menu, and the Steamed Buns with fried lamb belly and peanuts is another great example. The buns are $5/piece, which gave us a good way to try the tasty bar snack while saving room for other items:
On one of our earlier visits, they offered a Strawberry special that came with some “complimentary” foie-gras cooked two ways: seared and as a torchon with brioche soldiers. What a treat for us Californians — I hope they can continue to give us some free liver on future visits:
The feminine colored Pink Elephant (Ford’s Gin, Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, Orange Bitters, St. George Absinthe) was anything but, packing in quite a punch (also no longer on their current menu). We also ordered a Weller’s 12-year Bourbon neat with a soda back during one of our many meals there:
The Scallop Ceviche, dressed with lime and yuzu kosho, came prepared with like-sized chunks of avocado. Sweet English peas, radish and taro chips completed the summer-fresh dish:
We would easily return any day for this modern fondue labeled “Up in Smoke.” Smoked cheese in the center of the platter serves as a great dip for the various perfectly cooked vegetables and chunks of brioche. At first glance, it seemed like a small amount of cheese dip, but it was so rich that it turned out to be the perfect size portion for its accompaniments:
We had Max make us a couple of bartender’s choice drinks with Rye Whiskey, and he came through with a couple of drinks not on the extensive menu:
We were expecting that the Pork Croquettes would be more like a traditional potato-filled fried “dumplings” with chunks of pork thrown in. But these fried pucks of goodness contained solid chunks of pork. They were topped with pickled mustard seeds to help cut down the fattiness, and the semi-frozen raita acted as a palate cleanser between bites:
The croquette was a solid goodness of pork, more similar to a trotter cake:
Give credit to the Kimpton Group for following the trend to go more casual while retaining Chef Baz and Bar Manager Brian Means as part of the transition. The amusingly named Dirty Habit is more like a gastropub, pairing excellent food with a great bar program (there’s wine and beer too, but we prefer drinking the cocktails when we go there). Is it a bar with a great food or a great restaurant with a great bar program? It’s a blurry line, but this is one Dirty Habit that we have already become addicted to!