Thursday, January 30, 2014

Art's Skillet

Recently a rep for a new restaurant reached out to me online to ask me about reviewing several different restaurants. I don’t do scheduled reviews because I like to be anonymous, but I actually don’t mind getting these types of messages because sometimes it opens my eyes to a place I didn’t know was out there—and so it goes with Art’s Skillet. Apparently, it has only been open a couple of months, and even though it isn’t super close to me, it’s close enough to go if I think it’s a good new option.

Its right on Pendleton Pike in a building that obviously used to be some sort of chain fast food restaurant, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out which one. Nothing makes me happier though than seeing an out-of-business chain taken over by a local. I walked in and was greeted immediately and seated.

The menu is 75% breakfast and about 25% lunch items and I was in the mood for breakfast, which is listed as their specialty. My server was extremely friendly and was so enthusiastic about the place, he was practically busting at the seams. It was nice to see. The menu is also quite large and covers pretty much every aspect of breakfast. I was having a hard time making up my mind, and zeroed in on the “Art’s Favorites” section of the menu figuring if they’re his favorites, they have to be good right? I went with the Huevos con Chorizo burrito ($7.29). I knew it would probably be huge, and it was. There was a lot going on in this thing. There were light and fluffy scrambled eggs, spicy chorizo, onions, jalapenos and green peppers on the inside, and housemade salsa and lots of melted cheese on the outside. It was spicy, and hearty, and you certainly got your money’s worth of food. No way I could finish it all. You also had a choice of hash browns or peasant potatoes—I went against my server’s recommendation and got the hash browns, just because they’re hard to find in town. They were ok, nothing special—a little too crispy believe it or not (and I usually complain they’re too mushy). He said the seasoning on the peasant potatoes was better and next time, I will have to give them a try.

I really wanted to try “Art’s famous fried biscuits” as well. They are $4.95 for a full order, but they were kind enough to make me just a half order, even though it isn’t an option on the menu (and look how huge even a half order is!). Totally not what I was expecting—when I hear fried biscuits, I think the brown county ones with apple butter. These are more like chunks of actual biscuits (like are used in biscuits and gravy) that are fried and then coated in powdered sugar which turns into almost like an icing. They are sweet on their own for sure (almost like a beignet) but the honey marmalade was over the top for me. I couldn’t do it. My server suggested I dip them in the cream cheese sauce that they serve in the crepes, and I tried that and liked it better—not so sugary sweet, but honestly, I think they were probably fine on their own. I am pretty sure my kids would like these things, but I’m not sure I would eat them again. Just a little too much sweet for me.

The prices are right, the place is exceptionally neat and clean, and the owner’s story is great (he started the business after working in the restaurant industry for 22 years and then suddenly losing his job). I think next time I would just go with straightforward breakfast-bacon and eggs. I think they probably do everything pretty well, but I bet they do the usuals really well. I look forward to taking the family back and trying it again.

Anyone else been there yet?

Art’s Skillet
8255 Pendleton Pike
Indy 46226
Art's Skillet on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fat Dan's - Revisit

It’s been awhile since I have been to Fat Dan’s and I hadn’t been to the new location—hubby has been nagging me to go and we wanted to take the kids somewhere easy, so it seemed like a good choice.

I love the new location, and the table service! Our server was really nice and very attentive. The whole place was full, even as early as it was. The kids were digging the games on the table (we had Connect Four) and the fact that they had tater tots on the menu.

I have a thing for Fat Dan’s burgers and that’s what I ordered. They are my favorite fat burger in town (although they aren’t ridiculously huge) for sure. I had mine with a fried egg (which they did just a little runny in the middle—perfect, but not too messy) and cheese. ($9) As in the past, it was delicious—they ask you what temperature you want it cooked to and they listen. The meat is super tender and has great flavor. I really like the buns as well—they really stand up to the meat. My daughter had a kid’s burger as well ($4.50) and really liked it as well. They are a little smaller than the adult version, but honestly not that much. It’s a great deal.

Hubby had the Italian Beef, wet ($7.50). They do a nice job with Italian Beef, but hubby was jealous of my burger. The Italian beef has all the traditional fixings (the thin beef, and lots of giardinara), but we have gotten sort of jaded by making it at home and putting just what we want on it in just the exact right quantities. I also didn’t taste the sweet peppers that we use on ours at home.  And we tend to get a little bowl of the au jus to dip in at home to keep the sandwich from falling apart as you eat it. But it’s still a solid option for Italian Beef in Indy.

We all shared a mixed order of fries and tots  ($3.75) and they were as good as they have ever been. The fries (and a few potato rounds) were super crispy. The tots were as good as you get with tots as well and my daughter was happy. Who doesn’t love some tots every now and then?

If you aren’t familiar with Fat Dan’s—they bring the food out on a big piece of butcher paper. Fries in the middle and the sandwich individually wrapped alongside. The napkins are big rolls of paper towels. It’s a completely casual, easygoing place with great food. I still want to try one of those hand dipped corn dogs one of these days. They look great.

I am glad to see Dan’s expansion going so well—and I like that the new location still has the “charm” of the old one, even in slightly fancier digs.

Fat Dan’s Chicago Style Deli
5410 North College
Indy  46220

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zest!- Breakfast


On a breakfast kick lately, and after asking on facebook and twitter the other day about biscuits and gravy, a large number of you guys mentioned Zest and I have always wanted to go for full-on breakfast, so we packed up the kids and prepared for a wait. It was a Saturday and I expected a long wait, but it wasn’t too bad at all. They were very busy, with lots of large parties, but the service was pretty efficient considering.

I ordered the Fletcher’s Biscuit sandwich (as did my son) ($4.95). I had mine with bacon and avocado, he had his with sausage. They do a really great job with this—you get a huge fluffy biscuit stuffed with a ton of scrambled eggs, cheese, and your choice of meat. The scrambled eggs were nice and moist—just as they should be, and they give you enough of them that they kind of tumble off the biscuit and practically make another order of scrambled eggs. The bacon is from Smoking Goose and was great. I had a side of cowboy potatoes ($2.95) as well. These things are rich and decedent and delicious. They are diced potatoes, with a seasoning mix, cheese and what I am guessing is a fair amount of sour cream, giving them that slightly tangy flavor—and making the sauce fairly smooth. 

Hubby ordered a half order of the biscuits and gravy ($5.95). It is interesting looking because it has an almost pink, or maybe orange tint to the gravy, which I’m guessing  comes from the “secret mix of spices” that are listed on the menu (and I am guessing are some of the same seasonings used in the cowboy potatoes). The menu also says they use Goose sausage, but unfortunately, the hunks of sausage were pretty dried out (same was true in my son’s biscuit sandwich). The biscuits were light and fluffy and the gravy looked very appealing, but for all the “secret spices” I didn’t really think there was a lot of kick (or even flavor) to it. You certainly get a lot of food here though, even with just a half order.

My daughter had one of Zest’s other signature items—the Crème Brûlée French Toast ($5.95 for half order). OK, if I thought the cowboy potatoes were decadent, man, this dish is crazy. It is seriously like eating an exceptionally moist cake that has been turned into French toast. Lots of vanilla flavor, plus maple syrup drizzled on top and a side of bacon. I have a hard time eating things that are purely sweet for a meal, and couldn’t eat more than a bite or two, but I can see how this could be a favorite of people who do.

I have eaten a fair amount of meals at Zest, and most have been pretty good. Prepare yourself to a good amount of very rich food here that’s for sure—not the place to go if you’re watching your diet or anything. My personal opinion is that they excel the most at breakfast. 

Zest Exciting Food Creations
1134 East 54th Street
Indy  46220

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pho 54

I’ll just start by saying this was the place that put me off to ever reading yelp reviews. I will also say I found the place to be bright and clean and everyone was very nice and helpful.

I have read a few things about this place and convinced my west side experimenter friends to join me (Sacha and Scott). They’re excellent lunch companions because they are game to go with me to try whatever I’m thinking about, and even better yet to order lots of different food and to share (even when it involves difficult to share noodles).

I started bossy and ordered a Vietnamese pancake ($6.95) as an appetizer—because I love them so and whenever there’s more than just me in a Vietnamese restaurant, I feel like I have an excuse to order more food.  This one was very good. The rice flour crepe was very thin with nice crispy edges. Inside, it was stuffed with pieces of pork and small whole shrimps and lots of bean sprouts and green onions. It was served with a bit of lettuce, cilantro, some sliced cucumbers and seasoned fish sauce on the side. Like I said in general, I love these things and this one was no exception. The crepe was one of the better ones (to me, this means thin and crisp, but still with a bit of softness in the middle) and the fillings inside were tender (meat) and crunchy (sprouts). I like the combo of flavors with the slightly salty/slighty sweet seasoned fish sauce. I have never introduced anyone to one of these pancakes who didn’t like it and Sacha and Scott were no exception. They both really liked it.

I ordered the rare beef pho ($7.95) and it was also very good. A huge bowl filled with lots of rice noodles, a good amount of the super thin slices of beef (and a fair amount of it), tons of chopped scallions and sliced onions and the side plate of fresh garnishes—jalapeno, cilantro, purple basil, bean sprouts and a wedge of lime. I threw most of the herbs in there and a bit of the jalapeno and some of the sprouts (there were A LOT of sprouts on the plate). I squeezed all the lime juice in and threw the lime in too (acid!). The thing that makes (or breaks) pho is the broth. If it doesn’t have a lot of flavor, then the whole thing just isn’t very good. This one had a lot of flavor and just a bit of fat (you could see the remnants after the soup had cooled). It was really good and perfect on a cold day. Also, so big that I am sure I will never finish a bowl, and in fact, even the three of us didn’t finish it.

Scott ordered the Com Tay Cam, or clay pot ($8.25). It was heavily sauced rice served with a choice of meat (he had the shrimp). I liked this one as well, but the menu mentioned crispy rice (which is the appeal of a clay pot dish to me)—the rice kind of burns onto the bottom of the dish making for crispy bits. I didn’t really see too much of that here. The flavor was of a thicker, slightly sweet sauce—thinking soy sauce and some oyster sauce were involved. This reminded me more of Chinese food because it was more sauce heavy, whereas the Vietnamese food usually seems lighter. There were veggies as well as some pieces of pineapple in there.

Sacha ordered the minced pork noodle (bun mi)($6.79). This is a noodle dish as well—the noodles are served on top of shredded veggies—lettuce, cucumbers, and green onions. On top of it was some shredded pork. Our server explained that you are to take the little bowl of seasoned fish sauce and pour it on top and then mix it up, which she did. This dish was my least favorite on the table—it was mostly cold (the veggies anyway) and the flavors much milder—it just didn’t have the depth of the other dishes. Honestly, I would be hard pressed not to go back and just order the exact same thing I had this time—the pancake and the pho.

The place was doing a good lunch business and the food was delivered pretty quickly. The prices are reasonable and I think it’s a good spot for a cheap, fast, lunch. I’d go back.

Pho 54
7280 N. Michigan Road
Indy 46268
Pho 54 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tomo - Hibachi

As a family, all of us love a good Japanese Steakhouse. Well, I should say, we all love Benihana. It is one of the few chains we visit a few times a year. I’m not sure why exactly, but it started as a pregnancy craving for me, so maybe it was just an inborn thing with my kids. And when they were little, it was always fun to have someone to occupy their attention. It also started my daughter on a short-lived goal to be one of the first female hibachi chefs (this really bothered her for awhile).

I always feel slightly guilty about the fact that we are going to a chain, and am always hopeful to find an independent option instead. Tomo is right by our house, and while I think it is known more for sushi, there is a hibachi area, and we decided to check it out. I liked that on the menu you could order what you want in various combinations, and my son liked that filet mignon was an option on the kids’ menu ($13.95) (they will do it at Benihana but you have to ask).

To start with, much is the practice at every Japanese steakhouse I have ever been to, you get a clear soup and salad appetizer (kids get one or the other). The soup was good- a little beefier tasting than others with sliced mushrooms and fried onions. The salad was your typical iceberg with a cucumber and tomato slice (not the season for those and it showed). The dressing is always a variation of a ginger dressing but I did not care for the creamy aspect of this one. I prefer the zingy taste of the pure ginger vinegar-type dressing. Hubby and I both had one bite and pushed the salad aside (they did give you a lot of dressing though).

The meals all come with fried rice included in the price (including the kids’), which is nice. Everyone really liked this version of fried rice. It had a lot of seasoning coming from sauces—soy and a creamy sauce they put on top. There was egg in there and onion, but less of any other veggies. It was popular at our table.

I ordered filet and shrimp and hubby ordered filet and salmon ($25.95 for either combo). You also get a couple of shrimp as an appetizer. You get a ginger sauce and a creamy mustard type sauce to dip in. The shrimp were pretty tough—cooked a little too long and without much finesse. And everything that was cooked on the hibachi seemed to be coated in a sweetish teriyaki-type sauce. I wasn’t a fan. It’s one thing if you order teriyaki chicken or whatever, but I like the cleanness of the shrimp, maybe a little  lemon and butter and then the ginger sauce. With all the different sauces, and the fact that they were sweet, it just became a little cloying. And as for the ginger sauce—it too had a sweetness to it. I have read copycat recipes online for Benihana’s ginger sauce (I told you, it’s a favorite in my family) and many contain ketchup. I think this one certainly did and tasted like it had too much of it.

Hubby’s salmon was the best thing. Being a sushi place, we were hoping for a decent piece of fish that wasn’t overcooked and he did a good job, even though it, like everything else, was also coated in the same sauce. It was nice and medium rare in the thickest parts and was by far the best thing we had.

The beef unfortunately, looked like decent quality when it was raw, but after it was cooked way too much (even though we all said we wanted medium rare) and drenched in yet more of the sauce. We took most of the beef home to the dog, which was a shame.

The best part of the dinner was probably the theatrics—they were certainly more showy here than they are at Benihana. There was a lot of bursts of flames and our chef liked squirting things from bottles directly into patrons mouths as well as flipping bits of veggies into your mouth as well (I passed on both). Speaking of veggies, they did a decent job on these—there was zucchini, onions, broccoli and mushrooms and he let them cook on the grill long enough that they had cooked, but still had a bit of crunch left in them.

All in all, it was a bit of a miss for us. Ok, hubby said he would never do the hibachi there again—but we had a decent sushi experience in the past, and the sushi part of the restaurant was packed, so we will likely come back and try that again.  I also really like the addictive Japanese gum they give you at the end. Intense burst of flavor that lasts about 5 seconds, making you want more. I could chew this stuff all day.

7411 North Keystone, Suite A
Indy  46240

Monday, January 13, 2014

Northside Kitchenette - Breakfast

Hubby and I recently hit up Northside Kitchenette for breakfast—my last lunch had been a bit lackluster, but the breakfast menu had looked good. We were torn on what to order and agreed to split the eggs Benedict ($10) and the breakfast burrito ($10). We also enjoyed some mimosas, because, well, why not?

Both were good, but the eggs Benedict was our favorite. I liked the variation of using regular sliced (and perfectly crisp) bacon on the English muffin instead of Canadian bacon, which isn’t my favorite. The eggs were poached exactly right with firm enough whites, but a delicious runny golden yolk. And I liked the “slightly spicy” garlic Hollandaise. I wouldn’t really call it spicy per se, but it did have a little more flavor than the typical Hollandaise. All the breakfast dishes were served with very crispy seasoned diced potatoes that were good—I liked that they were really crisp, more like they were deep-fried than pan-fried.

Hubby had the southwest breakfast burrito, which was stuffed with eggs, chorizo, green chili salsa, jack cheese, breakfast potatoes, and pico de gallo. The chorizo had a nice amount of spice to it and added a good flavor. The burrito was kind of “filled out” with more of the potatoes inside, which I picked out because I didn’t feel like I needed even more potatoes. Hubby wished they filled it out with black beans or something instead—it would have added more to the flavor and added a little more moisture, which the whole thing could have used as well.

The service was friendly and efficient—much better than the last time I came. In the cold weather, the restaurant seats about half as many people (without all the outside seating), so I guess it is probably a little easier to manage. 
In my last post about Northside Kitchenette, I was wondering if breakfast would be strength for them and it turns out, I think it is. I could easily add this place to my rotation of regular breakfast spots. I heard from many of you that the biscuits and gravy are good as well, so we have a goal for the next visit.

Northside Kitchenette
6515 N. College Ave.
Indy  46220

Friday, January 10, 2014

6 Years...and Counting

Hard to believe another year has flown by and that I have been writing this blog for 6 years! I am not going to ramble on this year (that's a change huh?), but just wanted to document the "birthday" because I am a big birthday person.

Recently I read a post by my friend Angie Six (hey, she's a Six, and it's my sixth!) over at her blog Just Like the Number, where she asked her readers to leave a comment about something good that had happened to them in the past year as a birthday gift to her. So, I am stealing the concept and asking you guys to leave a comment here telling me what was one of the best things that you have eaten in the last year? That would be an awesome "blog-a-versary" gift for me.

Cheers! Here's to a great 2014.

Happy Eating.

Monday, January 6, 2014

H2O Sushi - Omakase

****H2O is CLOSED********
Sushi, oysters, shumai and rice cakes

Wow. I wasn’t going to write about this one because it was kind of a special dinner—some friends of ours had won an Omakase dinner at H2O at last year’s Taste of the NFL fundraiser, which raises money to fight hunger locally.  Omakase, if you aren’t familiar, is just a way of saying you’ll leave the dinner to the Chef’s discretion. The dinner was for four, and they were kind enough to invite us along. After checking out the menu, most of the items we had were available individually on the specials (although I never would have been able to order so many of them just on my own), so I figured I would go ahead and talk about them. Also, I asked Eli Anderson, the Chef and owner, if this was something people could get if they came in for dinner and he said absolutely. I would just let them know in advance.

Our dinner also included Sparkling wine and wine but I am just going to stick to the food here, although I really enjoyed the wine pairings as well. We started off with an oyster shooter for each of us—the petite oysters (how I like them best when they’re raw) and topped with a bit of masago. Next were two versions of Hamachi crudo with two different flavor profiles. The first had more of a delicate Asian flavor with lime vinaigrette, thin slices of jalapeno and micro cilantro. Loved the slight heat the jalapeno gave as well the sour taste from the lime. We had another version that had a different type of vinaigrette and was topped with capers and chopped jalapenos as well. I loved the briny taste of the capers with the fish—I had a hard time deciding which I liked better.

At this point, the food just kept on coming and I was loving it. We each had a shumai dumpling, which was filled with beef and topped with the perfect sauce of soy, sambal and sesame. I liked the sauce so much; I picked up the bowl and drizzled it all over my dumpling. That’s what I do.  Next was seared tuna with ginger/caramel pineapple, pea shoots, and a slightly citrus tasting chili sauce. It was interesting, because pineapple isn’t always my favorite thing, but this was great with the tuna. The sharp flavor of the fruit was softened and sweetened by the cooking of it. The tuna on it’s own was just seared and needed the combo of flavors. It was one of those dishes with just the right amount of variation of flavors that needed to be eaten together.

Next were roasted rice cakes with scallions, caramelized onions, sesame seeds and red dragon sauce. These reminded me a lot of the ones hubby and I had at Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC. These were spicier though and had a decent kick to them. I love the slightly chewy texture of the rice cake. These were quickly followed by a riff on something else we had at Momofuku—the pork bun. H2O often does pork belly in a bun, but these were like spicy pulled pork. I enjoyed these as well—my favorite part is the thin pickles that balance the spicy flavor just a little.

Beef tendon
The next thing is maybe something I have never had singularly as a dish and it was beef tendon—I loved the rich beefy flavor of these, and can see how they add flavors to broths and things like that. I wasn’t a huge fan of the chewy consistency of them on their own, but it was certainly an interesting dish (and one of the ones that was not on the menu).

After the rich hearty flavors of the pork and beef dishes (and the rice cakes), it was a refreshing change in the pacing to be given a couple of sushi rolls and the bright apple salad. The sushi included one of my favorites—the crazy ho roll (read about it here) and something I had not had in this particular combo—the Joe Pesci roll (shrimp, jalapeno, avocado and cilantro) and topped with some of my all time favorite tuna tartare. Not sure this is a regular item on the menu, but I bet they would make this for you since they have all the stuff on hand. It was a fun combination.
Apple salad, tuna, monkfish

The apple salad was really delicious and a great palate cleanser. It was julienned apples, cilantro, peanuts and dried blueberries in a light vinaigrette. It had that great mixture of sweet and tangy that I love with the crunch and slight saltiness of the peanuts. Not sure this one was on the menu either, which is too bad because it’s delicious. The last savory item we had was roasted monkfish with roasted garlic and lemon lentils. This one was probably my least favorite dish of the evening, just because the monkfish didn’t have a ton of flavor—normally it has a sweet flavor similar to lobster, and this one was kind of bland. The lemon lentils were a nice contrast in texture and added a light citrus note.

At this point, we held our hands up and told them we were completely stuffed, but we still managed to force down a couple of the famous H2O cookies. It is really hard to pass those things up that’s for sure.

This was one of the best meals I have had in Indy in quite awhile and I really enjoyed the mystery of what was coming next. I was told based on what we had, a meal like this would likely run just under $50 a person (without drinks and gratuity) and that they would be happy to do this with any size party, as long as the whole table goes along. And I highly recommend it.

H2O Sushi
1912 Broad Ripple Avenue
Indy 46220

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sushi Bar - Revisit

Hubby and I had hit our limit of decadent holiday dinners just after Christmas and decided to go back to Sushi Bar and see how they were doing. My first visits were both enjoyable so we looked forward to seeing if they have maintained their quality. 

We really just wanted sushi so we ordered several rolls and a couple pieces of salmon nigiri and skipped any appetizers. I did also had a bowl of miso soup ($2). I have to say, they may have one of the better bowls of miso I have had around town. It just seems heartier somehow, a denser broth. It was studded with the usual cubes of tofu and some seaweed.

We had the Christmas roll (seemed appropriate) ($7.99), the Phoenix roll ($10.99), and the Hoosier roll ($4.50)—and as I mentioned, an order of salmon nigiri ($4.50).  Honestly, I think our favorite was probably the Christmas roll. It had spicy tuna and crunch on the inside and lots of sliced avocado on top, as well as some masago. Even though the spicy tuna was more of the less identifiable pieces of fish (almost more like a paste), it had a nice crunch with the tempura bits and you know how much I love avocado. The flavors and textures were nice together. 

The Phoenix roll is one we often get in some variation in a lot of sushi places. It had shrimp tempura inside—and they were generous on the shrimp—there was quite a bit of shrimp sticking outside the ends, not just the tail. It was topped with eel and avocado and unagi sauce, which is a soy based slightly sweet sauce. We like a bit of crunch, so we like the ones with fried stuff in them.  It hit the spot.

I kind of threw the Hoosier roll on at the end of our order worried we wouldn’t have enough. And it was only $4.50 so I figured it would be small. It was only 6 pieces vs. the larger 8 piece rolls that are topped with stuff. It was simple with just plain tuna and avocado and drizzled with spicy mayo. It was a good addition and for the price, you can’t really go wrong.

The only real complaint we had about the rolls overall was there was something just a little off about the nori (seaweed). It was just a little too chewy. I am not sure what causes that, but from my cursory search online, it can be from just too much moisture –like if the rice is moister than normal. All the rolls suffered a bit from it. It didn’t ruin the meal or anything, but we both noticed it right away. The salmon nigiri was one of the best things, probably because it was a great piece of fish and because it didn’t have any of the nori on it.

All in all, (hopefully temporary) nori issue aside, I think the Sushi Bar is a solid choice, particularly on Broad Ripple Avenue. The prices are reasonable (and the beers are still $1 for domestic bottles and $2 for imports!), the food is good quality and our service was friendly and efficient. In fact if anyone was slow, it was us trying to make up our minds about what we wanted. The place was doing a steady business as well and I was glad to see it.

Sushi Bar
911 Broad Ripple Avenue
Indy  46220

Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon