Well, I have been giving Recess a little while to get the rough edges smoothed before heading over there to check it out. I know a few of you have been sort of annoyed that it has taken me so long to get there, but I have an informal policy of giving a new place at least a couple of weeks to get settled in since I write a review based on a single visit. (And if you want to read my review policies in detail, please go here.) Regardless, I have been pretty much chomping at the bit to get over there, as I have always enjoyed Recess chef Greg Hardesty’s cuisine, (at the now closed Elements). I actually completely love this new concept, a different menu every day, but a set menu, with sometimes no choices and sometimes just one or two choices (usually between two entrées). The ingredients are whatever the Chef decides he wants to do, based on seasonality and what he deems “superlative.” Honestly, with as much grief as I have received when I complain about restaurants never changing their menu, with people telling me repeatedly that won’t fly in Indy, I was a little worried about how it would go for Chef Hardesty. But based on the buzz, and the difficulty in getting a reservation on certain nights, it looks like, so far so good. (See, I guess Indy folks CAN handle a little variety!).
I also really enjoy the slightly industrial feel to the space, but with touches of softness to balance the heavy cement of the walls and floor. Not quite enough softness to deaden the noise of the place once it was full, but the spacing between the tables is appropriate so that you don’t feel like you are sharing your conversation with the table next to you. Also, when you can hear it, we greatly enjoyed the music playing overhead, truly modern music that obviously reflected someone’s very personal taste—I was wondering if the music changes with the Chef’s whim as well. That would be kind of fun.
I dined with a friend on this night, and on the way over, knowing there were two entrée choices, we quickly agreed to get one of each and share to make sure we could try everything offered. They also offer a wine pairing to match the first three courses (all but dessert) which are 3-4 ounce pours, so that basically they equal about half a bottle of wine (which I would say is two good glasses). I think this is a great idea, and with an ever changing menu, is the perfect way to try various items on the wine list. I did enjoy the pairing with my meal, and each wine was wonderfully matched.
Several other reviewers have not gone into great detail about their particular food items claiming that there is no point since the menu changes daily. I tend to disagree with this approach as I think hearing about the meal in detail will give people a little insight about exactly what you can expect. Well, not exactly, I guess, but the types of flavor combinations and generally the creativity being employed. Our dinner started with hamachi sashimi in a wasabi ponzu broth served with thinly sliced cucumbers and radish as well as enoki mushrooms and wakame (a type of seaweed). The fish was wonderfully tender and fresh and pretty well melted in your mouth—the broth added a nice flavor—a fairly simple preparation, but nice. Of course, if you are a frequent reader, you know cucumbers and seaweed aren’t my favorites (everyone doesn’t like something right?), so unfortunately, my veggies on this dish went begging.
The next course was crisp pork belly served with hominy, tomatillos and fried tortilla strips. The thick rectangle of pork belly (think bacon steak) was pleasantly crisp and was accented nicely by accompaniments with a Mexican flavor. The hominy continued the richness of the pork while the tomatillos added a bit of that tanginess that I love, and that balanced out the richness and saltiness. The tortillas added textural crunch which was also quite pleasing. I would say this was probably my favorite course. The portion wasn’t oversized (although I found the portions to be generous, I don’t think they are oversized, which I think is important when you are serving four courses).
For the main courses, there were two choices, a beef and a turkey dish. As I said, we each ordered one of them and shared them fairly equally, so I feel like I can tell you about them both pretty accurately. I will start with the turkey because I think it was my favorite of the two. First of all, how nice is it to see turkey being used as a white meat option on a menu for a change. I personally prefer to use turkey at home quite frequently (although I tend to have to go to Kincaid's to get turkey cutlets cut since regular grocery stores no longer seem interested in meeting customer needs, but I digress). I have a really hard time ordering chicken in a restaurant, it just seems so pedestrian, and is often so dry, but I was really excited by the turkey concept.
Anyway, the turkey was served as paillards, which are thinly pounded cutlets that were breaded and fried. They were served over a Brussels sprouts and bacon ragout (I’d say more of a warm cole slaw, and there was other things in there besides Brussels sprouts—in fact, I wished it was a little more Brussels-sprouty). There were pickled onions as well. I didn’t get a lot of this on my portion, but I love the idea. Pickled onions are one of my favorite things. There was also a side of manchego (Spanish sheep’s milk cheese) mac and cheese—this stuff was divine. Rich and creamy with a bit of sharpness. A bite of this with a bite of the turkey—yummy. All in all, this dish was unique and creative and very tasty. (By the way, sorry about the fuzzy picture, I was trying to be discreet, and this place is small.)
The beef dish was two thick slices of Fisher Farm’s ribeye with crushed potatoes, roasted poblano peppers and red onion ragout. This dish was nice as well—the beef was prepared medium rare, the chimichurri was bright and the flavors of the other sides were good. I don’t know, the meat needed a little seasoning or something—just didn’t seem to have quite enough flavor on its own. For some reason, while in theory, I liked all the things on the plate, overall, it just didn’t seem to come together quite as well as the turkey.
The dessert on this night was a Meyer lemon terrine with fig molasses drizzled on top and a little lemon poppy seed cookie on the side. This was better than both of us were expecting—cold terrine-y type things aren’t usually my first choice in a sweet or savory version, but this had a very nice Meyer lemon flavor, which is not as tart as traditional lemon. And the cookie on the side was a nice complement. There was a bit of lemon pulp on the side, which when eaten with the dish gave me the flash of a sour patch kid (yes, can you tell I have young children?). Still wouldn’t be my dessert of choice, but it was a nice refreshing thing and we both enjoyed it.
So I liked everything. Did I swoon over everything? No. But I enjoyed the experience and I love knowing that next time I go, the menu will be completely different. All in all, I think Recess is going to be quite a successful enterprise. There are, apparently, enough people in this town that can appreciate culinary creativity and can just deal with what is served. I also love the fact that hopefully continued success of Recess will actually introduce people to new flavors and foods since you cannot always go with your comfort zone here. The only thing I lament is that there wasn’t cooked seafood on the night I was there, because I think Chef Hardesty handles seafood with probably more skill than most in our city. Ahhh…but maybe next time.
And since I know Recess has been given lots of free advice about how to “improve” the concept, and I know the concept has been tweaked somewhat since its opening, here’s my two cents. I would love to see a dessert choice and a cheese choice—that would be pretty easy right? But no matter what, Recess is certainly a breath of fresh air on our dining scene and I am glad to have it. I will be back very soon.
4907 N. College Ave