Saturday, November 28, 2009

Amalfi Ristorante Italiano

Well, this place is one of the most commonly mentioned and/or recommended places to visit by my readers and last night we were planning on going out and I was having a really hard time deciding where to go, so we thought, “why not?”

Well, honestly, on the way home, hubby and I discussed the fact that maybe all the people that recommend this place work there or something. We were not impressed (and if you have recommended it, and don’t work there, please let me know what you like). This place encompassed pretty much everything I don’t like about American-Italian food. Rich and bland and your choice of a tomato sauce, a cream sauce, or a mix of both.

My guess is the menu hasn’t changed since the restaurant opened –although there were a few specials, some of which sounded interesting, but at the recommendation of our waiter (who hadn’t tried several of the items on the menu unfortunately) we went with the Gamberi fra diavolo, or Diablo shrimp. These were 4 large shrimp in a very spicy tomato sauce. Now, the sauce had good flavor—there was lots of garlic and whole pieces of tomato and a fair amount of heat—too bad one of my bites included a big hunk of the hard end of the garlic clove, but what are you going to do? Well, actually the main thing to complain about here was the shrimp—they were completely overcooked and rubbery. Haven’t quite figured out why it is so hard for restaurants to cook shrimp properly (and I know it isn’t impossible because they do it at R Bistro and Oakley’s), but it seems like it is often the case. Ugh. Nothing worse than rubbery shrimp. The sauce was by far the standout and was better just sopped up with the bread.

Oh, the bread was one of the other better things served at Amalfi—they will bring you butter upon request (olive oil on the table). I am usually happy with olive oil, but this bread was so steaming hot, just seemed to call out for butter. The bread are nice sized rolls that had a nice flavor and were moist (and as I said, steaming on the insides) and fresh from the oven.

Unfortunately, things did not really improve from there. I ordered the Tortellini Michelangelo which was tortellini, onions, bacon, mushrooms and a creamy tomato sauce. I was hoping with the onions and bacon, this dish would be a little more exciting than the typical pasta dish in this town, but it was not. It was so one-dimensional. You could taste each ingredient—the crunch of the onions, the chewy dices of the bacon and the large slices of mushrooms, but that was it. There was no melding of the flavors into a unique dish. And it was all just rich. I sort of hoped the partial tomato sauce would bring out a bit of acidic kick, but, I got nothing.

Hubby ordered the veal Marsala and was really disappointed with it as well. Same kind of problems—there was nothing special about it and he felt like if there was Marsala wine in it, it was well hidden. The veal itself was nice and thin and decently cooked (i.e., not overcooked) but there was just nothing exciting about the flavor. I had a bit of it as well and agreed with his assessment. He also ordered one of the specials of the day, which was 4 cheese macaroni and cheese which was probably my favorite part of the entrée portion of the meal, I guess because it was a small portion of a rich dish, and if you are going for pure rich, why not go with mac and cheese (not to mention the combination of cheeses actually gave it a tiny bit of dimension). But still, for good mac and cheese, there are so many places in Indy to get better (as I sat there last night, I specifically mentioned Zest as one example to hubby, and it I am sure is much cheaper).

Which brings me to one of my other complaints about this place—it is pretty pricey for Italian. When you see the prices here and compare them to say, Mama Corolla’s, you can see why that place is jumping. Not that it is amazing either, but very comparable, and they have those artichoke fritters! We got out of Amalfi for almost exactly the same price we paid for Oakley’s last week. And Oakley’s was much better.

We also had dessert—the cannoli which was a cannoli shell filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese mixed with chocolate and sugar and drizzled over the top with chocolate sauce. You would think the cheese would have at least given this dish a bit of a tang, but you would be wrong. It was just rich, and flat, and pretty unmemorable.

Unfortunately, we had the misfortune to also have a server, while very nice, was a bit bumbling, and knew little about many menu items, and pretty much nothing about the wine list. And while many people have recommended this place, I find it is a love it or hate it kind of place, and I have several friends who have had similarly bad experiences to ours. But I would still love to hear from those of you who have recommended it to hear specifically what you like. As far as I can tell, the only thing I enjoyed was the room itself, which is quite warm and feels like you are in a nice restaurant. Other than that, I can’t really see a reason for a re-visit.

Amalfi Ristorante Italiano
1351 West 86th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46260

Amalfi Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oakley's Bistro-revisit

Wow. There is hope after all. We had another great meal at Oakley’s the other night. Restores my faith. I know it hasn’t been that long since we have been there and I reviewed it, but it was hubby’s birthday and his choice and this is where he wanted to go. And I am really really glad he did.

It took me awhile to figure out what exactly I wanted to order because I was trying to make sure I didn’t order something I had ordered and reviewed in the past and my tendency is to go for the shellfish items on the appetizers. Both the scallops and the lobster waffle sounded good, but I am pretty sure I have had both before. So I decided to go with a salad and a starter for my meal and save room for dessert.

I had the Spinach salad with roasted fingerlings, radish, bacon streusel, lavosh, almonds onions, and mustard sherry vinaigrette. This was really good. I love roasted fingerlings in a salad, particularly when they are properly cooked which these were, and there was a dusting of the almonds and crumbles of the bacon streusel on the bottom of the plate and the lavosh (a type of cracker) was shaped into a circle and the salad was inside it. Nice presentation and nice flavors. The dressing had a sharp zip from the mustard and I really enjoyed it (and the fact that the salad was dressed properly).

Hubby had the butternut squash gnocchi with mascarpone, sage, pecans and crispy pancetta. These were out of this world. Truly outstanding. The gnocchi were super light and all the other things melded into a sauce that just was a delight. I didn’t order it myself because I tend to find pasta dishes, whatever course they are, are often too big and filling, but I thought this was just the right portion and I could have eaten the whole thing myself. Really good.

For my main, I had a starter-- the crab risotto cakes with butternut maple puree, pumpkin seed pesto and goat cheese fondue. I was questioning whether to order them because I was sort of imagining them to be like crab cakes made with risotto with some crab mixed in (which in crab cakes I always find to be in short supply). But when I asked our server about them, she said the crab was actually on top of the risotto cakes and I was sold. SO glad I ordered them. They were so good. There were two of the risotto cakes and they were properly tender with a crispy outer shell and topped with lump crab meet which was drizzled with the goat cheese fondue and set over the butternut maple puree and pesto. Wow. A unique and delicious flavor combination. I wish I had some right now. So, there were only two of them, but they were rich and actually quite filling I thought, and I even gave hubby a couple of bites (it was his birthday after all). I would so get these again.

Hubby had the beef short ribs because he has had them before at Oakley’s and really enjoyed them. This time was no exception—they were served with Portobello puree potato mash, and a blue cheese tater tot. He was really really happy with his choice and proclaimed he had out ordered me and was happy about it. I disagree, but a salad I guess isn’t inherently as exciting…

We also had the chocolate brownie cake with cashew caramel corn and caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. I have had it several times before (or some variation of it) and have always enjoyed it. This time was no exception.

So all in all, what a fabulous meal. And I am not sure if things are more exciting on the menu or what, but it seems like in the last two visits I have had to Oakley’s, things have just stepped up a bit. I have always liked the place, but now, it is rocketing up there to one of my favorites. And I like the feel of this place—it is not overly fussy, but you feel like you are in a nice dining room. The service is professional and our server really new the menu and what she was talking about. The balance is there and this may just be one of Indy’s best restaurants right now.

Oakley’s Bistro
1464 W 86th St
Indianapolis, IN 46260
(317) 824-1231

Friday, November 20, 2009

Café Patachou

I have reviewed Café Patachou before, a while ago, and it is a place I eat on a nearly weekly basis, but since my most frequently visited location (River Crossing) has recently moved and expanded, I thought it would be a good time for a formal re-visit.

Well it looks like the new location (which is right next door to the old one) has about 50% additional seating than it used to, which is a nice improvement since there is often a wait for lunch (and I don’t even go on the weekends because when I have it has been so crowded). There is also a little cushy seating area now in which to wait, although not a lot of seats. Everything is new—the furniture and all, and the additions have stepped up the feel a bit. One of my only complaints about the new interior is the specials board is way down on the west end of the restaurant which makes it hard to see if you are sitting at the other end.

The menu is the same as it has been though and I ordered one of my favorites—the broken yolk sandwich with bacon and avocado. It is two fried eggs served on your choice of buttered toast with cheese, bacon and avocado on top. I still think Patachou’s bread is too thick, so I usually end up eating it (and any other sandwiches) open-faced. They clearly know what a ripe avocado is though, and put on an appropriate amount. Their bacon is really tasty too, although, on this particular visit, there was not as much as there usually is and it was little pieces that looked like the stuff they probably use in the omelets. But it still tasted really good. Also, I love that the yolks are not fried completely hard; I like mine a little runny.

One of the nice things about breakfast items here is that they serve them with a nice fruit cup rather than the chips that come with the sandwiches (although you can substitute a side salad). Normally I am not a huge fruit salad person because they are usually just filled with melon, which is so boring, but the fruit salad here has a nice big variety in it. Apples, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, oranges and several other things (not always the same, they change it I think depending on what is available). I like that in a fruit salad.

One of the issues I have had at Patachou sometimes (particularly at certain other locations) is service being a little gruff or sometimes, just bad. But the last few times I have been into River Crossing, everyone has been really friendly and the service has been great. And especially on this visit, maybe the new digs had everyone in a good mood. The whole place just seemed more professional.

I still haven’t managed to get over to one of the Petit Chous for dinner, but when I do, I will certainly let you know about that as well! And I am looking forward to the new pizza place as well.

Café Patachou
8691 River Crossing Blvd
Indy, 46240
317-815-0765 (check the website for all locations)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Binkley's Kitchen & Bar

So I actually have a physical list of restaurants that I want to try and review, many of which are reader recommended and some are just random places that I want to try…Binkley’s has been on the list awhile and at this point, I can’t even remember why honestly but BFF and I headed over there the other day for lunch

Well, let me start by saying, I have to face facts. I do not like wraps. I keep thinking, they sound good…I like the ingredients and hey, less bread is probably a good thing right? But then I go and order one and remember. They just aren’t good. If you are ever dining with me and I start to order one, stop me! (And if you know of a really good one somewhere, please let me know)

So, you have probably figured out that I ordered a wrap at Binkley’s. I did. It was the Santa Fe steak wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, black bean relish, cheese, avocado and ranch dressing. I put lettuce as the first ingredient, because like most wraps, it seemed to be the main ingredient. This is probably one of the biggest problems with wraps---they are all full of lettuce. Anyhow, the thing was just too blah. The steak was overcooked and tough (got a big hunk of gristle in one bite) and the things to add flavor- the black bean relish, avocado and ranch were in short supply. I wasn’t a big fan.

But there were some things that I do like about this place. Food-wise, I really really liked the cup of soup I got with my sandwich. It was the soup of the day—red potato and goat cheese. Now, you know when you hear a combination like that, that it is likely not coming out of a big plastic container and warmed up, and this soup was tasty. Big hunks of potato -- and the flavor was really good with the goat cheese. And you didn’t need to season it at all. I really liked it and ate every bite, which I rarely do with soup.

I also had a bite of my friend’s sandwich—she got the spinach and wild mushroom panini with mixed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, fresh spinach, provolone and her cheese spread on multigrain bread. This was much much better than my wrap for sure. The ingredients were much more interesting and there wasn’t one ingredient that dominated too much. I would get this again.

I also was surprised by the interior. It is a warm woody interior with a nice fireplace in the center---sort of has a lodge-y feel. Nice. And it seems pretty popular—by the time we left, the place was pretty crowded.

So all in all, I might go back to this place, but I will stay far away from the wraps…

Binkley’s Kitchen & Bar
5902 N. College Ave
Indy 46220

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tulip Noir Brunch

Now normally I am not a brunch person, not sure why, but usually just doesn’t sound that appealing to me. On this Sunday we were undecided where to go, and hubby hadn’t yet been to Tulip Noir so we headed there. They have a regular lunch menu during the week that I really like, but on the weekends, it is brunch. I am really glad we ended up there though, because I hadn’t checked the menu out first, and like I said, I am not usually drawn to the brunch type options, but this was really good.

I had one of their teas which was really nice (a loose leaf oolong) and the little clear glass teapots are nice. This place has a huge tea menu, but not a lot of cold drink options besides a few flavored sparkling waters. For my brunch, I had the “original egg sandwich” which was a whole wheat English muffin with pesto, fresh spinach, a fried egg and prosciutto. Wow, this was really good. The pesto was super fresh and tasty and tasted like it had a bit of lemon in it maybe, which I really liked. The egg was pretty hard fried, but I guess that is appropriate for a sandwich. The spinach was just plain fresh spinach, but it was just the right amount, and went really well with the pesto too. The prosciutto was just the right amount, and it was quite tender—not sort of stringy the way prosciutto can be sometimes. There was a little salad of mixed greens on the side that wasn’t bad, but as is usually the case with these little side salads, it was underdressed. But all in all, I really liked this sandwich and I would definitely get it again.

We also got a side of the rosemary roasted potatoes (Yukon gold and sweet potatoes). These were really well done. Nice crispy sides and a good amount of rosemary so that you could really taste it. Hubby had the open face egg sandwich which was a rather large piece of bread with tomato slices, smoked salmon, and scrambled eggs on top. He enjoyed it, but he thought mine was better.

The only thing someone might complain about with my dish was that it was pretty small. Perfect for me, but I figure if I thought it was right for me, it probably wouldn’t be enough for a lot of people, judging from the portions at most restaurants. Even hubby said he would want two of my sandwiches.

All in all, I really like Tulip Noir and their seasonally changing menu. Someone is working hard to come up with fresh, unique flavor combinations using really high quality ingredients. And obviously, they have a knack for it, because most of it seems to really work.

Tulip Noir
1224 West 86th
Indy 46260

Tulip Noir Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nordstrom Café- Downtown

I was downtown shopping the other day and stopped in for lunch at the Bistro inside Nordstrom. I was surprised to find the menu totally different from the one at the Fashion Mall, and also intrigued.

I really like the restaurant at the Fashion Mall, and actually eat there quite frequently for lunch. I hadn’t eaten at the one downtown in quite awhile. I looked over the menu and saw they had a shrimp Louie salad which is one of my favorite salads in the world. I knew from the menu this one would be a little different because the shrimp was grilled, but everything else sounded like all the things I love about this salad (eggs, avocado, Louie dressing) so I thought I would give it a go.

The good things about this salad were the dressing and the fact that the lettuce was tossed with the dressing. I love it when a salad is dressed. The avocado and bacon were mixed into the tossed leaves in good proportion, and the eggs and shrimp were sitting on top (the hard boiled egg quartered). They also serve a decent roll on the side with butter if you want it.

Unfortunately the bad things were the fact that the avocado was seriously under-ripe (ugh, I hate hard pieces of avocado) and the shrimp just didn’t do it for me. It was ok, but it was slightly overcooked, and I don’t know, maybe I am a purist, but I like my shrimp on my shrimp Louie to be cold.

So while I appreciate the fact that they are attempting the salad, unfortunately it didn’t come together for me. If they had just gotten some ripe avocado, the salad would have been much better, even with the shrimp as it was. And I did like the dressing, once I squeezed a lemon over it (which I always do with a Louie anyway).

So while shopping at the Nordstrom downtown is probably better, I think eating at the Fashion Mall location is much better…especially those fries with that olive aioli dip…mmmm…. (Just for fun, I posted a picture of my last sandwich there too—that olive dip would be good spread on just about anything!)

Nordstrom Café
130 S. Meridian Street
Indy 46225
(No website for the restaurant specifically)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

R Bistro- October 2009

Hubby and I got an unexpected babysitter the other night and were at a loss for somewhere good. We decided on what is probably one of the best places left around here these days—R Bistro. We always check the menu first though-it changes weekly and sometimes it sounds so good, and other times not as much.

Anyhow, this menu looked pretty good. Since I have reviewed this place quite a few times, I won’t go into the ambiance and service too much, but suffice it to say I like that this restaurant is very professionally run and the fact that you feel like people know what they are doing. It has a sort of quiet confidence that I really appreciate. I also like that there are also always other people there no matter what time you go.

I started with the Asian pear, endive, tamari pecans and blue cheese salad. It was lovely in its presentation. (By the way, sorry my only pictures are sort of dark, I was trying to not be too obvious). The flavor combination of the pears and blue cheese was great—I love fruit with blue cheese and the pears were perfectly ripe. The peppery-ness of the greens was great and the sweet and slightly spicy flavor of the pecans was a nice counter balance. Hubby really enjoyed it too

For my main course I had one of the starters on the menu, the New Orleans shrimp remoulade with fried green tomatoes (hubby also had this for his appetizer). These were really good. When I eat shrimp so perfectly prepared, I think 2 things: 1) why doesn’t R Bistro have more shellfish on their menu; and 2) why can’t more restaurants do such a good job with shrimp? They were perfectly tender, in a tasty remoulade sauce alongside a couple of good size fried green tomatoes. The tomatoes were the right amount of tartness to balance out the shrimp and I really enjoyed this dish.

Hubby had the grilled elk steak with tomato watercress relish and warm potato and preserved shallot salad. He was really torn between this and the duck that night and decided to go with the elk because he had had a lot of duck recently. Our server told us that it would be prepared to medium rare because any more well done would have made the meat tough. Now this was fine, because this is how we like meat, and this is how it was prepared, but unfortunately, the meat was still a bit too tough for my taste. Not sure why—other very lean red meats like bison don’t seem to have the same problem, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed this as my main dish because of this problem. The sides were pretty good, I liked the watercress and tomato combo, although I found the potatoes a little bland. I was glad I had my shrimp on this one.

We also had the apple tart which was pretty good too—I don’t often order dessert at R Bistro but since I had two appetizers we decided to share one this time. Like I said, it wasn’t bad, but nothing out of this world or anything. I have always found desserts to be R Bistro’s weakest link, which is one of the reasons I rarely order one.

But if you want to go to a restaurant that is consistently producing good quality, and creative, ever-changing dishes, R Bistro is one of your only bets in this City, and one of the best.

R Bistro
888 Massachusetts Ave
Indy 46202

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