Saturday, November 29, 2008


******Zing is closed**************************

If you have followed my blog, you know I love tapas, or little plates. Indy has a fairly new restaurant specializing in these little plates. Tapas technically come from Spain, but many restaurants have taken this concept into other types of food—which is what Zing is doing. I was a little hesitant about this place as I have heard mixed reviews, but nothing I love more than a new restaurant, so off we went.

First off, it was midweek, and it wasn’t very crowded (although it picked up a bit later). I enjoyed the colorful modern interior and great views from certain tables of the lit buildings of the City. It wasn’t cold like many modern interiors are, it had a lot of creative lighting and the bright colors to make it more eclectic. The service was prompt (although I think the hostess a bit bored, as she was reading a book) and our server was quite friendly. The only gripe I had was that we weren’t told about the drink specials, but that may be because we ordered wine so quickly. The wine list isn’t huge, but has a good variety from around the world, and I found the glass pours reasonably priced and generous.

We wanted to try a bit of lots of stuff, so we started with one of the salad courses—the mushrooms. They were marinated mushroom caps, served cold, and they were the first thing to come out. They were okay, but not overly exciting. I think they would be better if you maybe ordered some of the meats and cheeses offered and had them alongside other things in an antipasto platter. They weren’t much on their own. We skipped the meats and cheeses on this trip though in order to make room for more of the warm dishes (baby, it’s cold outside!).

The next thing to come out was the BLT “pizza-ette.” Their “pizza-ettes” are little 7 inch pizzas with several choices of toppings. This one had bacon, tomato, and cheddar cheese and was topped with lettuce drizzled with ranch dressing. It wasn’t bad, sort of tasted like a flat potato skin. I probably wouldn’t order it again, but if someone else really wanted, I would eat it again. My suggestion would be to go a little higher end on the flavors on at least some of the “pizza-ettes” a la Oh Yumm Bistro. The crust was pretty tasty, but the whole thing just wasn’t overly exciting. Maybe the one with sundried tomato pesto, fennel and bleu cheese would be better.

The next dish to come out was the scallops with keylime butter sauce on top of spaghetti squash with currants and pinenuts. This dish just simply didn’t come together. There were three very small scallops (that were properly cooked I will say), and way too much of the accompaniments. I think the delicate scallop flavor was completely lost in the heavy Middle Eastern flavor of the squash. And if there was key lime butter, I didn’t taste it (and some nice citrusy flavor would’ve helped). I love scallops, but this was the worst plate we had. Unfortunately, they came highly recommended by our server, but I would go on your own instincts with what you choose, as the best things we had were not recommended items.

Thankfully, things seemed to turn around at this point in the meal. We were next served the fried fingerling potatoes with Italian sausage and feta vinaigrette. These had a nice flavor—they really seemed to grow on you. The sausage was just little tiny bits mixed in (so it wasn’t too rich) and the feta vinaigrette jazzed it up. The only thing I would change about this course would be that it was served along with something else at the same time—it is a little much to just eat this somewhat large portion of the rich and starchy potatoes with nothing to go along with. I know they just sort of bring things out as they are ready, but they should make a point to bring these out along with something else—we had quite a long period where we only had the potatoes on the table. And it is a larger portion than some of the other things, so a good one to share, even with more than 2 people.

The next course was the mahi mahi tacos with avocado cream, jicama slaw and cilantro pesto. These were outstanding and reminded me of some mini tacos we used to get at a tapas place in San Francisco. The shells were light and very crispy and the flavors blended together beautifully. They are definitely on the must order list in my book.

Finally, we added an order of the fried calamari with remoulade sauce at the last minute and this was probably the best calamari in Indianapolis I have had to date. A very light fry and tender calamari served with a delicious remoulade sauce that seemed to have a bit of lemon in it as well as fresh herbs. It made the sauce very bright (rather than just mayo with hot sauce like so many remoulades taste like) and made the dish one of the best on the table.

We were quite happy about the way the meal was wrapping up and were trying to figure out whether to order dessert or not (afraid to ruin what had turned out pretty good) but decided to go for it. We ordered the little shot glasses of mousses. We got the sampler of 4 different flavors—2 chocolates, 1 peanut butter and 1 butterscotch. They were actually very good! And it has been awhile since I had something so butterscotchy. I liked mixing the chocolate into the peanut butter and the butterscotch and blending the flavors. Tasty. Would get these again as well. And they aren’t so big that you feel like you just don’t have room—there is always enough room for these.

I guess we were lucky the dishes seemed to come out in order of worst to best, as we left with a good taste in our mouths. I am hoping they tweak the menu a bit with the seasons, and maybe take some of the weaker ones off the menu, because I would like to see some new things the next time I go, along with some of the really great items I had on this trip.

543 Indiana Avenue
Indy 46202

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Elements Reprise


We headed back to one of our favorite places this week-Elements. I am trying to get some new places in, but it was hubby’s birthday, and his choice, so Elements it was. And I figured since I don’t think we have been there since Chef and former owner Greg Hardesty left, it would be a good thing to check up and see how things are going.

Not too busy, but it was a Tuesday after all. We got our favorite table and were served by a very friendly and knowledgeable server. I think the wine list has changed a bit, but they had a nice Soave reasonably priced, so that is what we went with.

For a starter I had the herb gnocchi with mushrooms and roasted tomatoes with a white wine nage and sliced garlic. It was a great sized portion (i.e. not ridiculously big) and it was excellent. I really really liked it and ate every bite. At this point in the meal, I am thinking this place is still spot on. The gnocchi were super tender and light and obviously very freshly made. The mushrooms were small and tender with a taste similar to a shitake but not quite as strong. Hubby had the Tasmanian salmon starter with fresh pasta, roasted tomatoes and artichokes, and although salmon isn’t my favorite fish, the pasta and accompaniments were delicious! The pasta was homemade and they should really consider a pasta appetizer or main dish—they did it very well.

For my main, I had the skirt steak with steak frites, collard greens, pickled red onions and truffle jus. It was so cold outside and this sounded nice and hearty. The server sort of seemed to be recommending the Barramundi which also sounded good—and normally at Elements I like to get the fish, but like I said the beef just sounded so good. Well, let’s just say that I should have gone for the fish. Even though I ordered the meat medium rare, it was medium at best and therefore, a bit tough. I should have sent it back, but couldn’t really delay the meal that much due to time constraints. The thing about it is, in my experience, this has always been a problem at Elements. Any time I have gotten beef there, it has always been overcooked. Not sure why. The onions and greens were pretty good, but I couldn’t really smell or taste any truffle in there (and usually my nose can smell it a mile away). But, I have learned my lesson. Stick with the fish. Hubby had swordfish and couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. It was perfectly cooked and served with basil mashed potatoes and Nicoise veggies.

We did order a dessert this time—the apple and ginger tart with “slightly fennel” ice cream and caramel sauce. It was well done. I didn’t really taste the fennel (hence the “slightly” I guess) but thought the flavors went well together—the ginger really complimented the apples.

All in all, the new chef, Neil Andrews, is keeping the “elements” of Elements the same, and up to the old high standards. They were offering two salads that were very unique and are one of my favorite things about Elements—that they put together complex salads with unusual ingredients (in this town anyway) that are different from what pretty much every other restaurant around is doing (i.e., no blue cheese wedge). They’re continuing to use lots of fresh and local ingredients in all their dishes and to serve great fresh seafood. Keep up the good work (and maybe work on the steak temps).

P.S., I hope the menu continues to be updated online—the week we went, there was nothing at all listed on the online menu for several days, but when I checked today, it was up again.

415 North Alabama Street
Indy 46204

Saturday, November 8, 2008


***As of June 5, 2011, Euphoria is closed as a restaurant and is only open for private events. The chef has also left the restaurant.****

Let me start by saying how happy I am that this restaurant exists again! Maybe even euphoric? (ha ha) Anyway, this is the new restaurant upstairs at the Bugg’s Temple building, previously “The Tavern at the Temple.” Several weeks ago the restaurant closed, and just when it looked like one of my favorite restaurants (for the chef and food anyway) was gone forever, it was reborn, as it were, as Euphoria. New owners, new service staff, same chef, many of the same menu items.

My first experience was a few nights before their grand opening when hubby and I were invited in to try some of the bar menu (and one of the regular menu appetizers as well). I was psyched. And thrilled to know the mussels I loved so much were still on the menu. They were the best in town. There are several repeat items as well as several new ones. And the cheese menu is still there too (thank goodness!). And you should know, if you go to eat here, you can always order off of the bar menu as well, so ask to see it. You get a lot more variety as far as appetizer choices that way (it is a completely different menu from the regular restaurant menu), and you can make a kick butt cheese plate for yourself for dessert.

So on this first night we tried two completely new things to us to start with, the sweet potato gnocchi with pork, thinly sliced brussel sprouts and Parmesan (this one is actually a starter on the dinner menu). Let me tell you, this was so good. Sometimes I find sweet potato things to be, well, too sweet. This was amazing. The gnocchi were sautéed and a bit crispy on the sides and all the flavors melded together perfectly. I would recommend this to anyone dining there.

We also tried the beef tartare. The freshly ground tenderloin and strip steak was topped with a fried quail egg and paired with very finely chopped onions and tomatoes, capers, those little tiny gherkins (cornichons I believe they are called) and mustard. And housemade garlic chips to scoop it with. Well, actually, they were really too thin to scoop it with, but great as a topper to a bite put together on your fork. The beef was excellent and the mustard really added that zip that you need with such a rich dish. I would get it again though for sure.

I had to get the mussels as they were one of my favorite things in the previous incarnation. When they first brought them out, we both thought they were off. The flavor wasn’t quite right. I then realized the smoked tomatoes that usually are a part of this dish were missing and it really suffered for it. Fortunately, I recognized the problem, and the dish was taken back to the kitchen and came out with the tomatoes. Then, it was back to par. I think because the restaurant wasn’t technically open yet and the kitchen was still getting it together (many new staffers were are told), they are just working out a few kinks. Just be sure and look for those tomatoes if you don’t see them on your mussels—they really make a huge difference!

We also tried the shrimp cocktail because it had been recommended. They are attempting to make a classic standby somewhat unique by serving it with different sauces besides the classic cocktail sauce. They serve it with three sauces—cocktail but with a sweet chili and Sriracha kick (really tasty actually), a cajun remoulade (this one didn’t really do it for me, tasted more like mustard or something), and a crème fraiche horseradish sauce (I liked the tang mixed with the heat of the horseradish). All in all, this dish was my least favorite though. The shrimp were good and large, but something about them was just a bit off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t think I would order this one again.

For dessert, we were offered a cheese board (oh, hallelujah!) and we jumped at it. They have a lot of cheeses on the bar menu (and we are told even more to come) but they put it together for us. It was quite good, even without choosing it myself. They only thing I would change (besides making my own cheese choices) is that some of the crackers served alongside were savory flavored—which would be good if you are having a cheese plate as an appetizer, but when you want it for dessert, either plain crackers are best, or else something really good like raisin walnut bread thinly sliced and toasted. And some fresh fruit and nuts would really add to the experience as well. There was some chunky jam with it which was good, but just some grapes or fresh sliced apples makes for a perfect cheeseboard in my opinion. We were told that they are actually trying to go all the way with the cheese thing and actually invest in a cheese cart like you see in Europe (and San Francisco and even Chicago for that matter). In case you are unfamiliar, it is very common in Europe for there to be a large wheeled cart with many cheeses on it (usually broken up by animal type—i.e. goat’s milk, cow’s milk and sheep’s milk and then again by strength (or as I prefer to think of it, by stinkiness)). In Europe, people often have a cheese course either before dessert, or in place if it. And when you choose it, they wheel their cart around and you get to pick some yourself that they then slice up and serve with all the yummy accoutrements. The goal is to have a full cheese service on the weekends, with a dedicated cheese server! I won’t believe it til I see it, but I would be so, so happy! Bring on the stinky cheese! (I like the strong ones).

The service was so much more friendly and knowledgeable and I hope to see that continue and expand. The only service-type problem we had was the bottle of wine we ordered wasn’t very cold (which had been a problem in the past). I am going to think positive and believe it was just because they were still getting ready for the Grand Opening.

The next time we went was actually on the grand opening night. We went with friends, which was great--opportunity to have tastes of many things. It was a very cheery atmosphere and it was nice to see the place busy. They clearly had enough service staff and were on top of making sure the water glasses were full and wine glasses were topped off. We were also told there are many new servers who have come from other restaurants around the city known for their service. This is key, as service was one of the biggest problems with this place under the old regime.

The first food type thing I want to comment on is the bread. They have changed the bread service! I was mentioning this to hubby when we were at the bar, and was really hoping they got rid of the little rolls that were served room temp and were often so hard they could be substituted for batting practice. They now have nice slices of soft fresh bread (still not warm, but you can't have everything). Much better. Oh and such a cute little glass server for the butter--butter which is also room temperature and thus, spreadable!

We were served an amuse bouche of the salmon pastrami with a bit of creme fraiche and caviar. I'll be honest, smoked fish isn't really my thing but hubby loved it and everyone at our table seemed to enjoy it. Loved the plates they are using--very colorful and eclectic. The cool plate thing went on throughout the meal.

For my starter, I had the scallops grenobloise. These were outstanding. Normally I prefer the large sea scallops and these were the little bay scallops. But this was a great preparation. They were lightly pan fried with capers (love that tangy/salty thing) and teeny tiny croutons and a creamy fingerling potato sauce underneath. Add a touch more lemon, and, perfection. Hubby had the polenta with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. They were outstanding as well. One of our dining companions had the sweet potato gnocchi based on my recommendation and really really liked them, just as I did.

For my main, I had the lamb chops. First of all, can you say, enormous? The portions at this place have gotten Oceanaire size I think. The flavor was good, I really liked the dijon sauce and of course, the twice baked fingerlings (they fancy person's potato skins with cheese and bacon) and the broccoli rabe, however, the lamb itself was a little too tough. They were the big loin chops, and not the little lamb lollipops (um, the technical term being rib chop I believe) that I prefer (and which seem more tender). They were still medium rare in the middle, but they were a bit too charred on the outside. Hubby and another of our party had the suckling pig and both seemed to quite like it. My other friend had the one side seared beef, which I have had before and I know is good. It did have a more Fallish side dish-- wild mushroom risotto, and was quite well received. Seriously though, the portions are really really big. Next time, I will either split an entree or get two starters for sure.

Along these lines, another thing I noticed about the new menu was that 1) the prices went up and 2) there is a whole section of the menu which is like a steakhouse (and so many restaurants in this town). Now, I am guessing that both of these things have been done in order to ensure the survival of Euphoria, in which case, I wholeheartedly support it, as I really want this restaurant to succeed and prosper. It is a unique, non-chain restaurant with a local born chef (who has worked around the world) and who I think is doing great things. However, it does sort of bum me out that slightly under half the menu has been dedicated to steak like SO many other places around here. I mean, do people around here only want steak when they are eating out? I can throw some meat on the grill and have it come out pretty damn good. I want some complex flavors, some ingredients not necessarily so readily available to the home cook, some side dishes that layer the flavors in a way that I wouldn't naturally come up with on my own. But the dishes that aren't on the steakhouse portion of the menu all look great and all seem to showcase the talents of the chef. So expand your horizons and order those. Enough said.

For dessert, we ordered a cheese plate (natch) from the bar menu based on our own personal selections. We ordered quite a few selections and I am happy to report they were already serving them with plainer crackers and some fresh grapes (wow, are they reading my mind or what?). And as part of the dinner service, they were serving walnut bread, so I just asked for some of that with my cheese as well. Of course, if it were sliced super thin and toasted, oh the joy. But we can't have everything. I was very pleased with it. Hubby was too except that he complained about eating too much. My friend who was with us ordered a chocolate/pomegranate cake which was a tad dry I am afraid. Needed at least some creme anglaise or ice cream alongside to moisten it up a bit. And where oh where has the banana tart gone? Hopefully not away with the old owners. It was so good. They were offering a pear and apple tart tatin--next time.

The wine service was much improved (other than we didn't get a wine list upon being seated), but I knew what I wanted, so not a problem for me. And it was cold. They also serve my fave--Moscato d'Asti by the glass for dessert which made me a happy camper.

All, in all, Chef Gates is back, service is better and the food is still great. This time people, let's keep this place around!

337 West 11th Street
Indy, 46202

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Loon Lake Lodge

*****Loon Lake Lodge is Closed for Business***** (8/23/10)

I know what you're thinking. That place with the airplane on top and the animatronic animals?? Seriously? Yup. For 2 years (as long as I have lived in this City with children), my kids have asked me to go to this place every time we drive by it. They certainly know how to lure people (children) in with the decor. And that is just on the outside. One weeknight, we decided, what the hey, we wanted something new and somewhere we could take the kids where it would not be unusual to see a three year old jumping up and down in his seat. So we gave in. And hey, it's not a chain right? (Which is where we seem to end up more often than I like with my kids). I will say, I am suspicious of any restaurant with a gift shop though.

So the funny thing about this place is, when I went to their website to learn a bit more about it before our visit (I really wanted to know if it was a chain), the website described it as having been "family owned and operated since 1888." Ok, this I found hard to believe. This place pretty much in the heart of Castleton had been around for over 100 years? Hmmmm... So we went, and as it turns out, Loon Lake Lodge is the successor to Laughner's cafeteria. Those of you who are long-time residents might remember Laughner's, it was a local family owned and operated cafeteria chain, sort of like MCL but a little nicer. Apparently, they used one of their buildings and started this concept after the cafeterias closed. Stretching it a bit I think.

So, to start with, it is a good place to take kids, other then the menu is huge and there is no way to read through it all properly when you have a hungry toddler. So we had to order in a hurry and decided to get several items so we could get a taste. But they really do have animatronic animals scattered about that periodically "come alive" and growl and eat honey and such things. And on the night we happened to go, it was family night (pure luck) and kids ate free and they even had a face painter. (A sweet kid who obviously does not see this as an actual job--I think it must have been the dishwasher or bus boy or something with some paints based on the final product. But my daughter could've cared less. She loves people to paint her face). So those things were good.

The food was ok. I know, big surprise. They do have some interesting game-type entrees like elk steaks and bison meatloaf. I really like bison, but didn't want to order red meat that night, so I went with the tempura shrimp, which were under the "Chef's Specialty items." They were quite expensive for a family type restaurant ($29.95 I think) and they weren't very good. The shrimp themselves were good quality, and huge, but the batter was actually really bready and seriously, they were each like the size of your fist. They reminded me more of shrimp hush puppies--that was more of the consistency of them. You get two sides, so I tried the cheddar mashed potatoes (really, was there cheese in there? I think not) and the corn fritters which were really tasty little morsels of fried corn.

Hubby had the blackened Grouper, which was simple and pretty good. He had it with a side of steak. I know, that is crazy. This is the first restaurant I have been to where you can get a steak as a side item, or shrimp, or you can order steak and get a fish fillet on the side. Seemed excessive, but we did it, just to try lots of things. The fish and steak were the best things, although not the best around for sure. For his sides, he had creamed corn and creamed spinach (I think they were pulling recipes from the cafeteria days with these). The creamed corn was corn with cream in it--not very good. The creamed spinach was much better.

The kids had grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese, classic kids items, with french fries. They seemed fine with it, although they were more interested in the animals coming alive.

All in all, if you want somewhere that is kid friendly, and even kid entertaining, not a chain, and has lots of different items to choose from, you may want to try this place. If you are just looking for a good steak or piece of fish, and you only have adults in your party, there are far better options.

Loon Lake Lodge
6880 East 82nd Street
Indy 46250

Taste Cafe and Marketplace

I realized I have never written up my all time favorite lunch place in this City--Taste Cafe and Marketplace. Luckily, this was one of the first places where I ate lunch before we had even moved to Indianapolis from San Francisco. Our real estate agent took us here for lunch the day we looked at, and picked out our house in Indy. It gave me real hope about the food in this City.

I have had a few different things here, but once I tried the BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, I was completely hooked. Nothing else can compare. Once hubby and I really wanted to try something new, so we split a BALT (you can't just not get it) as well as the rare roast beef sandwich. Now, the roast beef was really good--anywhere else I would've been thrilled (balsamic onions, horseradish mayo), but the BALT, how can I explain? It is mixed greens, warm bacon, tomatoes, and mushed up avocado on a french roll (or whole wheat if you prefer--I don't) along with a dressing that is creamy and a bit zingy. As in tangy, not hot. It is this dressing I think that makes the sandwich. I know this because I have tried to duplicate it with really good ingredients, including fresh heirloom tomatoes from my own garden and I just can't do it. Normally, I am not a sandwich person, but this is the best sandwich ever.

The funny thing I have discovered about this restaurant is that people have a thing there and find it nearly impossible to deviate from what they get. My best friend and hubby are like me and always get the BALT. Sometimes with soup, or chips, or even those tasty pommes frites. Side note--I need to tell you about the pommes frites. They are the thin, really crisp french fries served in a paper cone with a delicious herby aioli. Once when I was there, they were also doing truffle frites. I couldn't get them that day, but were told they would be on the dinner menu soon. More on that below. But, back to my original point. Once, when I ran into my hairdresser there she started talking to someone who worked there and who was telling her she really should try something new, that she always gets the 3 salad sampler plate and never tries anything else. She said she would but when she got up to order, she said to me, "I just can't do it!" and ordered her usual. And another friend swears by the Pear and Roquefort salad. And the frites.

Besides for the green salads, they do 10-12 fresh made other salads daily there that also look quite good (not that I have had them, you see). But if the dressings are anything like what is on my BALT, I am sure they are. These are things like curry chicken salad, caprese salad, albacore tuna salad, chilled asparagus, orzo and pasta salads, etc. They also have an great cheese selection, and I have ordered a cheese plate for a party from them (all imports in my particular case) and it was one of the best cheese plates I have ever had. They have all those wonderful French cheeses that no one seems to want to carry around here because they need to sell them quickly before they go bad. They must pull it off, because that cheese is a huge temptation for me whenever I go in.

Taste has also recently remodeled and expanded and looks more like a restaurant than a lunch cafe--which is appropriate since they are planning to start serving dinner sometime before Thanksgiving. I will certainly order something new for dinner. I promise. And maybe, they will have that ever elusive item of the dessert cheese plate. Elusive in this City anyway, not in most cities in the world.

I can't wait to try dinner! I love this place.

Taste Cafe & Marketplace
5164 N College Ave
Indy 46205