Monday, March 31, 2014

Ambrosia - Revisit

Ok, flat out, in my opinion, Italian food is one of Indy’s weak links. We have a ton of Italian places, but I am always amazed and how similar their menus are (and the food as well). Honestly, it’s a struggle to get me to any of them. My sister and her husband tend to like it more than I do, and it was their birthdays, so we decided to give Ambrosia a try—it’s not new, but I was looking forward to checking out their new space down on College and Kessler.

First of all, their bread is excellent. Excellent and completely addictive. It’s a sliced Italian loaf, served warm and they serve it with very tasty olive oil that is on the table. We had A LOT of it.
The menu there is kind of weirdly organized. There are two sections of antipasti in two different places, with salads and soups in between. I sort of thought maybe it was because one was hot and one was cold, but that is not the case. Also, they have the pastas divided up into two sections as well with no particular theme…so make sure you pay attention to the whole menu.

We started with the artichokes ($10) and the octopus starter ($10). My sister and hubby had the grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto ($12). I love artichokes, and you don’t see them too often on menus. These were nice because they were just the hearts and stems, which are the best parts. They were lightly marinated and grilled and served with some roasted red peppers and on top of a balsamic dressing. I would get these again. The octopus was very good as well I thought. I liked the way they served a piece of the tentacles on top of a cooked sliced potatoes, with some arugula, chopped tomatoes and drizzled with a vinaigrette. The octopus was tender and the slices of potatoes gave it a heartier feel. The tomatoes and greens gave it a little zip. Another one I liked.  I wasn’t as big of a fan of the shrimp appetizer because I felt the shrimp was tough. My sister and her husband really liked it though, so maybe it was just my shrimp. And the La Quercia prosciutto they use is very tasty. 

My sister and I also shared a salad—the “mista” ($7). It was mixed greens with finely diced tomatoes and Gorgonzola with balsamic dressing. The salad tasted good, and even the tomatoes were tasty—not the whitish out of season ones you expect. There was plenty of Gorgonzola and dressing. The problem with this salad was that the greens were really wilty. I am not sure if they were not super fresh or if they maybe sat under a heat lamp for a second or what, but they were too soft. My brother-in-law had a Caesar and hubby had a bite and both said it was good.

Moving on to the entrées, things went a bit south for me. Hubby had the best entrée dish, the tortellini filled with meat, and in a pancetta and Parmesan cream sauce ($17). It was a rich sauce, but the tortellini was fresh and the whole dish had nice slightly salty flavor from the pancetta. I had a special, which was a shrimp dish in a lighter garlic and lemon-type sauce with diced tomatoes. I enjoyed the fresh flavor of the seasonings, but again the shrimp themselves were overcooked. I also thought the potatoes served underneath were tasty. Sliced similarly to the ones with the octopus, but these were seared and were crisp on the edges. I really liked the very crisp ones the best. I substituted the green beans for some spinach, which they did after I asked, and it was good—fresh spinach with just some garlic and quickly sautéed. Parts of the dish were good and the overall flavor wasn’t bad I thought, just the main aspect of the dish (the shrimp) was off.

My sister had the linguine with clams (and some added shrimp) ($16.50 + $5 for shrimp). I don’t know about this one. The one clam I had was sandy and the “white wine butter sauce” with olive oil and garlic wasn’t overly flavorful. This is a pretty simple dish, but this one could have used a bit more to it I think. Maybe I am just jaded because I make this one at home pretty successfully.

We shared a couple of desserts as well—the tartufo ($7) and the cannoli ($6). I liked the cannoli because they did a good job of keeping the shell of the cannoli crust. I didn’t seem like it had been made days early and filled and then frozen. I also enjoyed the slightly less sweet flavor of the ricotta based filling, although it seemed like it was calling out for a drizzle of some semi-sweet chocolate or something to make it just a little sweeter. The tartufo was good as well, and you certainly got your chocolate quotient here. It was chocolate gelato filled with frozen custard and rolled in cocoa. Between the two, it was a nice balance.
Overall, I think the starters (and bread) were really quite good. I could easily make a meal out of first courses, or maybe split an entrée (likely hubby’s pasta) or skip them altogether. The interior is nice (although I never ate inside at the old location so I can’t really compare it) and seems modern and fresh. Our server was very good and helpful, answering several of our questions efficiently. We had drinks and refills when we needed them and our food was brought out with proper pacing. My one piece of advice, skip any of the shrimp dishes.

5903 N. College Ave
Indy 46220
Ambrosia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 27, 2014

SoBro Café - Revisit

Recently on a Sunday, we were leaving the Fairgrounds with the kids (Lego Brickworld) and we were all starving. We intended to go to Taste, but they were too busy so we ducked around the corner to SoBro Café and snatched up the last table. I hadn’t been in quite awhile, but was anxious to try the biscuits and gravy ($7.99) again, as it is one of my favorites in town (I even wrote about it recently in the newest edition of Edible Indy.) Hubby and I decided to share this as well as the “Good Morning” wrap ($8.99).

As before, I still love those biscuits and gravy. One of the things that makes them so good is that the biscuits underneath are so dang delicious. They are fluffy, but dense enough to stand up to the gravy.  The gravy tastes heavily of the breakfast sausage being used. The thing I like about it is that it isn’t overly gloppy the way gravy sometimes is. It has a lighter, slightly thinner consistency. My son tried it for the first time and his eyes lit up. Pretty sure I know what he’ll be getting next time we go.

I was glad we split it with something else though, because even though the gravy is not as heavy as some, it is still too much for me to eat an entire plate. The “Good Morning” wrap was a good match. It was scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and cheddar, as well as spinach (I had them hold the red peppers) and garlic aioli. This was certainly not as heavy as the B&G. I really liked the addition of the garlic aioli, which added to the moisture level and upped the taste level as well, giving it more than just the tastes of the individual ingredients. I am a firm believer in some sort of sauce or spread to tie sandwiches and wraps together.

The kids had a bison burger ($10.49) and the French toast ($6.99). Both were quite happy. I would be interested to try the bison burger with everything they normally serve it with, as my daughter just wanted it with cheese. It was a good-sized burger though and the meat was lightly seasoned and very moist—and you have to be careful with bison not to cook it too long and totally dry it out.

I was happy that our service didn’t waiver throughout the meal, even though the restaurant was very full. Sometimes you worry in a place with such a small kitchen when it is so crowded (and there were a couple of large parties). Our food came in a timely fashion and our server was very friendly.  And for those of you looking for brunch spots where you can also have a drink, I had a lovely mimosa with my meal as well. 

I am looking forward to getting those biscuits and gravy again soon.

SoBro Café
653 East 52nd Street
Indy 46205

Monday, March 24, 2014


Hmmm… Everything I read about this place has been extremely positive. And it’s been so damn cold for so long, soup seems like an ideal lunch option. I also love the concept of getting three different flavors to get to try at once (the trio is $6.25). When I heard about this place, I had flashes of the soup nazi episode on Seinfeld. 

Alas, I can’t say I was overly impressed with any of the soups I had. The online favorite seemed to be the tomato bisque, finished with a drizzle of sour cream and a bit of cheese. So that was my first choice for my trio. Okay, my biggest problem with it was that it was so thick it was almost the consistency of pudding. Flavor-wise it wasn’t bad I guess, even though all of the soups benefited from pepper and salt (which is located in packets by the soda machine).

The chicken noodle was probably my favorite I guess—interesting use of a different shape of noodle than your typical egg noodles—these were more like shells. Again though, it needed salt and pepper to liven it up. I had maybe a couple chunks of chicken in there (very small ones) and a few noodles. Not too much else to it (as in veggies, etc).

The chicken velvet rounded out my trio, and is one of the two soups they offer daily (they change the other choices up). It was mostly a really heavy creamy taste with not too much seasoning to it. I think I had like one piece of chicken in mine. I have had some really good bowls of chicken velvet soup, and I get it isn’t overly complex, but this was just too bland for me. No way I could finish a larger bowl of it. I also had a taste of @wibia’s beef barley and it was one of the better ones as well—I think maybe I prefer their broth-based soups. The potato leek he also ordered also suffered the fate of the chicken velvet—just kind of bland.

They also serve Amelia’s bread, which is a nice local addition, although my “baguette” was quite flat and hard (maybe a day old or something).  @wibia’s semolina was fresher. My favorite thing of the whole meal was the potato salad that I ordered as a side actually. It was red potatoes in a creamy base and it had blue cheese crumbles and fresh dill that came in a separate little compartment in the lid of the plastic container to sprinkle in. Very cute (even though I don’t know why putting the cheese in from the beginning would be bad). 

The only weird thing about the physical location is that it is very small. A counter to order and then 10-12 seats along bars along the walls. In the winter, when you want hot soup, the door is constantly opening and freezing you if you are eating inside. And in the summer, when that won’t be a problem, I personally won’t be having the same craving for soup. They do have some good sounding salads, and based on liking the potato salad the best, that might be the way to go. A lot of people were coming in for carry-out though, so maybe that's the majority of their business.

Full disclosure, hubby claims I am not a big soup person, but I tell him I am just picky about my soups. But who knows, maybe he’s right. I do really appreciate a small quick lunch place downtown (just off the Circle) that is independently owned, and that they utilize lots of local products as well. The people working there were also really friendly.

Anyway, I am guessing people disagree with me based on reading stuff online, so what soup have you had that you really liked?

7 East Market Street
Indy 46204
Soupremacy on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Szechwan Garden - Revisit

I have a lot to talk about! This post combines a couple of meals—lunch with my friends Sacha and Scott and a business dinner. (Most prices listed here are dinner prices, lunch is always cheaper.) So I got to try a lot of things.

I am just going to sort of jump around with some of the stuff. Combined, I tried several appetizers/dim sum items (dim sum is only available at lunch). I really enjoyed the shrimp and chive dumplings—very chive-filled for sure (I am thinking maybe some scallions too). Nicely pan-seared giving a little crispy edge. Not a ton of shrimp, but just enough to give it a fuller consistency. At dinner we tried the scallion pancake ($3.50), crab Rangoon ($5.95), pot stickers ($5.95), and the just straight up dumplings ($4.50). Of these, I probably liked the dumplings and pot stickers the best. The pot stickers were nicely pan-fried as well, giving just a touch of crunch on the outside and the dumplings were softer, and sitting in a spicy chili/soy broth. But it was nice to have some of the fried items to go along with the dumplings—the crab Rangoon were more cream-cheesy than crabby, but were fried just right and were super hot and crunchy. The scallion pancakes is crispy, but with a softness as well. Lots of fresh green scallion flavor.
chive dumplings
potstickers and dumplings
crab rangoon and scallion pancake

Of the various entrées I had over the course of both meals, some of the highlights were the pan fried green beans with little crispy bits of pork belly ($8.95 for dinner portion, lunch is cheaper)—the beans still had a snap, but had a slightly blistered skin from the heat. I also really enjoyed the Chengdu braised fish in hot chili oil. This one probably had the most kick of all the dishes. The fish was tender and was lovely over the rice served alongside. A table favorite was the shredded pork with garlic sauce ($9.95). This dish was a bit spicy as well, and had a rich garlic sauce. There were lots of sliced onions and red and green peppers as well. I liked the way that the meat and the veggies were all sliced similarly to each other, giving just the right proportion of all the flavors in each bite.

Green beans
Chengdu Fish
Shredded pork

We also had the fried squid with salt and pepper ($14.95). I generally love salt and pepper items, and the crust on this had a good crunch and flavor, but the pieces of squid suffered the chewy fate that it so often does. Based on the flavor of it though, the fried fish fillet with salt and pepper is on my list for my next visit. I think with more tender fish, this dish will be super tasty. Salty and a fair dose of pepper as well. I can’t wait. We also had the shrimp and garlic sauce ($13.95). This one was good as well—tender plump shrimp plus more fresh veggies—bigger ones here if you’re looking for a more balanced meal between protein and veg. There was broccoli, red pepper chunks and peapods. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit blander than the other dishes. The beef chow fun was an interesting one as well, and also not spicy. The homemade thick noodles were sautéed with scallions, bean sprouts, and large pieces of sliced beef. This is more of a soy-based sauce, with maybe just a touch of sweetness. I liked the fresh noodles. That’s pretty much my story in any type of cuisine though.
garlic shrimp
beef chow fun

For me, the biggest miss was my lunch order of sautéed eggplant with basil sauce (and I asked them to add some chicken). In the past when I have dined at Szechwan Garden, I have seen people eating big plates of eggplant and I always wanted to get it, even though I wasn’t exactly sure which dish it was (there are several eggplant dishes on the menu). This dish was really overly oily and had little flavor at all. I actually tried to order the garlic-based eggplant dish at dinner to see if it was better (and to see if my lunch may have just been a fluke), but somehow it got forgotten and by the time we realized it, we had all had WAY too much to eat to order more. So, someday maybe I will figure out the mysterious eggplant dish.

Which brings me to my final thought, how can you ever really get a handle on this place? How do you even know what to begin to order when there are 374 menu items (plus the dim sum)? So do you order something new every time or stick with old favorites? I know I am trying the salt and pepper fish next time, but that’s about as far as I can get. How do you guys handle it and what are your favorite items?

Szechwan Garden
3649 Lafayette Road
Indy 46222

Szechwan Garden on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 17, 2014

Perrotta's Kitchen Supper Club

Awhile back, a friend sent me an email telling me about this chef, Gustavo Perrotta, who had won a recent cooking competition. I was intrigued to learn that he was also doing monthly dinners out of Indy’s Kitchen and knew I wanted to try one. They sell out pretty fast though (they only seat 12 people per dinner) and have proven to be pretty popular. The meals are $50 per person.

I really enjoyed the concept overall—it is an intimate setting where the Chef chats throughout the meal, telling you all about the food he is preparing before you. People were continually wandering up to the stove while Chef Gustavo cooked, learning about the ingredients, or the cooking techniques.

The amuse bouche was a fried risotto ball served atop a spicy Sriracha aioli. He is preparing the food and plating it right then, and those things were hot! They were really tasty too. The risotto had the right creaminess and the sauce added the right heat.

The first of the regular course was a Peruvian ceviche. I loved the way we learned about exactly how he was preparing it all. He used cod in this dish and explained that he marinated not in just straight lime juice, but in slightly watered down lime juice so it isn’t too acidic (as if that’s possible). But it did have a nice limey flavor and added crunch from thinly sliced peppers and onions and a hint of cilantro. The presentation of the dishes, particularly this one, were lovely as well—loved the service in the scallop shell. The only thing we wished was that the fish was chopped a little smaller—the pieces were pretty big (would love to see some shellfish in there too).

Next we were served a spinach salad with goat cheese, walnuts and dates a topped with balsamic vinaigrette. This is exactly the type of salad you will most often find me making at home—the greens balanced with some crunch and earthiness of the nuts, and the slight sharpness (and creaminess) of the cheese as well as sweet softness from the sliced dates, all topped with a homemade dressing.

The main dish was a risotto with squid ink and calamari rings topped with half of what were the largest shrimp I have ever seen. I loved hearing the stories about the shrimp that were from Nigeria, and the squid ink from Spain, imported through the Dominican Republic (where the Chef is from and his family still lives). He put the rings of the calamari into the risotto and then fried up the tentacle portions in the deep fryer. This was a wonderfully inventive dish—the type of thing you don’t often see around Indy. And I have never seen shrimp like this before. The shrimp had a texture a bit like a small lobster—and they were cooked just perfectly (in the oven with lots of butter) and again, the risotto was cooked just right. The blackness of the squid ink gives it just a touch of sort of smoky, seafood flavor. We laughed at the black lips it also gave us (like goth lipstick). The little fried bits of the calamari were outstanding—I liked them better than the rings in the risotto that were just a touch chewy.

Our dessert was a caramel flan, which was a nice flan—you can’t really go wrong with the caramel sauce, even though flan is traditionally not one of my favorite desserts. It was a good for what it was though—the right consistency and sweetness (not too sweet).

Overall, it was a really fun experience that I would like to repeat. It’s tough to get into one of the dinners, but if you can, I recommend it. It’s fun to chat with other people at your table who are interested in this kind of experience (and it was fun to see people try things they might not normally try.) It’s a great way for a Chef to enjoy a passion and share it with others even if he doesn’t have a restaurant of his own.

Perrotta’s Kitchen
Supper Club
Indy’s Kitchen
2442 Central Ave
Indy 46205

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Saigon - Revisit

Back on the Vietnamese trail, we wanted to give Saigon another try. We hadn’t been for years and I had never had their pho. I have been having fun comparing different versions at different places and was anxious to try it.

Hubby and I met up with @zigged and her husband for dinner. I loved having the opportunity to have more people to get to try more things! We started off with the Vietnamese pancake (of course, it’s one of my favorites) ($8.95) and the crispy rice pudding ($8.50). The pancake was good—the crepe aspect of it nice and crispy and thin. They all generally come filled with sliced pork and shrimp (not a lot of shrimp here) and bean sprouts.  I enjoyed it but for some reason, not as much as some of the others I have had. I don’t think it had as much of the green onion flavor as some I have had and the pork wasn’t as seasoned. I like the seasoned fish sauce for dipping—giving it a bit of salt and a bit of tanginess.
The rice pudding was very interesting. It was cubes of the soft rice cakes that were stir fried with egg and scallions and served with a thicker, soy based sauce. The cakes were soft yet firm, and slightly crisp on the outside. The eggy mix added a bit of substance to them, making them definitely savory. A bit of the lightly pickled radish and carrots on the side was a nice addition to the bites. A dip in the sauce added the salty flavor and a touch of sweetness. The longer we continued eating these, the more we couldn’t stop.

I had the rare beef pho ($8), and while it was good, I still think there are better around town. The broth just didn’t have the richest flavor of all the ones I have tried, although it was still very good. I do like that it looks like they literally put the beef in raw and let the broth alone cook it (the top parts of the meat poking out of the broth were still very pink). I was a little disappointed with the amount of fresh herbs you get here—and all of it is Thai basil and none of it was cilantro (the picture you see in the background is the plate for two bowls of pho). I like a bit of both. They give you plenty of bean sprouts though and nice juicy wedges of lemon which I love to add for the extra bit of brightness. I also throw in some jalapenos for touch of spiciness, although I do not eat them. I just let them flavor the broth a bit.

Hubby ordered the clay pot pork ($9.95), which was probably the best dish on the table. The pork had a spicy, peppery seasoning that was great. Not so much a sauce, as a spice rub almost. The pork was tender. The only thing I thought was a little weird is that they served the rice on the side. The rice was good-just the right amount of sticky factor, but usually when I have had a clay pot, the rice is on the bottom of the pot and cooked that way so that it is a bit caramelized and crispy on the bottom and has absorbed a bit of the flavor of whatever is cooked on top. I would have loved to see this in this dish.
Sacha’s hubby had the mixed grill ($14.95), which also had a wonderful rich flavor—you could taste the smoky grilled taste on all the meat—which included chicken, pork and shrimp. It was served with a side of rice noodles that were cold, and thus not my favorite thing (I am not a huge fan of cold noodles). I am not sure if they were warm to start or not. The meat on the dish was very good. I might be tempted to order it with rice though, just because rice tends to stick together better and stay warmer.

You have to love the fact that the place used to be a Bob Evans. You can tell they have tried to change it up a bit, but it still has the distinctive Bob Evans bones. But I am always happy to see a former chain turn into an independent restaurant.  

Saigon has a huge menu though—162 items to be precise. I would love to know what your favorite items are.

Saigon Restaurant
4760 W. 38th Street
Indy 46254

Saigon Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 10, 2014

Boathouse Grill

A couple of you had mentioned this place to me on twitter. I was mostly intrigued because I had never heard of it until then. Hubby had the day off from work the other day, and we decided to take a drive and check it out.

First thing I noticed was the sign on the door that said you had to be 18 to enter. Anyway, once we walked in, I was impressed with the interior. It was a cool old-style bar with lots of wood and a big boat hanging from the ceiling. A little more than you’d expect from a typical strip mall pub.

The menu is pretty big and I wasn’t really sure what to order. I saw that the fish sandwich was on that Super Bowl list awhile back of “best sandwiches.” I should have known better since I know some of the sandwiches on that list were pretty bogus, but I figured it was probably a signature item or something, so I ordered it ($7.25). I went with an upcharge ($1.50) for the onion petals on the side. Unfortunately, this was not a very good sandwich--the fish seemed frozen and was over-fried as well, making it very dark and too crispy. The fish inside was pretty bland and dry. The onion petals also seemed straight out of a freezer, but were cooked correctly and had the right color and crispness.

The good news was that hubby ordered the chicken fajita wrap ($7.95) that our server recommended.
It was delicious. This was one of the few “wraps” on a menu that I have had and really enjoyed. Here’s why-- let’s face it, it was really a burrito. It was a tortilla filled with tender pieces of seasoned chicken, a ton of cheese, and onions and peppers. The whole thing was warm all the way through and lightly grilled on the outside. It was delicious. It came with chips (just out of a bag) and homemade salsa and sour cream on the side. They also had some sliced jalapenos and black olives on the side.  The salsa was on the thin side, but had really nice flavor. I loved dipping the wrap in it. The other good news is that the portions here are enormous, so we ended up basically splitting his wrap and eating a couple of bites of my sandwich and we were stuffed.

This seems like a case where a place is making some things themselves and that stuff is really good and some of the food is coming out of the freezer and it isn’t so good. I would really like to know about the choices they’re making in house though. I would really like to try some more of it. If you’re going for the first time, I can recommend the wraps, or else I would just ask what is housemade.

Boathouse Grill
6225 West 56th Street
Indy 46254

Boathouse Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Labor District Café

After seeing a couple of people post about Labor District Café, I was intrigued because I hadn’t really heard much about it. Apparently it just opened around Christmas and is from the same people who brought us Punch Burger. It’s up on the second floor of the BMO building downtown. Not sure you’d notice it if you didn’t work there or randomly hear about it. A bit of signage might be good.

Anyway, I met my friend @wibia there since he works nearby. I liked the way they start you out with a bowl of salty local popcorn from Cousin Willie’s Farm in Ramsey, Indiana. This seems to be a theme here. They are definitely trying to source a lot of the menu items locally—even the ketchup is Red Gold. Of course I think this is a great idea, and you get some wonderful quality ingredients, but you will also pay a bit of a premium price-wise compared to other quick service sandwich places nearby.

The popcorn though was tasty—light and fresh and nicely salty (and just a little butter flavor). If I worked in this building, that popcorn might become a workday addiction for me.

The menu is mainly made up of sandwiches and salads. None of them sound bad at all, but honestly, I was having a hard time finding something that jumped out at me. I settled on a “pick two” so I could try a sandwich and some soup ($8.88). The soup was broccoli with cheese. It was good—and a really large bowl I will say (I was expecting a cup). I am a sucker for broccoli cheese soup—this was more of a broccoli cream flavor, some decent chunks of broccoli and a lot of broccoli flavor. I appreciated that it wasn’t over cheesy. The sandwich was just kind of okay. I had half the spicy Cali club. I asked him if it was warm, and he said they could make it warm for me if I wanted. I did since it was practically blizzarding outside at the time (you do get a nice view of Penn from the large windows overlooking the street). They toasted the bread, but that was all that made it warm. I don’t know, it was just a stack of ingredients that were fine, but nothing that made you feel like you couldn’t do it yourself pretty easily. It was sliced turkey, bacon (they use Goose), lettuce, avocado, habanero cheddar, tomato (very thick slice) and mayo. It all just kind of toppled over when they put it on the table. I would have loved to have it with the cheese melted—maybe a quick press in a Panini press—would have made it easier to eat. I also expected a little more spicy bite to it, with its name. A quick bite from @wibia’s roast beef sandwich revealed it suffered the same fate. And his had even less meat on it. We also shared a side of fries. They were fine. Could have stood to be cooked a little longer-they weren’t especially hot or overly crisp. 

Overall, I am not sure about this place. We both discussed that it seemed to be lacking some draw to bring people in. The space is easy to miss from the street and the interior design is somewhat sparse. It could use a touch of warmth. I think it works at Punch with it’s modern, industrial feel, but this is a place that clearly was other restaurants before and there’s a mix of what I’m guessing was the old furniture with an attempt at the super modern look. Our server was very nice and they were quick with the food. I’d be tempted to try one of the entrées next time—the fried catfish or even the house made chicken fingers and see how they do with a regular meal rather than the sandwiches that didn’t really wow me.

Have you guys been here? Curious about what you think of the place.

Labor District Café
135 N. Pennsylvania Street, 2nd Floor
Indy 46204
Labor District Cafe on Urbanspoon