Monday, October 31, 2011


So Indy loves steakhouses and my son loves steak---we were out celebrating with him and decided to check out a place that I had never been and cross another one off the list.  We made a big deal out of taking him to a “fancy” steakhouse and he was excited.  As soon as you walk into Morton’s, you certainly get the old-school steakhouse vibe. The big wooden door, no windows…you walk down a flight of steps to the actual restaurant with its tuxedoed servers and white tablecloths.  The maître d' greeted my son in a very friendly way, and we started off on a nice foot. I didn’t know how they might react to a kid in the place, but he was exceptionally kind.  Our server seemed slightly less thrilled with it, but was still professional.
We were seated in a nice booth (most of the restaurant is made up of U-shaped booths). Once we sat down though, we discussed the fact that the place just feels dated with its camel colored booths and very old school feel.  I don’t know, I guess I sort of appreciate a slightly more modern feel.  Anyway, at Morton’s they do this whole presentation of the raw meat and explain that it’s all prime, and even bring a live lobster over.  In the future, I would ask to skip this, but my son enjoyed it—to a point anyway (I mean, I do not need to see a raw potato and be told about how it can be baked, or a tomato to be told how it can be sliced into salad).  We pretty much knew what we wanted though.  The men in my family are ribeye guys and were planning on splitting. I went with their “smaller” version of the filet.
But before I get into all of that, they do have a nice bread service—a big round loaf of onion bread with butter.  We all enjoyed the warm bread and butter, particularly my son, who pretty much would eat butter any way he could.  Hubby and I also split a tuna tartare appetizer ($15.50) which was quite good.  It was finely diced tuna layered with finely diced tomatoes as well as chopped avocado.  It was topped with toasty black sesame seeds and set on top what they called a Thai sauce.  There were actually two sauces on the plate. I rather enjoyed the dish, and it had a nice flavor—we were told there was peanut oil in the sauce, although it tasted heavily of sesame to me.  The ingredients were all very fresh and ripe.
As for our main dishes, as I said, my men are ribeye guys and that is what they chose to split ($45). I had the small filet ($44) and we had the garlic mashed potatoes ($10) and the sautéed mushrooms ($10.50) as sides.  Hubby had recently had the mushrooms on a business dinner at Morton’s and had really liked them.  So first of all you will notice, this place is expensive.  Yes, they are prime steaks, but that meat better be freakin’ awesome for that price.  Unfortunately, my son summed it up pretty accurately when he said, “Mommy’s filet is way better.” (I shared with him too).  The ribeye was too chewy and just not very good.  My filet on the other hand, was very well cooked and we all agreed that it was much better.  Was it worth that much money over a steak at other places?  Not so sure.  I mean, you can get a great steak at St. Elmo for $10 less AND including a starch. 
The potatoes were great though—light and fluffy and just a hint of garlic throughout.  Also, the server who delivered them gave us a nice extra pat of butter on top, making my son completely happy.  The mushrooms were a disappointment, particularly to hubby who said they were not as good as the ones he had in San Jose on his last business trip.  They were okay, but there was nothing really special about them.  T hey weren’t seasoned really in any way.  Although I think my son enjoyed the simplicity of them and ate several when he is often not a huge mushroom fan.
We also had a chocolate mousse for dessert ($10.50) which we were all very happy with.  My son chose it, but it had incredible richness for a mousse.  Sometimes I think they are too milk-chocolate-y tasting for me, but this one was great.  As you can see, we ate pretty much the whole thing.
Going along with the whole really expensive theme here, the mark up on the wine seemed a little crazy.  They had a bottle on the list that we had really enjoyed elsewhere (at The Ripple Inn actually) and it was about double the price.  That seemed a little crazy. I understand the mark ups at restaurants can be high, but when it is twice another restaurant’s price), that seems particularly decadent.  (We did not order it by the way).  We did have wine with our dinner though which made this probably one of the most expensive meals we have had in Indy (and after a quick check of the steakhouses around town, I think it is the most expensive as far as the meat goes).  And while my meal on the whole was pretty good, I can’t really say it lives up to the price.  I guess maybe this is a place for expense accounters (hence hubby’s business meals) and not the rest of us.
Morton’s The Steakhouse
41 East Washington Street
Indy  46204

Morton's - the Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Road Trip: Frontera Grill--Chicago

Hubby and I just got back from a crazy food heavy trip to Chicago. People always look at me funny when we are there and they are asking why we are visiting, and I say, “to eat.”  Well, most people. A few of them get it.  Anyway, I nervously agreed to no reservations on this trip, and we were excited about trying several places that we had heard a lot about but never went because I hate the idea of waiting.  We did it last time with Avec and had a good experience, and decided to wing this whole trip.  I am a total planner though, and trying to figure out the best strategy for getting into these places made my stomach hurt a little.  I guess I am a little high strung.
So the first night we were torn between a couple of places, but decided to go to one of the places fairly near to where we were staying, and chose Frontera Grill.  Neither of us had been, and hubby had never been to any of the Bayless restaurants.  (I have been to Topolo before).  So here was how we handled getting a table.  The restaurant opens at 5:00.  I headed over from the hotel around 4:30, getting there about 4:40.  Amazingly, there were already about 40 or so people in line waiting, and the doors weren’t even open.  But here’s the deal—they are really organized. A nice lady came down the line getting your information. When she got to me she said we could have a table in the bar at 5:40 (later for the restaurant or outside) and I said we’d take it.  The nice thing is you don’t have to wait around—she said to check back in at 5:30 and they would give me a pager. Turned out at 5:30 they were ready for us.  And they don’t fill every table instantly so that the restaurant isn’t completely slammed all at once.  Which is pretty smart.  Eating on the early side in Chicago doesn’t really bother us though considering that it is an hour later in Indy.
We were seated in the bar, which hubby was happy about because it has a nice warm (and loud) vibe.  It is a little darker than the main restaurant, but like I said, we thought it also felt cozier.  Service can be a little unpredictable.  It took us quite awhile to get our first drink, but once we got started, it was a little more regular.  The servers are quite busy, and not as personable as I would like, but they aren’t rude or anything.
We both got a Topolo margarita to start which was made with housemade limonada, tequila and orange liqueur ($10).  They aren’t cheap considering it is served up, martini style, but it was tasty and a nice start to the meal.  I couldn’t have drank them all night though—they were kind of tart.  We started with the chicken tacquitos ($8.50).  There were several crispy taquitos leaned up against each other. They were filled with smoked chicken, poblano peppers and black beans.  They were sitting in a hearty pool of thick, fresh guacamole which also, along with some cheese filled in the space between the taquitos.  They were drizzled with homemade sour cream and more cheese, and topped with some micro greens and a bit of salsa verde.  They also brought a side of their two housemade salsas—a red and a green.  I loved dipping the crispy tacquitos all covered with guac and that thick sour cream into a bit more of the salsa verde on the side.  These were really good. And a really nice thing to share, as there was a fair amount of them.
Next we ordered a main dish and a trio of ceviches to share.  Frontera has an entire section on the menu called the “sustainable seafood bar.”  And you may or may not have noticed the slight obsession I have with good ceviche (not always easy to find) so I figured this should be a great place to try some.  The trio ($18.50) included three of their menu choices.  My favorite was the “Coctel de Atun Tropical” which technically wasn’t called a ceviche because the fish was really raw, not cooked at all.  It was little dices of yellowfin tuna with nice hunks of avocado and tomatillo and a mango grapefruit salsa.  I didn’t see a lot of actual fruit, but it had the slightly bitter, slightly sweet flavor from both fruits.  It was good. Really good.  Next I probably liked the Ceviche Fronterizo.  It was more the traditional ceviche—it was lime marinated albacore mixed with tomatoes, cilantro, green chilies, and supposedly olives (although, as so often seems the case, I didn’t get any olive).   This fish was more cooked through, as ceviche tends to be.  It was still nice and tender though, and it hit the spot for a traditional ceviche flavor. Nothing to wow you though.  My least favorite was the Ceviche Yucateco which was shrimp and calamari that was steamed and then marinated in lime and orange.  It also was seasoned with habanero, cilantro, jicama and avocado.  The shrimp were ok, but there were only 2 pieces of the shrimp and the rest was calamari, which was tough and too chewy.  The flavors were fairly traditional, but honestly, I didn’t end up eating much of this one because I really didn’t like the texture of the calamari.
The other dish we shared was great. It was the enchiladas de Mariscos ($19) which were homemade corn tortillas stuffed with shrimp and Mahi Mahi and covered in a Veracruz style creamy tomatillo sauce and also topped with some queso fresco.  These tasted really good. The sauce had a slight smokiness to it, like maybe the tomatillos used in the sauce were roasted.  The sauce was creamy, but not overly heavy and rich.  The seafood inside was tender and you could still enjoy its flavor even with the sauce.  Even the white rice served alongside had a nice nutty taste that made it stand out.  We both really enjoyed this one.
Finally, we shared a dessert. It was goat cheese caramel flavored ice cream flavored with a little rum and served with a Mexican hot fudge sauce on the side ($7.50).  The chocolate was nice and deeply flavored—maybe some cinnamon in there and there was a generous amount of ice cream. It was a nice way to end the meal, although it didn’t blow either of us away.
I am really glad we got to check out Frontera Grill, and we certainly had a really nice experience.  The food is very well done, although not earth shattering.
Frontera Grill
445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610

Frontera Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Libertine

So the Libertine calls itself a “Liquor Bar.”  And they have a lovely large bar all along one wall and specialize in the whole trendy old fashioned/classic cocktails from days gone by.  Ok, so don’t be mad, but screw the cocktails.  The food at this place is the reason for going.  Everything I have been reading about this place is about how great the cocktails are or how cute the bartenders are (seriously? That’s what we’re talking about?) but I am here to tell you, the food is where it’s at (not to say either of the other statements are not true).  I don’t know, maybe everyone gets too drunk to remember the food or something, but if that’s the case, you need to lay off the booze and focus people.
The interior is beautiful—modern and calm.  While it is a bar, there is a certain grown up sensibility—not your typical loud raucous bar scene.  Of course, it wasn’t full when we stopped in midweek, so I am sure it is noisier when you go on a Friday night.  Ok, so I did have a cocktail (the screw & bolt, $11). I felt like it was sort of an obligation.  It was fine—gin, grapefruit, violet, bitter orange and tonka bean (apparently a bean that is soaked in alcohol and used as an aroma enhancer).  It was pretty, and very aromatic, but I was more than happy to move on to wine—and they have a great wine list (thanks to Lindy Brown).
Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the food.  This was one of the best meals I have had in Indy in awhile.  We had a lot of different items and I am just going to talk about them in the order we ate them.  The first thing we had was the roasted mushroom salad ($8).  Hubby went nuts when he tasted this.  THIS is what a roasted mushroom should taste like.  They had a deep mushroom flavor, but the outsides of the mushrooms were slightly crisp from the heat and they were served with crispy little fried chickpeas which gave a true crunch to mix with the earthy, dark mushrooms.  It was served over a brown butter cauliflower puree that was rich and buttery.  What a great combination.  There is no way we could not order this again.
The next two dishes we had came at the same time—the chicken liver pâté ($9) and the duck meatballs ($12).  I love the play on chicken and waffles with the chicken liver pâté.  There were two waffles topped with very generous slices of the pâté, and they sat on top of a hot pepper sauce.  Bourbon maple syrup was brought out alongside.  Our server poured some on top and left the bottle in case we wanted to add more (which I will have to say, we did—it was really delicious).  I liked the blend of flavors between the hot pepper sauce underneath, the sweetness of the syrup (and slight sweetness of the waffles) and then the pure, smooth intense liver flavor.  Really nice.  As for the meatballs, well, as I told someone recently, I have never met a meatball that really stole my heart-- and these weren’t really an exception to the rule.  I ordered them because I was intrigued by the crispy gnocchi underneath them and the egg yolk on top, but all in all, this was probably my least favorite thing I had all evening.  But it wasn’t bad at all; it just didn’t blow me away like some of the other things.
At this point, we were torn about ordering more, but when I asked about the one-eyed jack ($8), I was sold.  Wow. Wow. Wow. I loved this thing.  It was basically a fancy egg in the hole, but it was so good.  It was buttery garlicky airy bread that was cooked in fat (hmm, was it duck and pork fat? I can’t remember).  Think of like the most amazing garlic bread you could ever have.  And then cut a little hole in it and put an egg in there and cook it, but just enough that the yolk explodes when you cut into it.  It was served with some soft roasted garlic alongside and a small dish of fig butter.  The fig butter was good, but honestly, I didn’t even need to add it to make this dish spectacular. 
Ok, now we were sort of on a food high and were really excited so we figured, let’s get one more thing.  A dessert of sorts.  I don’t think they have any actual dessert items (at least I didn’t hear of any) and since we often like cheese for dessert, we went with the Stilton cheesecake to finish ($9).  Wow. Again.  This was really unlike anything either of us had ever had.  It was almost more the consistency of an exceptionally light quiche and then deeply flavored with the blue cheese.  And alongside was the perfect accompaniment—and apple-thyme chutney with some crunchy pecan bits on top. There was also a fresh apple salad on top giving it just a bit of tartness.  I love fruit and nuts with my blue cheese.  And I loved that they got all the flavor profiles into this one dish. Again, not sure hubby would let me pass on this one if it is still on the menu when we go back. And not sure I’d want to.
Our service was exceptional, which is another thing I have heard mixed comments about from friends and readers.  Not sure if it was just because they weren’t that busy or if maybe the other people I talked to went when it was more newly opened, or maybe we just got lucky, but we didn’t have any complaints along these lines.  Our server was also exceptionally friendly and took the time to chat with us about the food and the business.  He was down to earth and knowledgeable about the menu.
Here’s the thing.  They are getting ready to change the format of the menu to more of a traditional dinner menu with salads, apps and entrées which I am sure will be just as good food-wise, but I have to admit, I was a little sad to hear it.  I love eating in a small plates way, sharing lots of things.  If you do too, I would get over there in the next two weeks.  Although, from the way it was described, I think you will still be able to make a small plates dinner on the new menu if you are so inclined.  All I know is next time, I want to take other people with us so we can try even more things.  I really feel the need to try everything. 
So, go, have a fancy cocktail and then start hitting the food.  You won’t be disappointed.  If you have been avoiding it because you think it’s “just a bar,” don’t (that’s what hubby’s problem was and now he has informed me I can get him back there anytime I want). And I am so excited to have another great (there ARE a few) restaurant (I am calling it that even if they don’t) in downtown Indy.  Things are looking up.
The Libertine
38 East Washington Street
Indy  46204
317/631-3333 (although nothing really on the website last time I looked)

Libertine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Ripple Inn- Revisit- Lunch

*********THE RIPPLE INN IS CLOSED*********

I heard there was a new chef at the Ripple Inn (Charles Mereday), and after checking out the fancy electronic video menu outside the restaurant the other day, I was intrigued to try it again.  I really want to go for dinner, but my schedule/babysitting has been so crazy, I have been having a hard time fitting dinners in.  So after seeing they have started serving lunch, the BFF and I headed over to give it a try. So walking in, there were not a lot of people in there, which has been the case the last few times I have been there.  We chose to sit in the bar, simply because there were some people there.
I’m not sure, but I think the menu is the same for lunch and dinner, which was a little confusing for me because I am not much for ordering an appetizer and entrée type thing for lunch, but there aren’t a lot of smaller options—well, there are a lot of appetizers and they still have the potato skins, and a few sandwiches, but it mainly seems laid out like a dinner menu.
I went for the filet “cheesesteak” appetizer ($14) which was an open-faced sandwich topped with lots and lots of extremely tender slices of filet, melted Gruyere cheese, a touch of truffle oil and topped with a healthy amount of micro-greens.  It was extremely rich, but really quite tasty.  The beef, as I said, was super tender and nicely seasoned. I love Gruyere on just about everything; it has a nutty taste that makes it distinct—and a bit of saltiness which was good with the beef.  And I know sometimes truffle oil is overused, but this was just a light amount, adding more of the aroma than anything (and there is nothing that makes me happier than the smell of truffles).  But I particularly liked the swoosh of something red on the side of the plate (I was going to ask what it was but forgot)—it had some sweetness and a bit of tartness that was perfect with the rich meat.  If I had one more swoosh of it, I would have been really happy—I would have liked dragging every bite through it.  I also appreciated that the greens were more than just a garnish—they actually added some peppery flavor and variation in texture to the dish.  But I love little greens like this because you never pull some giant leaf out that is then hanging out of your mouth awkwardly. Perfect little bite sizes.  I liked it, and I thought the dish was executed well.
The BFF had the warm spinach salad ($10) which was spinach (obviously) topped with eggs, mushrooms and a warm bacon vinaigrette that had a whole ton of bacon in it.  We wondered before she ordered it if she should add protein to the salad (you can add chicken, salmon or shrimp to any of the salads I believe) but wow, there was a ton of meat on it.  It was served with a warm dressing which wilted everything a bit (which I always enjoy).  And I couldn't decide whether it was impressive or annoying that they made all the dressing to order when she asked for more on the side—I decided it was impressive, but it took quite awhile to get it.  While there was a lot of bacon on the salad, there wasn’t a lot of liquid at first, and the salad needed more.  When they brought out more, they brought out enough for about 3 salads, but it was quite tasty.  Hopefully, they can find the balance from the start because I think this would be a really good salad if it came out dressed perfectly.
So, I can’t quite figure out what the deal is with the Ripple Inn. I know they have been through several chefs, but honestly, I have had pretty good meals there every time I have eaten there, throughout various phases. They have also started offering tasting menus at a pretty decent price (my parents just went and enjoyed it). Why is the place so empty whenever I go?  Have you guys had good or bad experiences there?  Regardless, I am looking forward to giving the Chef Mereday’s food a try for dinner soon.
The Ripple Inn
929 East Westfield Blvd.
Indy, 46220

The Ripple Inn on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thr3e Wise Men

Thr3e Wise Men is the latest project of Scott Wise, who owns the Scotty’s Brewhouses and Scotty’s Lakehouse at Geist.  I always joke that the surest way to stir things up is to write a review of a Scotty’s enterprise. These reviews always seem to bring people out for comments. I will be interested to see if this is the case with this review.
Anyway, I already liked this place when I saw the fact that the menu is so much more limited than others in Scotty’s arsenal.  It is pretty much pizza, sandwiches, a salad and a few appetizers (fear not fried pickle lovers, they are there).  But the focus is pizza-type foods and beer, which they are also brewing in house.
We had put off going up till now because I had heard there are no backs on the seats in the restaurant (mostly picnic tables, but there are some tables in a banquette with backs) and we were waiting for a nice day to sit outside at the tables and chairs out there (with backs).  Hubby has back problems and gets cranky if he doesn’t have a back.  However, I will have to say, for picnic tables, they look like they are about the most comfortable ones you could imagine.  The seats are padded and the tables are topped with a thick coating so you aren’t going to have those tables that never really get clean.  I actually really liked the interior—it felt more welcoming and more family friendly than the Lakehouse which has always felt like a bar inside to me more than a Lakehouse.
But we sat outside with the kids who already instantly loved the place as soon as our server set down the bucket of popcorn which is being popped freshly near the back of the restaurant (the first smell I noticed when we walked in).  Seriously, they could eat nothing else and get fresh popcorn and be happy. They are easy.  Thr3e Wisemen doesn’t have a specific kids menu, but with pizza as a main item, most kids I know are going to be happy.
We started with an order of breadsticks ($4) and the tableside tossed salad ($7 for serving for 2).  The breadsticks were a hit with the kids as well—they were pretty good. Nothing amazing, but solid and I liked that they seemed to be brushed with some garlic butter giving them a little flavor without dipping them into anything.  They did bring their housemade marinara and the standard nacho cheese dip.  I am still waiting for someone to come up with something different to dip breadsticks into, but maybe that’s just me.  I would love just a bit more of the garlic butter on the side at Thr3e Wisemen --that would be tasty.  The marinara is pretty good though—very thick and savory in flavor, none of that over-sweetness I don’t like.
The salad was chopped lettuce with spinach, red onions, mushrooms, bacon, mozzarella and goat cheese.  We went with the house dressing which is an Italian-type vinaigrette.  It was properly dressed (tossed and dressed at the table) and served its purpose as a nice accompaniment to the pizza. The dressing leaned a bit toward the sweet side for me—I would prefer a bit more vinegary flavor, but that is probably a matter of taste.
The pizza though, wow, the pizza was really good.  Hubby and I split a small pizza with red onions and mushrooms ($11).   I appreciated that our server stopped us when we tried to order a medium, telling us she thought we would be better off with a small.  She was right.  The small is plenty big.  The crust is super thin and done the way a thin crust should be. Nice and crispy but with just a little chewiness. It had a great yeasty flavor, not sure if it is from the dough, or the fact that they use some of their home brewed beer in it.  Same marinara here—the right amount so it didn’t take over the other flavors and just the right amount of toppings.  The cheese is also a blend from a local dairy and had a little more flavor than your standard pizza mozzarella.  If you like a really thin crust type pizza, this is a place you need to try.  The kids had a cheese (with extra cheese) pizza ($9.50) and seemed to enjoy it as well.  Extra cheese may be a bit much for the crust, but they were happy.  On this subject, I think if you were to load up the crust with too much meat, it may not hold up as well either, but I could be wrong. I would love to hear from other people what they have liked on their pizzas at Thr3e Wisemen.
This is good pizza.  Hubby and I were both really happy to have found a handmade pizza with good flavor so near our house. We have a ton of pizza places around us, but we are not in love with any of them.  The pizza at Thr3e Wisemen may just fill our void for a good thin crust pizza.  We will know for sure when we see how well it travels.  But the current plan is to put it into the rotation for sure.  I am glad to see that the narrower menu has allowed for certain menu items to really shine.  The service was also very friendly and professional while still being low-key. I like that it doesn’t seem like they are trying too hard.  All around, this is a nice family friendly Broad Ripple option with some high quality menu items. (Kudos to the stools in the bathrooms for kids to reach the sinks and the fancy hand dryers).
Thr3e Wise Men (is it just me, or does the “3” in the name make it more difficult to find online?)
1021 Broad Ripple Avenue
Indy 46220

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Szechwan Garden

I have been wanting to try out this place for lunch ever since I heard they have dim sum on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  I have been nagging hubby for a Friday lunch over there, and he finally gave in. I love dim sum, and while I enjoy the dim sum lunches at Shanghai Lil’s, variety is the spice of life right? And it is always nice to find something a little cheaper.  Szechwan Garden is set in what looks like an old family style restaurant—it is quite large.  When we got there, there weren’t many people in there and the menu they gave us was not the dim sum menu, so make sure if that is what you go for, that you ask.  They brought us one, with pictures and everything. So we ordered the standards for us—the spring rolls, the shrimp dumplings, the sui mai, as well as a few other things—the fried dumplings and the scallion pancake.
Probably our favorite thing was the fried dumplings ($3.95)*—they were sort of like pot stickers in flavor, but the dumpling skin seemed less doughy and had amazing crisped edges.  The inside was a pork filling but there were fresh bits of green onion in there as well that kept it from tasting like the filling of every other dumpling.  But the skin was what really made it special. They were delicious.
The spring rolls ($2.65) were also quite good (4 come in an order, hubby had already taken one). They were the deep fried type, and filled with your standard cabbage type filling, but the wrapper on the rolls was more like a super thin type crepe—it had a great crisp texture, but with just a tiny bit of sponginess if you know what I mean.  They were crazy hot when we first got them, and actually benefited from sitting a bit. We both enjoyed the second one better than the first.  But they were also quite good and I liked that the insides weren’t all stringy like some are.
The shrimp dumplings were your standard shrimp dumplings ($3.95)—just the dumpling skin stuffed with shrimp and nothing really else. I always have to have an order of these when I have dim sum, and this time was no exception.  They were probably middle of the pack for all the ones I have had.  The scallion pancake ($2) was pretty good as well—a nice additional filler thing.  I like to balance my steamed things with crunchy items and this served as a good crunchy item.  However, this was not a dish that was served well by sitting around at all, so eat this one quickly if you get it. After a bit, it started to lose its crunch. It had a decent amount of scallion flavor.
By far our least favorite thing was the sui mai, ($2.95) or steamed pork dumplings.  Honestly, as soon as I saw them, I had my doubts.  The pork filling was dense and tough, like a bad meatball.  The dumpling that the meat sat in just didn’t seem as fresh as everything else—actually the dish on the whole just didn’t have the freshness that everything else had. It tasted like it could’ve been made a few days ago.  I like sui mai that taste like they have some other ingredients in them (they are sometimes made with shrimp as well as the pork) but these dumplings just tasted like pork to me.
All in all, it was a good experience, and I am intrigued to try the regular menu as well. There were several groups of people who came in for lunch and ordered communal dishes that all looked quite tasty.  I was really eyeing the sautéed eggplant at the table next door.  And I am hoping to get better about trying more places on the west side. There are so many options over there.  What other Asian places do you like on that side of town?
Szechwan Garden
3649 Lafayette Road
Indianapolis, IN 46222

*note that I may have reversed a few of the prices-- on my receipt a couple were in English and a couple were in Chinese. I made my best estimate, and the total bill including two drinks was right at $20 if that is helpful.

Szechwan Garden on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Road Trip: Seviche--Louisville

Hubby and I took off for Louisville recently for just a quick little getaway.  I have a long list of places to eat in Louisville and had a hard time deciding which one to go to this time.  But Seviche was recommended by several people, and just sounded good to me.  If it were cold and wintry, I would have probably gone a different direction, but it was still warm and ceviches sounded good.  The restaurant serves other things as well, and bills itself as a Latin restaurant.  The walls near the bathroom were loaded with lots of press about the Chef, Anthony Lamas, and he appears to have some serious credentials.
Honestly, the starters and ceviches all sounded so good, we decided to blow off the main dishes (some of the mains coming out to other tables didn’t look as exciting to me) and just get a couple of starters and a giant plate of ceviches to share.  We started with the Kentucky bison empanadas (they also have chicken empanadas and mushroom and goat cheese empanadas) ($9) and the chicken tostada ($11).  We were really torn about which flavor of empanadas to get, but went with red meat since we knew we were about to get a giant plate of mainly seafood.

The empanada was quite tasty—the pastry was perfectly done and obviously freshly made.  It was just light and flaky enough, but could hold up to the ground bison inside which was quite tender.   It was served on top of a sauce made from avocado and cilantro and jalapenos. Similar in flavor to guacamole perhaps, but a much smoother, thinner consistency. It was delicious. If I had any complaint, I just wished for more of that sauce (partly because hubby ate a little more than his fair share if you ask me). It was garnished with a nice fresh pico de gallo as well which added a touch of freshness and brightness.
But the tostada was my favorite of the warm appetizers.  It was a crisp tortilla topped with a little Manchego cheese, the most lovely, tender smoked chicken pieces, avocado, and more of the pico de gallo. The whole thing sat in a pool of Poblano demi glace and a bit more of the avocado cream.  The chicken is what made this dish for both of us.  It had a nice smoky flavor, but was so tender as well.  I liked a bit of the demi glace, but a little went a long way. I was glad they served it around the dish so you could sort of take as much as you wanted. Although, it would be hard to not order this one again, I would also be tempted by the chicken empanada if it is made with the same chicken. Although there were many, many other items I really wanted to try on the appetizer menu, so if I return, I will force myself to try something new (probably).
We got the sampler of 5 different ceviches—you get to make your own choices, although a couple of items have an up charge, for $41.  But that was split between both of us and served as our main dish.  We had, as mentioned, the crab, the beef (their version of carpaccio), the tuna tacuitos, the wahoo, and the shrimp.  Our favorites were definitely the tuna and the wahoo.  The tuna was chopped tuna which was well seasoned with lime and yuzu and served in little teeny taco shells.  The tuna in this case was chopped into small pieces, sort of tartare style.  The wahoo was served tiradito style which means in slices (think more like sashimi). And the seasonings were slightly more Asian in style as well—there was soy, chile and ginger and some nice slices of red onion on top.  This dish was great in its simplicity, but also because the fish was so good. I appreciated the texture variation of the onion as well. Next, in order of preference probably would have been the crab.  It was lump crab meat served with chopped and sliced tomato.  The crab wasn’t overly exciting, it seemed like it could be really good quality canned to be honest.  The tomatoes were nice and sweet and I liked the swipe of lemon cilantro sauce underneath, but it needed more of the seasoning.  The bites of everything together were good, but we ran out of the sauce way before we ran out of crab and tomatoes. Next was the beef. It was also served tiradito style, and similar to the fish, was cut in about the same thickness as sashimi.  It was also seared on the edges, as well as being marinated. The seasonings here were toasted garlic and Serrano chiles.  It wasn’t bad, but there was nothing really making this stand out for me. And with beef served raw (or raw-ish), I prefer either really thin slices (a la carpaccio) or finely chopped (a la tartare).  These were just a little too thick. Lastly was the shrimp.  The shrimp were whole and served in what I am assuming was the marinade, which had little flavor. Thus, the shrimp also had little flavor.  And they were tough. There were some fresh slices of avocado on top, as well as some fresh tomato dices, but it needed more than that. The shrimp was a definite pass.  I would certainly get the tuna tacuitos and the wahoo again, but next time I would try some of the specials (should have had that bass).  Or maybe get a sampler of three of the ceviches ($25) and try another one of those delicious sounding appetizers.
Dessert.  Oh my. Dessert was insanely delicious.  We were torn because there were a couple of things that sounded good, but were intrigued by the special dessert of the day. It was brown butter and macadamia nut ice cream with house made caramel corn that was flash frozen in liquid nitrogen.  The caramel corn was good, and it was interesting eating it really cold, but not mushy at all, but that part of it was not the star. The star was that ice cream. It was also made in house and it was amazing. Seriously, why have I never thought of putting brown butter into ice cream?  That is going to be happening at our house soon.
And hey, since I have this long list of restaurants to try in Louisville, I am wondering, what are your favorite other non-food things to do there?  We’re looking for ideas to kill time between meals.
1538 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Big Daddy's

Finding myself downtown the other day, and after debating where to go with a very indecisive friend, we ended up meeting at Big Daddy’s.  Some of you guys have recommended it and I am always intrigued by bars that serve food that people think is really good.  I also like way they make several things in house—so many bars just go the lazy route and get everything from food service.  It is a bar, so there is an ever-present smell of smoke (although I tend to be a little sensitive to it) but there is a separate dining room away from the actual bar that is less smoky.  The place was mainly full of businessmen (and I say that meaning, men, not women, I think I was one of two women in the whole place).  It is kind of a guy’s guy place—the portions are quite large and the menu is mainly things like burgers, sandwiches and pasta, although I was intrigued by the appetizer of fried chicken livers. I love them when they are done well.

Anyway, I had heard good things about the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich ($7.99) so that is what I ordered (as did my friend).  They generally serve it with chips, but our server said the onion rings were made in house and were good, so I got those for an up charge (about $1.50).  Holy crap, that sandwich was ridiculously big.  Seriously, it was so large you couldn’t even see the buns which were underneath it. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it.  For awhile I just pulled pieces off and ate them on their own.  So the tenderloin itself?  It was interesting.  The flavor was quite good—it was breaded with what appeared to be crushed corn flakes, which gave it a very crunchy and slightly sweet flavor.  I actually quite enjoyed it and have been known to bread things with cornflake crumbs myself.  The disappointing part about it was that it was so thinly pounded, that it suffered the fate of nearly every tenderloin that is pounded that thin.  It was dry. The bun was just your standard white bun, nothing special there. I brought at least half of the pork itself home to hubby to try, and he enjoyed it heated up in the oven for dinner.  He also thought the crust was good, but that it was a little too dry.  The rings were not that impressive to me because they were super wide cut rings, which are not the way I liked them.  And honestly, I would not have guessed that they were housemade.
Our server was nice, and answered all my annoying questions about what things they make in house. I enjoyed the tenderloin because it was prepared differently from most, and had a distinct flavor.  If I went back, and wanted the tenderloin again though, they have an option to split one loin with two buns, and I would go for that (assuming I could convince my dining companion).  There is certainly more than enough food. Although, like I said, I am intrigued by the chicken livers…
Big Daddy’s
2536 South Meridian Street
Indy  46225

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Osteria Pronto

So again, the eternal optimist, I met a friend for dinner at Osteria Pronto.  I really felt like this was a place I needed to try, and I have had a lot people ask me about it and several recommend it as well.  I do love the new JW Marriot in general though—at least the way it looks (I don’t know much more than that outside of this meal). And I was impressed when I walked in because you really feel like you are walking into a cosmopolitan hotel.  The interior of the restaurant is also nice—they have done a good job of skating the line between fine dining and more casual dining in décor—you would feel welcome here no matter what you were wearing (for instance, there are no tablecloths on the tables). I loved the marble everywhere though, including around the open kitchen.  We were sat at a nice booth looking at the kitchen which was sort of fun for me, although if you were much closer, some might feel a bit too close to all the servers hurriedly coming and going.
Our server, who I recognized from several other restaurants in town (you know it’s bad when you start recognizing the servers) came and greeted us and took our drink orders. I have to say I was a little giddy when he told us a bit about the chef and the fact that we would not see any marinara or Alfredo sauces coming out of the kitchen.  But there were cream-type sauces as well as tomato based, they were just a bit different.

My friend and I agreed to try two appetizers to share, both of which were recommended by our server.  The first was carpaccio ($10), which is always one of my favorites anyway and as my friend pointed out, one of my go-to dishes to compare at restaurants.  We also ordered the seared tuna appetizer ($11).  The extremely thin slices of the beef in the carpaccio were nice and fresh and tender, but the dish overall was a bit lackluster.  It was topped with slices of Parmigiano, a few capers and a drizzle of a dressing of sorts. The center was mounded with arugula.  So my problem was that while all the ingredients seemed impeccably fresh—the dressing that was drizzled on the beef didn’t seem to go (it was a little sweet) and there was really no dressing on the greens.  There was one lemon wedge on the side, so maybe that was for the greens, but if it were up to me, I would dress the greens with something a little more acidic that you could eat along with the beef, and maybe drizzle the beef with some olive oil.  And something with a little different texture would be good—onions or shallots or something?  The capers helped, but there wasn’t that many of them. The Parmigiano cheese was liberally applied and honestly saved it by acting as seasoning for everything else with its saltiness.
Sadly, the story sort of repeated with the tuna starter.  It was extremely high quality tuna, just barely seared on the edges, but it was just sliced and basically unseasoned.  Again, there was more arugula, which was topped with lovely very thinly sliced shaved fennel (oooh, that might be nice with the beef), more of the capers, and a Sherry vinaigrette.  I tasted the vinaigrette a bit more on the salad on this dish, but overall, it seemed generally under seasoned.  It is really kind of a shame, because like I said, the ingredients were lovely in their freshness, but the dishes didn’t completely come together.  Neither was bad, but neither was really great.

For our main dishes, we both got pastas, and I really appreciate that they have full and small sized portions. One of the reasons I rarely order pasta is that I fill up quickly on it and just end up feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food on my plate.  We both ordered the small sized portions and had more than enough (I don’t think either of us finished). I ordered the cappellini with shrimp, mascarpone, fava beans, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and “truffle fontina fonduta” ($11).  So basically, their lighter version of a cream type sauce.  But it was much lighter, and honestly, it was pretty good.  The flavor was not quite as sort of complicated as I imagined from all those ingredients, but that may be a good thing.  The bowl of noodles had 3 or 4 large shrimp in it and lots of quartered fresh cherry tomatoes and quite a few favas.  It was topped with what was either the mascarpone of the fonduta, but it was sort of hard to tell—I mixed it all together.  It had a good, earthy flavor with just a bit of tanginess.  Honestly, the shrimp and the favas I could have lived without—the shrimp was, in typical fashion, overcooked, and the favas were sort of pasty.  Pretty sure they are not really in season anymore though, so that may be the problem—honestly I was surprised to see them on the menu.  I love fresh favas though, and earlier in the summer, I bet this dish steps up a notch. I will be curious to see if they come off the menu now that it is officially autumn.  My friend had the spaghetti with Tuscan meatballs ($12) in a light tomato sauce (see what I mean?).  It wasn’t bad, and as our server explained the meat in the meatballs in very finely ground, so the texture is very smooth, but I liked mine better overall (as did she).
So we did go ahead and order some desserts as well (all desserts are $7)—we got the tiramisu and the tortelli.  It was funny, when they were placed in front of us, we noticed how much smaller the portion of the tiramisu was, but in the end, we both ended up enjoying it a touch more I think.  It was served in a coffee cup, and had just the right balance of the coffee flavor with some chocolate too—our only complaint, (and our server warned us) was the thick topping of cocoa powder because it can make you sneeze.  We both actually choked a little on it, there was so much.  The tortelli were the restaurant’s version of doughnuts made with cream puff dough.   They were large and light and covered with a liberal amount of powdered sugar and drizzled in chocolate.  I would have loved something to dip them in (maybe a spicy hot chocolate?)in place of the drizzles of chocolate that sort of got lost with all the sugar, but maybe that’s just me. They are certainly an easier item to share and I would order either again.

Overall, I think Osteria Pronto is a nice addition to our downtown scene. It isn’t a chain, and in fact is making a real effort to offer alternatives to all the other Italian restaurants in Indy.  In my opinion, many of the dishes could use some tweaks, but at this point, I will say that it is probably one of the few Italian places I have been to that I will likely actually return to.  The interior is nice, the service professional, and the food is pretty good.  So let’s hear what you guys think about it.
(A side note, but something that was quite annoying, and something you should know about…I was running late and decided to valet park because my friend had told me that you could do it if you are eating in the restaurant and they discounted the price to $7.  The valet also told me the same thing as I pulled in.  When we left and went to pay for our valet tickets, we were both charged $23 (!) to valet park because we had been there longer than some arbitrary time frame they have set.  No one told us there was any limitation on the time.  I thought that was pretty lame. And expensive.  My advice, do the self park).
Osteria Pronto
at the JW Mariott
10 S. West Street
Indy  46204

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