Monday, December 6, 2010

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

So my parents have been very excited about this place since it opened near their house—they have been telling me about it and Dad even brought me a menu to look at.  They offered to take us out to dinner for a belated celebration of hubby’s birthday and we agreed to give it a try.
Cooper’s Hawk is a winery developed in the Chicago area (I think there are 4 of them) and this is their first restaurant/winery outside of Illinois.  This place is very large and features a wine tasting area and shop in the front lobby—there were a lot of people milling around in there.  The dining areas are fairly sophisticated, but also somewhat simple and casual. You don’t have to worry about what you are wearing here for sure.  The dining room was maybe only about half full when we entered, but continued getting busier throughout the entire time we were there.  Our server promptly greeted us, and was very efficient in the beginning, although it slowed up a bit at the end of our meal when they were much busier.  He offered to let us taste any wines we were curious about and we did.
I know I don’t talk about wine that much, although we tend to drink it with just about every dinner, but since it is a winery, it seems like it should be mentioned.  I actually found the wine better than I expected.  What I had was very drinkable.  The wine list is quite extensive—I think there were over 30 different wine varieties on the wine list.
To eat, we started with the southwest flatbread.  The crust was a very thin cracker-type crust and was topped with Chihuahua cheese (mild white cow’s milk cheese), housemade enchilada sauce, rotisserie chicken and ancho sour cream.  This was pretty good.  It had a little kick to it, and the chicken must have been cooked in the enchilada sauce.  It was quite tender and had a lot more flavor than just plain roasted chicken.  The ancho sour cream had a nice tanginess from the sour cream that had a bit of spice from the dried chiles.  The whole thing wasn’t overtopped, but had some distinct flavors. As it turns out, it was probably my favorite thing we had (and they have 4 different flatbreads, all with completely different toppings).
I just wanted to try several things, so I also got a couple of the chef’s selections from the menu—the crab, lobster and shrimp bisque and the baby greens salad.  I also shared some of hubby’s gnocchi dish.  The salad was mixed greens with candied walnuts, blue cheese, dried cherries, pears and raspberry vinaigrette.   Normally I like a salad with the fruit and blue cheese combo, but this one was too sweet for me.  Mainly I think this was because of the dressing.  It was very sweet and not really much else. A little more blue cheese would help too.
The bisque was okay, nothing that got me really excited.  My Mom had had it before and told me it was quite chunky which I thought would be from the shellfish. I was sort of surprised that it was more from diced veggies (carrots I noticed).  It was also quite thick, and my favorite bisques have always been a little thinner with a few pieces of (not overcooked) shellfish on top.  This one is really thick, like it has been thickened with something. I also had a side of Betty’s potatoes, which was the thing that caught my eye the first time I looked at the menu.  It is a hashbrown casserole with cheddar cheese.  I actually quite enjoyed this, and it may have been my favorite thing next to the flatbread.  It was a creamy dish of grated potatoes with cheddar cheese and crunchy Panko bread crumbs on top.  The cheese wasn’t actually very sharp (as it was listed on the menu), but had a nice homey flavor anyway (although a little more sharpness might have been nice).
Hubby had the gnocchi which was described as homemade ricotta dumplings served in a Parmesan garlic cream sauce with pancetta, rotisserie chicken, sage and peas.  It was funny-- the chicken was sort of an unusual thing to see in this kind of dish, and the addition of it, as well as the fair amount of peas made the whole thing sort of taste like the inside of a chicken pot pie.  It wasn’t bad, but again, not spectacular.  I started to notice there is a lot of use of certain ingredients carried throughout the menu.  You see a lot of the rotisserie chicken thrown into things for example.  And the chicken was nice and tender, so inherently there is nothing wrong with that concept, it just may have been thrown in unnecessarily sometimes.
I did have a couple of bites of my Mom’s chicken saltimbocca.  It was an enormous portion. No way would I be ordering this dish on my own.  There were probably 4 or 5 chicken cutlets layered with Provolone cheese, prosciutto (but quite thickly cut) and sage.  It was a little over the top with the amount of heavy ingredients, and the chicken was a little tough.  It had the classic problem in the Midwest of throwing too much cheese and rich ingredients with the idea that it will be better with the more fat.  I didn’t think all that stuff was necessary.  There was also a bunch of stuff on top like artichoke hearts, capers and tomatoes.  I like all these things but I think the flavors started getting jumbled up with so many things.
Hubby had been eyeing the Banoffee dessert as well (another chef’s recommendation and highly recommended by our server).  It was essentially a miniature graham cracker pie crust that was filled with bananas and toffee filling and whipped cream.  The flavor of the things together was quite good, and hubby always loves bananas and caramel.  But they served it with a spoon, and the crust was so hard, it was nearly impossible to cut it with the spoon.  A couple of times we thought we were going to break the plate trying to chisel a piece off.  If they could soften the crust up a bit (or at least give you a knife to cut it with), this would be a very nice dessert.  As it was, we just sort of ate what was inside and didn’t get much of the crust.
So I decided that I wanted to give Cooper’s Hawk another chance for lunch before finalizing this review because they have quite an extensive burger and sandwich menu.  So I convinced the BFF to give it a try with me this time.  No wine, since it was lunch, but we did try a couple of the sandwiches.  I ordered the chicken and avocado sandwich which was described as tender chicken, lettuce, tomato, bacon, red onion, avocado, mozzarella, jalapeno ranch and seasoned mayo.  Sounds like a lot, and it is actually—it made for quite a thick sandwich.  Several of the ingredients were really good—large chunks of perfectly ripe avocado and very nicely seasoned bacon (Applewood smoked I am guessing).  But the sandwich just didn’t do it for me.  The lettuce was shredded and had that total foodservice feel to me.  The chicken wasn’t particularly tender and the sandwich all in all lacked a lot of flavor. Didn’t taste the seasoned mayo at all and the jalapeno ranch was on the side.  I did sort of spread that on the sandwich as I ate it, and it did have a nice jalapeno-ey flavor, but I wasn’t that impressed with the whole thing.  The fries on the side were nice—very crispy and seasoned.  They served them with ketchup on the side which surprised me a little since there are so many variations of flavored mayos and sauces on the menu.  I was sort of hoping for something more unique.
BFF had the fried green tomato BLT and gave me some of it as well.  It was pretty simple, and the fried green tomatoes tasted pretty good, but there was so much iceberg lettuce on it (at least not shredded), that if you ate it as is, it was really what you tasted the most.  It was a little dry too, although according to the menu there was mayo on it.  In the end, we both ate about half our sandwiches (they are quite large) and then picked out the bits we liked.  For both of us this was the bacon, and then for me, also the avocado.
Our server was extremely enthusiastic.  A little too enthusiastic for me actually.  When someone comes to check on you and asks if everything is “perfect,” I think it is a little over the top.  The dining room was quite full for a weekday lunch and I was surprised to see a lot of people ordering the full entrées for lunch (there is no separate lunch menu).  The portions are very very large and an entrée would be a bit much for me for lunch.  But it is obvious that Cooper’s Hawk has chosen a good location because I think people were struggling to find a slightly more formal place in the area for business lunches—the place was jammed with business people.  The prices are a little higher than a lot of lunch places (both sandwiches were $10 but included a side, the starters are around $8-12 and the entrees range from about $16-31 for one of the steaks), but you certainly get a lot of food for the money.
All in all, I would say Cooper’s Hawk is ahead of a lot of chains in that they are attempting to go a little beyond the same predictable appetizers and entrees.  Particularly in the appetizers, there are some interesting combos.  I do think the menu is way too large to not be totally overwhelming, and to really be done well (and apparently, they will be introducing specials here soon).  I know appealing to a broad group is important, but my guess is there are probably several items that hardly get ordered at Cooper’s Hawk.  I thought the wine was better than expected (at least what I had) and even though there are certainly a lot of sweet and even fruit flavored wines on the menu, there are enough other things that I was satisfied.   I think Cooper’s Hawk is making a conscious effort to take comfort foods and elevate them to a slightly more sophisticated level.  I can’t say I think they are wildly successful at it, but I give them points for effort.
This was a tough review for me, because I didn’t love anything I had, but a few of the items were pretty good. Anyone else been and eat something really good?  Let me know!
Cooper’s Hawk Winery
3815 E. 96th Street
Indy, 46240

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