Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nordstrom Cafe- Fashion Mall - Revisit

I think I have mentioned before that I frequent Nordstrom for lunch quite a bit. It is one of the few “chains” that I actually eat at fairly regularly.  And the one at the Fashion Mall has the best olive aioli to dip your fries in.  I love that stuff.
So hubby and I were in the other day after not having been for awhile, and oh my goodness, they had changed the menu! I didn’t know that would happen at Nordstrom.  But I firmly believe change is good, and even though the sandwich I was thinking about was gone, I appreciated having to get something different.  I started with a cup of the soup of the day which was a potato corn chowder with chicken.  I quite liked it.  It was really cold outside and it really hit the spot.  The broth wasn’t creamy, more of a brothy chowder base, but had a nicely seasoned chicken flavor.  The little pieces of corn gave a nice little crunch and the potato pieces were tender (I hate underdone potatoes).  There were large pieces of chicken as well.  They served it with a little slice of bread topped with cheese (although it came out a bit after my soup did).
Hubby and I split a sandwich.  This is a great thing to do at Nordstrom because they split it for you before they bring it out and you each get your own plate with your half sandwich as well as what is probably a full portion of fries (and the aioli).  On this particular visit, we tried a new sandwich, the bistro flat iron steak sandwich.  This sandwich included sliced flat iron steak, gruyere cheese, arugula, crisp leeks and shallot aioli and is served on focaccia.  I was sort of excited to try something new, and this sounded quite good, particularly because they told us the steak is cooked to order.  But I am not quite sure how this worked, as the meat was still cold.  So I guess they must cook up several different temperatures in advance and keep them in the refrigerator.  This is a cut of meat that isn’t really served by being served cold—the fat had sort of firmed up and made it kind of tough.  Overall, the sandwich was also a little dry (a little more of that aioli please, I could barely taste it).  I enjoyed the crunch and taste of the crispy leeks though.  That was a unique and flavorful angle in a sandwich, but unfortunately, only added to the fact that they sandwich was dry.  If the meat was warm and there was a bit more of the aioli, it could be good, but as it was, I probably would get something else next time.
The fries were just as good as they have always been, they do a nice job and season them well.  And then there’s that olive aioli—as long as they have that, I will continue to go to Nordstrom for lunch. (Sadly, the downtown cafés don’t serve the fries or the aioli).  I just used some of that and spread it on my sandwich making it much better.

Nordstrom Café Bistro
Fashion Mall
8702 Keystone Crossing
Indy 46240

Nordstrom Cafe Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sawasdee- Revisit

Recently I had dinner with retired local food blogger, braingirl.  She convinced me it was time to give Sawasdee another shot after my first visit was underwhelming (and looking back at it, what a crappily written post).  Anyway, I have been meaning to go back and jumped on the opportunity to go with someone who knew the highs and lows of the menu.
So we decided to get lots of stuff so we could try several flavors and figured we would just take the extra home.  She suggested the Thai toast (#3 for those of you following along) for a starter.  These were little slices of deep fried crunchy bread with some bits of pork.  They were served with a sort of cucumber salad—almost like a cucumber salsa.  I really enjoyed the Thai toast—they were nice and crispy on the outside edges but with just a little hint of chewiness from the bread.  The cucumber salad gave a fresh bright snap with the flavors and was also just a little sweet and sour.  I really liked them.
Each entrée comes with soup and a spring roll as well.  The soup was their Thom Yum (or hot and sour).  It had a nice kick to it—spicy without being so spicy it choked you on the way down.  A deep peppery flavor though.  The spring roll was fine. I don’t know, I think I am getting burned out on spring rolls. Everyone serves them and rarely are they anything super exciting.  This one was no exception.
We shared three different things—the Drunken Noodles with pork, the Massaman Curry with chicken and a special of the day—crispy tilapia with 3 layer sauce (I think I have that name right).  Overall, the Drunken Noodles were my favorite.  Their noodles are really wide—so wide at first you don’t even think it is a noodle and was mixed with the little pieces of stir fried pork, and various veggies—onions, peppers, and tomatoes (ok, that’s a fruit, but still).  There was a fair amount of basil as well giving the dish a nice aromatic basil flavor.  The sauce was slightly sweet but with soy and plenty of pepper as well.  A bit of spice, but really more a light tangy flavor.  The pork added a nice richness.  There is a lot going on in these noodles, but it all came together as a tasty dish.
The Massaman curry was not bad.  I have to admit a lot of curries aren’t my favorite because sometimes the coconut milk flavor turns the whole thing a little too sweet, but this one was pretty well balanced.  Pleasantly spicy –the curry paste usually includes things like peanuts, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, shallots, lots of spices (coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, etc) as well as the chilies.  The paste is mixed with the coconut milk, potato and more peanuts and you get a deep richly flavored almost stew like consistency.  We had it with chicken—the pieces of chicken were tender as were the potato chunks.  You could taste the sweetness of the coconut milk, but it did not overwhelm the other flavors too much and worked pretty well together.  While it was pretty good, I still preferred the bright flavors of the noodles.
Lastly, we had the tilapia with the 3 layer sauce.  Our very friendly and helpful server explained that this meant layers of sweet, sour and I think maybe the last one was spicy?  Anyway, this dish was a disappointment (and braingirl agreed).  Our server had told us that the dish was very popular (which probably should have been a tip off) and that it was deep fried tilapia with the sauce on top.  First, the fish was not deep fried, more like pan fried, and it was not very crispy—more like oily.  But the real problem for me was how fishy it tasted.  I only ate a couple of bites before giving up on this one.  The sauce on top was a little more one layer to me-- that being sweet.  So honestly, even if the fish had been really good, I don’t know how much I could’ve eaten.  That was the only dish of which we did not take home the leftovers.
The service was spot on (other than that recommendation for the fish) and extremely attentive.  The place wasn’t very busy but it was fairly early in the evening midweek.  They are quite efficient and the food arrived without delay. 
I would say my overall feelings have become more positive toward Sawasdee, but still not sure I would place it as my top choice for Thai in Indy.  What do you guys think about this place?  It used to always be the first place you heard about when people talked about Thai around here, but I don’t hear it as much anymore. 
1222 West 86th Street
Indy 46260

Sawasdee on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Keystone Deli - Revisit (Breakfast)

Continuing on our quest for a great diner-y breakfast spot, I followed up on a promise I made when I reviewed Keystone Deli before—to go back for breakfast.  A lot of people told me then that breakfast was the meal to get there, so I had to check it out.
First of all, it was jammed! After a very brief wait, we were seated and ordered our usual.  I got the bacon and eggs with home fries, and toast and baked apples.  Most of their breakfasts will also include a small side of biscuits and gravy if you want them (of course hubby did). So we shared the biscuits as well.
The biscuits were quite good—they had that crunchy exterior that I like in a biscuit.  They are flaky and moist on the inside and rich and buttery.  The toast was basic, but I find a bit of toast necessary when I am eating eggs to scoop them up with (you can’t really scoop with a biscuit).  So hubby and I often split up getting both so we can share them (he shares my thoughts on needing a bit of toast with eggs).
As for the gravy, I didn’t get to it, but hubby enjoyed it.  He said it had all the flavors you want in biscuits and gravy. And the more he ate it, the more he liked it.  Luckily, they actually give you a nicely reasonable sized portion (I mean that is a big meal after all).
The apples were interesting—warm baked apples that were flavored with cinnamon.  It sort of tasted like the inside of an apple pie.  Not sure I would get them again (and I certainly can’t finish all this) but it was fun to try.
The potatoes were home fries—sliced potatoes fried on the flattop. They had my same usual complaint about home fries—I like the crispy bits and these didn’t have a lot of them (they were sort of stacked up there so you can see why they aren’t getting that crispy).  As I walked up to pay though, I saw another table with hash browns! I asked the hostess about them and she told me that indeed you can get hash browns.  And these looked super-crunchy—almost like potato pancakes. I was trying not to stare too much at other people’s food, but it looked like it might contain some veggies too, although I couldn’t be sure. I am totally getting those next time.
For a basic, down home breakfast, this place is getting added to my list.
Keystone Deli
2344 East 53rd Street
Indy 46220

Keystone Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ripple Inn


I was excited to try the Ripple Inn—I often lament the lack of nice restaurants in Broad Ripple.   There seems to be enough bars for just about everyone, but I love Broad Ripple, live close by, and enjoy having a few finer dining type establishments as options.  Ripple Inn is located in the former Broad Ripple Steakhouse and the interior has not changed dramatically although the bar area now has additional seating and is more of an extension of the restaurant rather than a separate bar.  There is also an upstairs bar area called the “Parlor” featuring drinks and live DJs.   So maybe the Ripple Inn is attempting the best of both worlds—a nice restaurant for us old folks and a hipper bar area upstairs for the young folks. 
Anyway, as we walked in, the restaurant was still fairly empty, but continued to fill as we were there.  The restaurant was also freezing because of a problem with the heating system, but actually came on about midway through the meal.  Our server promptly greeted us and was extremely professional but also relaxed.  A refreshing change of pace from some of the overenthusiastic types and possibly undertrained servers I have experienced elsewhere lately.  When I asked her for some recommendations, she told me some of her favorite things, and not just what was popular, which I appreciate.  She knew the menu and could answer all of our questions.
There were 4 of us, so we started with three different appetizers to start.  We had the mussels, the potato dumplings and the lobster potato skins ($13, $9 and $10 respectively).  I was quite intrigued with the whole “Ripple Skins” section of the menu (several different variations of potato skins) since I saw the menu for the first time and knew I had to try one of them.
We all enjoyed the lobster potato skins.  There were 4 of them, and each freshly cooked potato skin contained a mix of cream cheese and crème fraiche with egg, caper and shallot and a lobster claw on top.  The bites I had with all the flavors were delightful.  The chef has done a great job of choosing great flavor combinations to give you some great bites.  The lobster was tender and not chewy at all.  The creamy cheese did not overwhelm the other flavors which was nice.  These potato skins were unique and very well done.  I am anxious to try some of the other flavors, including the traditional cheddar, bacon, scallions and sour cream.  I have a weakness for good potato skins, and they are hard to find freshly made anymore.
The chili-citrus mussels were also really good (possibly the best appetizer we had on this visit).  They are the smaller black mussels which are always my preference and these were done in a white wine broth with smoked chili citrus butter.  They were served with teeny crunchy fries (like matchstick sized fries) and sea salt.  The flavors of this dish were great.  The broth became a fairly thick and rich one with the flavored butter, but the wine and citrus helped to keep it from being overbearing.  There was  a smokiness from the chilis that made them more of a hearty flavor, but was not overly spicy in anyway.  It was a nice sized serving and I could probably happily eat this appetizer as my main dish.
The final appetizer we had was the Parmesan Pink Peppercorn potato dumplings.  Think large gnocchis that are seared on the edges.  These were also tasty, but probably my least favorite.  The dumplings themselves were very dense and filling and I could only eat a couple of them—the sautéed veggies on the side were great though.  They were simple, but exceedingly fresh.  It was a combination of shaved fennel, fresh spinach and halved cherry tomatoes in herb butter.  I loved the lightness of the sauce combined with the freshness of the veggies—I would love to see them served with some fresh pasta as a first course just to lighten it up a bit, although the dumplings are also nice and hearty for this time of year.
Hubby and I split the field greens salad.  It was excellent—one of the best salads I have had in awhile.  It had a ton of different stuff in it—apples, grape tomatoes, blue cheese, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds and I loved getting several different flavors in each bite.  The dressing is a Champagne-basil vinaigrette.  AND they split it for us in the kitchen, which you know I always appreciate.  The salad was outstanding and half was a perfect middle course.
One of our friends had the lobster bisque for their middle course and it was very good as well.  It was the kind of bisque I really like, not too thick, but with not too much tomato flavor—you could really taste the essence of the shellfish as well as the hint of Sherry.  The menu also listed smoked tomatoes as an ingredient and I enjoyed the very slightly smoky flavor as well.  Very well done. I am not a fan of bisques that are so thick they look like they would keep the shape of the bowl if you dumped it upside down, you know?
For my main dish I had one of the two vegetarian entrées, the Provencal Vegetable and Capriole Goat Cheese Wellington ($15) (I am a sucker for pastry-wrapped items).  This dish was quite lovely visually, a good sized round of pastry filled with layers of veggie and the goat cheese.  There were smoky roasted tomatoes and red peppers as well as nice tender slices of Portobello mushrooms.  The dish was surrounded by both a basil pesto as well as a tomato pesto which gave some nice additional flavors that added depth to the pastry and the goat cheese.  There were also asparagus spears and olives served alongside.  There was quite a bit going on, but I appreciated the fact that the thought that went into the vegetarian dishes was obviously the same as for the others.  I sometimes wonder how people can be vegetarians in Indy and eat out happily, as options are so often limited.  (By the way, the other vegetarian option was a mushroom and butternut squash risotto.)
Hubby had the ribeye which was a bit of a disappointment.  It was described as cherry-wood smoked with thyme butter and served with poached baby veggies, spinach arugula salad, autumn fruit chutney and cabernet glaze.  The flavors were well put together, but the meat itself was a little too chewy.  The veggies were also a little al dente for hubby’s taste.  It is also the most expensive entrée on the menu at $28.
One of our friends had the roasted chicken entrée though, and it was probably the best dish on the table as far as main dishes went.  It was fairly simple— half of a free range chicken roasted with lemons and herbs and served with 5 cheese macaroni and cheese, green beans and roasted tomatoes with a Champagne hazelnut sauce.  I loved that the chef has taken a simple ingredient—chicken; and prepared it in a simple way, but added lots of layers of other flavors to go alongside.  The chicken itself (at least the portion of the dark meat that I had) was very tender and the skin had wonderful flavor.  This was a dish that I would now consider ordering (and was also mentioned as a favorite by our server).
We shared two desserts.  One, the  “Bourbon Street” coffee and doughnuts was a bit of a disappointment—they were the New Orleans style beignets served with café au laite panna cotta.  So I am not sure if they meant for you to dip the little fried pieces of dough into the panna cotta, but it was much too firm for that, and the beignets too delicate.  I would have preferred some flavored liquid to dip them in.  We did really enjoy the peanut butter tart which was a butter polenta pastry square (but still light and flaky) topped with Chantilly cream (with peanut butter), bittersweet chocolate veloute, vanilla crème anglaise and praline crunch.  This one was yummy.  It sounds like a lot of stuff, but really it was still a moderately thin tart, and I enjoyed the deep flavor of the chocolate sauce and peanut butter cream and the crunchiness of the pastry and the praline crunch.  I would consider ordering this one again.
You know what I really like about the Ripple Inn? Everyone seems to care about what they are doing.  The server was great, and extremely apologetic about the heating situation. She gave us good advice on the menu and could answer every question we had.  And she wasn’t annoying.  The dishes seemed well thought out, and unique flavor combinations are the result.  Maybe potato skins don’t seem that unique, but ones with duck confit, crab, lobster and salmon (not all on the same one mind you)?  That is different. And fun. And accessible.  The food is generally cooked well, and presented well.  They have done a good job of taking ingredients people are comfortable with and made them a little bit more special.  You aren’t just getting mashed potatoes with your steak or your chicken, and the chef has thought about what goes with what things, and they are included in the dish, not served as generic sides like many steakhouses do these days.  Was it all perfect? No.  Some dishes were not as successful as others for sure, but I truly appreciate the effort.  I am looking forward to a return visit.
The Ripple Inn
929 East Westfield Blvd.
Indy, 46220

Friday, December 17, 2010

Road Trip: Lindey's, Columbus, OH

I know it seems like we have been doing a lot of road trips lately, and we have.  This one came about because of visiting Hubby’s family over Thanksgiving. We got a chance to meet up with some of hubby’s friends and leave the kids with the Grandparents and head out to dinner.  We have eaten our way a fair amount around Columbus, but had never been to Lindey’s in German Village.
We were a little early, and our friends were a little late so we enjoyed a drink at the bar while we waited. I loved the bar.  The whole interior of this place is beautiful—the building is turn of the century.  It has a lovely copper topped bar and tin ceilings and beautiful mirrors over the bar.  You feel like you are in an old restaurant in San Francisco or Boston when you walk in. So far, so good.
We were seated and greeted promptly by our professional server—there are a few specials, but I was in love with the appetizer section of the menu. There were so many things I wanted to try that I went with my classic and got one for my main dish as well.  Luckily, everyone at the table got a different appetizer and wanted to share (my favorite kind of dining companions) so I got to try lots of things pretty equally.
We had the chicken, artichoke and ginger potstickers with Asian slaw and sweet chile sauce.  I am a sucker for any kind of potstickers that are different from the traditional pork ones (I like those too, but for some reason I get really excited when I see other flavors).  My favorites were the shrimp and scallop potstickers at Firefly in San Francisco. Yum.  Anyway, I digress.  These were nice.  The wontons were nicely seared and had a bit of crunch to them.  The flavoring inside tasted okay, although I didn’t really pick out a lot of the artichoke flavor.  The slaw was a good accompaniment; it had a bit of a tangy dressing on it that was tasty in the bite with the potsticker.  A little of the sauce was good, but it was pretty sweet.
I also had a fair amount of the Carpaccio.  Wow.  This was a beautiful, very classic, perfect example of Carpaccio.  Paper thin rounds of raw tenderloin with just a bit of sea salt, some wonderfully marinated and grilled (but served chilled) Portobello mushroom slices, and a nice pile of well dressed arugula salad with shaved fennel and parmesan.  There was a little drizzle of chipotle aioli giving a bit of creaminess, and a little variation from the traditional flavors, but not overwhelming the flavor of the beef at all.  Wow, this was stellar. The meat was perfect and fresh, and all the flavors combined with it—the peppery arugula and the creamy aioli and salty parmesan. It was perfect.
We also shared the calamari and shrimp fritto misto.  This was one of the better fritto mistos I have had in awhile.  And they did a good job of making sure the shrimp was butterflied and therefore the same density as the calamari (rings and legs). It was all perfectly tender and was accented well with a squeeze of lemon and the slightly zippy remoulade.  The batter was light and perfectly crunchy
Finally, I had a taste of the tuna tartare as well.  The tuna was lovely, and fresh.  It was done with a soy type sauce underneath and wasabi and crème fraiche on top.  Simple, but the fish was lightly seasoned, and as long as you didn’t grab too much of the wasabi in your bite, was delicious.
The only problem I had with the appetizers was the fact that they brought out the warm appetizers first, and there was quite a stretch between the time when the hot ones were served and the time when the raw ones were served.  Seemed kind of weird that they couldn’t get the cold (actually raw) dishes served at the same time that they could cook other dishes.  Our server was just as perplexed about it as we were.  Luckily, we were having a very enjoyable time with friends, and didn’t mind, particularly since we shared everything.
For my main dish, I had the mussels with sautéed pancetta, sage and shallots and sherry.   This dish was delicious as well flavor-wise, although temperature-wise tasted like it may have been sitting for a few minutes.  My guess is it probably got finished by the person doing apps before the rest of the entrées were finished.  The sauce was almost more of a cream sauce, but beautifully flavored with the sherry and herbs.   The mussels were nice and tender and not too big.  I also ordered a side of the housemade French fries, which were the perfect partner to the mussels.  They were nice and hot and crispy—not too skinny, but still pleasantly crispy on the outside.  If the mussels had just been steaming hot, they would have been perfect.
Hubby had the steak frites which was a flatiron steak with an arugula salad and more of the frites.  The steak also appeared to have been sitting a bit, but the flavor of it was great. Beef is so well accented by arugula I think because of the peppery bite. The flatiron is a slightly fattier piece of beef, but it was sliced against the grain, and the extra fat gave it a nice flavor, but it was still not too chewy. We really enjoyed the grilled flavor on the outside of the meat.  The others at the table had other types of steak that I didn’t try, but which looked quite good.
We also shared a dessert which was the cherry and croissant bread pudding.  It was baked in a dish and served had a creamy interior and a caramelly sauce on the side.  The flavor wasn’t bad, but it was a little more custardy than you generally expect with bread pudding.  There didn’t seem to be that much of the “bread” part in there. 
I loved the atmosphere of this place, and the food was also really great.  The place is pretty noisy, but not so much that you can’t talk to each other.  When I see a place like this, which has expanded a couple times within their block and is a pretty good sized restaurant, but was turning tables the whole time we were there, I wonder why there aren’t more places like this in Indy.  Very well done classic bistro food in a smart, lively environment.
Interestingly, I learned after we got home that the family who started Lindey’s also started the Bravo restaurants which they then sold off.  It is too bad that Bravo doesn’t have even a little of the character and tasty food that Lindey’s does.  But I guess that is the difference between a well run successful independent and a chain.  I just don’t think you get the same passion and personality.
Anyhow, if you are in Columbus, and looking for a charming restaurant with high quality food at pretty reasonable prices ($8-15 for appetizers, $11-15 for pastas and $20-35 for entrées), I would easily recommend Lindey’s, and I think it will be one of my most frequently requested places to go when we visit the in-laws.  And bonus, it is bistro-ish enough the kids would be welcome as well.  I look forward to a return visit.
169 East Beck Street
Columbus, OH 43206

Lindey's Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Parcha Sweets


I thought I would just throw this little mini-review in because my daughter and I stopped in to Parcha Sweets on a whim last week.  First of all, best use of an old Domino’s Pizza building.  They have moved into this space and from the moment you walk in, you are greeted with the smell of freshly baked treats.   Now I enjoy a cupcake from time to time, but I have not really followed the whole cupcake frenzy that has taken over the Country.  I know there are several cupcake bakeries in town, but I haven’t really tried most of them.
Like I said, we sort of stumbled in to this one because we needed to kill 15 minutes before we went to our next appointment.  They have set the space up with a little sitting area and even have wifi I believe. The chef is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and according to the website, has worked all over the country and won all kinds of awards.  Anyway, I sort of let my daughter pick what she wanted, which of course was all chocolate (called chocolate passion).  I also got a couple of mini s’mores and a chilled cupcake called “sweet milk.”

So the cupcakes are quite good—I really liked the slightly chewy cake part of the s’mores one and the little lightly browned marshmallows on top of some chocolate icing that were sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs.  I think the full sized s’mores cupcakes are slightly different than these little mini ones (I think they are filled), but I liked that these were sort of like one big bite.  This one was my favorite I think.
The all chocolate one was quite rich and the cake was very moist.  It was covered with a chocolate ganache frosting and was thoroughly enjoyed by my daughter (I thought she might cry when I asked her to share a bit of it).
The “sweet milk” cupcake was very unusual and I enjoyed it as well.  It is a vanilla cake that is soaked in 3 kinds of milk—not just moist, but actually juicy—by the time we got home it was leaking a little bit.  It was topped with marshmallow fluff frosting and topped with a cherry.  Really unique and seriously, you can’t get a moister cupcake. I like that they have so many unusual flavors and offer many of them all the time (usually just a few on display at a time).
I have been back once to get my daughter another chocolate one, and both times the staff (the second time it was the Chef herself) were extremely kind and helpful in making selections.  My son has a nut allergy and the Chef went through each one telling me the ingredients.
Like I said, I haven’t really been to most of the other cupcakeries in town, but I like this one, and it is probably the closest to my house.  But I know a lot of you know more about this than I do, so please tell me which places you like and why.
Parcha Sweets
2101 Broad Ripple Ave
Indy 46220

Parcha Sweets on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weber Grill - Revisit

Don’t ask how it happened, but the other night we found ourselves at Weber Grill for dinner with the kids.  We had been once before (I reviewed it then too) and thought it was okay, and so we decided to give it another go and order dinner this time.
First of all, the place was quite busy for the middle of the week.  We were promptly seated in a nice booth and the kids given those very cool triangular crayons that don’t roll (but which my son still managed to drop on the floor several times anyway). The kids were hungry for their dinner, so we skipped any real appetizers and just ordered dinner. 
Hubby did have a Ceasar salad to start.  It was not very good. It suffered from the problem that plagues so many Caesars in restaurants—the dressing was totally flat.  My own recipe calls for (among other things) vinegar, Dijon mustard, anchovy as well as fresh lemon on the leaves before dressing.  No way is that combo flat tasting.  This dressing tasted creamy, but without any of the balanced character from the zippy ingredients.  I rarely order Caesars out because honestly, I think our homemade dressing is one of the best I have ever had.  (Who do you think has a good Caesar around town?)
I was going to get the prime rib until I saw they designated the filet as the house specialty (8 oz for $27) and I switched my order at the last minute.  My filet was good. The meat quality was decent and it was cooked medium rare.  I ordered it with the herb/blue cheese topping option, which tasted ok—the blue cheese probably wasn’t the best quality in the world, but gave you that zip that I wanted.  The herbs gave the concoction a strange green hue which was just a teeny bit off-putting.  The mashed potatoes were bad.  I don’t know if it was the potatoes they used, whether they were over-whipped or had just been heated too long, but they were really kind of glutenous and sticky.  They weren’t worth eating.
Hubby had a ribeye and was very disappointed with it.  It was pretty pricy (around $38) and just lacked anything to make it stand out.  Considering the meats are all supposed to be grilled on the Weber grills, it didn’t have much flavor.  It was also a touch overcooked.  Hubby also concurred with me about the potatoes (all the dishes came with the same side).
The kids both had the pizza kid’s meals.  I thought the little plates were cute—sort of like old school cafeteria plates with little compartments.  You get your main entrée in the big compartment (the pizza) and then you also get a side of fruit, broccoli and tater tots.  The kids did not like the pizza at all.  I don’t know if this is the same crust that they use on their grilled pizzas, but it was not a very good crust.  There wasn’t a lot of cheese on it and honestly, it didn’t look very appetizing.  They did enjoy the ice cream that came with the meal, and ate bits and pieces of the side dishes, but overall, I think we agreed as a family that we probably wouldn’t be back.
Our server was quite good and was right on top of anything we needed or wanted and made sure our drinks were always full.  The experience at this restaurant was exactly the kind of thing that depresses me about Indy sometimes.  You go into these chains, many of them look so similar to others, they are packed full of people, and the food is so inferior to so many other places that struggle.  I can understand the idea that sometimes people want familiarity and comfort, but it so often seems to come at the price of culinary quality.  I mean if it is a consistently good product (and there are a few chains that we frequent in our family), that is one thing.  But settling for something familiar but not very good is another.  I honestly don’t understand it.
Weber Grill
10 N. Illinois Street
Indy 46204

Weber Grill Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lincoln Square Pancake House

We keep trying to find really good breakfast spots in Indy, and I am always on the lookout for somewhere new to go.  Unfortunately, this is the one meal we rarely get to eat out because of having such young kids who usually want to be fed immediately upon rising.  But every once in awhile, the planets align, and we get out somewhere.  We have a few regular spots that we liked, but which have fallen off a bit, so we thought we would try Lincoln Square Pancake House and see how it was.  They have 4 other locations throughout the Indy area, but we were hitting the one nearest us, at 56th and Emerson. (And I apologize for the phone photos, I left my camera at home.)
Ok, so hubby and I both like bacon and eggs as our favorite classic meal, and that is what we both had.  The menu is quite large, but there is nothing really unusual or fancy—lots of omelets, pancakes, and other egg dishes.   They do have several “skillet options” as well as a few variations of biscuits and gravy.
I think I have said I am torn about ordering my eggs over easy or over medium because some places get them exactly as I want them—runny yolks and cooked whites, but sometimes you need to get them over easy to make sure they aren’t overdone.  Well, I ordered them over medium here (the server described them as exactly how I wanted them) but the kitchen may not have the same definition because they were just a little far beyond with just a little too much of the yolks being cooked.  But bacon was pretty good—but like good bacon you might cook at home.  I had sourdough toast which was fine and the meal came with what they described as “American fries.”  I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but since there were also “French fries” on the menu, I was confident they weren’t just fries.  They were sliced potatoes that were fried.  They were very soft and parts of them reminded me of mashed potatoes that had then been fried in a skillet.  The crispy parts were not bad, but there weren’t a lot of them.
I also ordered a biscuit on the side, because I always love a good biscuit, but don’t like to substitute my bread for one unless I know it is worth it.  This one was not worth trading in my toast for.  It was very soft and I tend to like my biscuits more crunchy on the outside—a little flakier I guess.  I did hear someone later order some biscuits “well-done” which is something I wouldn’t have thought of (and having never had them before wouldn’t have known to do it) but not a bad idea with these.
I really did like the diner type atmosphere of the place and our server was exceptionally friendly and efficient.  Although the place was quite crowded, we were seated right away and our food brought very promptly.  It is also pretty reasonably priced, I think our breakfasts were just under $6, with an extra $1 for the biscuit) It is a decent basic breakfast place— we got our breakfast needs fulfilled, but didn’t walk away thinking anything really wowed us other than the friendliness of the service.
We are still on a quest for great basic breakfast places. If you have one, please share!
Lincoln Square Pancake House
5024 56th Street (at Emerson)
Indy 46224

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

So my parents have been very excited about this place since it opened near their house—they have been telling me about it and Dad even brought me a menu to look at.  They offered to take us out to dinner for a belated celebration of hubby’s birthday and we agreed to give it a try.
Cooper’s Hawk is a winery developed in the Chicago area (I think there are 4 of them) and this is their first restaurant/winery outside of Illinois.  This place is very large and features a wine tasting area and shop in the front lobby—there were a lot of people milling around in there.  The dining areas are fairly sophisticated, but also somewhat simple and casual. You don’t have to worry about what you are wearing here for sure.  The dining room was maybe only about half full when we entered, but continued getting busier throughout the entire time we were there.  Our server promptly greeted us, and was very efficient in the beginning, although it slowed up a bit at the end of our meal when they were much busier.  He offered to let us taste any wines we were curious about and we did.
I know I don’t talk about wine that much, although we tend to drink it with just about every dinner, but since it is a winery, it seems like it should be mentioned.  I actually found the wine better than I expected.  What I had was very drinkable.  The wine list is quite extensive—I think there were over 30 different wine varieties on the wine list.
To eat, we started with the southwest flatbread.  The crust was a very thin cracker-type crust and was topped with Chihuahua cheese (mild white cow’s milk cheese), housemade enchilada sauce, rotisserie chicken and ancho sour cream.  This was pretty good.  It had a little kick to it, and the chicken must have been cooked in the enchilada sauce.  It was quite tender and had a lot more flavor than just plain roasted chicken.  The ancho sour cream had a nice tanginess from the sour cream that had a bit of spice from the dried chiles.  The whole thing wasn’t overtopped, but had some distinct flavors. As it turns out, it was probably my favorite thing we had (and they have 4 different flatbreads, all with completely different toppings).
I just wanted to try several things, so I also got a couple of the chef’s selections from the menu—the crab, lobster and shrimp bisque and the baby greens salad.  I also shared some of hubby’s gnocchi dish.  The salad was mixed greens with candied walnuts, blue cheese, dried cherries, pears and raspberry vinaigrette.   Normally I like a salad with the fruit and blue cheese combo, but this one was too sweet for me.  Mainly I think this was because of the dressing.  It was very sweet and not really much else. A little more blue cheese would help too.
The bisque was okay, nothing that got me really excited.  My Mom had had it before and told me it was quite chunky which I thought would be from the shellfish. I was sort of surprised that it was more from diced veggies (carrots I noticed).  It was also quite thick, and my favorite bisques have always been a little thinner with a few pieces of (not overcooked) shellfish on top.  This one is really thick, like it has been thickened with something. I also had a side of Betty’s potatoes, which was the thing that caught my eye the first time I looked at the menu.  It is a hashbrown casserole with cheddar cheese.  I actually quite enjoyed this, and it may have been my favorite thing next to the flatbread.  It was a creamy dish of grated potatoes with cheddar cheese and crunchy Panko bread crumbs on top.  The cheese wasn’t actually very sharp (as it was listed on the menu), but had a nice homey flavor anyway (although a little more sharpness might have been nice).
Hubby had the gnocchi which was described as homemade ricotta dumplings served in a Parmesan garlic cream sauce with pancetta, rotisserie chicken, sage and peas.  It was funny-- the chicken was sort of an unusual thing to see in this kind of dish, and the addition of it, as well as the fair amount of peas made the whole thing sort of taste like the inside of a chicken pot pie.  It wasn’t bad, but again, not spectacular.  I started to notice there is a lot of use of certain ingredients carried throughout the menu.  You see a lot of the rotisserie chicken thrown into things for example.  And the chicken was nice and tender, so inherently there is nothing wrong with that concept, it just may have been thrown in unnecessarily sometimes.
I did have a couple of bites of my Mom’s chicken saltimbocca.  It was an enormous portion. No way would I be ordering this dish on my own.  There were probably 4 or 5 chicken cutlets layered with Provolone cheese, prosciutto (but quite thickly cut) and sage.  It was a little over the top with the amount of heavy ingredients, and the chicken was a little tough.  It had the classic problem in the Midwest of throwing too much cheese and rich ingredients with the idea that it will be better with the more fat.  I didn’t think all that stuff was necessary.  There was also a bunch of stuff on top like artichoke hearts, capers and tomatoes.  I like all these things but I think the flavors started getting jumbled up with so many things.
Hubby had been eyeing the Banoffee dessert as well (another chef’s recommendation and highly recommended by our server).  It was essentially a miniature graham cracker pie crust that was filled with bananas and toffee filling and whipped cream.  The flavor of the things together was quite good, and hubby always loves bananas and caramel.  But they served it with a spoon, and the crust was so hard, it was nearly impossible to cut it with the spoon.  A couple of times we thought we were going to break the plate trying to chisel a piece off.  If they could soften the crust up a bit (or at least give you a knife to cut it with), this would be a very nice dessert.  As it was, we just sort of ate what was inside and didn’t get much of the crust.
So I decided that I wanted to give Cooper’s Hawk another chance for lunch before finalizing this review because they have quite an extensive burger and sandwich menu.  So I convinced the BFF to give it a try with me this time.  No wine, since it was lunch, but we did try a couple of the sandwiches.  I ordered the chicken and avocado sandwich which was described as tender chicken, lettuce, tomato, bacon, red onion, avocado, mozzarella, jalapeno ranch and seasoned mayo.  Sounds like a lot, and it is actually—it made for quite a thick sandwich.  Several of the ingredients were really good—large chunks of perfectly ripe avocado and very nicely seasoned bacon (Applewood smoked I am guessing).  But the sandwich just didn’t do it for me.  The lettuce was shredded and had that total foodservice feel to me.  The chicken wasn’t particularly tender and the sandwich all in all lacked a lot of flavor. Didn’t taste the seasoned mayo at all and the jalapeno ranch was on the side.  I did sort of spread that on the sandwich as I ate it, and it did have a nice jalapeno-ey flavor, but I wasn’t that impressed with the whole thing.  The fries on the side were nice—very crispy and seasoned.  They served them with ketchup on the side which surprised me a little since there are so many variations of flavored mayos and sauces on the menu.  I was sort of hoping for something more unique.
BFF had the fried green tomato BLT and gave me some of it as well.  It was pretty simple, and the fried green tomatoes tasted pretty good, but there was so much iceberg lettuce on it (at least not shredded), that if you ate it as is, it was really what you tasted the most.  It was a little dry too, although according to the menu there was mayo on it.  In the end, we both ate about half our sandwiches (they are quite large) and then picked out the bits we liked.  For both of us this was the bacon, and then for me, also the avocado.
Our server was extremely enthusiastic.  A little too enthusiastic for me actually.  When someone comes to check on you and asks if everything is “perfect,” I think it is a little over the top.  The dining room was quite full for a weekday lunch and I was surprised to see a lot of people ordering the full entrées for lunch (there is no separate lunch menu).  The portions are very very large and an entrée would be a bit much for me for lunch.  But it is obvious that Cooper’s Hawk has chosen a good location because I think people were struggling to find a slightly more formal place in the area for business lunches—the place was jammed with business people.  The prices are a little higher than a lot of lunch places (both sandwiches were $10 but included a side, the starters are around $8-12 and the entrees range from about $16-31 for one of the steaks), but you certainly get a lot of food for the money.
All in all, I would say Cooper’s Hawk is ahead of a lot of chains in that they are attempting to go a little beyond the same predictable appetizers and entrees.  Particularly in the appetizers, there are some interesting combos.  I do think the menu is way too large to not be totally overwhelming, and to really be done well (and apparently, they will be introducing specials here soon).  I know appealing to a broad group is important, but my guess is there are probably several items that hardly get ordered at Cooper’s Hawk.  I thought the wine was better than expected (at least what I had) and even though there are certainly a lot of sweet and even fruit flavored wines on the menu, there are enough other things that I was satisfied.   I think Cooper’s Hawk is making a conscious effort to take comfort foods and elevate them to a slightly more sophisticated level.  I can’t say I think they are wildly successful at it, but I give them points for effort.
This was a tough review for me, because I didn’t love anything I had, but a few of the items were pretty good. Anyone else been and eat something really good?  Let me know!
Cooper’s Hawk Winery
3815 E. 96th Street
Indy, 46240

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