Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sinclair's at West Baden Springs

This week we ventured out of Indianapolis and took a trip to French Lick (well, West Baden really) to spend a night away for our anniversary. Overall, we had a great trip. West Baden Springs hotel is beautiful and the rooms are large and well done. The lobby alone is worth the trip. We also won money at the casino, and hey, you can’t get much better than that!

Last time we went to French Lick, we stayed at the French Lick hotel and while the rooms are quite nice, the grounds are nowhere near as nice as West Baden. We also ate at the restaurant there last time, the 1875 Steakhouse, and while it was fine, it was nothing to write home about. The space the restaurant is in, is also sort of weird, as the entire restaurant sort of felt like a hallway with some little rooms tacked on. Basically, because of all of this, we decided to eat at the fine dining restaurant at West Baden this time, Sinclair’s.

When we were last in French Lick, we looked at Sinclair’s. At that time (about a year ago), it was a true Italian restaurant with a great looking menu. Not the typical Americanized Italian (spaghetti with meatballs), but true gourmet foods you might actually see in a restaurant in Venice or Florence. However, sadly that didn’t play well in Southern Indiana. So after giving up on that, the restaurant changed to food that might be seen in the restaurant at the time the hotel was originally built (i.e. late 1800s) with a local focus. I am not exactly sure what that meant, but apparently that didn’t last either. So now, the restaurant has basically given in to pressure to basically appeal to the masses with a menu that focuses on the Hoosier stand-bys with an attempt to give it a slightly modern flair. In other words, there were several steaks, lamb chops, fried chicken served tableside (!?!) and a couple of fish dishes (fried walleye being one).

The appetizers were things like shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp, a mushroom pastry, an heirloom tomato plate, and some salads. Not a huge appetizer list to be sure, and nothing really jumped out at me, but I ended up agreeing with hubby to try the fried shrimp with a hot apricot sauce, and he got the mushroom pastry and we would share.

The shrimp were good, very fresh and properly cooked. The sauce was not bad, but a little sweet for me (I knew it would be). I wished the shrimp weren’t lying in the sauce; I would’ve preferred a little less sauce than what there was. Hubby’s mushroom pastry was basically sautéed mushrooms with a bit of goat cheese on top and then a puff pastry crust laid across the top. It was okay, but really could’ve used a bit more of the goat cheese to break up the richness of the whole thing.

Even though I was somewhat intrigued to see what fried chicken carved tableside would be like, based on our server’s recommendations, I got the filet Oscar—filet mignon with lump crab and béarnaise sauce with mashed potatoes and asparagus. That was how it was described, and that was what I expected. What I got was a filet sitting in a pool of demi glace with a bit of lump crab and a tiny bit of béarnaise over the asparagus. I am not a big fan of demi glace in general because it really dominates the flavors of whatever it is with. The béarnaise was really good, but you could barely taste it. I asked for some extra béarnaise on the side and tried to scoot the demi glace aside, but again, because the food was right in it, it was difficult to avoid. If I had known, I would’ve asked for it without, but it was not listed on the menu or mentioned by the server. It was a bummer because the quality of the other ingredients was pretty high and you didn’t need to try and hide it with the rich demi glace. The crab pieces were nice and big and the béarnaise was quite flavorful and the steak was pretty good too, and cooked properly medium rare.

Hubby ordered rack of lamb—again the quality of the meat was very, very good and the sides were not bad (roasted fingerlings and a vegetable mix) but it was also sitting in a large puddle of the same demi glace. Completely unnecessary and overwhelmed the tastiness of the lamb. Incidentally, there was a lot of the lamb, probably 6 chops—interestingly, though only one had the bone on it—I had never seen that before. Nothing wrong with it, except you can’t pick up the bone and chew on it which is something hubby has a tendency to do (how manly).

We had a coupon for a free dessert (it is related to a casino after all) so we tried the Apple Tart Tatin. Not very good. At all. The apples were kind of rubbery and there was absolutely none of the crispiness on top from the caramelization (hmmm, is that a word?) that makes this dessert good. We also got another free dessert for our anniversary, which was sorbet with fresh fruit. It was better than the Tart, but I don’t even think it is something you could order from the menu.

As for the service, our server was quite friendly and was happy to make recommendations from the menu. She knew the food pretty well and her recommendations were pretty good. One of my favorite things about the restaurant was the wine list, which is a lot of leftover Italian wines from the previous incarnation of the restaurant. They are trying to get rid of it all (they even have a wine tasting cart they push around to sample various wines), but it was right up my alley. Personally, I was thrilled when I took a look at the wine list.

The room is also beautiful—like an old fancy restaurant from a nice resort built in the late 1800s—exactly what it is. It is a large room with columns and nice views onto the grounds. It had a much nicer ambiance than the French Lick restaurant.

Overall, for a restaurant that has gone through so many changes in such a short time, they are doing an okay job. The service was very good, the room is beautiful and with a few tweaks, (and a new pastry chef maybe), the food could be very very good.

West Baden Springs Resort
8670 West State Road 56
French Lick, IN 47432

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