Monday, May 30, 2011

Caracas Arepas Grill

****As of 2/6/12, Caracas has closed.****

I know it is said often these days, but it really is true that Indy has so many ethnic restaurant gems scattered throughout the city and I think Caracas Arepas Grill is certainly one of them, and quite a unique choice as well.  The menu just calls itself more generally a “Latin restaurant,” although most of the press you see calls it specifically Venezuelan.  Regardless of where it comes from, it was all pretty good.
I went with the BFF and we decided to split a ton of stuff to get to try lots of things.  The first thing they brought, and probably a favorite for both of us were the “Patacones  con Esmechada o Pollo” ($6).  These were fried green plantains topped with shredded beef or chicken, onions, cilantro, white cheese and their house sauce, which seemed to be made with avocado and cilantro-- among other things I am sure.  They also bring you a big squeeze bottle of this sauce, as well as a bottle of very spicy red sauce to use throughout your meal.  A lot of the green sauce was used on this visit. It is delicious.  I found a little of the red sauce went a really long way, and it was pretty much just pure heat without a lot of flavor in my mind, so I only used a bit to taste it.  Anyway, the patacones were obviously cooked to order, as the plantains were very hot—these are green plantains so they do not have the sweetness the ripe plantains have.  I liked the combination of these with the tender shredded meat (we had some with chicken and some with beef) and the fresh raw cilantro and onion.  They were almost a little like nachos in a way, but very unique and with a lot more variation in flavors.  They were lovely in their presentation as well as the taste. These would be on the must order list again.
We also tried a cachapa filled with ham and cheese ($7).  A cachapa is a sweet corn cake that is cooked on the grill (obviously with some oil) and then folded around other ingredients.  I really enjoyed the flavor of the corn cake itself—there were obvious bits of corn in the mix, and it was really sweet, but in a good way, like perfect corn.  We were both sort of torn about how we felt about the fillings—the soft cheese was good, but the ham was just like pretty basic deli ham.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t overly exciting either.  Maybe one of the other fillings might be more interesting, or even just cheese on its own.  My only other complaint was they seemed a little greasy maybe, like maybe when they were grilled; a little too much oil was used.  But I would certainly try them again.
Probably our least favorite thing was the empanada that we shared, which was filled with cheese ($2.50).  It wasn’t bad, and the deep fried corn batter had a nice sweet corn flavor, but it just didn’t compare to the other things.  They didn’t have any complexity I guess—it was really just the two ingredients, and even after doctoring it up with more of that yummy green sauce, I didn’t see them as something I would likely order again. It definitely would have benefited from a few more ingredients inside.
Finally, we shared the “Reina arepa” ($4.50). I mean it is called an “Arepas Grill” right? So we had to get at least one arepa.  There are several different fillings for these little sandwiches—the one we chose is described as shredded chicken, avocado and a little bit of mayo.  It was delicious.  As soon as BFF bit into it, she said, “Oh, you’re going to like this,” and she was right.  It sort of reminded me of a chicken salad that was made with pretty much just shredded chicken and avocado—the avocado mixed with a bit of mayo and onions just turned into a green-ish mix that tasted heavily of the avocado.  The onion flavor was also certainly there (our server warned us if we didn’t like onions not to order it).  It was creamy, smooth and quite filling.  The arepas are on the small side of sandwiches compared to U.S. standards (I mean come on, does anyone really need a foot long sandwich?)  but I only had half of it (of course with a lot of other stuff), and I was full.  I think you could make a nice lunch of one, but others might disagree.  The bread here is different from the other things, in that it is more like bread, well, sort of like an English muffin consistency really.  The round piece of bread is sliced, but not all the way through (and then filled).  The bread could also be compared to a slightly thicker pita.  This one was a little tough to cut in half in order to share.  Actually, all the other items we had were fairly large in size—the empanada and the cachapa were like the size of a tortilla folded in half.  It was hard to tell from looking at the menu what the size was, but they are pretty large.
The interior of the restaurant is extremely clean, and quite a bit bigger than I expected.  There are booths and regular tables as well.  Our server was very friendly and helpful in answering questions.  The recommendations she made were quite good.  The service and atmosphere were a positive part of the experience, although don’t go here looking for anything fancy.  The food is the reason to go, and it is reason enough (and I think they even have margaritas).
Caracas Arepas Grill
7940 N. Michigan Road
Indy 46268
317/228-9550


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gumbo a Go Go

I met a friend for lunch the other day at Gumbo a Go Go.  Honestly, I hadn’t really even heard about this place until he mentioned it to me.  I am a fan of Cajun food in general, so of course I was game.  This is more of the slow cooked types of Cajun food—things like gumbo (obviously), étouffées, jambalaya, etc.  None of the po boy type sandwiches or fried items on their menu.
So I went  for a combo plate with 2 items (regular size, they also have a larger size) ($7).  On mine, I chose shrimp étouffée and chicken yaya.  The étouffée was only okay—it is a lighter colored roux flavored with Cajun seasonings, but this one was a little bland.  There were several good sized shrimp in there—I am thinking they threw them in just before serving, probably so they wouldn’t get rubbery, but they didn’t taste very seasoned either.  Not sure how to remedy this, maybe crawfish would have been a better choice, because it doesn’t get as rubbery when overcooked, but usually when I order crawfish out, it seems like they don’t put much in, so I thought I would try shrimp this time.  Overall though, I think I would skip the étouffée and get something else next time. (To be fair, my friend told me he didn’t think the étouffées were their better items, but I like them so much in general, I wanted to try anyway--and besides that, I am stubborn).

I did really enjoy the chicken yaya.  It was shredded chicken slow cooked in a sauce made from tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and several kinds of hot sauce.  It was the vinegar in the description that sold me, and rightly so.  It was nice and spicy, but still had a great tangy kick from the vinegar—this is exactly the kind of stewed dish that speaks to me because it has that slightly sour balance to the spicy deep flavors that come from lots of hot sauce and lots of time on the stove.  All the stew type items are served over rice, and honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the rice—it was like minute rice to me, you know, where each piece of rice is distinctly individual and has no chewiness to it.  I like it to be a little soft. But that is clearly a matter of personal preference.
The seasoned French bread that is served alongside the meals is delicious—it has a garlic butter seasoning on the cut half and is lightly crunchy.  It was really good with a bit of the chicken yaya on top.  I also had a bite of my friend’s “Datwich” sandwich which was shredded slow cooked turkey in a spicy tomato and beer-based sauce.  It was somewhat similar to my chicken yaya but without the vinegar flavor (although it has a deeper flavor than just tomato because of the beer).  It was a well seasoned, very tender topping on more of that French bread.  He loves it and I can understand how it might be something that a person might crave.
This is a small little place in a strip mall (in the same shopping center as Oakley’s and Stein Mart) and has a very casual feel.  The owner/cashier was really friendly and happily told me about the menu items (on a chalkboard, so they change somewhat).  The other thing I noticed was that while they had a steady lunch crowd throughout the entire time we were there, there were probably 5 men in there for every 1 woman.  Interesting.  And hey, if you’re looking for a date ladies, maybe this is your place…  J
Gumbo a Go Go
1420 West 86th Street
Indy  46260
317/337-9420

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Saffron Café

A couple weeks ago, three people in the same week recommended Saffron Café to me.  It has been on “the list” forever (someone actually recommended it to me the week it opened) so I figured it was some kind of sign that I needed to go.  So we did.
We had looked at the menu online, as well as some of the comments people have made about it here and there on the web, and knew we wanted to try a couple of things—for starters the shrimp avocado and citrus salad ($8.95) and the antipasto plate ($10.95).  We really enjoyed the antipasto plate, and it was a great way to try various things.  It had hummus, bakoula, and zaalouk.  So you are probably familiar with hummus, most people have had it these days.  It is a spread made of pureed chickpeas with garlic, lemon and tahini (sesame paste).  It had some diced tomatoes and kalamata olives on top as well as a chunk of feta cheese. I really like hummus and it was good hummus, not the best I have had and not the worst, but certainly serviceable.  It was better with a bite of an olive at the same time or some of the cheese. Maybe that means it could use a bit of salt.  Anyway, the other two items on the plate were very good.  My favorite of the three was the zaalouk which is an eggplant spread—the eggplant was cooked until very soft with tomatoes and olive oil and lots of seasonings—I am sure there was some garlic in there.  It was smooth and had that very squishy cooked eggplant consistency that was awesome for spreading on the warm triangles of toasted pita bread.  The bakoula was a similarly cooked down spinach spread with onions and tomatoes and more spices.  It had a very deep flavor from being cooked down so much—I liked it but a little certainly went a long way.  This would be a good appetizer to share among even more than 2 people, although we did finish a lot of it.
I was pretty disappointed with the shrimp salad.  The ingredients were fresh, and there was a ton of perfectly ripe avocado, but there was nothing bringing it together.  And the only citrus around was a lot of lemon pieces that the other ingredients were sitting on top of.  Basically, it was lemon wedges with slices of very good avocado,  three large shrimp (think shrimp cocktail shrimp) and some kalamata olives.  There was no dressing at all, or even a squeeze of citrus, and even the lime wedge in the description was missing.  I certainly would not order this again. I expected more of a put together dish. I loved the kalamatas that were with everything though. They were yummy. I actually ordered a small plate of them, which they brought us, although there was a charge for them.
Hubby has had some mediocre to bad experiences with tajines in the past (which are pots that are traditional to slow cook meat in in Morocco), so we decided to go in other direction with our main dishes.  We shared lamb kabobs ($14.95) and the Saffron mussels from the appetizer menu ($12.95).  I asked if they cook the lamb to order and our server assured us they do, so I ordered them medium rare.  Well, apparently the chef and server were not on the same page on this because about the time they went to start cooking them, there was a lot of yelling coming from the kitchen—apparently they are always cooked more on the well done spectrum, and this is what the chef thinks serves the food.  After getting them (probably at about a medium temperature), I realized the meat used was a little fatty and probably benefited from longer cooking time.  Some bites were really good and some were a little chewy.  The seasoning on the outside of the meat was outstanding though—the meat was marinated in garlic, parsley and cilantro and grilled.  It was a great flavor combination.   It was served with your choice of saffron rice, couscous or roasted potatoes. I went with the couscous.   There was a ton of it and it was very lightly seasoned with a saffron flavor (although very brightly colored from it).  A bit of it was nice with the meat, but there was a lot more on the plate than anyone probably really eats.
The mussels were also very good.  I am usually hesitant about ordering mussels at very many places, but when our server was describing various things, he said the mussels were fresh daily, so I risked it.  They were pretty large mussels, but were very tender and the creamy white wine and garlic was rich, but not overwhelming because of the flavor of the wine and garlic.  Oh! And the bread they brought with the meal was delicious—light and soft with a great crust.  It was really good dipped into the sauce on the mussels.
We randomly went on a Thursday night which also happens to be belly dancing night there—they have a dancer that performs in the middle of the room.  I have to say, I was impressed at how much she did in such a limited space.  The restaurant is small, but the dining room was very clean and really cute—they did a really good job decorating it with a Moroccan theme.  The outside is lovely too—it is painted with great detail with Moroccan scenes.  Service was very friendly, if not a little over-informative.  Our server wanted to explain pretty much everything to us, and after awhile, I really just wanted to order.  But we enjoyed ourselves, and I think this is a place that is nice to go to have something different, and ethnic, but still feel like you are in a nice restaurant with tablecloths and a professional staff.  While Indy has a ton of great ethnic cuisine, there are not a lot of places that are anything but totally casual.  Which is fine, but sometimes it is nice to be able to get the best of both worlds.
Saffron Café
621 Ft. Wayne Avenue
Indy  46204
317/917-0131


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Friday, May 20, 2011

1/2 Price Bottles of Wine

Empty wine bottle                                       Image via Wikipedia
So, the other night hubby and I were out and happened to stumble upon another half price wine (by the bottle) night and we got to talking about how much we like these because it gets us to try new things (and usually more expensive things than we might otherwise).  Or it allows us get what we usually would, and save a bit of money. (**Please note, most restaurants have limitations on which bottles are ½ off, it is often the bottles under $100, but they each have slightly different limitations).
I thought it would be fun to put together a list to see if we could go out to eat every night of the week and get half priced bottles of wine (not that we ever eat out every night, but I just wanted to see if you could, if you wanted to). And then I thought, of course, I should share it with you all.
Okay, so here’s what I came up with after some fairly minimal research.  Please let me know if you know of additional ones (or if any of my information is incorrect) and I will adjust the list.

Monday:        Istanbul Café—1450 West 86th Street, Indy, 317/876-9810; www.indyistanbulcafe.com
                          Eddie Merlot’s—3645 East 96th Street, Indy, 317/846-8303; www.eddiemerlots.com

Tuesday:        Ripple Inn—929 East Westfield Blvd, Indy ,317/252-2600;  www.therippleinn.com
                          14 West – 14 West Maryland, Indy, 317/636-1414; www.14westindy.com  
                          Noah Grant’s—65 South First Street, Zionsville, 317/732-2233; www.noahgrants.com

Wednesday:    Meridian – 5694 N. Meridian, Indy, 317/466-1111; www.meridianonmeridian.com
Ruth’s Chris Northside – 9445 Threel Road, Indy, 317/844-1155;  http://www.ruthschris.com/Steak-House/5211/Indianapolis/Northside  

Thursday:        14 West – 14 West Maryland, Indy, 317/636-1414; www.14westindy.com  
                            Iaria’s—317 South College, Indy, 317/638-7706; www.iariasrestaurant.com

    
Saturday:         Arni's-- 4705 East 96th Street, Indy, 317/571-077; http://www.meetyouatarnis.com/    
                        (thanks Andrea!)             
Sunday:           Mesh: 725 Massachusetts Ave, Indy 317/955-9600; www.meshonmass.com
                           Eddie Merlot’s—3645 East 96th Street, Indy, 317/846-8303; www.eddiemerlots.com
                           Noah Grant’s—65 South First Street, Zionsville, 317/732-2233; www.noahgrants.com
                       

 

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Best Bet

Based on recommendations from readers, hubby and I headed north to Noblesville for a new breakfast spot.  It was a Sunday, and there was a bit of a wait.  We settled on bar seating because we looked around and realized we were going to wait a fair amount of time if we wanted a table.  Hubby usually isn’t a fan of bar seating because he likes a back on his chairs, but it actually turned out nice because we got to watch them cook everything.  The kitchen is really small—mainly just the area behind the bar with one large griddle on which is mainly piled their breakfast potatoes (“Ava potatoes”).  The place is decorated in a gambling theme which is carried through on the menu.
So I had “The Bluff” which was 3 eggs, your choice of sausage (2 patties) or bacon (2 slices), their “Ava” potatoes and a bottomless basket of buttered wheat toast ($6.50).  This is sort of a large meal for me, I would never eat three eggs at once (and only ate two on this visit), but there aren’t a lot of options for smaller breakfasts—and most of them are actually bigger than this one.  So I liked the bottomless toast concept. They give you a little disc that you can turn over to one side if you want more or the other if you don’t.  The toast was clearly buttered with real butter and it was nice because the toast was always fresh and hot when you wanted it.
The eggs were cooked perfectly over medium.  The bacon wasn’t bad, but didn’t really stand out to me for anything—hubby had the sausage patties which they made from a ball of the fresh sausage and flattened on the grill (see how much I learned sitting at the bar?).  They were much better than the bacon I thought.
So it was interesting watching them work on the potatoes the whole time—they were more like home fries, chunks of cooked potatoes that were put on the grill and continually cooked with melted butter, fresh onions and seasoning salt being added all along the way.  Because I saw them when we sat down, I ordered mine well done, because I like some crunch with my potatoes—normally they are more of a soft, almost creamy consistency (with as much butter as they were putting in there, it makes sense they would be creamy.).  The thing I liked was how they were using pretty pure ingredients in the food.  And they accommodated me and fried them a little more right on the grill before they served them to me and they were pretty tasty.  I am still a hash brown girl at heart, but I liked the crispy bits.
The other thing I really liked about the place was although it was quite busy, the owner was there, and everyone working seemed invested in the place. Our server introduced herself and asked our names when we sat down and wrote them on our check with her thank you.  The owner came to us, as well as everyone else, and checked on us a couple of times.  There is certainly pride in the place.  The food is good, the service very good (although it takes awhile when they are busy with a kitchen that small—but it is not for lack of efficiency in the kitchen).  It is a warm, family friendly breakfast spot and if it were in my neighborhood, I would probably return just because of the hospitality—and the food hit the spot too.
Best Bet
14300 Mundy Drive
Noblesville, IN  46060
317/776-1136

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Road Trip: Joseph Decuis - Revisit

“I have been a lot of places, and this place is good.”  That was my favorite quote of the night from hubby about our second trip to Joseph Decuis (pronounced “day-QUEEZ” for those of you who are like me and have always wondered if you were pronouncing it right. They finally put it on one of their brochures).  This comment was made shortly into our appetizer course during the dinner I was lucky enough to convince hubby to take me on to celebrate Mother’s Day. I was excited to get to try it again in the springtime.
We started with the pan sautéed morel mushrooms (um, duh)($18) and the Strauss Farms sweetbreads ($14) for our appetizers.  The morels were extremely crispy and freshly sautéed with just a hint of a crust on them, and were amazing.  They were uniformly cooked in exactly the right way.  There were no mushy bits and the coating was super light and even.  There was a tiny pool of veal glace (or veal stock reduction) at the bottom of the bowl—just the right amount to give a hint of another flavor without detracting from the mushrooms themselves.  The dish was then finished with a little sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Seriously, these were close to perfect.  Tender, but crisp, not a sandy bite in the bunch.  We were seated fairly near the kitchen and I could hear the staff calling out orders occasionally, and I think someone at just about every table had at least one order of these, and I saw someone get a double portion as an entrée.  My picture didn’t come out, and for that I apologize. I would have loved for you to have seen them.
The sweetbreads were also amazing. Sweetbreads are thymus glands (or sometimes pancreas) and these were from veal (I do not have qualms about ordering veal here by the way, as Joseph Decuis was recognized recently as a certified humane restaurant).  The sweetbreads were lightly pan fried as well—they were extremely moist inside and nicely seasoned and crisp on the outside.   The dish included several potato-chive gnocchi, hazelnuts, Brussels Sprouts leaves in a brown butter sauce.  When you could get a bite on your fork with a bit of each of these things at the same time, it was amazing.  It was hard to get the pieces of the hazelnuts on your fork (especially for me since this dish was in front of hubby), but when you did, the crunch and nuttiness went so well with the other flavors.  I was a little surprised by the fact that there weren’t as many spring ingredients in this dish, or many of the others, but after eating it, I didn’t care.
We also shared their frissée “Caesar” salad ($10), which was the only thing we repeated from our last trip because hubby insisted.  I have to say, this is a damn fine salad.  And while I like Caesars, I don’t often order them.  This one was unique because it was frissée and had some red onion as well as Gunthop Farm pork belly croutons and Brioche croutons.  I loved that they were both cut about the same size, and sometimes you got a bite with the crispy warm buttery pork, and sometimes you got the brioche croutons which were so light, they literally melted in your mouth. I could easily eat a pile of them. The dressing had the right creamy, yet tangy flavor and the right amount of it on the leaves. This is a salad that I think stays on the menu throughout the year, and for good reason. I also appreciated that they split it onto two plates for us.
For our dinner we shared an entrée that was a special, the Wagyu ribeye, and an order of the lobster mac and cheese ($15) which was from the appetizer portion of the menu.  Again, much like the first time we ate here, we weren’t as impressed with the beef as we thought we would be, although it was still good. And again, I appreciated that they split the dish onto two plates for us.  Honestly, we each got 2 slices of the medium rare ribeye, and this was more than enough.  It was served on creamy pureed potatoes (not a lump in there I can assure you) and with a mixture of beans and veggies—it was sort of a New Orleans kind of flavor with several kind of beans, peppers, and corn.  Again, it was good, but next time for sure, we are going to try something other than the beef (unless it is raw in which case I can tell you, I will almost certainly order it).  Wagyu is fattier than regular beef, and I think benefits from being raw.
The lobster mac and cheese was something I was intrigued by (I think it is a regular menu item as well).  It was also tasty, but the housemade orcchiette was a little too al dente for me. It also had leeks mixed in and was made with mascarpone cheese.  The lobster was perfectly tender and not chewy at all and had several nice chunks mixed in as well as a full shelled claw on top.
We ended with a couple of scoops of Palazzolo’s gelatos for dessert ($7)—we had a dark chocolate as well as a banana caramel praline flavor.  They were good and there were nice large pieces of pecans in the praline flavor and large pieces of dark chocolate in the chocolate flavor, but honestly we were pretty stuffed at this point and limped across the street to our room where we were staying.  Oh, and the restaurant runs these apartments as well as a very cute inn down the street (which was full) and when we checked in, they had left us a little cheese plate in the fridge.  So, ok, I lied, we just gotten the gelato, because we knew we had a little cheese plate waiting for us back in the room that had been nicely warmed on the counter while we were at dinner. It was certainly just a couple tastes, but was the perfect ending to the meal.
If you stay at one of the Joseph Decuis properties, they also offer breakfast to their guests for an additional fee. It is served at just one seating at 8:00 am, however, so we decided to skip it in favor of a rare occasion to sleep in.  But earlier in the day as we perused their emporium, I saw they sell their quiches frozen. Score! We picked up the potato and Gruyere flavor and defrosted it in the fridge overnight and cooked it the next morning at our leisure (with some mimosas of course).  That was the benefit of staying in the apartments over the inn (besides being right across the street from the restaurant) -- they have a full kitchen.  Once we finally got the quiche cooked through (took a little longer than the package said), it was outstanding. One of the best I have had in a long time.
All in all, I continue to consider Joseph Decuis as an extremely worthy dining destination in Indiana, and look forward to many return trips in the future.  If you haven’t been, you should consider a road trip up there for a special occasion. 
Joseph Decuis
191 North Main Street
Roanoke, IN 46783
260/672-1715


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Thursday, May 12, 2011

3 Sisters

In continuation of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives week, I recently visited 3 Sisters which was also recently featured on one of the recent Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  I had been to 3 Sisters once before, but pre-blog days, so I thought it was a good time to give it another try.  What I remembered about this place from before was that they had a pretty extensive menu, use a lot of high quality healthy ingredients, but that I hadn’t been inspired to return for several years.
The restaurant is set in an old Victorian house in Broad Ripple, and I like the homey feel and squeaky wood floors (I love a good creaky floor). The service staff was pretty friendly, although possibly a little harried.  I think the DDD publicity has been good for business.
The menu has been re-vamped since the DDD visit, with notations on the menu pointing out which items were featured.  The BFF ordered one of them, the D’Nai, which is a crusty French roll covered in house roasted ham, sautéed kale and jack cheese.  So, this sandwich is enormous. As in, you can’t pick it up and eat it; you pretty much have to use a knife and fork. And not only that, but they actually brought her a steak knife because apparently a regular knife is not enough.   I liked the flavor of the kale—giving it a distinct cooked greens taste, a little more robust than just spinach.  The flavor of the ham was interesting, drier like in sliced pork tenderloin almost, but with a decent flavor.  But it was a little too dry for me.  I really liked her side of potato salad (again, a huge portion), but with a nice mustardy flavor (you could see the grains of mustard in there). Only a little bit of celery, mostly large chunks of potatoes.
So for my entrée, I went with breakfast because we were eating on the early side of lunch.  It was the “Mom” scramble with 3 eggs, red onions, “exotic” mushrooms, avocado, and Swiss cheese (around $7).  See-- all those things, good.  Together, they are also good, but not blow you away good—the exotic mushrooms were seemingly mostly Portobello and creminis, and there was a little too much red onion in there for me—and really big chunks of it.  But I tend to like a scramble better than an omelet because they are less dried out, and that was the case here.  It came with a side of toast, which was warm and heavily buttered (I chose sourdough from the list of options). Again, it ended up being quite a large portion.
I also got a side of the powerhouse potatoes ($3 for the small (!) portion), which I enjoyed—they were like home fried potatoes with lots of herbs, onions, garlic, bits of tofu and cheese on top.  They were tasty, and I enjoyed the herby kick to them.  So often breakfast potatoes are very bland.  The onions and garlic livened them up as well, but were better than the onions in my scramble because they were smaller and more cooked.  They were served with an extremely fresh tasting salsa on the side that was awesome on its own and awesome with the potatoes—totally took the potatoes to a higher level with the acidity and slight spiciness.  I was glad I went with the small portion though (they have two sizes), because there is no way I could finish these (even with help from BFF) let alone any more.
Which brings me back to the whole enormous thing. I get a fair amount of grief for complaining that portions are too large, but seriously, these were insane.  Normally, when I want feedback on a lunch I have with the BFF, I email her later and ask her for her comments. This time, an email was waiting for me when I got home in which she said while she thought the food tasted pretty good, that the portions were so ridiculously large that they must be throwing a ton of food away, which bothered her.  And this place reminds me of a place that could easily be in Berkeley—very hippy-ish. Lots of vegetarian and even vegan options and lots of healthy veggies mixed into everything.  So it sort of seems slightly incongruous that they put this kind of pile of food in front of you.  But maybe it’s just me.  My advice would be to go with a compatible friend and split a couple things. There will be more than enough.
So overall, my take on 3 Sisters was pretty similar to my first visit—I appreciate the variety, healthy fresh food and care going into the food.  It is hearty, and will certainly fill you up.  A good option for breakfast  or lunch if you like ‘em large.  Again, out of this world?  I would say no.
3 Sisters Café
6360 Guilford Avenue
Indy  46220
317/257-5556

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Zest - Revisit

I have decided it’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives week on my blog.  Indy has been lucky enough to have several of its local restaurants featured on the show in the last several months, and Zest is the most recent episode, set to air tonight (May 9th). Later in the week I am reviewing another recent restaurant to have been featured already.  Anyway, I have reviewed Zest a couple of times before, but thought a revisit would be a timely post.  I am curious as to how being featured on DDD increases business—from what I have heard and seen, it seems to help increase business immensely, and since they feature local places cooking fresh food, I am all for it.  But I would love to hear from people in some of these places as to just how much it has helped.
So the BFF and I headed in for lunch the other day—I was in the mood for something fairly light (which can be somewhat challenging with Zest, hard to pass on their macaroni and cheese) but I started with a cup of their soup of the day, which was a tortilla/avocado soup ($3.95) and went with the sampler plate of 3 of their signature deli salads ($8.95).  I really liked the soup.  It was a chicken broth based soup, with nice pieces of white meat chicken, radishes, scallions, crispy tortilla strips, a lime wedge and a couple good hunks of avocado on top.  It had a really great spicy flavor, without burning.  The radishes added a peppery flavor and I was impressed with how the tortillas still had a bit of crispness to them when you ate it—they obviously must put them in right as they are serving it.  They also gave it a bit of fullness, as well as a little bit of corn flavor.  The squeezed lime wedge gave a little sour acid to the soup and the avocado on top was the perfect silky buttery topping to the other things.  I haven’t seen this one before on the menu. I hope it is recurring.
I tried the deviled egg salad, the blue cheese chicken salad and the ahi tuna salad as my 3 choices in my salad plate. There was one smallish scoop of each one on top of nice fresh greens.  I would have loved some light vinaigrette on the greens, but maybe you are supposed to just eat them with the salads—I still think it would be improved with just a bit of dressing though.  I have had the deviled egg salad before—I think it is made with Dijon mustard so it has a little kick to it.  There is dill in there as well as lots of egg.  If you want an egg salad with a twist, this is a good one.  I have also had it on a sandwich special with bacon and other toppings that was really good as well.  The blue cheese chicken salad may have been my favorite of the three though—it had shredded chicken with very fine crumble of blue cheese, grape halves, and nuts (pretty sure they were pecans, although they were pretty small pieces).  It was a really nice combination of flavors—the kind of thing I often put on a salad myself—blue cheese and nuts with something a little sweet.  The sweet grapes and the blue cheese are natural companions.  If I was making it, I would put more blue cheese in it, but that’s me.
The ahi tuna salad was my least favorite. It wasn’t bad, but had the least amount of unique flavors.  There were some capers—that’s about all that stands out in my mind about it.  The tuna was pretty tender.  The salads were all served with Zest’s seeded flatbreads, which were a nice accompaniment.  They have a nice earthy nutty flavor from all the seeds on top that add good texture to the smoother salads.  (You also get one with any soup, although I didn’t use it with the soup.  The tortilla strips made it unnecessary.)  I thought it was a nice sized portion, but was wondering if others would think so—I think some might complain it was a little small.  But then again, they probably wouldn’t order a salad sampler either.
BFF had a scramble (Zest’s version of omelets).  I tend to like scrambles because they don’t get as dried out as omelets.  Hers looked good and she seemed to really like it.  I did have a bite of her cowboy potatoes which are rich, creamy and decadent.
It will be interesting to see what items are featured on DDD, as their menu is quite extensive.  I know last time I was there with hubby he loved their burger and said it is one of his favorites in the city.  My guess is DDD will feature more of the unique items, but we shall see.  Would love to hear what you guys think of the episode if you watch.
Zest Exciting Food Creations
1134 E 54th Street
Indy 36220
317-466-1853
http://www.zestexcitingfood.com/

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Dragon

So I have to say I sort of have a bad habit of judging Chinese restaurants by their “cover.”  Well, by the way they look outside.  Happy Dragon is a place I drive by at least once, if not twice every day, and I often shop at the Kroger next door.  Honestly, I never thought I would step foot inside.
I was having lunch with a friend on a very limited time frame in the area, and for whatever reason, we decided to try it.  It is a small place, with maybe 6-8 booths and a little counter where you order.  Interestingly they bring you your food served in take out containers, even if you are eating there, which I guess is convenient if you are going to take the leftovers home, and saves them from having a dishwasher I guess, but I tend to prefer to sit and eat a meal on actual dishes.  But maybe I am too high maintenance.
The prices are reasonable for lunch.  For around $5, you get the entrée and either fried or steamed rice and a choice of soup, egg roll, or a can of soda.  I splurged and got the soup and a can of soda (my meal was $4.95 plus the soda). I started with the hot and sour soup because I had just had such a good one at Sesame the other day, and was in the mood.  So the thing about the soup, there was lots of good stuff in it, tofu, wood ear mushrooms, button mushrooms and bamboo shoots.  It certainly had the distinct sour flavor and a little bit of the heat.  But my problem was that it was really over-starched for me.  It came across as too gelatinous which is something I really don’t care for.  For me, I like this kind of soup to be…well, soupy. A thinner broth, rather than something this thickened.
As for my entrée, I went with one of my standbys, garlic chicken, because I am now determined to find a really good one. And it is sort of nice to compare the same dish from place to place sometimes.  Unfortunately, this is not going to be a repeat dish (or most likely a repeat restaurant).  There was a generous amount of chicken and veggies (a lot of broccoli, some mini corn, green bell pepper, and water chestnuts).  Again, though, my biggest problem was with the overwhelming amount of starch in the sauce (and maybe even corn syrup?).  It was sticky and gloppy, and this is not how I like my Chinese food (or anything else).  It reminded me of the stuff you can buy in a bottle that is supposed to replicate Chinese food at home.  You needed a wet wipe after you ate it.  The chicken was all white, and while not exceedingly tender, wasn’t bad.  The veggies were certainly on the crisp side, but everything was so coated with the sauce, that honestly, I didn’t eat that much of it. And, hello, can I please get a garlic chicken with some garlic in it?
So, I guess maybe I should listen to my instinct more about judging a place by its appearance. At least in this case, anyway, because it turns out I was right.  And when I compare this meal to my recent pretty much identical one at least in name at Sesame (which wasn’t perfect), but was so much better, I know I will not be walking through the door of this place again.  So, come on people, let’s hear your suggestions. Who has the best Chinese in town?
Happy Dragon
5868 E. 71st Street
Indy 46220
317/570-8888

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Good Stuff Italian Café

**THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED**

You know how I feel about Italian places in Indy, but a friend of mine kept nagging me to try this place for lunch (they are also open for dinner).  It is a little mom and pop place, with about 6 tables over on Shadeland.  I am a sucker for places like this that I have never ever heard of, so off we went.
At first we were the only ones in there, and we were given quite a warm greeting.  Our server was exceptionally friendly and answered our questions.  The chef came out toward the end of the meal to make sure everything was ok.  These are people who really seem to care about their business and what they are cooking.  For instance, although they serve their sodas in cans, they still offered us free refills. They are certainly geared toward very good customer service.
 They do sandwiches, pastas and pizza, and ok, pretty much all the pastas are with marinara or Alfredo sauce, but I pretty much assumed that this was going to be your classic Midwestern-Italian food and rolled with it.  They offer two specials each day, which are regular menu items, just at a reduced price.  I went with the manicotti special which came with a breadstick and was $5.99. I think the regular price was around $8.00, so this was a pretty good deal. 
There were two large manicotti filled with an herby ricotta mixture and covered with lots of the marinara sauce and shredded cheese.  You know, they were pretty good.  The marinara was chunky and fresh tasting, and also had a very savory taste, that wasn’t overly sweet, but let the slight sweetness and the acidic taste of the tomatoes shine through.  There were hearty chunks of onion and lots of herbs.  It was one of the better marinaras I have had in awhile.  Combined with the baked pasta and cheese stuffing, it was all very good.  A bite of the cheese filling alone was a bit dry, but you didn’t notice it so much if you ate it all together.  My favorite part of the whole meal was the light puffy breadstick served alongside.  It was covered in garlic and dried herbs and had a ton of flavor.  It was delicious dipped in the marinara.  I also heard the server take a carryout order on the phone from someone who was ordering just breadsticks for their lunch—stuffed with olives and cheese, which leads me to believe they will make you breadsticks stuffed with any of their pizza toppings.  That sounds good. I would totally do that.
Hubby had the Italian beef sandwich (he is such a sucker for these).  They do several different sub/hoagie type sandwiches.  The bread is fresh and locally made, and was a great tasting roll that was soft with a nice crispy crust. Hubby thought it didn’t stand up enough to the Italian beef fillings, and once dipped in the au jus on the side became too soggy and flimsy, but he thought it would be very good with some of the other sandwich combos.  The meat in the sandwich was good, and nice and tender, but didn’t have the exact distinctive flavor that a really good Italian beef sandwich has, which hubby and I decided must come from cooking the meat in the jus for awhile to absorb all the seasonings.  According to hubby, this was more like a very good roast beef sandwich, but didn’t have quite the right flavor combo to be a really good Italian beef.  They did serve the spicy giardiniera (pickled jalapenos and other veggies) on the side, which you need with Italian beef, but instead of the sweet roasted peppers that we also like, they just served diced fresh green peppers.  Hubby appreciated that they automatically brought a little dish of the au jus too, because that is how he likes to eat it—a little dip with each bite.  They also gave the option of provolone cheese on it, which both hubby and I like, but we have been told that cheese isn’t authentic.  What do you guys think about this? Hubby wanted me to see if anyone had a strong opinion about this question.
Anyway, this is a decent place. I like the small, mom and pop atmosphere and the genuine interest that the owners are taking in the place.  They are doing the classic Hoosier-Italian food, but they are doing it pretty well, and for a very reasonable price (our entire meal was $16 including drinks).  It was nearly full when we left, and it was clear there are a lot of regulars coming in.  Pasta is a big lunch for me though, I think next time, I would find someone to split a pizza with, as I am interested to see how they are.
The Good Stuff Italian Café
4709 North Shadeland Ave
Indy 46226
317/546-3291

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