This is a restaurant I learned about because the owners have a decent twitter feed. I generally try and follow every Indy restaurant on twitter. I saw them, they interacted with me, I checked out the menu and it looked interesting. So when I was out that way one day I stopped in. It’s amazing what kind of marketing tool twitter can be.
Anyway, that first lunch I was actually surprised I had never noticed this place before. It is in a strip mall near 86th and Michigan and I have driven by it many times. The interior is nicer than I was expecting and it’s pretty large. The menu features many different Asian cuisines, including sushi, but when I’m alone I don’t like getting rolls because I can’t try very many. So on this visit I decided to go with the Chinese menu, and specifically focused on the “Tian Fu specials.” I liked that they have a nice lunch menu that includes dishes other than the standard Chinese restaurant lunch special fare (which they have as well).
I ordered the Szechwan hot boiled fish dish ($9.95). It came with a choice of soup, rice, and a spring roll and a crab Rangoon on the side. I had the hot and sour soup and it was one of the better ones I have had in Indy. It had a lot of stuff going on inside, mushrooms, tofu, carrots, and lots of bits of egg. It had just the right consistency, not being over-thickened like some. It also had a nice spicy kick to it as well as the sour taste of vinegar. They got this one right. I do like getting the little fried wontons to crumble in, which they brought with the soup, but these were a tad stale (seems to be a problem for me lately).
The fish was very good. My server told me it was spicy and she wasn’t kidding. She also told me upon delivering it, to be sure and mix it up before I ate it. There was a lot of crushed garlic and ginger sitting on top and the fish and broth had been placed on top of veggies—mainly cabbage leaves—and she was right, mixing it all up was important. It softened the leaves and more evenly distributed the seasonings. I love garlic and ginger so I appreciated visually being able to see it quite clearly. The broth that they poach the flounder in is a red pepper broth. It had heat and a lot of flavor. The fish was plentiful and was very tender. I thought it was a large portion, particularly with all the other things you got with it, even if it was one of the more expensive lunch items. I didn’t care for the spring roll, which was full of just shredded cabbage and carrots and kind of hit you in the chin when you bit into it. The crab Rangoon wasn’t bad—a thicker wonton and just folded in half and fried. It made for a nice texture and slightly sweet flavor variation from the two spicy broth-based dishes.
Since I really wanted to try the sushi too, I met my friend Suzanne there for lunch about a week after the first visit to get a couple of rolls. She ordered a green salad to start ($3.95) and we also ordered the fried tofu appetizer ($3.95). The salad was larger than Japanese salads usually are, so we shared it. It was mainly large pieces of iceberg lettuce (so large it was nearly impossible to eat with chopsticks) with a ginger dressing. Because it was on a plate and not in a bowl, the dressing kind of separated leaving the gingery bits on top and kind of a watery pool on the bottom. The tofu was good—I liked that the pieces were cut into thinner pieces so you could get some crispy outside with each bite. Initially they did not bring any sauce though (and there was none on the plate). We weren’t sure if this was an oversight or not, but our server did bring us out a sauce for dipping. It was lightly sweet (fish sauce and a bit of soy maybe) with some scallions.
For sushi, we had the black dragon roll ($12.95) and the tobiko rainbow roll ($12.95). The black dragon roll was supposed to have tempura shrimp and cucumber inside although I didn’t taste any cucumber (which is fine with me, it is one of my least favorite sushi roll ingredients besides cream cheese). It was topped with eel, avocado, eel sauce and black tobiko (fish eggs). It wasn’t bad, but the eel part tasted a little fishy to me, and I am normally a fan. I liked the other roll better—it was filled with spicy tuna and a little bit of tempura crunch, and was topped with lots of avocado and various colors of tobiko. The tuna was still decent quality and I always like a little crunch. The avocado was perfect. The rolls were artfully presented, and a pretty good sized—maybe slightly larger than a mouthful though. I would rate the quality in the middle of Indy sushi places. It wasn’t bad, but there are several places I like better.
Our service on the second trip was a little more difficult too—it was our server’s first day and she didn’t speak a lot of English and didn’t know a lot about the menu. It was a pretty dramatic departure from the server I had the first time.
All in all, I think Tian Fu is a decent lunch place. I think I would stick to the Chinese side of the menu and skip the sushi. It wasn’t bad, but the first lunch I had was more unique, and tasted better. It seems to do a decent business at lunch, and I would be curious if any of you guys have been there.
Tian Fu Asian Bistro
3508 West 86th Street