Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zing-a revisit

******Zing is closed**************************

Wow, this was quite a let down. We have been here once before, and had about half of a really good meal (you can read my review from November 28, 2008). So we were hoping if we got some of the good things, and changed some of the things we didn’t like from before to something new, we would have a great meal. But sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

We had several items (the food is served tapas style) the mahi mahi tacos (a repeat from last time), the crostini 3 ways, the proscuitto wrapped shrimp on a leek and potato cake, and the grilled artichokes with Serrano ham. The biggest disappointment was the tacos. We had them last time and they were great. Filled with tender, properly cooked mahi mahi and bright with the flavors of the avocado cream, jicama slaw and cilantro pesto. This time, the fish was overcooked and made up pf dry little flakes (reminded me of the fish from the salad I had at the Ram). They still had the other accompaniments, but there just wasn’t the freshness and brightness that made them shine last time. They have lost their luster (or else it was just a bad night).

All of the other items we tried were new. Probably the best thing we ate were the sauteed artichokes—they were just the hearts (but still with some of the stem attached) and had diced pieces of peppers and the Serrano ham on top and were in a white wine sauce. I couldn’t really taste the ham, which was a shame because I really like Serrano ham. And interestingly, based on the menu on the website, they aren’t on the menu anymore, which is sort of a shame, because like I said, they are one of the best things we had.

The crostini 3 ways included one piece each of grilled bread with bean and sage puree, another with a tomato bruschetta topping and the third with cream cheese and mushrooms. The tomato one was probably the best of the three, a nice fresh flavor with an appropriate amount of vinegar. Next I would say was the mushroom and cream cheese piece which had cream cheese spread on top and then some sautéed mushrooms. Not bad. I didn’t really care for the bean and sage puree, it was just too bland and the consistency a bit too pasty.

The proscuitto wrapped shrimp could have been pretty good, if the shrimp weren’t so overcooked and hard. The flavors were nice together. The potato and leek cake tasted like it was made with instant potatoes. Didn’t get much leek from it.

We did have a flourless chocolate cake for dessert which was basically like a brownie with some nice whipped cream and berries. Our server kept warning us that is was really small, but I thought it was a nice size. We shared it, but it was actually something you could eat on your own and not feel like you are eating a month’s worth of dessert in one sitting. We had a couple of the mousse shots as well (butterscotch and chocolate) which we had last time and were just as good, but you really need to mix the two to get the best flavors.

I’m a little sad about this dinner and review, as I really like what Zing is trying to do—I love tapas, and it is nice having them be something different from the classic Spanish ones. Unfortunately, I think Zing has changed its focus from being a unique restaurant to a bar that serves food. Most of the people there were young and focused on drinks and not the food, which sadly, in my opinion, seems to be the same focus the management has as well.

543 Indiana Avenue
Indy 46202

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Charleston's Restaurant

Sometimes a girl just needs some chicken fingers. When this urge hits me, I pretty much only eat them at Charleston’s. Charleston’s is small chain (although the waiter informed me that the Castleton location was locally owned and managed) of basic American food. I think it has an edge though in that it is actually pretty good (according to the website, everything is made from scratch daily). When we want a decent meal (lunch or dinner, the menu is the same) with the kids, this is one of our standbys.

So you don’t really need a starter here because the meals are plenty large and come with two sides (which you can substitute for any of the sides offered on the menu). Like I said, I love the chicken fingers here, they are a very light fry, almost like a tempura, and the chicken is obviously fresh, these aren’t your standard previously frozen breaded numbers that come on kid’s menus nationwide. And by the way, if your kids order them on the kid’s menu, they will get the same ones, just in a smaller portion. The adult meal comes standard with cole slaw and fries, but I substitute a baked potato and the “Burgundy mushrooms.” The mushrooms are yummy, served whole in a very light wine broth with little tiny dices of onion. They are very old school but very delicious. The portion of chicken is quite generous, and sometimes hubby and I split them for lunch. By the way, you can get a decent side salad here too and the croissants that come with are really yummy too.

Hubby thinks Charleston’s has the best ribs he has had in Indy and usually orders those. Not being a huge rib person myself, I couldn’t tell you, but hubby is very particular. These are the kind that the meat falls off the bone. (Hey, if you have suggestions for others, will you send them to me? He is always on the quest for the best ribs).

The kids also really like this place too, and they have a slightly fancier mac and cheese with penne and a creamy cheese sauce that the kids really enjoy. They also get a scoop of nice vanilla ice cream on a (quite yummy) chocolate chip cookie with chocolate sauce on top as part of their meal.

The service is usually quite efficient and the interior is a dark woody interior with some working gas lights along the wall—a step up from your usual family friendly chain. All in all, if I want a decent meal in an atmosphere that welcomes kids and doesn’t look like every other chain in town, we often end up at Charleston’s.

Charleston’s Restaurant
6815 E. 82nd Street (there’s one in Westfield too)
Indy 46250

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Midtown Grill

I was excited to go to Midtown because I had heard rumors that Chef Neal Brown was working with Midtown on their menu. (Heard it in a comment on my own blog as well as on The Dish.) I have always enjoyed Midtown but in the 3 years since I have lived here, I hadn’t seen the menu really change and I get bored with menus that don’t change.

Once we sat down and I saw the menu, it was obvious that it had changed—there were several new items as well as certain classic items (many of which I had had before and enjoyed). I still have no idea if Chef Brown has helped on the menu, but it has certainly changed. Some of the classics that remained were the spinach artichoke dip, the calamari appetizer and the steak Dijon which is flambéed tableside. I have had the calamari and the steak before and have really enjoyed them. Since we were with friends, we decided to get the spinach artichoke dip as we had never had it here. It was really tasty with really big chunks of artichoke and a creamy sauce that wasn’t over the top, the spinach was clearly fresh, but it was just a few leaves draped over the top of the plate and wilted, so it didn’t add much (a little more would be good I think).

For my appetizer, I ordered the mussels. I was pretty sure these were new on the menu and I am sure if you read my blog, you know how much I love mussels. While the garlic sauce was really tasty, the mussels had that same problem that so many do in this town, in that they must have been previously frozen as they had that weird soft consistency. (I learned that that consistency means previously frozen right here on my blog from one of my readers—I love you guys!) If that really is the thing that causes this problem, I am asking all restaurants in Indianapolis to take the mussels off the menu if you are keeping them frozen in the back. Please! If you can’t sell enough to keep them fresh, don’t bother. Like I said, the broth was really tasty, and would’ve been great with fresh mussels, but with these mushy things, not so much.

There were several pasta dishes on the menu, and here is a big shout out to whoever had the idea to offer half sized portions at a reduced cost! Hallelujah! I have been asking for that forever! Someone has figured out that not everyone wants to eat a bowl of pasta that could serve 6 by themselves. I rarely order pasta for this reason, but with this option, I decided to give it a go. I tried the eggplant ravioli with spinach and mushrooms and truffle oil. The pasta wasn’t bad, but it was a little dense for me, the eggplant flavor was nice and I liked that it wasn’t just your usual cream and/or tomato sauce. But the mushrooms on this dish (and they were the same ones that were on hubby’s steak) were just not very good. They were too saturated in whatever they had been cooked in, tasted a bit like stew, and overpowered the dishes. And mushrooms are usually one of my favorite things. These were bordering on slimy. If there was truffle there, I wasn’t really tasting it, but that could have been because of the mushrooms. But the half portion was spot on size-wise for me.

Hubby overall enjoyed his New York strip steak, save for those mushrooms. It had a nice thyme butter on top and was cooked perfectly. I had a bite without the mushrooms and it was delicious. It also came with super thin potato strings which were really thin and tasty.

They also kept the classic white chocolate brownie dessert on the menu, which I have never ordered before even though my dentist swears by it, because I thought it had white chocolate in it (go figure) which isn’t my fave. However, I finally found out (because our server told us so) that it was actually a blondie—i.e., the brownie was white, but the chocolate chips are actually regular dark chocolate. It is served with ice cream on top. It was really good! They need to call this what it is, a blondie with ice cream. We also tried a banana thingamabob (can you tell I can’t remember what it was called exactly) which was pretty good, but couldn’t touch the brownie.

I like Midtown, it has one of the nicest outdoor seating areas around (particularly for Broad Ripple), a nice interior, and we usually always have great service. I am glad to see they are working on revamping the menu, but I certainly think it needs a bit more tweaking to get it just right. Particularly if it isn’t going to change again for 3 years.

Midtown Grill
815 East Westfield Blvd.
Indy 46220

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Banura 1

On my list has been to get over to Banura since a good friend had recommended it. She has been eating there for years, apparently it was originally located on Illinois where Oh Yumm Bistro sits now. The owners re-opened the second Banura (ironically called “Banura 1”) on the west side of the City, on Michigan Road. It’s another one of those restaurants located in a strip mall that blend into all the others.

The menu is quite interesting for a Greek place. It actually has lots of stuff on the menu besides Greek, many sandwiches, and even several pizza options (and my friend tells me the pizzas aren’t bad). We decided to stick with the Greek food. We shared homous, and Baba Ghannooj and I also had Spinakopita*.

We got small portions of the homous and Baba Ghannooj which were more than enough to share. The homous (spread made with chick peas, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil) was pretty mild, a little thinner in consistency than would be my preference, but still tasted good. The Baba Ghannooj (a spread made with baked eggplant, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil) was ok, not overly exciting. I have to say though, I probably prefer the roasted garlic hummus from Trader Joe’s all in all.

The spinakopita was outstanding though. In case you don’t know, spinakopitas are little pies made of filo dough wrapped around spinach and feta and then baked golden brown. The appetizer order consisted of one piece, which was about as big as half a standard size sandwich. The filo was so perfectly crisp and browned, that I had to order a second one after I ate the first. Delicious.

My friend, who has been eating this food for years, told me she pretty much always gets the dolmathes. These are grape leaves stuffed with rice, ground beef and seasoning and topped with marinara. She really likes them obviously, but they were a little blah for me. Didn’t have much flavor to them and seemed like it was mostly rice inside.

We were also given a little complimentary piece of baklava for dessert which was quite rich. Lots more filo with walnut and honey filling. It was nice, but I was pretty full at this point.

The service (by the owner) is quite gruff—I am not sure if he uttered more than 3 words our entire visit. The interior is pretty basic, and was fairly empty when we were there (although others were starting to come in), but all in all, I really enjoyed the spinakopita and would happily go right now for another wedge. Next time I think I would get the spinakopita plate which comes with some rice and homous. Or maybe the vegetarian combo plate with spinakopita, tyropita (cheese filled filo) and falafel (deep fried ground favas).

Banura 1
7940 North Michigan Road
Indy 46268

* I have spelled all items as they were spelled on the restaurant menu. I have seen most of these items spelled many different ways, and honestly, I don’t know what the proper spelling truly is, but just so you know, so you don’t email me and tell me I have them all wrong, that was my method.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oakley's Bistro-- Dinner

Continuing in our effort to support good locally owned restaurants, we wanted to go back to Oakley’s Bistro, but this time for dinner. We have been to Oakley’s several times before, but I have never written a review of it, so I figured now was the time. We were really hoping for a good meal since so many of the best restaurants seem to be closing down right now.

I will start by saying we weren’t disappointed. This was probably the best Oakley’s meal we have had. I was intrigued because they have a new sous chef who apparently enjoys working with seafood (which tends to be my favorite things to eat at a restaurant). My criticism of this place in the past has been that the menu doesn’t really change that much, and that I often see the same things on the menu. This is still true to a certain extent, but there did seem to be some new things as well. And everything was good.

Before I get on to the specifics, I need to say that this is some of the best presented food in Indy, the plates are all beautiful, and even the soups are poured from lovely cast iron tureens into large bowls. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera this night, so I don’t have any pictures (not to mention I would have been a little obvious with the chef directly across the restaurant from me in the open kitchen). It is a shame though, because honestly, the food is quite the feast for the eyes. Anyway, to start we ordered the mushroom soup and the romaine salad with olives, pinenuts, mozzarella, smoked tomatoes and asiago basil Caesar dressing. We shared both of these items. The soup was good, very hearty and rich though and maybe more appropriate in a colder season, but the truffle crème fraiche was tasty and I liked that there were some chunks in the soup, a pure cream soup can get somewhat boring to me. They certainly do soup well here, but maybe I should have gone with the special, a shrimp bisque. Probably would have been a bit lighter.

We also shared the salad I mentioned, and it was outstanding. Seriously, a star. And I liked the unique take on a Caesar salad—as the waiter described, it was sort of like a cross between a chop salad and a Caesar. The salad was served in a bowl made of crisp tortillas and the romaine was chopped with little dices of mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, and nice pieces of olives and tomatoes. And the dressing was a jazzier take on a Caesar. And even though normally I like that really soft buffalo mozzarella, the firmer chunks of mozzarella used here stood up appropriately to the salad and were the perfect choice. All in all, this was one of the best salads I have had in Indy, and I appreciate the attempt to do something besides the blue cheese wedge. There was actually another salad, the harvest salad which also sounded really good and unique—it had roasted mushrooms, endive and a goat cheese fritter…oh well, next time… Although I may have a hard time not ordering the Romaine salad if it is on there again.

For my main, I ordered the scallop appetizer which looked new to me (I had had several of the other appetizers on the menu in past visits). There were two large seared sea scallops speared with tasty roasted asparagus and served over a little pea puree and served alongside a risotto cake and ramps. This dish was very good. My favorite part of it was that the ramps tasted like they were slightly pickled which added the acidic taste that I like to the otherwise rich dish. The scallops were perfectly cooked and I appreciated that even in an appetizer there was a bit of starch (the risotto cake) which made it a perfect entrée for me. And I certainly didn’t need any more food.

Hubby had the short ribs (our waiter told us they were keeping the short ribs on the menu for now simply because filet had gotten so expensive that they didn’t want to have an item priced so high on the menu). He loved it. Practically licked the plate clean (other than the horseradish cream which wasn’t his favorite). He also had a really nice glass of Pinot Noir that he was very happy about, and is ready to add Oakley’s onto the list of the best restaurants in Indy. Oh, we also had the warm brownie dessert with caramel corn and vanilla bean ice cream. We have had it several times, and it is delicious.

While I am in agreement that this meal was outstanding, the only thing I would comment on again is that the menu doesn’t really change a lot. Even as few times as I have been there, I have had many of the menu items. I really get excited to see fresh items on the menu, particularly when the seasons are changing. It seems at Oakley’s they often just change the accompaniments and not the dish itself. This is not to say the dishes are bad, as many of them are quite good, but hey, variety is the spice of life right?

Oakley’s Bistro
1464 W 86th St
Indianapolis, IN 46260
(317) 824-1231

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wasabi on 82nd

I have a confession to make. I am not a big fan of sushi. I love fish, and even raw fish, but I really don't like seaweed much, and I am not a huge fan of wasabi itself. I keep trying to like it, but it isn’t my thing. However, I do like Japanese food overall, so hubby and I headed out for a quick lunch at Wasabi on 82nd Street in Castleton.

I like this place because the food is all really fresh and the cuts of meat (if you aren’t getting sushi) are recognizable. What do I mean by this? If you order chicken teriyaki, as I did on this particular day as part of my bento box, it is a breast of chicken, not all those weird gristly pieces of chicken you might get elsewhere. The sauce is nice, a lot of soy and the right amount of sweetness. As I said, I ordered a box which also came with sashimi—salmon, tuna and whitefish. The whitefish was the only thing that wasn’t very good; the other two pieces of fish were extremely fresh and tender

You also get as part of a bento box, a little teeny spring roll (which I appreciate for the crunch factor), a wedge of some sort of fried potato thingy and a nicely sectioned orange. Didn’t really get to the potato item, I was pretty full, but enjoyed the orange for dessert (someone spends a lot of time getting those oranges just so). Oh, and before meal is served, they give you a nice bowl of miso soup and a typical Japanese salad. Hubby just had several pieces of nigiri and was very happy with his orders, particularly the fatty white tuna.

This place is a bit pricier than many of the local Japanese places, but like I said, at least when you order chicken, you can be sure it actually is chicken, and not some other mystery meat. The service was efficient, not overly attentive, but it was lunch and we were in and out pretty quickly.

Hey, what’s your favorite Japanese joint? I would love to hear about it.

Wasabi on 82nd
5025 E. 82nd Street
Indy, 46250

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Z's Oyster Bar and Steakhouse

*****AS OF JUNE 3, 2011 Z's IS CLOSED*****

We were trying to think of a place to go where you could get a good steak (hubby and I were in the mood for one after a weekend seafood extravaganza) and where my in-laws could get something else. We decided on Z’s Oyster Bar & Steakhouse because, well, it seemed like the perfect middle ground, and most of our experiences there have been good.

Sadly, on a beautiful weekend night, this place was pretty empty when we got there. It is a nice restaurant with a decent deck (maybe a bit too much noise from 465, but whatever) but was pretty quiet, much like many restaurants around here lately.

Anyway, I ordered the roasted clams for my appetizer to split with hubby, which is one of my favorites usually. Unfortunately, these clams were so sandy, they were inedible. Both of us got sand in our first ones, I tried one more, and more sand, so we sent them back. Blech, nothing worse than sand in food. Luckily, we had also ordered a “Washington salad” to split which had apples, candied pecans and Danish blue cheese in a maple-walnut vinaigrette. It was more than enough to split, and it was a really good salad. Washed away all traces of the clams. My in-laws ordered the cornmeal fried oysters which were very nice (and a smallish in size). I was surprised that the portion wasn’t as large as most things there, which is generally fine with me, but some might find it small in comparison.

For my main, I had a petite prime filet. It was very good. Your basic, properly cooked filet, nothing fancy, but done well. For sides we ordered a bunch (you really only need about 2 to share for 4 people, but we all had different ideas). We had the cream style corn which is one of my favorites. They tend to use fresh corn (from Florida this time of year) that is still crispy and delicious and just cook it with some cream and butter—this isn’t the creamed corn that comes in a can. We also ordered the house cheese browns which are like chunks of roasted potatoes with cheese all over. They are quite good, although I think hubby likes them more than I do. Finally, we had the spinach Florentine with mushrooms, onions, bacon and Mornay sauce. Hubby loved these. I thought they were pretty good as well, but I was more interested in the corn I guess.

All in all, it was a really good meal, save for the clams. Not sure what the deal was with those, but I have never had so much sand in clams even when I cook them at home! I am worried about this place though—it is a big place and appears to be faltering like so many these days. If you want to support a good local northside (it’s in Castleton) steakhouse with great seafood (usually anyway, just avoid the clams!), you may want to give Z’s a try before it is too late.

Z’s Oyster Bar and Steakhouse
6220 Castleway West Drive
Indy, 46250

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Weber Grill-Lunch

At the request of my son, who wanted to go to the restaurant with “the big grill,” we decided to stop and have lunch at the Weber Grill restaurant downtown. It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine. Our server was very prompt when we arrived, although we were literally the first one in the door at noon (when they open on Sundays).

I ordered a margarita (the weather, it was wooing me to get a tropical drink) and it wasn’t bad. Hubby was happy with Dos Equis lager on tap. They brought us pretzel rolls to start along with butter and cheese butter (really? Cheese butter? Is that necessary?) They were ok, but pretzel rolls aren’t my favorite. We were split pretty evenly on them though, hubby and daughter liked them, my son and I passed on them after tasting them. Anyway, after perusing the menu (which is the regular dinner menu on Sundays) I decided on the New York strip salad which was nice greens with blue cheese dressing, smoked onions, “grill roasted” mushrooms, chunks of blue cheese, croutons and thin slices of medium rare steak on top (served cold, the meat is cooked in advance). I was pleasantly surprised with the food actually. I did not have high expectations walking in, these sort of theme chains usually don’t get me too excited, but it wasn’t bad. (Although on a side note, it is only the 4th location, and the first outside of Illinois).

We also ordered a basket of the onion curls and they were really good (and a truly enormous portion). Everyone in our family is a big fan of onion strings/rings in whatever form, but these were particularly good. They were the really thin ones, which are probably my favorite kind, and were served with BBQ sauce (not very exciting, tasted much like your usual KC Masterpiece or whatever) and a spicy mayo. Call me old fashioned, I just like mine with ketchup.

Hubby had the Wisconsin burger with cheese and applewood smoked bacon. He thought the meat was good, but overall thought the burger with bun and all the stuff was just too big. This is why I don’t order burgers anywhere except Steak n Shake. The burgers are just too darn big most places. He ended up taking the bun off, adding a few more of those onion straws on top and just eating it with a fork. He liked it better that way.

Both of our entrees had the little “w” next to them which I assumed meant these are the specialties of the house. Still not sure, but I always wonder about restaurants who mark things this way on the menu. Does this mean everything else is just ok?

The kids meals are very deluxe, they come with several sides, including a veggie and a fruit, which I thought was nice (and they still included an obligatory fried potato item, either fries or tater tots, which the kids liked). They also included a little hot fudge sundae which also went over well (with all of us).

The service was friendly, but a little scattered at times. I think the fact that we chose the outside table farthest away from the door to the restaurant may have been a factor (other diners appreciated it I am sure), but as the meal went on, the service certainly slowed down.

All in all though, I will likely return to Weber Grill when the kids want to go—one of these nights we may even try dinner.

Weber Grill
10 N. Illinois Street
Indy 46204

Sunday, May 3, 2009

La Hacienda

Finally I am getting around to reviewing La Hacienda which I have mentioned several times in other reviews. This is a place that is close to my house (although they have several locations around Indy) and when we first moved to Indy we used to take the kids there all the time because, well my son was really young, the service is remarkably fast, and they didn’t seem to mind that we made an enormous mess. And you gotta love a Mexican restaurant in an old Waffle House (they have recently done a more major facelift on the inside, but in the beginning, it looked a lot like a Waffle House inside (and still does on the outside). And I also love that the sign out front still says, “Now Open Special” even after 3 years. And hey, the margaritas are good and so is the food.

Anyway, I wanted to do a fresh visit and review since we haven’t been in awhile (we have ventured into other places now that my kids are a bit older). They instantly bring you the chips and salsa—I really like their salsa, not super spicy or anything, but still fresh and tasty. The chips aren’t bad either. The kids always want guacamole and sour cream to dip into as well, so we ordered that with the chips too. Ok, the guacamole is not the big chunky kind that is my preference; it is the sort of uniform smooth style you get in a lot of the more casual, cheap Mexican places. But the thing is, you can still tell that it is actually derived from avocadoes at some point. There are some little recognizable bits and the flavor is of avocadoes. I can’t say they make it in house, I have no idea and if I had to guess I would say they probably don’t, but for what it is, it still isn’t bad.

I did order something that I have had a few times before, the soft shrimp chimichangas. Soft, meaning they are not deep fried. Ok, they aren’t the most exciting thing in the world, flour tortillas with large grilled prawns and red sauce, lettuce and tomato on top, but their shrimp is some of the best shrimp in a Mexican place I have had (and in many restaurants around here for that matter). They don’t overcook it, it is a good size and has great grilled flavor. La Hacienda is one of those places where they have 4-5 basic meat ingredients that are used in about 150 different dishes, but if you find a meat you like (I also like the chicken used in many of the dishes), you can pretty much be guaranteed you will like your dish. The beans and rice are also very good here (this is the only Mexican place where I bother with any rice; usually I think Spanish rice is just a waste of calories).

Hubby had the pork carnitas—this is probably one of Hacienda’s best dishes. The pork is done very well—nice crispy edges but also good flavor and the pico di gallo is fresh and really tasty, as is the hotter salsa that comes alongside the pico di gallo. Hubby has decided now that we don’t come as often, this is probably the only thing he will order there from now on.

My favorite things here by far though are the Texas margaritas. Hubby and I usually split a small pitcher, and what always cracks me up is that they bring you the pitcher and the two glasses and the pitcher is always full and the 2 glasses are always half full. If you go with more people, no matter how many people share a pitcher (large or small), they always bring you the glasses already half full. Not sure how this happens every time, but I think you could order 15 glasses and one pitcher and they would probably always bring you 15 half full glasses as well as the full pitcher. Not that I’m complaining mind you, I just find it humorous.

Anyway, I could happily sit and just eat the chips and salsa and margaritas, but the rest of the food is pretty good too. And the service is so fast, you can hardly believe it, but at least when the place is on a wait to get a table, you know you won’t be waiting long!

La Hacienda (various locations)
6825 Graham Road
Indy 46220