Thursday, October 29, 2009

Castleton Grill

Ok, we live right near this place and we have never managed to get to it. And I have never, NEVER, heard anyone say one word about it. But they advertise that they are one of the only non-chains in the Castleton area, and one day for lunch hubby wanted a burger and I wanted to go somewhere new, so we landed at the Castleton Grill. (Although after looking at their website, they certainly run several restaurants, and while they mainly seem to be in Indiana, I am still not exactly sure what they mean by being a non-chain—they are not a large national corporate chain, but a locally owned group of restaurants I guess.)

It’s a strange place. There are a lot of people eating here that have obviously been eating here for a long time. You could tell by their familiarity with the staff (my favorite was one guy who refused to sit in a certain server’s section and they knew it from the moment he walked in). The menu is pretty big, and covers most of the basic Midwestern menu requirements.

The first disappointment was the onion rings we ordered to start. I asked our server if they were battered or breaded and she said, oh, “they’re battered and they’re really good!” Well she was wrong on both accounts. They were actually breaded (I don’t like them that way) and straight out of a foodservice bag and probably the worst onion rings I have ever had. I didn’t even finish one of them. Complete waste of calories. And we only ate 2 of them and they sat there for the rest of the meal. Even though she asked if we liked them and we told her we didn’t, she didn’t offer to take them off the bill or anything. Annoying.

So I ordered a Cobb salad for my lunch, which is often my go to salad in places like this. It is easy to compare a salad like this and see how quality the ingredients are. It had all the usuals, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, and hard boiled eggs and a less common thing, slivered almonds. The chicken was a grilled chicken breast. The dressing was their own blue cheese dressing. I was a little disappointed with a couple of things in this salad. They touted their “Applewood smoked bacon” all over the menu, including on this salad, but as you can see from the picture, the crumbles of bacon were more like bacon dust. And the tiny sliver of avocado, while ripe, was miniscule. The blue cheese was also in very small crumbles, and not the most flavorful cheese I have had for sure.

I liked the almonds, as I like the crunch that almonds add to a salad, but there were more of these than just about anything with the exception of the chicken and tomatoes. The chicken wasn’t bad. Not too tough, and I liked that at least it wasn’t just lunch meat cubed on top. However, all in all, I wouldn’t order this again. Probably the best thing about the salad was the dressing—it was very thick and blue-cheesy, although sometimes when the dressing is so thick, it makes it hard to eat with the salad. But I just dipped my forkfuls in, made a mess, and went on about my business. They sell this to go, so my guess is they consider it a specialty.

Hubby had the burger with cheddar and some of that bacon I mentioned earlier and was quite happy. He liked the bun and thought they had the proper proportion of bread to meat. He wanted to be sure that I said his burger got the thumbs up. (He didn’t care for the fries though—very standard. And in this day and age, with so many great fries out there, it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with some good ones). So there you go. If you end up at this place, maybe you should order the burger. And if you are one of the regulars, and think something is really good here, will you let me know?

Castleton Grill
6010 East 82nd Street
Indy 46250
317-577-2340
http://donhalls.com/

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alinea Chicago

Wow. We had an impressive food weekend in Chicago recently for our anniversary. Since it was sort of a big one (10!) we decided to go whole hog and finally get to Alinea. It has been on our list since we moved back to Indy, but with its minimum of 12 courses and hefty price tag (not to mention a more challenging reservation to get then some others), we saved it for a special occasion.

Before I start, can I just vent about something? How come none of the cabbies in Chicago know where any of the restaurants are in the City? I mean Alinea is one of the top ranked restaurants there and the cab driver had no clue. And every time we go there, it’s the same. Once we actually had to get out and walk the rest of the way because the cabbie was so clueless. My advice: if you aren’t totally sure where you are going, and you’re taking a cab, make sure you have the address, phone number and ideally written directions. Makes me long for the cab drivers in London who would be seriously offended if you even told them the address—they had to take a detailed test in order to even get their license.

Anyhow, once we got there, you walk in, into a hallway that is sort of like a little rabbit hole which is sort of cool, and then the metal doors slide open into the restaurant. You can look to your right and see a somewhat open kitchen (which I attempted a picture of). I have to say, the staff is all very friendly and not at all snooty. This is one of my favorite things about Chicago restaurants, the lack of pretension. We were seated and started on the adventure. This is a set menu, no options (well, unless you tell them you don’t eat certain things or have allergies, etc). With 12 courses, we figured we should just go with the wine pairings too, because it just seemed overwhelming to come up with your own stuff. And if you aren’t familiar with the style of this restaurant, this is a chef who likes to play with his food, so to speak, and you will find familiar flavors disguised in things you might not expect. Like cucumber infused lettuce. That was part of the Thai-inspired pork belly. He also incorporates scents and textures more so into the food than most—for instance one of the first things that happened after we were seated was a large piece of rosemary was placed at each of our seats, allowing for a beautiful scent before we had eaten anything. The rosemary was later incorporated into the lamb course. But if you are like a friend of mine who said she avoids restaurants with things that are “foamy” or “smoking,” this is probably not the place for you.

My overall impression of Alinea was that it was really good. The thing about a set menu is you are likely to get a few things that might not be up your alley and a few things that are awesome. And that was the case here. I’m not going to go through them all, because it would take all day, but probably my favorite 2 courses were the trout course and the “hot potato” course. The trout course was the chef’s interpretation of a traditional recipe. It was amazing. The trout was so tender, rolled up and had been cooked in a rich, very Fall-ish sauce. There were 3 little “boats” (all edible of course) filled with other yummies, 2 with trout roe and one, my favorite, lined with truffles and then with a plump quail egg yolk that had been poached in red wine. Mmmmmm…. He also used antique plates and etched wine glasses to carry the classic nature of the recipe. Very cool. (Here's a link to one of the Chef's twitter pictures showing the fish being rolled up: http://img132.yfrog.com/i/805p.jpg/.)

The other favorite (although now I am thinking about the caviar course too that came first—a fun one with foam flavored like bread and gelatin with the vegetable flavors infused. It was whimsical, but still really good) was the potato/truffle course which was a small piece of potato and a truffle skewered on a little pin that you pulled out and dumped into a little wax bowl full of a rich creamy sauce that you then drank in one gulp. Really tasty (can you tell I have a thing for truffles?).

An example of one of the other courses, just to give you an idea of the playfulness, but one that I didn’t think really actually tasted that impressive was the Pheasant course. It was a little tempura battered ball of apple, pheasant and shallot and skewered on a little oak branch that had the leaves slightly burning. A nice aroma of Fall to be sure, but the food itself on this course wasn’t that great. A little too chewy and not a lot of flavor in itself.

Also pictured here is the pork belly course which was served with Thai seasonings. his was also where the cucumber infused lettuce came in that I mentioned above. There was also a shot of “Thai distillation” which was a shot glass of a liquid that looked like water but was infused with various Thai seasonings which you were instructed to drink before you ate the food. This was very pretty, but for me, the flavors just weren’t that impressive. Hubby liked it better than me, but would’ve chosen a different flavor combination too.

This place is an experience for sure, and if you are really into food, a totally worthwhile one. And the wine pairing was spot on. The wines were all great (there were 8 small pours throughout the night) and many were unusual from smaller producers in the world. The meal and wine is almost shockingly expensive (the only other equivalently expensive meal I have had was the French Laundry in Napa), but there is certainly an inordinate amount of thought and passion going into the food. I actually would love to go back in the Spring and experience those flavors, as they are probably my favorite. But I’d better start a savings account for it now!

Alinea
1723 North Halstead
Chicago, IL 60614
312/867-0110
http://www.alinea-restaurant.com/

Alinea on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brugge Brasserie- Lunch

The last time I ate a Brugge, I had a great meal for dinner. I didn’t really realize until recently they served lunch, so I met a friend over there the other day. Now Brugge is sort of known for their mussels, which are very good, but since you can only get 2 pounds at a time, I thought I would try something else.

However, I would love to see a separate lunch portion of mussels for the menu at lunchtime. Brugge’s menu is exactly the same for lunch and dinner, which makes sense for the sandwiches and crepes, since they are more of a size to go either way. But I don’t think 2 pounds of mussels is probably an appropriate lunch portion (at least not for me—even at dinner that is enough to share I think). Not to mention $19 seems a little steep for lunch. Maybe offer a lunch portion of them so that people can still enjoy them and not be overwhelmed by the amount of food and the price if they don’t have someone to share with.

But, regardless, it was a good opportunity to try something new and I was torn between a crepe and a sandwich. Honestly, what sold me was the fact that the sandwiches come with frites and the crepes come with salad. If you have ever eaten at Brugge, you know how yummy their frites are (but don’t get me wrong, the salads I have had are good too). And even when you get them just as a side with a sandwich, they serve them with your choice of 2 dipping sauces. So I got the Portobello mushroom sandwich with glazed sweet onions and Dijon and crème fraiche. These sandwiches are really large. My only complaint is that while the bread is tasty, it may be a little big for me—a little too much bread in relation to the amount of toppings on the sandwich. And difficult to get the whole thing in your mouth. But the mushrooms and other toppings were tasty and the amount of fries is really generous. I got the fresh garlic aioli and the blue cheese dipping sauces and was really happy with both (even though I think the aioli is my perennial fave). But there was no way I could eat the whole thing (or even all the fries) and neither did my friend (she also got a sandwich and frites).

Overall though, I have to say, I missed the mussels even though the sandwich was pretty good too. I love the fact that there is a place in our City that really takes mussels and frites seriously. I just wish they had a lunch portion…

Brugge Brasserie
1011 A East Westfield Blvd.
Indy 46220
317-255-0978
www.bruggebrasserie.com

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moon Dog Tavern

So we randomly decided to go to lunch at this place the other day because we had read somewhere that they had good pork tenderloin sandwiches. Hubby has become a bit obsessed with tenderloin sandwiches because he grew up in Ohio where they aren’t such a tradition like they are here.

There were four of us, so we decided to start with the appetizer platter which consisted of chicken fingers, potato skins, portabella mushroom fries and some spinach seafood dip. We got this as a compromise because everyone wanted different stuff. And hey, it was decent pub grub. I used to have a thing for good potato skins when I was young, and then they all disappeared off the face of the earth and became these pre-made frozen jobbies that restaurants just threw in the deep fryer. These were more old school with a good amount of cheese and bacon as well as a potato shell with a bit of actual potato to it. I liked ‘em.

I also really liked the portabella fries—they were slices of portabella mushrooms that were hand breaded and fried and served with a creamy chipotle sauce. I really liked these too—and slightly different take on a fried mushroom. And the sauce really complimented them well. See, when a restaurant takes the time to actually hand make something themselves, they are so much better.

Honestly, I didn’t eat the chicken fingers; I boxed them up and took them home to the kids (and by the way, don’t bring the kids here, it’s a bar, and they aren’t allowed). They didn’t look hand breaded—more like straight from the freezer I would guess. I did try the seafood spinach dip. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, although others at the table liked it a bit better I think. Just nothing great…and I have to think any seafood hiding in a cheesy dip might be a little questionable... but maybe that’s just me.

For my lunch I had the California Club panini. Described as sliced chicken, bacon, avocado and tomato and topped with cheddar cheese. Ok, this sandwich was huge. I will start with that. Seriously enormous. Even if I had loved it, I wouldn’t be able to eat more than half. And I didn’t love it. Actually, I didn’t really like it either. The cheese was much more along the lines of Velveeta in its consistency. And that was what most of the sandwich was made up of—the cheese. The cheese was so overwhelming you couldn’t even tell there was anything else in there. And there wasn’t much of certain ingredients (avocado of course). Hey, everyone, if you list avocado as an ingredient, put some on there. Don’t give me one tiny slice. Okay? And the bacon was soft and pretty flavorless. I had the standard chips as my side. They were just chips from a bag.

Hubby had the tenderloin, and again, while also huge, he found it disappointing. Again, it was all the things I don’t like in a tenderloin (and the things I think he is starting to realize he doesn’t like as well). Really big and really thin and really dry and not much flavor. The one bright spot with the sandwiches (no one at our table really liked theirs too much) was the fries. Unfortunately, only one of us got the fries, but they were really tasty. They were the seasoned battered type and we all wished we had gotten more of them.

Unfortunately, while I like the fact that this place is an independently locally owned restaurant, and while a couple of the appetizers gave me hope, for purely food reasons, I probably wouldn’t go back. They do support local music though, which is always a good thing. So if you want a couple of good apps some night when you are going to see a band, check out the portabella fries and the potato skins. And maybe a side of fries.

Moon Dog Tavern
4825 East 96th Street
Indy 46240
317-575-6364
www.moondogtavern.com

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Si (aka Scholar's Inn) - one more time

I was headed to a show at the Murat the other night with a friend and we weren’t sure exactly when we could get downtown and where we would eat. Before it closed, Elements would have been my go to locale, but had to figure out something else. We decided to go back to Si (aka Scholar’s Inn) because the menu had changed a bit and there were a few interesting things on it.

Because we sort of just got down there when we could, and because it was a Wednesday, we decided to just wing it without a reservation. Upon entering, and meeting the hostess, we were given the eye roll/heavy sigh when we told her we didn’t have a reservation. Have I mentioned how snooty host/esses are one of my big pet peeves? They are literally the first human impression in a restaurant. And nothing gets me in a bad mood faster before I have even put a bite of food in my mouth than someone who seems annoyed by my very presence. If you can’t accommodate us, I understand. Tell us. We’ll go somewhere else.

Anyhow, we got seated, and ordered some wine. We decided to share one of the flatbreads for a starter because I have never had one here and was intrigued. We got the Zesty BLT flatbread with Applewood smoked bacon, manchego cheese, heirloom tomatoes, arugula with lime cilantro yogurt. It was pretty good—particularly the parts with really crispy crust (the four middle pieces). The end pieces were thicker and not as crispy. The arugula was nicely dressed with the yogurt. And the bacon was yummy. I hate it when you get dry tasteless bacon, but this was nice and properly crisp and chewy at the same time with good flavor.

Strangely, although there are 3 steaks on the menu (and I was in the mood for steak), they were out of 2 of them (the filet and the N.Y. strip steak) which was sort of a bummer because I liked the sound of the sides with the strip. (Wondering how a restaurant is out of both their high end steaks, but oh well) So I sort of had to settle for the skirt steak which I think I had the last time I was there. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It was a generous portion (4 pieces of meat) served with corn, sweet pepper, black bean and cucumber relish. The meat itself was marinated in a lime, cilantro, and cumin marinade. You could taste all the flavors and I appreciate that. The meat was just a little too tough for me (hence why I would have preferred one of the others). And some starch would be nice.

So my friend got the mushroom ravioli which was described as goat cheese shallot ravioli with a shitake and oyster mushroom sauce. I had a bit of this as well, and it was also just ok. “Meh” was how my friend described it. What I didn’t understand was where the shitakes were. All I saw on top (and there were lots of mushrooms) were brown button mushrooms. And I wasn’t aware of oyster mushrooms either. There was also some flavor in the seasoning that couldn’t be placed exactly, that my friend was not a big fan of.

Si does have a nice bread service, with a nice warm loaf of bread and good better. One of the benefits of having your own bakehouse I guess. As I have said before, I do like the interior of this place physically. It is very modern and stylish. I have had some issues with the staff at this place (one example noted above), which seems to be a problem at many restaurants around here. Our server was fine, a bit distant, but she answered all our questions and was attentive enough that our glasses never ran dry. The menu only changes slightly from time to time as far as I can tell, and I get bored with the same stuff all the time.

Overall, it was just an ok experience, with the flatbread being the best thing we had. Well, that and the concert after.

Scholar’s Inn/Si
725 Mass Ave
Indy, 46204
317-536-0707
http://www.scholarsinn.com/

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ruth’s Keystone Café

I reported the other day on Twitter that I had drove by Ruth’s Keystone Café, and for a nice change of pace, saw some good news—it was re-opening after being closed suddenly in July. It was a place I ate several times, and I guess I sort of took it for granted, so I wanted to make sure and support it once it re-opened. So the BFF and I met there for lunch on what was their 4th day open.

The menu is very similar to what it was before, many of the same items, and certainly all the favorite ones (at least for me). It is paired down a bit, and has been re-printed on nice new shiny laminated cards. One of my favorite changes is that they have a nice section of combos (e.g. soup and salad, soup and sandwich or salad and sandwich) and you can get a petite portion of ANY of their salads with the combo. This is exactly what I needed at this place because there is a salad I really like (the warm wild mushroom) and several sandwiches I like as well. So I had the sandwich/salad combo with the mushroom salad and half of their Cobb sandwich. Perfect.

The salad is a salad of spinach leaves topped with warm mushrooms (mostly the brown button type), blue cheese and walnuts and served with a yummy truffle vinaigrette. There was so much of the toppings that I didn’t even end up eating all of them after going through all the spinach. But it is a really nice, hearty salad. And it is nice to be able to get something warm when the weather is starting to get a little cold.

My sandwich was the Ruth’s Cobb with shredded chicken breast, avocado, aioli, bacon and blue cheese. They have changed the style of this sandwich (and quite possibly all of them I think) to be panini type sandwiches—sliced bread with the ingredients inside and then pressed and toasted in the panini press. I found it nice to have all the ingredients slightly warm and the bread nice and toasty and not too thick, but if you are looking for the buns they used to have, you might be disappointed. I also liked that they have put more of the choice ingredients on the sandwiches, as that was my big gripe before. There was much more blue cheese and avocado, and this makes me happy. And the bacon was really tasty too. Let’s hope they keep it up!

The BFF had one of her old time favorites—the potato omelet and said she thought it was even better than before as well.

I talked to our server who said they have been quite busy since re-opening and hope that it continues this way. If this is a place you liked before and neglected, or a place you have never been to, give it a try. Support one of our better local lunch spots!

Ruth’s Keystone Café
3443 East 86th Street
Indy 46240
317-466-0770

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Light Housekeeping


Hi all you wonderful people,

A couple of little friendly reminders:

1. Regarding comments: I love your comments and I want to post them all, but I can only post your thoughts and opinions on my reviews or the restaurants I discuss. Please don't state things that might be health code violations and/or labor violations because I don't feel like I can post such things responsibly (e.g. "there was a bug in my food" or "this place gave me food poisoning.") unless you can link me to an actual complaint that has been filed. I was a lawyer in a former life and these kinda things make me a little squeamish. Also, please don't personally attack anyone (i.e. name names). I just don't like it. Too personal. My comment policy is posted in the lower right-hand corner of my blog. So if you didn't see your comment published, you can look and see why--feel free to resubmit it (or send me an email and ask me and I will tell you why I didn't post it). I hate it when I can't publish comments!

2. Regarding email subscriptions: I have quite a few of you who have subscribed to receive my posts via email (and several just in the last few weeks). Please note that you are not automatically subscribed just because you put your email address in that little box. You will be sent an email which will contain a link you will have to click on to verify you really want it. Several of you haven't done that second step, and I don't want you to think I am being rude by not sending you the updates!

Thanks for reading!


Erin

Dragon House Chinese Eatery

I love twitter. I didn’t think I would, but the other day I was sort of stuck in Fishers for a few hours, and I realized if I could find a decent place to eat that had wifi, I could actually get something accomplished all while eating my lunch. So I posted a tweet asking for any recommendations, and thanks to @Indytina, I ended up at Dragon House at 116th and Allisonville.

I think this place is sort of known for its buffets (they offer one for lunch and one for dinner) but I am not generally a buffet kind of gal generally so I ordered off the menu. You order at the front and then take a seat and they bring it out to you. This place seems to be doing a pretty good business as it was more than half full on a random Wednesday and it is pretty big. I always like to see that in a place. The interior is not the surprising warm interior you sometimes find in strip malls, it is pretty bare bones, truly reminds you of a Chinese place you might see in a China town. Nothing fancy about it.

Anyway, I ordered the garlic chicken lunch special, which comes with steamed rice (you can substitute fried rice for an extra $.50), and 2 veggie spring rolls. The lady at the front also asked me how spicy I wanted it (it was designated on the menu as a spicy item anyway). I told her medium just to see what that meant since usually I don’t find Chinese food to be very spicy. The chicken was all white meat and was served with a massive amount of veggies, including carrots, broccoli, baby corn, red and green peppers, cabbage and yummy mushrooms. You know what? It was pretty good. I liked it. Sort of an old fashioned Chinese place with all the old school things on the menu—moo goo gai pan, sweet and sour pork, chicken chow mein, the works. But the food is fresh, and my garlic chicken actually had some heat to it after a couple bites. The spring rolls were also quite tasty and crisp and were a nice little side dish. And the amount of food you get for $5.25 is pretty generous.

I actually quite liked this place and would gladly go again. If I lived closer, I might even get it frequently. Good food at a great price. And clearly the buffet is a big draw if you’re into that. And hey, there’s a cute Korean place next door called Café Korea that looked a little intriguing too—anyone been there?

And thanks again to Twitter and @Indytina! And hey, remember, I am there too --@indyrestscene

Dragon House Chinese Eatery
7260 Fishers Crossing Drive
Fishers, IN 46038
317-594-8663
www.dragonhousefishers.com

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Viet Bistro

I really like Vietnamese food and really miss it since moving from SF. I know there are several on the east and west sides, but this place is right near my house and I have been meaning to try it. It’s another one of those strip mall places with a semi-pleasant interior.

Anyhow, the BFF and I were the first ones there, and were alone for much of our meal, although by the time we left there were several tables. I ordered an appetizer for us to share to start—the Bo tai chanh, or thinly sliced rare beef with onion and lemon juice. This was quite tasty. It was thin sliced, quite rare beef topped with a mound of very thinly sliced lemony onions and some spices on top. It was served with light crispy rice crackers that snap crackled and popped when you put anything moist on top (and there was also a slightly spicy sauce to pour over the top). I took a picture of the entire dish as well as one cracker all put together, because you couldn’t even see the beef for all the onions on the serving plate. Overall, this was my favorite thing I had and would order this again. A nice combination of flavors and the crispy crackers were a little addicting. They added a great texture to the soft meat.

For my entrée, I ordered the hu tiu ga, or thin rice noodle soup with chicken. The ingredients were all very fresh, but this soup seemed to lack any real spark. It would be a nice comforting soup to eat if you don’t feel well, but was a little too bland for me, even when I added several different types of seasonings and sauces. The chicken was nice pieces of white meat that were not overcooked, but again, the sum of the parts was just a little too boring. There was also a massive amount of noodles--you could certainly make several meals out of this bowl of soup. My friend had the clay pot rice with chicken and felt the same way about it—just nothing exciting.

It sort of bummed me out because the thing I like about Vietnamese cuisine is the unique flavors that the cuisine has as compared to other Asian foods. However, with the exception of the appetizer, there was nothing really special about it for me.

Viet Bistro
5763 E. 86th Street
Indy 46250
317/598-1899