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The Ridiculously Themey Ice Bar Actually Serves Some Pretty Cool Food

More Than Zero
Cringe-inducing visual and culinary puns aside, the ridiculously theme-intensive Ice Bar actually serves some pretty cool dishes

Yeti’s love nest. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Liberace’s den. These were just a few descriptions that popped to mind when I saw the Long Beach nightclub/restaurant Ice Bar. The place, you see, is all white. Everything from the drapes, the slipcovers on the chairs, the couches, even the air-conditioning ducts were colored to be more pallid than Casper, designed to emulate the look of that Swedish ice hotel you may have seen on Discovery Channel. Except here, it’s not ice, but buckets of paint, fabric and a ceiling covered in fireproofing (which could actually pass for snow if it weren’t obviously fireproofing).

Every few minutes, strategically positioned lights cycled through a different color filter, flooding the room in changing primary hues as if the Aurora Borealis made landfall. But no matter which filter it was on, the effect was unflattering to the food and our complexion, washing out everything to a monochrome.

But the sum of it all is still, pardon the pun, an ice-breaker. You’ll spend the first few minutes—no, make that the whole time—trading quips about your meant-to-be-trendy surroundings. First thing I said to my date: “Are your corneas burnt out like mine are?”

She was more concerned for our servers, who had to show up for work in the tidiest of their whites, tasked with not only being good hosts, but also bringing out food and refilling drinks while not spilling anything on their outfits. Some looked as though they came on duty in their long-johns; others could pass for extras in a futuristic film involving clones inside an antiseptic utopia.

It was all in service to the theme, and the quasi-pan-Asian-but-mostly sushi menu played along, too. Its success, however, wasn’t so black and, ahem, white. Soft-shell crab, deep-fried to rigid planks, were covered in a heavy batter that actually worked well to maintain its structural integrity—essential since the food is meant to be passed around and shared with bare fingers. If the batter were less forthright, the crab would’ve been too floppy to drag through its mango-honey sauce.

Unfortunately, a similar thick batter made the black-tiger-shrimp tempura lead-weighted versions of what’s supposed to be ethereal and lacy. With won ton pieces, grape tomatoes and sweet onions as extra players, the cabbage salad the shrimp topped was creamy and crisp. But if they flipped on the light switch, you’d see that—surprise!—it’s coleslaw.

Boneless short ribs would be good in the dark or otherwise: Chewy but sweetly marinated, smoky beef was grilled and served in cubes like an unskewered shish kebab. Rosemary sprigs were provided to re-skewer them for transport to your mouth.

Another dish, called the “Ice Bouquet,” was pre-threaded on toothpicks. Uncooked and born from the surf, it was the antithesis to the short ribs. Ahi tuna, yellowtail, salmon, halibut, crab and avocado were wrapped inside the skin of a cucumber, eaten like raw-fish lollipops and coolly refreshing. It was one of a few “Ice Specials” that didn’t leave us cold.

In fact, another special kept us warm, as it was literally on fire! Half of the plate was set ablaze in an alcohol-fueled flambé; the other half was covered in rock salt. It’s oh-so-clever moniker? “Fire & Ice.” In the middle of the pyrotechnics, getting more and more scorched by the minute, was a tempura-encased, deep-fried sushi roll filled with tuna, crab, avocado, smelt roe and cream cheese. But despite being flavor-packed with a spicy chili aioli, it suffered the same affliction all deep-fried sushi rolls suffer; the rice had turned to paste.

But like Titanic to an iceberg, our dinner crashed headlong into the Icester Shooter—a shot glass of sea urchin, oyster and salmon eggs drowned in plum wine and Red Bull “foam” that went down like Cherry NyQuil chased with Clamato.

We were more lukewarm on other raw seafood items. Our fresh oysters on the half shell were, of course, served on crushed ice, but every other gulp we took was interrupted by bits of broken shell. And the toro sushi I had was dry and stringy when it should’ve melted.

Only when we ordered their salty but funky miso-cheese-and-smoked-salmon pizza did our taste buds finally thaw. So, despite a few dishes that left us cold, Ice Bar was actually pretty cool.

I’ll stop now.

Ice Bar at 49 S. Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 495-8200; www.icelb.com. Restaurant open Mon.-Sat., 4:30-10 p.m.; nightclub open Thurs.-Sat., 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $40-$100, food only. Full bar.

 
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