Monday, December 29, 2014

Cerulean - Revisit

So, Cerulean has a new chef—Alan Sternberg -- and I hadn’t been back since he starting cooking. I have had some ups and downs with Cerulean, but it was time to go back. We are lucky to have such a modern place in Indy with such innovative work going on in the kitchen, and I was happy to see what the new chef had in store.

The menu has gone back to a more traditional appetizer/entrée/dessert format, which I guess may be more pleasing to the masses but I sort of enjoyed the small, medium and large plates of days gone by. But regardless, for me, it is all about how good the food is, regardless of the size of the portion.

I started out with their version of beef tartare ($12). Of course I couldn’t pass this up. The beef was very high quality and very tender and I really enjoyed the surprising take on the flavors—not your typical beef tartare flavor profile. There was a distinct Asian flavor with hoisin sauce and black garlic. I loved the freshness brought from the pickled ramps, watermelon radish and romaine and the little bit of crunch from the crispy quinoa. And the presentation (as you can see) was beautiful.

My second favorite appetizer was probably my friend’s beet cured wild salmon ($15) with white bean puree, olive oil, clementine and crispy garlic. I loved the acidity and freshness from the clementine and the salmon was really tasty—with that slight pickled flavor. This is my kind of appetizer—light with a lot of fresh, crisp flavor. The beans kept it somewhat grounded though.

Hubby had a special—the braised pork cheeks with parsley sponge. The sponge was very intriguing-it looked like it belonged under the sea with its bright green color. It was pretty mild in flavor though—not much could really shift focus from the extremely rich pork. One bite of another’s friend’s gnudi ($9) demonstrated a very tender ricotta dumpling. They were good—nicely cooked, but with the sunflower sage pesto, smoked oil, Parmesan and nutmeg, maybe just slightly one-dimensional. I was hoping for a little more contrast from the tang of the ricotta I guess. 
pork cheeks
Overall though, so far in this meal, we were pretty impressed. The food was beautiful to look at, and generally had a nice complexity of flavors. Also, our service was quite friendly and helpful—and when we had a second bottle of the same wine we had started with, and it was bad, they didn’t bat an eye at bringing us a new one (which is something we had a problem with in a previous visit). Also, they have stemmed wine glasses for everyone now, which I know will make some of my wine snob friends happy.

As we moved into the second course, I was just hoping to keep going with the same momentum and I am happy to say, we did. In fact, I think the entrées may have even slightly outshined the appetizers.

I had the “fried chicken” ($29), which was almost more of a take on chicken cordon blue. Regardless, it was delicious. There was wonderfully seasoned crispy pieces of chicken that were topped with Taleggio cheese (a wonderfully stinky soft cheese), pieces of Edward’s country ham, and a slight hint of truffle. You got a little smoky sweet flavor from the ham and the strong taste from the cheese. This was a dish I couldn’t stop eating. There were also some scoops of stuffing alongside, which I also really enjoyed, and I am not typically a stuffing person. It had the right amount of softness inside and slight crispy edges. And it was nice to have something to eat with the gooey chicken. This is a great, although quite rich, dish.

Hubby and I argued over whether my chicken was better, or his spotted bass dish ($27). It was an excellent piece of fish served with clams in a white wine broth with chives, lard, asparagus and pickled shallot. This was a great combination. Loved the thin-sliced asparagus and the extra crispy skin on the fish. It was perfectly cooked and I appreciated they didn’t stack anything on top of that skin making it soft. The pickled shallots added a great pop of acid. This was an exceptionally well-composed dish. You can’t go wrong with this or the chicken.

We all shared sides of the mac and cheese ($8) made with two-year aged cheddar and caramelized onions. It was tasty, and I liked the slight smoky taste from the onions. I mean, how could you not appreciate a little mac and cheese with fried chicken? Necessary? No, but it still tasted good. We also had the crispy Brussels sprouts ($7) with maple gastrique and bacon. The sprouts were cooked really well, which is the challenge so often with these, unfortunately they lost the crispy edges once they were tossed on the gastrique. In itself, it wasn’t bad—slightly sweet, slight acidic, but it took away from Brussels sprouts that otherwise would have been so nice and crisp. 
We also had a couple of desserts. I am becoming less and less of a dessert person, but Cerulean is one place I love to get dessert because of their talented pastry chef, Pete Schmutte. He has a distinctive style that carries on the beautiful presentation of the food. We split the bento box ($12), which is a fun combination of different sweets—there were cookies, macaroons and those yummy, super fruity jellies. We also had one of the more composed dishes—it was “bavarois” flavored with buttermilk and blue cheese and an intense Concord grape sorbet. Sort of like a cheese plate in dessert form. There were some sweet croutons alongside. It was a fun and tasty dish, even if I wished it had a little more blue cheese kick to it.  It is totally worth doing dessert here.

Glad to see some new energy in Cerulean—like I said, we are lucky to have such a cool, modern place in Indy and I think they have really come into their own. Things seemed mellow, the service was professional, and the food was very good. They seem settled and I am glad to see it.

339 South Delaware Street
Indy  46225

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