Identity Crisis

You might want to stick to the booze milkshakes at HiFi

In the years I've been writing Chow reviews for the Weekly, I've often written about restaurants with an identity crisis—places that are aiming to please everyone by trying to be a little bit of everything, which generally results in the opposite: you don't specialize in anything, so you're a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and you end up alienating the majority of folks who would frequent your establishment.

HiFi Kitchen & Cocktails is yet another example of this. The Scottsdale-based establishment, with its second location now here at the entrance to downtown Tucson, is trying to be a little bit of everything: restaurant, downtown lunch spot, sports bar, bar, nightclub.

During daylight and early evening hours, the multitude of TVs, including two huge pull-down projection screens, are tuned to sports channels, and there really isn't a bad view in the house (of the TVs, or depending upon the persuasion of some of the patrons, of the scantily-clad wait staff). The place was virtually dead on our lunch visit, and while our server was friendly enough, there were far too many mistakes in our service, as well as inattentiveness, that couldn't be excused by the fact that she was busy, since we were the only people in the restaurant.

HiFi's menu is the same for both lunch and dinner; and they also do a small brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (bonus: 1-cent refills on mimosas and bloody Marys!) We decided to go with the signature soft pretzels ($8) to start for lunch, which are served with "beer cheese sauce" and whole-grain mustard; and moved on to sandwiches: the chicken BLTA with fries for me ($13); and the reuben with spicy sweet potato chips ($11) for Ted.

The food was uninspiring, at best, and took a really long time to arrive at the table (and it's not like the kitchen was busy). The pretzels were probably the best part, except that our server forgot to bring out the mustard, which took another five minutes to get her attention and then get the mustard to the table after the pretzels were delivered. The air conditioning was cranked up so high that the cheese sauce, which wasn't very hot to begin with, started to get cold and coagulate quickly. My sandwich, which was chicken breast with bacon, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and mayo, on pretzel bread, had no flavor, and the chicken was tough and room-temp. I'm not sure how you combine that many ingredients and have it taste like absolutely nothing. Ted's reuben suffered the same fate: pastrami, slaw, Swiss (only halfway melted), and 1000 Island dressing on pretzel bread; and yet ... nothing. My French fries were hot, tasty and seasoned with a nice, slightly spicy mixture; but the spicy sweet potato chips that were ordered with the reuben were neither crispy, nor spicy. In fact, it tasted like they completely forgot to season them at all. You can change your sides to onion rings or sweet potato tots for an additional $6.

Dinner was only a slight improvement. We decided to check out the scene on a Friday evening. HiFi was in a half-dinner, half-club mode, so it was a little strange to be seated out on the patio (which has a really nice ambiance and view of downtown), with people and families with kids eating, while 10 feet away, the blacklights are on, and the club music is bumping, loud, and half-clothed women are shaking their booties on the dance floor. Interesting combination of environments. Our dinner server was much more attentive than our lunch server, and she was also super-friendly. We ordered one of the signature appetizers, bacon Brussels ($7), which were sautéed Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon chunks, smothered in Parmesan and a (not listed on the menu) balsamic vinegar sauce, and two beers (draught pints range from $4 to $6, with a decent local and import selection).

The Brussels sprouts were pretty tasty, and came out hot and quickly. I was hopeful that entrées would follow suit, but they were again pretty disappointing. My apple gorgonzola salad, which also had strawberries and candied walnuts, dressed in prickly pear vinaigrette ($12, plus an additional $4 to add a small, sliced, boneless chicken breast, which I did; or an additional $8 to add a piece of salmon) was boring, and had hardly any gorgonzola on it. The chicken was again room-temperature (room temperature meat is just gross), and the vinaigrette was hardly detectable. Ted's sunny side burger ($13), with bacon, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and a fried egg, had decent flavor, but was damn near raw in the middle (ordered medium-rare), though the egg at least came out cooked appropriately. The spicy sweet potato chips were at least crispy this time, but they again, had very little seasoning, and it definitely wasn't spicy.

We finished the night with one of the adult milkshakes—a cherry cheesecake ($10) made with vanilla vodka, cherries, cream cheese, graham cracker crumbles, and whipped cream. At this point, HiFi had made the transition over to full-nightclub vibe, which looked like it would be a fun distraction if I were still in college. The bar was backed up from all of the drink orders, so it took about 15 minutes to get our shake, though our waitress came over and apologized profusely twice in that time. Once it arrived, it was lethal—as I'm sure all of the flavors are. Dangerously and deliciously sweet, packed with alcohol, yet you can barely taste it at all—recipe for a really terrible morning, right there. There are a scant dozen milkshake flavors to choose from, and I'm sure they're all equally lethally tasty.

If the drinks-and-dancing nightclub vibe is up your alley, HiFi seems like a fun diversion; and provides something new in downtown, but I wouldn't make the trip for the food, and there are plenty of other places to watch the game with better sports-bar ambiance.