Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kincaid's Fish, Chop & Steakhouse

I have been familiar with Kincaid’s for quite awhile, as I often ate lunch at the one in Oakland, California. Although I lived in San Francisco, I worked in Oakland and ate at a lot of restaurants there as well. I was always fairly impressed by this chain’s food—definitely a cut above most chain seafood/steakhouses. I knew there was one up in Carmel (Clay Terrace), but had yet to get up there.

So hubby and I ventured up for some holiday shopping and lunch. They have tried to keep the waterside ambiance that I think most of their restaurants have, although the little pond in Carmel is a far cry from the San Francisco Bay. But, you can’t have it all! The interior is very similar and fairly upscale for a chain. Lots of wood and nice comfy booths.

Their lunch menu looked great and I love the combination they offer where you can get a reduced portion of 2 choices from a list consisting of soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas. It seemed a great way to try lots of things. I was craving a salad with some seafood on it though, so I got the shrimp and Maytag blue cheese salad with diced egg, slivered almonds, big crumbles of blue cheese, bay shrimp and blue cheese dressing. It was exactly what I was in the mood for—the shrimp were nice and fresh tasting and the almonds added a nice crunch. They also have a salmon, crab and shrimp Louie salad which I ate often in California and which I am also very fond of.

Hubby ordered the ahi tuna burger/BLT which was also really good. I had some and he raved about it. It came with a bacon pepper aioli, arugula, and avocado tomato relish all on a toasted bun. The tuna was chopped and formed into a patty and cooked like a burger—it was very tender and very tasty, especially with all the other accoutrements.

They also serve yummy buttery herby focaccia bread with your meal which is warm and quite nice.

It’s a chain, and it’s in Carmel, but it is a good spot for lunch (and hey, even dinner too). I hear they have a kids' menu, so we will probably schlep the kids up one of these days for lunch too---always nice to find a place we can all eat together that is a bit above the standard fare, but still welcomes kids.

14159 Clay Terrace Blvd
Carmel, 46032

***1/3/08 Update : Went back for lunch with the kids today and had a great meal. What a great kids menu too--all the usual suspects plus kid's size portions of grilled salmon, fettucine alfredo, and fried cod. My 6 year old loved the salmon. Plus they served little bread with grapes plates as appetizers (how sophisticated) and vanilla pudding or a mini hot fudge sundae with all kid's meals. Quite a nice lunch. The kids loved it and want to go back. I had the Seafood Louie salad and was very happy (well, once I had them add the avocado).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Aftertaste (Taste Cafe & Marketplace)

You know how when someone you really love lets you down, it hurts even worse than when it is someone you don’t know? That’s how I felt after my recent visit to Taste Café’s new dinner service, Aftertaste. If you haven’t read my review of Taste for lunch, I will tell you that it is probably my favorite place in the entire city to eat lunch. They do everything well, the kitchen is quick and so is the service. They specialize in salads and sandwiches and everything is terrific.

Recently, they added dinner service one night a week (Wednesdays) and I was so looking forward to it! We went with friends who also love lunch at Taste, and who were equally excited. They start serving at 6:00 and don’t take reservations, so we got there shortly after service began. The hostess was friendly, but tried to seat us at 2 different tables for 3 before we sort of chose our own table.

Once we got seated, we perused the menu. It is a pretty big menu, with starters, salads, tartines (open faced sandwiches), mains and sides. Many of the salads and tartines are versions of what are on the lunch menu, but most of the starters and mains are different. Our server sort of mentioned sharing, but didn’t really make a big deal of it, and we sort of thought we would share starters and then get our own mains.

The best part of the meal (and it was really great) was the starter portion. We got the hot blue cheese bacon dip served with flatbread, the avocado puree with plantain chips, and the warm olives. The blue cheese bacon dip was so delicious. Hot and super creamy, but with the tanginess and kick that the blue cheese brings along with the salt of the bacon. Seriously, I almost slapped the hand of the busser who tried to take it away before I had thoroughly cleaned out the bowl. I would love to get this for a holiday gathering. I wonder if you can order it. Anyway, the “avocado puree” was guacamole. Not sure why they call it puree as it is nice and chunky, just the way guacamole should be. It was also really good and the fried plantain chips really added to the dish. The warm olives were, well, a little too warm I guess. I am not sure why they need to be warm to be honest, room temperature would be great, and these were clearly over warmed in a broiler and lost a lot in the process (not to mention burning your tongue as you ate them).

For the next course, one of my friends ordered one of the tartines, the rare roast beef with caramelized onions and nice big slices of blue cheese on top. I, along with our other friend, ordered the chimichurri shrimp, which our server told us, had gotten great feedback from customers. Hubby ordered the short ribs, which were also recommended by our server.

The only thing that was good was the tartine, and it was outstanding. I know, because I ate quite a bit of it waiting for my main. They served the tartine at the same time as hubby’s short rib, and it was a good 10-15 minutes before the shrimp came out. Well, one order of it anyway. They served that order of the shrimp to our other dining companion. He gave me one of his in the interim, which I ate and realized I really didn’t even want my order of it. After flagging our server, I asked her if I indeed did have an entrée coming, or maybe only one order was mistakenly put in, but regardless, I didn’t want it, so please cancel it. She came back and assured me that yes, 2 orders had been put in, but for whatever reason, only one came out.

As for the shrimp, they were not good. They were very large, and a tasted a bit past their prime ( I want to say “fishy”, but I guess “shrimpy” is more accurate?). The “chimichurri” was a sprinkling of herbs on the outside of the shell and the shrimp were clearly stuck in a broiler or something along those lines. They were exceedingly hot, dry and overcooked. They needed some moisture (and flavoring) from something---maybe an actual chimichurri sauce drizzled over top? Maybe cook them in a chimichurri sauce? My friend who had been served them did not finish his, even after giving me one.

Hubby said the short rib was very bland and seemed to have been cooked without much seasoning. He also didn’t finish it, and that is a sure sign of him not liking something.

Again, the tartine was really good and thankfully, my gracious friend shared a lot with me because I never got a main.
We did get the frites (they the regular pomme frites that they serve for lunch and hubby and I the truffle frites). The truffle aioli was tasty, but not overly “truffley.” I am sort of a truffle hound though and can usually smell if a truffle is being served in a restaurant the minute I walk in, and couldn’t really even smell them when the frites were in front of me. The truffle frites at Capital Grill are much more “truffley” although the quality of the frites themselves at Taste is probably the best in the entire city. Luckily, you can also pretty much make a meal of the frites, and between that, and the starters, I was pleasantly full. We also had the warm asparagus side which was not bad.

Hubby and I also shared the cheese plate for dessert and it was pretty good too—although with all those gooey French cheeses in the case, I was hoping for more of those, but it was still good and served with a variety of accompaniments (nuts, fruits and quince paste) which I enjoy when eating cheese.

The biggest problem in this place is service though. From the start, the staff doesn’t seem clued in to full dinner service yet. Now, I know we need to cut them some slack as this was only the third week of dinner service, and this is a lunch place that doesn’t do table service during the day, so it is a very new thing for most of the staff, I am sure. But there were very long stretches where we didn’t even see our server, not to mention the fact that our mains came out at such different intervals (if they came out at all).

I do think there are several things that could be done to improve this. First, they could change the menu to tapas, call the mains “larger plates” and tell the table to order to share and that the items will come out when they are finished. Our waitress sort of mentioned sharing, but never specifically said that it was recommended. This way, you don’t expect mains that are presented to the entire table at the same time. The weird thing was, no one really seemed surprised that we didn’t get our mains at the same time, or even really made any attempt to remedy the situation.

The other thing they could maybe do is cut the menu way back. There is A LOT of stuff on the menu, and as I mentioned, much of it is a lot like the lunch menu. Now, I hesitate to say take that stuff off, because it was the best of what we had, but maybe they should focus on fewer things and try to do them better.

Another suggestion I have is to take reservations. The fact is, nearly the entire restaurant was seated at the same time, and surely that would be enough to overwhelm even the most experienced kitchens. They could space their diners out a bit more perhaps with reservations.

The other thing is when you only serve dinner once a week, I am sure it is hard for a staff not used to table service to get up to speed quickly---they just don’t get enough practice. And obviously, you aren’t going to be able to hire a different staff for just one night a week. Hopefully, with more experience (and it is really trial by fire as this place was completely packed when we were there), the service issues will get ironed out. The prices are good, a little over half the food we had was quite good, and I know the potential is there. (And hey, they obviously have the business).

I was a bit depressed about this experience for a couple of days, but I am starting to come out of it. I was so hyped up, but I guess….we always have lunch!

Taste Cafe & Marketplace
5164 N College Ave
Indy 46205

Saturday, December 13, 2008

El Torito Grill

*****El Torito is closed************** (8/23/10)

Before I get into the meat of the review, so to speak, I want to apologize for some random technical problems I have been having this week. First, I apologize to any of you who may have had problems accessing my blog (particularly past reviews) and also to my email and feed subscribers, because for some inexplicable reason, feedburner decided to send out a review from months ago as if it were new (the L’explorateur review). I won’t bore you with the details (that I barely understand anyway), but as hubby says, when you are dealing with a lot of free products, you can’t expect perfection. Hopefully it will be back to normal and there will be no future problems, but if there are, I apologize in advance!

Ok, enough of that. This week, based on a recent recommendation from a friend who says that El Torito Grill is his favorite place to go for margaritas and guacamole, we thought we would give it a try with the kids. Let me say though, that hubby and I had been once before and been pretty underwhelmed. The first time, I had the lobster quesadilla and it was borderline horrible. I expected a quesadilla with some nice hunks of lobster, but what I got was tortillas with some weird mash that was faintly lobster colored and smelled more than a little suspect. (Hubby had the carnitas and quite liked them.) But I figured, maybe they had improved (and I would certainly not order that again, so maybe something else would be better).

We started with some Cadillac margaritas which were pretty good. They brought a shot of Grand Marnier on the side. Apparently you can either do the shot separately or have it poured into the drink (what we both did). I don’t think a margarita would taste right without it, and who really wants to do a shot of something like that? (Or maybe they want to prove to you that there is actually alcohol in the drink.) But, once the shot was in, it tasted good. So I thought, maybe we are off to a better start anyway (the first time I went, I had the house margarita and it was nothing to write home about). We ordered the tableside guacamole because my friend had recommended it, because we really like guacamole, and because we thought it would be entertaining for the kids. It was pretty disappointing on all fronts. First of all, there was no real show to it, and the whole process took like 2 minutes—I did notice at the other table in the room, occupied only by women, that their guacamole maker took a bit longer. But not ours. And the guac itself was very unexciting. I can, and do, make much better at home. It didn’t have much flavor or zip or any real freshness. Also, what is the deal with the chips? They tasted straight out of a grocery store bag (and not the good ones). They weren’t warm and they weren’t overly fresh. Oh, and an FYI, they only bring chips when you order the guacamole—when you are seated you are served warm flour tortillas with butter and a couple of salsas. The tortillas are much better, but something just screams for chips when you are eating guacamole.

Now, I tend to be an optimist when I am eating at a restaurant—I genuinely want to like places. And I was still keeping an open mind at this point. I ordered the shrimp and chicken taquitos for my main course and the shrimp ones weren’t bad, but the chicken ones were not great. They are served with tomatillo-avocado and red pepper dipping sauces. I don’t know what it was, but like I said, I was really trying to like it, but by the time we had finished, I was pretty sure we were never going back. Hubby had the shrimp fajitas and there was certainly nothing special about these either—again, the best thing about them were those same warm tortillas, which incidentally were my kids’ favorite part of the meal too—they ate more of those than anything.

This place bills itself as “upscale Mexican” which I guess it is based on the interior—it is definitely fancier inside than most Mexican restaurants. But based on the food, and the fact that this huge restaurant was nearly empty, I have a feeling this place’s days may be numbered. In fact, I am surprised in this economy it is still open now—the first time we went, which must have been over a year ago, the crowd was the same. And it doesn’t help that our bill was about 4 times what our regular Mexican restaurant costs.

The sad part of the whole thing is that this chain is owned by the same group that owns a West Coast chain of not-so-upscale Mexican restaurants called Chevy’s. Now, Chevy’s is nothing fancy, but the food is so much better—the chips and salsa are great and the guacamole that just came on the side of things was much better too. They pride themselves on fresh ingredients, and nothing from a can. They even had a special a couple times a year in which they served lobster fajitas and the lobster was damn good. And I think it would fly in this market a lot better than El Torito Grill. And believe it or not, this is the first El Torito Grill outside of California. Makes you wonder how they chose Indianapolis.

El Torito Grill
8650 Keystone Crossing
Indy 46240

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nordstrom Café Bistro

Ok, I realize that this is obviously a chain, but it is so yummy, I thought it was worth writing up. It all started back in San Francisco when I got hooked on the Cobb Salad at the Nordstrom there. It was the best place to eat in the mall if you had shopping to do (and had a great kids menu). When we moved here, we ate at the café downtown several times (the café, not the grill) and the menu there was pretty much identical to our old Nordstrom in SF. So when the new Nordstrom opened at the Fashion Mall, I went one day with a friend while we were shopping sort of assuming it would be the same as well. Well this café bistro, is much more bistro-ish and less café-ish. The room is full of comfy booths and while you still order at the register, you are seated by a server. They also serve beer and wine and more entrees and have a kitchen with more capabilities (the other ones don’t appear to have a fryer, etc). And the menu is pretty much completely different I think, although the same basic format—lots of great sounding salads, soups and sandwiches as well as several more entrees. The other thing I really like about Nordstrom cafés in general are the ingredients seem to be very high quality and someone is attempting to put together things beyond what you might find at an average sandwich shop. Now, I am not sure, it is possible that they have changed the menu at all the Nordstroms—and maybe our downtown café has the same new menu items—I haven’t been there in awhile.

Anyway, the first time I went I had the Bistro Club sandwich with chicken, bacon, green beans, avocado, lettuce and garlic aioli—now the sandwich was quite good, but the stand out were the fries that come along side every sandwich (which they never had at the other Nordstrom restaurants I have been to before due to the lack of a full kitchen). They are the thin “pommes frites” style fries heavily seasoned with salt, black pepper and fresh parsley. They were delicious and the olive tapenade/aioli dipping sauce---amazing. I actually think it was the dip that really sold me on the fries--I could pour that stuff on just about anything and really like it.

So a week or two later, we decided to go with the family. Like I said, they have a nice kids’ menu with all the classics and my kids thoroughly enjoyed their hotdogs and fries (less seasoned, but the same fries). The hot dogs were high quality plump dogs that were grilled and not just boiled.

Hubby and I shared the steak sandwich with cheese, arugula, Roma tomatoes, caramelized onions and aioli on Parmesan ciabbata bread. This sandwich was even better than the first one. It was served hot and the meat was very tender and all the ingredients just went so well together. And of course those fries. And that olive dip. Really good.

So the restaurant as I mentioned has a nicer interior than previous Nordstrom cafés I have been to, with warm colors and nice booths, and they are open for dinner as well (and have a breakfast menu in the morning as well). As for dinner, maybe as a convenient place to eat with your kids if you are at the mall, but generally I will keep it on rotation as a lunch place, particularly when I am at the mall anyway—this is a wonderful alternative to the food courts (I really really cannot stand mall food courts, but that’s a whole other story) and hey, you can even have a glass of wine if you want!

Nordstrom Café Bistro
Fashion Mall
8702 Keystone Crossing
Indy 46240