Monday, October 24, 2011

The Libertine

So the Libertine calls itself a “Liquor Bar.”  And they have a lovely large bar all along one wall and specialize in the whole trendy old fashioned/classic cocktails from days gone by.  Ok, so don’t be mad, but screw the cocktails.  The food at this place is the reason for going.  Everything I have been reading about this place is about how great the cocktails are or how cute the bartenders are (seriously? That’s what we’re talking about?) but I am here to tell you, the food is where it’s at (not to say either of the other statements are not true).  I don’t know, maybe everyone gets too drunk to remember the food or something, but if that’s the case, you need to lay off the booze and focus people.
The interior is beautiful—modern and calm.  While it is a bar, there is a certain grown up sensibility—not your typical loud raucous bar scene.  Of course, it wasn’t full when we stopped in midweek, so I am sure it is noisier when you go on a Friday night.  Ok, so I did have a cocktail (the screw & bolt, $11). I felt like it was sort of an obligation.  It was fine—gin, grapefruit, violet, bitter orange and tonka bean (apparently a bean that is soaked in alcohol and used as an aroma enhancer).  It was pretty, and very aromatic, but I was more than happy to move on to wine—and they have a great wine list (thanks to Lindy Brown).
Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the food.  This was one of the best meals I have had in Indy in awhile.  We had a lot of different items and I am just going to talk about them in the order we ate them.  The first thing we had was the roasted mushroom salad ($8).  Hubby went nuts when he tasted this.  THIS is what a roasted mushroom should taste like.  They had a deep mushroom flavor, but the outsides of the mushrooms were slightly crisp from the heat and they were served with crispy little fried chickpeas which gave a true crunch to mix with the earthy, dark mushrooms.  It was served over a brown butter cauliflower puree that was rich and buttery.  What a great combination.  There is no way we could not order this again.
The next two dishes we had came at the same time—the chicken liver pâté ($9) and the duck meatballs ($12).  I love the play on chicken and waffles with the chicken liver pâté.  There were two waffles topped with very generous slices of the pâté, and they sat on top of a hot pepper sauce.  Bourbon maple syrup was brought out alongside.  Our server poured some on top and left the bottle in case we wanted to add more (which I will have to say, we did—it was really delicious).  I liked the blend of flavors between the hot pepper sauce underneath, the sweetness of the syrup (and slight sweetness of the waffles) and then the pure, smooth intense liver flavor.  Really nice.  As for the meatballs, well, as I told someone recently, I have never met a meatball that really stole my heart-- and these weren’t really an exception to the rule.  I ordered them because I was intrigued by the crispy gnocchi underneath them and the egg yolk on top, but all in all, this was probably my least favorite thing I had all evening.  But it wasn’t bad at all; it just didn’t blow me away like some of the other things.
At this point, we were torn about ordering more, but when I asked about the one-eyed jack ($8), I was sold.  Wow. Wow. Wow. I loved this thing.  It was basically a fancy egg in the hole, but it was so good.  It was buttery garlicky airy bread that was cooked in fat (hmm, was it duck and pork fat? I can’t remember).  Think of like the most amazing garlic bread you could ever have.  And then cut a little hole in it and put an egg in there and cook it, but just enough that the yolk explodes when you cut into it.  It was served with some soft roasted garlic alongside and a small dish of fig butter.  The fig butter was good, but honestly, I didn’t even need to add it to make this dish spectacular. 
Ok, now we were sort of on a food high and were really excited so we figured, let’s get one more thing.  A dessert of sorts.  I don’t think they have any actual dessert items (at least I didn’t hear of any) and since we often like cheese for dessert, we went with the Stilton cheesecake to finish ($9).  Wow. Again.  This was really unlike anything either of us had ever had.  It was almost more the consistency of an exceptionally light quiche and then deeply flavored with the blue cheese.  And alongside was the perfect accompaniment—and apple-thyme chutney with some crunchy pecan bits on top. There was also a fresh apple salad on top giving it just a bit of tartness.  I love fruit and nuts with my blue cheese.  And I loved that they got all the flavor profiles into this one dish. Again, not sure hubby would let me pass on this one if it is still on the menu when we go back. And not sure I’d want to.
Our service was exceptional, which is another thing I have heard mixed comments about from friends and readers.  Not sure if it was just because they weren’t that busy or if maybe the other people I talked to went when it was more newly opened, or maybe we just got lucky, but we didn’t have any complaints along these lines.  Our server was also exceptionally friendly and took the time to chat with us about the food and the business.  He was down to earth and knowledgeable about the menu.
Here’s the thing.  They are getting ready to change the format of the menu to more of a traditional dinner menu with salads, apps and entrées which I am sure will be just as good food-wise, but I have to admit, I was a little sad to hear it.  I love eating in a small plates way, sharing lots of things.  If you do too, I would get over there in the next two weeks.  Although, from the way it was described, I think you will still be able to make a small plates dinner on the new menu if you are so inclined.  All I know is next time, I want to take other people with us so we can try even more things.  I really feel the need to try everything. 
So, go, have a fancy cocktail and then start hitting the food.  You won’t be disappointed.  If you have been avoiding it because you think it’s “just a bar,” don’t (that’s what hubby’s problem was and now he has informed me I can get him back there anytime I want). And I am so excited to have another great (there ARE a few) restaurant (I am calling it that even if they don’t) in downtown Indy.  Things are looking up.
The Libertine
38 East Washington Street
Indy  46204
317/631-3333 (although nothing really on the website last time I looked)

Libertine on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks for the great review Erin! My boyfriend & I went a few weeks ago & absolutely loved everything about the place. Especially the small plates! I'm bummed to hear they are changing to a more traditional format but am sure the food will still be excellent. That said, I think I need to get down there again before they switch.


    p.s. I'm pretty sure they are the only place in Indianapolis where you can find Fernet at the bar. I miss it from my SF days & was so happy when I saw it at The Libertine.

  2. Sad to hear about the switch of small plates to traditional. I'd rather nosh on a collection of small bites, but agree that the food should still be exceptional.

  3. Hi Erin, I love your critiques. Libertine is a great addition to downtown. My girlfriend & I love it. Have you tried the Colts new restaurant on washington by the Arts Garden? I would love to hear your comments. Between Libertine & the Colts Grille we have found our two favorite places. Some neat stuff is happening downtown....I hope it lasts. Let me know your critique of the Colts restaurant....I want to compare notes! : )

  4. Rich, I have not been to the Colt's Grille. Will have to add it to my list.

  5. I also wanted to update this post with a comment. Hubby and I went back to the Libertine for dinner last night. The menu hasn't changed yet and we took the opportunity to try some of the things we missed the first time. The Manchego crostini was delicious. Thin toasted bread with artichoke, lemon and shaved manchego on top (and some pine nuts sprinkled across). Light and a great flavor. May be hubby's new fave ($8). We also had the beef tataki which is barely seared beef sliced and served on top of a lightly dressed salad of arugula, sliced fennel, shallots and fresh chilies. Simple, but fresh and good. ($12). My least favorite of the night were the deviled eggs ($8). I appreciated the dressed arugula underneath them to give you a few more greens. There was a traditional one, one that was flavored in pickled beet juice and one with smoked fish and caviar. They were all fine, but none blew me away. We also had a couple of faves from last time (mushrooms and Stilton cheesecake). The place was jam packed though--we had to wait about 45 minutes for a seat at the bar. One of the bartenders told us it may have been their busiest nights yet. Good for them. The food here is gold.

  6. Wife & I went to sample the Devour Downtown menu a couple of weeks ago. The endive salad was pretty good, and we tacked on an order of the bacon flight to dinner. Bacon is great, and five different kinds with dipping sauces sounds interesting, but honestly, five pieces of bacon is five pieces of bacon. I ordered the paella, she ordered the mushroom farfalle. After one bite, she DEMANDED that we switch plates. She was right. There was something in the pasta, maybe the fermented garlic, that started overpowering the food the more I ate. The orange ricotta cheesecake, served in a jar, was decent, although cheesecake has never been a favorite of mine. Between us, we also tried three cocktails: the aviator (gin), the plantagenet (pimm's and applejack), and the dark & stormy (rum). The last was the best, but if you're a fan of good cocktails, I would say that's a better reason to go than the food (at least based on what we tried). High marks for the atmosphere, though. Very urban sophisticated, especially compared to what you get in a lot of downtown establishments.

  7. I travel for work throughout an 8-state region an this is one of (if not thee) favorite places to eat. Menu is always changing, chef is amazing (ask for Erin and her recommendations for the day), food and drink both can't be beat in Indy IMO.