Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tortas Guicho Dominguez y El Cubanito

This place has intrigued me since I first heard about it, but it is enough out of my way, that it has taken me awhile to get there.  The other day, I had a little extra time, and was in the mood.  One of the first things I noticed about the place was how friendly the server/cashier (owner?) was from the moment I entered.  He knew I hadn’t been there before and let me know he would give me a few minutes with the rather extensive menu.  (He also brought me a tasty little bowl of dry roasted peanuts, so beware if you have a companion with nut allergies as I often do).  The other thing I noticed was that the place was extremely clean, which is a good thing in a restaurant, but there was a very strong smell of whatever cleaner they were using, which started to give me a little headache by the time I left.  Hopefully, this was just a fluke and they had just been doing some heavy cleaning.
Anyway, the menu, it is quite large.  Mainly they serve tortas, or Mexican sandwiches (they also offer tacos and quesadillas).  The sandwiches are interesting combinations of mainly meat-type ingredients served on these amazing, soft round rolls.  I really liked the bread—they are larger than a hamburger bun and soft, but have a nice crust to them. Inside you can get all kinds of different stuff.  They have a group of combos named after celebrities as well as several named after various countries around the world.  Aside from the toppings listed in each description, they come with a bit of mayo, avocado, tomato and slightly pickled jalapenos.
So I went with the #9, the “Megan Fox” ($6.75) which was chicken breast, mozzarella, chorizo and queso blanco.  These are substantial sandwiches that are made to order and come out piping hot on those fresh buns.  It was very good.  The chicken was seasoned and grilled and sliced and was nice and tender.  The chorizo was in small hunks that added a nice spicy kick to the chicken and the creamy cheese.  They also bring you sides of more of the pickled jalapeno/carrot mix as well as a green salsa and a very spicy red salsa.  I added a bit of the green salsa to my sandwich and a few more of the jalapenos.  It had a decent amount of heat, but it slowly grew over time, so you never felt like your taste buds were being scorched.  I could still feel the faint heat on the drive home though.
I really want to try a breakfast torta (I almost did on this visit, but wanted to give one of their combinations a try first—for breakfast you make your own combo).  I love a good breakfast sandwich, and judging by my lunch, it could be amazing…. Maybe egg, cheese and mushrooms (and avocado of course)?
Tortas Guicho Dominguez y El Cubanito
641 Virginia Avenue
Indy  46203

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Monday, April 25, 2011

U.S. Adventures: San Francisco, Part 2

The second half of our trip mirrored our first half—everything was good and one meal shone above the others. We had some wonderful lunches and our wonderful weather continued.
One of the first places we had eaten lunch was in Berkeley and was delicious pizza. Gioia pizza is a little mom and pop type place that specializes in New York style pizza with some unique California toppings (although they do have the regular, pepperoni and cheese as well).  Anyway, I had a couple slices, but my favorite one was the one with radicchio, bacon and gorgonzola.  Wow, what an amazing flavor combination. (Sorry about the picture, I got a little ahead of myself with the eating before I thought to take a shot).  The crust was perfectly crispy, yet bendy and everyone in the place was exceedingly friendly.
We had a very quiet and pleasant dinner at a restaurant called Benu.  This is the physical space that used to house a restaurant which was the one in which hubby proposed to me—we wanted to go for that reason, as well as for others—the fact that several of the chefs in the place are from French Laundry, and the fact that it has gotten lots of good reviews.  The place was extremely modern and actually small (they had actually reduced the interior space).  And while it felt quite formal, the people working were exceptionally nice and accommodating.  Honestly though, while we had a very nice dinner, there wasn’t any one course that really stuck out for me.  I am posting a picture of the lovely abalone grenobloise starter (brown butter, parsley, capers and lemon) ($16), mainly for my Dad who loves abalone, and while the flavors were great, I just think abalone is on the whole a little chewy for me. Hubby loved the “chocolate pudding” dessert ($14)—it was quite unique in presentation. It was slightly more gelatinous in firmness than most, and formed into an “S” on the plate. I loved the crunchy candied barely and walnuts and the sour cherry ice cream alongside. It was fun and tasted really good.
After strolling through Chinatown with the kids one morning, we ended up near another old favorite place where hubby and I used to meet at back in our young single days after work.  Plouf (means “the sound a stone makes as it is dropped into a stream” in French, how cute is that?) is a classic French bistro and is the place that made me love mussels. This is a place that nearly everyone who ever visited us in San Francisco went to with us at one time or another.  One of the things I love about it is its
 location in an alley in the financial district of San Francisco.  There are several other restaurants in the alley, and on nice days, the street is jammed with tables (which is precisely where we sat).  I had the mussels (of course) ($15.50) and hubby and my son split steak frites ($22) which I also had a bite of.  Nothing like a hanger steak with a big dollop of truffle butter to run your fries through.  Anyway, the thing about their mussels, that I hadn’t really realized until I took the time to compare them to others, is they put them in an iron pot which keeps them, as well as the broth, warm throughout the whole meal (hot actually).  Also, they broth probably fills 2/3 of the pot giving them a decadent moistness—you don’t have to make a well (as hubby calls it) to get to it to dip your mussel or bread.  Their mariniere is very traditional—white wine, parsley, lots of shallots, and lemon. Simplicity and perfection.  And I would like to say thank you to Plouf for knowing what a macchiato is without me having to explain it (shot of espresso with just a little foam on top). I am wagging my finger at you Starbucks for that monstrosity you call a macchiato.
Our final dinner with very dear friends was at Prospect.  Prospect is a collaboration of Nancy Oakes, the chef at Boulevard, which is a San Francisco legend.  This is sort of the more casual little sister of Boulevard (which I also love).  It is probably a bit younger crowd too (and is more moderately priced).  This was a completely lovely meal.  One of the more unique dishes was the seared calamari and octopus with clams and chorizo sausage ($16.50).  The sausage was almost like a sloppy joe consistency underneath the seafood.  Sausage and clams are a combination I have liked for awhile, and this one was no exception.  The calamari was served as several large whole tubes, and was well seasoned and not chewy.  The clams were perfect as well.  But these were heavy earthy flavors, which was an interesting contrast to the flavor of the seafood.  There were also some garlicky potatoes as well. One of the other amazing dishes was one of my friend’s duck.  I only had a bite, but it may have been the best duck I have ever eaten.  Prospect along with Frances, from my first San Francisco post, would be the two places of all the new places we went I would recommend to people. (Of course you can’t go wrong with Chez Panisse or Plouf either).
This was a wonderful trip, a whirlwind really, of great culinary experiences, nice time with friends and weather that could not have been better.  I can’t wait to go back, because it is so nice to visit a place that was once your home and instantly feel at home again.  It may be awhile though; we really need to explore some places more on our side of the country first.  Where is your favorite vacation spot? And more specifically, your favorite food vacation spot?

Gioia Pizzeria
1586 Hopkins Street
Berkeley, CA 94707
22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA  94105

40 Belden Lane
San Francisco, CA

300 Spear Street
San Francisco, CA  94105

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taiwan Tea House -Reopen

I was quite happy to see Taiwan Tea House return after quite a lengthy absence.  It has been quite a few months since they had to move one strip mall down (I assume because of the new Nordstrom Rack and Container Store going in).  The sign was back up almost immediately, but it took quite awhile for the place to actually get running again.  But I am happy to say it is—it is quite near my house in an area that is somewhat lacking in good lunch choices (it is right next to the Barnes and Noble at 82nd & Dean), so it was missed when it was gone.  The new interior is remarkably similar to the last one, clean and simple.
Although I really enjoyed my Mapo chicken last time, for the benefit of variety, the BFF and I both got different things.  And you know I was really glad I did, because I really liked the things we got on this visit too.  We started with an order (6) of “boiling dumplings” ($4.55) which were nice and light (and pork filled). Your classic dumplings, much like I recently had at Saigon, but with a sauce that was a little more unique.  It had the soy flavor as well as the slightly sour vinegar taste along with lots of chilis.  They were good, but not amazing.  I have yet to have an appetizer here that blew me away.
We were also brought a bowl of soup (comes with the entrée), which I liked a lot more than the one I remember having before.  This one tasted like a light miso soup with large pieces of tofu in it.  It had more depth of flavor than what I remember having there before, which I remember to pretty much just be a chicken broth.  We both commented on liking it (don’t get me wrong, it isn’t life altering or anything, but mild and comforting).
 I ordered the “family tofu with meat” for my entrée ($6.95).  The dish consisted of lightly fried cubes of tofu, chicken (you have your choice of meat), and lots of veggies (broccoli, onions, carrots) in a rich brown sauce—it wasn’t overly sweet l (yea! finally) and had a nice flavor—tasted like it had soy and maybe some oyster sauce in it. The ingredients are exceptionally fresh, and the more I ate of it, the more I wanted. The chicken was also properly cooked, and was a slightly firmer texture than went nicely with the very soft tofu and crunchy veg.  I really enjoyed the combination of different textures—you don’t often see tofu and meat in a dish, and I liked it. They also give you a couple of crab rangoons with each lunch, which while the aren't my favorite, are a nice change from the egg rolls you get everywhere else.  And they are small and very crunchy adding a nice crunch to the meal.
I had a couple of bites of my friend’s Lo Mein as well (which was enormous by the way).  There were lots of nice pieces of chicken as well as the pile of noodles, and the flavor was interesting. It had a brownish sauce as well, but tasted as though it may have some sesame oil in it as well, and possibly some vinegar (in addition to soy).  It did have a slightly sweet flavor, but that was set off nicely by the other things.
All in all, I am glad to have Taiwan Tea House back in business, and judging by the people who kept slowly streaming in as we ate, I am not the only one.
Taiwan Tea House
3746  E. 82nd Street
Indy 46250

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Seasons 52

It’s always fun to have a new place in town, and Seasons 52 has had a fair amount of hype behind its opening.  Pretty much everyone I knew was excited to see something new, even though it’s a chain, in that area of town (Fashion Mall).  As usual, I waited a few weeks before doing my review, and also did something I almost never do; I asked people what they thought before I went.  Boy.  I got very little positive feedback.  A few people liked the space, or the desserts, but overall, the feedback was not very good. Words like “uninspired,” “unmemorable,” and “under-seasoned” were repeated.  Honestly, I was a little surprised.
But of course, as always, I kept an open mind, and made a reservation (make sure you do that if you want to go because this place is jammed) and met my parents there for dinner.  So we were told their flatbreads are one of their specialties, and even though I keep swearing off flatbreads, I went with it and ordered one as a starter.  We went with the roasted plum tomato option with roasted garlic, basil and parmesan ($7.85).  Hmmmm… roasted garlic? I didn’t notice it.  And the whole thing just didn’t have much flavor.  With those ingredients it should, but it did not.  And the flatbread part was not very hot or crisp and just sort of reminded me of soft cardboard (hubby thinks cardboard is not the right word, he would have said “limp napkin.”)  I need to stop ordering flatbreads no matter how often they pop up on menus (seriously, anyone ever had a good one?).
We also shared another appetizer, the caramelized crab and shrimp stuffed mushrooms ($8.95).  These were better, although nothing that made me want to rush back and order them again.  They were prepared escargot style, in a dish with little compartments that contained one button mushroom top, two small shrimp, and a bit of crab and cheese.  There was something that gave it a little strange flavor—seemed almost metallic to me, although hubby was not put off by it. We thought it could have been the roasted garlic, but in general, I really like roasted garlic, so I am not sure.   The shrimp were tender though, which made me happy, and overall I think everyone at the table liked them better.
For my main, I went with the tiger shrimp penne pasta ($16.95).  I was sort of intrigued because everything on the menu is under 475 calories, so I was hoping for a lighter sauce and smaller portion than your typical pasta dishes (which I rarely order in Indy because of how ridiculously large they usually are).  So it was lighter and there was as many veggies mixed into the dish as there was pasta, but it wasn’t particularly small.  It was served with a lemon basil sauce and parmesan cheese.  The sauce had a pretty good flavor—I am always complaining about not getting a sauce that isn’t a cream or marinara, and this wasn’t…however, it had a slightly fakey taste to me that made me feel like it wasn’t fresh lemon or something.  The shrimp were butterflied, and I think because of that preparation were a little dry.  The ones on the appetizer were much juicier.  Overall, it wasn’t a horrible dish, but it wasn’t overly memorable either.
Hubby had the rainbow trout with spring new potatoes, broiled lemon and veggies ($15.95).  The fish wasn’t bad. Extremely simple—it was cut down the edge lengthwise and boned and then grilled.  The fish wasn’t overcooked and remained fairly moist.   My guess is the seasoning consisted of salt, pepper and lemon.  Is that a bad thing? No.  Is it something you could easily do at home on your grill for a lot less than $16? Yes.  And the sides were completely for show.  The potatoes, asparagus and carrots had very little flavor.
So the best thing, by far, of the meal were the desserts.  They do what they call “mini indulgences”  (all $2.50 each) which are little shot glasses of several kind of your traditional desserts.  They bring you a display with one of each, which you can take right then and there, and if you want a double of something, they will bring that out too.  Now, the idea of the lower calorie thing may get a bit blown here unless you have only one.  One of the shots has 370 calories, so a couple of those get you up there pretty quick.  And we had more than a couple (although we shared them all).  My favorite was actually the key lime pie shot, which had a pleasant sweet and sour key lime filling as well as a crumbly, graham cracker-like layer.   The chocolate peanut butter swirl was probably my next favorite (a classic combination right?) and they one that looked the most tempting to me, the rocky road shot, was actually one of my least favorites.  It was just like chocolate pudding with marshmallows on top (I am a sucker for marshmallows though; it had to be ordered once I saw it).  We also tried the Meyer Lemon (not bad) and my mom ate a pecan pie shot (she loved it).  So the desserts are fun, and like I said, if you stick to one (and they are pretty rich and decadent that you could probably do just one, although when you see them all there, it becomes a bit harder to limit yourself). 
The thing about the food, is while it is meant to be seasonal (well, they change the menu four times a year and then have weekly specials) and healthier, it still feels really corporate and not as fresh and refined as I was sort of imagining when I first heard about this spot.  Going for dessert might be something I would consider doing again at Seasons 52, but a repeat dinner is probably something that is not going to happen, at least not for awhile.  Although judging from the crowd at this place, they don’t need me there, that’s for sure.
Seasons 52
8650 Keystone Crossing
Indianapolis 46240

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sunrise Café

***This location is closed but relocating as of 1/1/12

This place used to be one of my favorite breakfast places when we first moved back to Indy.  I have to say though, I have seen quality shifts in the time since I have been going, and was motivated to try other places in the meantime.  But we went back the other day for a nice fried breakfast after a night of a bit too much wine (my favorite time for these kinds of breakfasts) and had a meal that was back up there with some of the best experiences we have had.
I just had my usual basic breakfast—2 eggs over medium (they do it right here), bacon, hash browns and toast ($7.75).  The eggs are cooked perfectly over medium the way I like, with a nice runny yolk, but no runny whites.  The hash browns were perfect on this trip—perfectly browned and crispy on both sides. Crunchy and delicious.

The factor that has made me lose interest in this place on and off is the bacon.  I have been there when the bacon was dry and flavorless to the point that I didn’t go back for awhile.  This time the bacon was thicker and had great salty bacon flavor.  It isn’t super fancy bacon or anything, but was good and it hit the spot.
They also make their bread themselves, and it is very good.  I just had the white, and it was obviously fresh.  The one thing that I didn’t like, and depending on how much is used, can make a meal a little too greasy for me, is the “butter” type stuff used on the bread and to cook the eggs in (I think they are using the same for both anyway). It think it is a buttery oil, not actually real melted butter, and a little of it is ok, but when you get too much, it just tastes like oily toast.  On this particular trip, it was a little borderline.  I think next time I will ask for the toast dry and for actual butter on the side. (I will note for the record that hubby and I have a disagreement on this issue and he does not think it is oil.  But we will have to agree to disagree).
So I am not sure why it is so challenging to find a really good, divey breakfast in Indy.  This totally seems like something that Indy could excel at, but I have yet to find a single spot that can pull it off every time. I have had some good breakfasts, and this was one of them, but the consistency has been a little questionable sometimes.  Hmmmm…wonder what it is that makes it such a challenge to find.
Sunrise Café
3309 East 86th Street
Indy 46240

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Monday, April 11, 2011

U.S. Adventures: San Francisco Part 1

Wow.  A completely amazing trip to San Francisco for Spring Break—we had amazing weather, a rarity in San Francisco.  I mean it was truly perfect. Mid 70s, sunny, and we barely saw fog. I know from living there so long, you can never count on such a perfect week and appreciated every single second.  My kids on the other hand, think that is just how San Francisco is.
We ate so much and so well it is hard to even digest it all, so to speak.  But because I could probably write a month’s worth of posts about it, I will spare you every single course of every single meal, and just hit the highlights of each restaurant in a couple of posts.  Of course, I am always happy to discuss any of them in more detail if anyone wants to hear about them. Just shoot me an email.
Besides having a great meal of a big pile of Dungeness crabs with friends at their house, we ate most of our dinners out.  We were also quite blessed to have our former sitter still living in the City, so we could go out with friends or just on our own.  The first amazing meal I ate, and possibly one of my favorites of the entire trip was a lunch date with a girlfriend to Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
The blood orange, miner’s lettuce and avocado salad ($9) was stellar, but the real star for me was the pasta dish I had.  Housemade rigatoni with beautiful asparagus and a very light cream sauce made with lots of black pepper and fresh chervil ($18).  This is exactly the kind of pasta I miss in Indy.  The rigatoni was so tender and the sauce, while cream based, was light and delicate, and the chervil was a completely different herby flavor than your usual pasta seasoning.
 It combined with the asparagus, which was cut into pieces, the same as the pasta and then sliced lengthways so that it was perfectly cooked, tender yet with a bit of crunch still in it, tasted like pure spring. I ate every single bite (except the few I gave my friend) and that is rare for me. Honestly, I wished I had more.  I have eaten at Chez Panisse café a few times, but had never gotten to sit in the little front bay window looking out over the blossoming trees.  It was marvelous dishing with a good friend I hadn’t seen in several years, and eating impeccable food. One of my favorite food moments of the trip.
Of course, the next meal was Frances, with some former co-workers of mine and it was also a highlight.  This is a teeny little restaurant in the Castro neighborhood.  Top to bottom, this was one of the best of the trip.  The two big highlights for me though, were the Applewood smoked bacon beignets ($6.50) and my entrée which was black bass ($28).  The bacon beignets were on the “pre-appetizer” menu, and we shared several of the items.  They were little fried balls of slightly sweet dough with salty, smoky dices of bacon mixed in.  They were served with a chive maple crème fraiche dip on the side.  The slightly sour taste of the crème fraiche was a great balance. And of course the slight maple flavor goes perfect with bacon.  Seriously, I think the state fair needs to add these to its deep fried repertoire. 
The black bass was one of the best fish dishes I have had in ages.  It was a smallish portion of perfectly cooked fish—slightly crisp on the outside, and perfectly tender and moist on the inside. It was served on a bed of spring onion risotto which was also perfectly prepared. I have stopped ordering a lot of risotto because it is so often under or over cooked.  This one was creamy and light, mixed with fresh green spring onions and topped with the most amazing sweet onions—I would describe them as “melted.”  They weren’t caramelized, because they had little color on them, but they were so soft and sweet.  The sauce was a very light white sauce that went lovely with the fish and the onions.  And there was more of that miner’s lettuce on top (very popular all over San Francisco).
I really liked this place—although it was quite noisy because it was so small, it was a very friendly, causal neighborhood spot that was serving top notch food.  And the prices were very reasonable.  We had a lot of food, a lot of wine, and our part of the bill was $150—that is a good deal in San Francisco.  If you want to read a more in depth description of this meal though, you are in luck.  One of the friends I was with (and the one who kindly got our reservation months ago) also writes a blog (I am happy to say that I inspired her to start hers) and loves to order lots of stuff to try as well.  You can check out her post on the same meal here, and you will notice some of the same pictures, as I took them all. (Her camera was dead.  I told her it is always good to bring a back-up blogger with you). 
We also hit one of our favorite casual, seaside places for lunch one day with the kids.  Barbara’s Fish Trap is one of those places that is little, sits on a bay, and is always full of people, both tourists and locals.  It was the place I went to the day I got off the plane when I moved to San Francisco. First, the clam chowder may be my favorite in the world.  It is not the creamy type, more of the type that is almost like a stew.  It is made with lots of large pieces
 of clam, potatoes, celery and seasonings. I love this stuff, especially with some oyster crackers on top.  Their tempura battered seafood is also great—we split the small size of the fish and chips (local rock fish) and prawns and chips (each around $8).  I have eaten at this place and never been disappointed. And I am happy to say my 5 year old loved the fish—the last time he was there, he was less than a year old and did not partake.  The drive to Barbara’s is beautiful, south along Highway 1 on the sheer cliffs overlooking the Pacific.  This was the one day we saw a bit of fog, but even it was beautiful.
Quince was the one place for dinner in San Francisco that we wanted to repeat as it was one of our favorites before we moved.  It has changed a lot though since we were there. It moved locations to the other side of the City, got much larger, and much more upscale.  For me, honestly, this was not a good thing.  Everything just got a little too schmancy for me I guess.  One of the highlights was the free stuff—the little pre-appetizer stuff they brought was delicious.  Fluke sashimi, a lobster croquette, beet with goat cheese and a little cauliflower mousse.  They were delicious little bites.  And the butter that came with the bread.  One was very nice regular butter, but the other one was creamy, slightly sour goat butter. It was good. We ate a lot of it.  My favorite dish of the evening was the asparagus appetizer that hubby and I split.  It was “first of the season” white asparagus with speck (very thin ham), egg and burrata cheese ($20).   The burrata cheese mixed with the yolk from the egg made a decadent creamy sauce for the asparagus.  The speck added the right amount of saltiness.  Something about eggs and asparagus though. Perfect combination.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it.  But I DID get a picture of the cheese cart that we chose our dessert from ($6 per cheese). Look at that thing. A thing of beauty it was.  And the cheeses were lovely.
Sound good? Just wait til my next San Francisco post, where we hit on another restaurant that was one of the highlights of the trip. And another one that is run by several of the former associate chefs from the French Laundry…
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709

3870 17th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

Barbara’s Fish Trap
281 Capistrano Road      
Princeton by the Sea, CA 94018

470 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Saigon - Revisit

Ugh, I hate the sophomore slump.  You know, the second time you go somewhere you really liked the first time (applies to movies and bands a lot too) and it lets you down the next time.  I don’t know, maybe it was all our fault and I ordered wrong (I am confident I will hear about it from you all if that is the problem, and go ahead and start yelling at me for not trying the Pho now) but I was not nearly as impressed this time with Saigon this time. Nothing was bad, but let’s just say, I am glad it wasn’t my first time. Because I might not head back if it was.
So we started with the steamed dumplings ($2.95).  These were actually fine—a lot like a classic pot sticker, minced pork and seasonings inside a slightly thinner wonton wrapper than a lot of pot stickers. I preferred this slightly thinner wrapper so that you didn’t feel like you were totally bloated after eating them—and there were 6, so between 2 people, I was already starting to feel pretty full after eating 3 of them.  But they were fresh and hot, and all in all, probably the best thing we had on this visit. But they weren’t amazing.  (You can also get them pan fried if you want that crisp edge). 
Before we had even arrived, hubby was excited about trying their version of Shaking beef (here called “shaky steak” or Bo Luc Lac for those following along in Vietnamese) ($8.50).  We had had the Cambodian version recently at the Asian Grill, and had really enjoyed it, and it had awakened the need to try it again at a Vietnamese place.  So, it was pretty disappointing. The beef was cubed, and of good quality and fairly tender, but there was little to no seasoning flavor.  There were some onions, green peppers and tomatoes stir fried in as well. But I know from making it myself that there are a lot of differing seasonings and ingredients used (at least in the recipe I used), and I couldn’t really taste much of any of it here. It also didn’t have that slightly crispy edge on the meat that comes from frying it at a really high heat and then adding the sauce, which is something hubby really likes about this dish at other places.  So this is a dish I wouldn’t order again.
We also had their version of the Vietnamese pancake ($5.25), which is also something I have really enjoyed at several places.  It was better than the beef, but only average in comparison to others I have had.  The “pancake” is sort of like a crepe that is heavy on the egg, and is served with thin sliced pork, shrimp and a ton of bean sprouts inside.  Again, there was nothing inherently wrong with the dish; it just didn’t get me as excited as some others.  It was served with a sweet fish sauce on the side that really brightened it up—dipping the pancake in it certainly made me enjoy it more. Actually, I started dipping the beef in there too.  It wasn’t overly sweet, not thick and syrupy or anything. It was a thin sauce and tasted like it had a fair amount of lime, as well as I am assuming fish sauce, some red chili and some sweetener, but not too much. I enjoyed the sauce with it all.  The fresh lettuce and basil with the crepe was nice as well to give it a fresh crunch with the crepe.
So that’s it. Nothing was terrible, but honestly, in almost each dish, I can think of a place, in Indy no less, that does it better.  So I will go back and try other things (and the menu is freakin’ enormous), but like I said, I am sure glad this wasn’t my first visit.  Let’s hope the third time’s a charm.
Saigon Restaurant
3103 Lafayette Road
Indy 46222

Saigon Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011

Z's Oyster Bar and Steakhouse- Revisit

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

Unfortunately, Z’s is a place that is sort of “out of sight, out of mind” because it is in such a location that the only time I see it (when I am on 465), I am not usually thinking about dinner, or paying attention to the scenery.  It is one of those places that we always think of just after we sit down somewhere else because while it is close to our house, it constantly escapes our memory.  And it isn’t because the food hasn’t been good, because for the most part, it always has been.  Finally, we had a night where we thought of it in advance of actually going to dinner, and went over.
So it was a Friday, and sadly, they weren’t very busy, although there were enough people in there to make you not feel totally alone.  And it was a beautiful sunny evening, and I appreciated the view overlooking the water. Also, as a super added bonus, Fridays are half price bottles of wine night at Z’s for anything under $100 (and our waiter told us more expensive bottles were negotiable as well, I am sure they would at least give you $50 off a bottle over $100).  So that was a great deal, and inspired us to buy a much more expensive bottle of wine than we might normally, falling directly into their trap.
Anyway, as for the food, it was all really good.  As in, I have been having a lot of disappointing meals lately around town and this one restored my faith.  Of course, this always seems to happen to me in restaurants that hardly have any people in them, which gets me worrying about their longevity. 
The menu is quite large, and I do have a few favorite items (fried oysters and the “walu” butterfish to name a couple), but I wanted to get some new things for the benefit of this review (and for the benefit of me not getting stuck in a rut).  I started with the lobster bisque ($10.95).  I really like lobster bisque that is really good, but I have had a lot that are not.  So I’m thinking, since Z’s specializes in seafood as well as steaks, and has a fair amount of lobster on the menu, if they can’t pull this off, then they’re in trouble.  Well, they totally pulled it off. It was delicious.  Just the right consistency, not too thick or runny but with deep rich lobster flavor.  There was also a little garnish of some diced lobster meat, parsley and green onions on top that I mixed in and which gave it just enough texture to break up the silky soup.  Hubby really liked it too and we pretty much licked the bowl clean.
Hubby started with the Washington’s salad ($8.95), which we have had before and it was also very good, and very large (seriously, if you want a salad share it. We did, and we still didn’t eat it all).  It was mixed field greens with Danish blue cheese, apples and candied pecans with a maple walnut vinaigrette.  The greens were dressed appropriately, and it included one of my favorite flavor combos—fruit and blue cheese, so I couldn’t go wrong here.  I liked that while the dressing had a touch of sweetness form the maple in the dressing, it was still clearly a vinaigrette, and didn’t have that fakey sweet taste that a lot of dressings do when they include some sort of sweet ingredient.
As is my way many times in restaurants like this that have very large portions (and more expensive prices), I went with another appetizer for my main dish, the Provencal steamed clams with tomatoes, garlic, white wine and parsley ($12.95).  These were also really good—there was lots of garlic in the broth (you could see all the dices of it on the bottom of the pot) and the combination of the acidity of the wine and tomatoes was great. It tasted fresh, the clams were the right size for me (not too big) and they were good.  They were certainly plentiful enough that you could share this as an appetizer with another person.  Or you can easily make an entire dinner here out of two appetizers.
Hubby had the rib eye steak (natch) ($34.95) and I have to say, this was the best steak I have had in a restaurant in recent memory.  It was wonderful. I am not sure how they seasoned it, but the flavor was amazing.  And it had a great grilled flavor. Their meats are prime quality and it shows.  Sometimes I don’t like rib eyes as much because if they are cooked just a teeny bit too much, they get a little tough, but this was spot on. Perfection.   We had agreed to share, but hubby was a little annoyed with how much of it I wanted I think.  In the classic steakhouse way, the sides are served (and priced) separately, and we ordered a side of the cheese browns as well (we always get these, hubby really likes them) ($5.95).  They are good, and I do like a bit of starch with my steak.  They are large chunks of potatoes (they call them hash browns, but I would say they are cut more like home fries) covered in cheddar cheese.  They are nice and tender and quite cheesy.  A nice accompaniment.  I have had several of their other side dishes as well in the past, and many of them are quite good.
After having quite a nice bottle of wine, and still having some of it left at this point, we decided to splurge on a dessert as well.  We split the Godiva chocolate crème brulee ($6.95).  It was dark bittersweet chocolate (that’s what sold me) cream that was caramelized on top in the classic crème brulee fashion.  You can’t really go wrong here. (Notice the spoon mark from a certain someone who couldn't wait to dig in.)
So next time you want a steak (or really, some of the freshest seafood in Indy too), go check this place out.  I think it is better than most of the other steak places in town, and one of the few independents, especially on the north side.  And you can get a great deal on a bottle of wine on Fridays.  That alone may help us remember it more, especially on Fridays!
Z's Oyster Bar and Steakhouse
6220 Castleway West Drive
Indy,  46250