Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ralph's Great Divide

Ralph’s Great Divide has been on the list for-EVER, so the other day I was downtown and met my friend @wibia for lunch over there. Neither of us had been before. It’s certainly the feel of a bar inside, although with a fresh coat of paint outside anyhow. Our server was friendly and attentive, although it took awhile to get our food once we ordered.

Everyone said I needed to try the hot pot aug for sure, so I went with a combo of that with a half a chicken salad sandwich ($6.74)(for those of you who followed the great chicken salad debate on twitter the other day, this one is fruit-free --when I asked what was in it, she said, “there’s none of that fruit or nut stuff in there.” 

Anyhow, the “hot pot aug” is a potato soup that is topped with croutons and cheese and broiled.  There are some pieces of potato in the soup, and the whole experience is a chunky one overall, but the soup was pretty tasty. I really liked the bites with croutons in it. In the cup that I had, the cheese to soup portion was probably about even so it’s almost like eating cheese dip that’s got some potato flavor. I think I would be tempted by the “hot pot pig” next time just because it has bacon in it as well as pepper jack cheese just to jack up the flavor a little. I think the saltiness from the meat would be beneficial (plus who doesn’t like bacon?)

The chicken salad was just ok—a little dull, the chicken was all white meat and some of it was a little dry. The dressing had a nice tanginess to it (sour cream perhaps) but overall, it just didn’t wow me. Mainly, it was just the chicken with maybe some teeny bits of celery mixed in (and some lettuce and tomato on top). The bite I had of @wibia’s Bourbon ham and cheese was better.  His combo came with another side as well and he got the potato salad (the cold one, not the hot German potato salad), which was very good with a nice mustard kick.

Because everything I read online said desserts were mandatory, we split one—the chocolate malt pie. I am a sucker for chocolate malt flavor, so the choice was easy (although there were several good sounding possibilities). It wasn’t bad—it had a graham cracker type crust that was a little soft, and a pudding like filling that could have used more malt flavor, but we enjoyed it anyway.

So overall, the thing I like about this place is that nearly everything is being made in house which is cool in a somewhat divey bar-type place like this. Our server was happy to give us information about the food, and certainly knew what she was talking about. Nothing blew my mind (the soup and the potato salad were probably my favorite things), but if you are looking for a reasonably priced, solid, homemade comfort food meal, this is a good choice. (Side note: the menu online doesn’t exactly match up with the one in the restaurant for some reason, and prices may be slightly different).

Ralph’s Great Divide
743 East New York Street
Indy, 46202
Ralph's Great Divide on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Food Truck: Big Ron's Bistro

You have to love it when the food trucks come to where you’re going to be—such was the case the other day when several of them came to our kids’ school bonfire.  It gave me the perfect opportunity to try Big Ron’s Bistro truck—one that I hadn’t really heard much about.

They have a pretty wide menu, and the kids were happy with a hotdog and a chicken and cheese quesadilla (neither of which did I get a bite of before they ran off with their friends) but hubby and I went with the sandwiches, which seem to be the specialty of the place. They are all served on Texas toast-style bread that is grilled with garlic butter. I already liked it when I saw that theme running through.

I chose the California chicken club ($8), which was a marinated and seasoned chicken breast with fresh spinach, tomato, and avocado and a healthy smear of red pepper pesto mayo. Oh, and did I mention, PICKLED RED ONIONS? Only one of my favorite things. Right up there with avocado. This sandwich was made for me—and it was a damn fine sandwich. Even the chicken, and even as a large whole chunk of chicken breast was good because it was actually tender and had a fair amount of flavor on its own. But add those onions, and the slightly spicy, slightly tangy spread and the garlic flavor on the bread and this sandwich had it going on. The only thing I would change in a completely perfect world would be to slice up the chicken so that it was evenly distributed on the bread. (What? I am always thinking of ways to make something better even when it’s already really, really good). I gave a bite to hubby and to a friend who was there and they both agreed it was delicious. I would have a hard time ever getting anything else.

Hubby had the pulled pork sandwich ($7) which is pork marinated in Sriracha BBQ sauce and topped with a vinegar-based cole slaw on the same garlic buttered bread.  It was also really good and had a nice balance between the spicy (but not too hot) tender pork and the acidic cole slaw. While we both agreed we liked my sandwich the best, this one was quite good as well.

A friend ordered some of their fries, which are heavily doused in seasoning salt, and were a bit much for me (I think I have mentioned I am not a big fan of too much of that stuff). They also offer garlic fries, which might be worth trying. The fries were decently crisp for a truck. And actually, there are several other sandwiches that certainly sound worth trying.  Honestly, I haven’t eaten at a lot of the food trucks, but I have tried several, and this is one of the better ones I have had. If it was a sandwich I could get in a restaurant, I would go get it. It was very well done.

As for food trucks overall, I guess the thing that you realize when you see them in a large crowd, is that while they are nice and mobile, they still aren’t particularly fast. Luckily, I was there early and got my food quickly. Later in the evening, the lines for the several food trucks were long and pretty slow. I did notice that Big Ron’s is probably one of the quickest I have seen.

Anyhow, I would keep my eye out for Big Ron’s—it’s a truck worth trying.

Big Ron’s Bistro (Food Truck)
Various locations

Big Ron's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Northside Kitchenette - Revisit

I hadn’t been to Northside Kitchenette in awhile, so when my two favorite Pilates instructors wanted to meet there for lunch, it sounded like a good idea. I had been in a phase of craving some greens, so I liked that they have a half sandwich/half salad combo. I also like that they make their dressings in house, which makes a side salad even more appealing to me.

I had the crusty grilled cheese with bacon added and side salad combo ($11). We also shared a side of fries ($4.50) On a side note, I had a bottle of Pellegrino as well that ended up costing $6, which seemed a little excessive (half the price of my lunch), but I digress.

The food here is good. I can’t say in the 4-5 times I have ever been really wowed by anything though, although I do like their salad dressings. My sandwich was three kinds of cheese (cheddar, Swiss and American on Asiago cheese bread.  The bread itself had a strong flavor of toasted cheese and then the cheese inside was nice and melty. The added bacon gave a little more texture and salt, and I would recommend it. A tomato slice might not hurt either, but then you’re really just kind of creating your own sandwich I guess.

I liked the salad-it was a fairly simple salad—just mixed baby greens with some diced cucumber and diced tomato—but the greens were tender and I appreciate that they were nice mixed baby lettuces and not just standard romaine or iceberg. As I mentioned, I had the buttermilk herb ranch dressing on the side and it was very good with the greens and to dip the sandwich into. Normally I am a blue cheese dressing kind of girl, but it had horseradish in it and I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about that.

I remembered liking the fries more than I did this time. They were crisp, but they were heavily seasoned with what tasted basically like seasoning salt, which isn’t my favorite flavor, particularly in large doses.

The food was good and the place was pretty busy, which unfortunately I think led to fairly slow service. Our server was right there when I first sat down (as the first to arrive) but then when we were all there, it took a long time to place our order, get our food and to get our check. The whole lunch probably took 30 minutes longer than it should have. But overall, it’s a decent Broad Ripple lunch option—and one I tend to forget about. What about you guys? Have you been recently? What are your favorite items—apparently they have recently changed the menu a bit—curious to know if there are some items that really stand out, because while I have never had a bad meal, I really haven’t found a knockout item yet.

Northside Kitchenette
6515 N. College Ave.
Indy  46220

Northside Kitchenette on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 21, 2013

Izakaya - Revisit

We met my friend Suzanne and her hubby recently for dinner before an event we were all attending. Trying to figure out a good option near Fishers landed us at Izakaya. Hubby and I had gone for lunch once before and had a decent experience, so we thought we’d give it another try. We debated trying the hibachi side (which was extremely popular the night we were there) but ultimately decided we’d save that for the kids (who love this sort of thing).

The first thing I noticed, this time and last, was how cold it was in there. They did adjust it for us, but it remained pretty breezy. I think the fans from all the hibachis running may have had something to do with this, but it made the other side of the restaurant cold. We also had an extremely enthusiastic server who told me how he was just exceptionally happy that day (nothing wrong with that).

We started with the agedashi tofu ($4.45) (seems to be a standard order for me and Suzanne at Asian places) and this was one of the better ones. The pieces of tofu were smaller sized (maybe three inches long) and had the perfect crunch to tofu ratio. They served a tempura sauce alongside which had a little more flavor than most sauces I have had with fried tofu and I appreciated it. There were also dry fish flakes on top, giving it a little salty flavor and more texture.

The other appetizer we ordered was the tuna tataki ($11.45), which I didn’t care for as much. It was just thinly sliced barely seared tuna with a ponzu sauce. First, the tuna was not sliced all the way through which made it annoying to eat, especially when you are sharing with others.  The tuna itself was fine, but the sauce was so mild, you couldn’t taste much of anything.

We then ordered several rolls. My favorite one was the Indy 500 Roll ($9.95), which was shrimp tempura and avocado inside and topped with spicy crab, crunch and eel sauce. It had the crunch I liked, both inside and out. And while I questioned the “crab” on top, there wasn’t a ton of it so it tasted pretty good.

We also had the spicy dragon roll ($10.95) and the crazy monkey roll ($11.25), which were both decent. The spicy dragon had spicy tuna inside and was topped with eel and avocado. Sometimes eel can be just slightly fishy and this had a touch of that.  The crazy monkey roll was eel and cucumber inside and was topped with salmon, shrimp, avocado, lemon, tobiko and a spicy sauce. There was a fair amount going in in this one, and I liked the pieces with the salmon and avocado on top—for some reason, shrimp just doesn’t do it for me on top of sushi rolls (even though I love a tempura shrimp inside). Maybe it’s a texture thing. But overall these two were not bad.

The last roll was my least favorite and had us guessing about some of the ingredients. It was the Dynamite Roll ($9.95). It is described as a California roll (which is avocado, krab, and cucumber inside usually) that is topped with baked spicy crab and scallop on top. First of all, if you are using fake crab, let’s be honest about it. It is used a lot in sushi, and I think people expect it. But I expect it to be stated on the menu. Say it’s “krab” or “crabstick” or whatever. Especially if you use “crabstick” some places on the menu and “crab” on others (for example on the description of their California roll, Izakaya specifies crabstick is used). That makes me think you are differentiating the two. (And some places, like H2O, actually mean crab when they say crab). The topping on this roll was so strange we thought it was noodles for the longest time. It was shredded crabstick that I think had a few tiny pieces of scallop mixed in a spicy mayo-type of sauce that was then baked.  I did not care for this roll for many reasons. The main one was “crabstick.” The strange somewhat gelatinous texture of the topping was one of the others.

Overall, I liked that the rolls themselves were smaller bites though so no mouth contortions needed. They certainly have a ton of variety in their special rolls—it took us a fair amount of negotiations to get our order decided. I am still intrigued by the popularity of the teppanyaki side of the restaurant and will see if I can convince hubby to give it a go sometime, although, he was not a huge fan of the place overall. I think I may have asked this last time, but any of you guys tried the hibachi dinners?

7325 East 96th Street
Fishers, IN 

Izakaya Japanese Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lulu's Coffee and Bakehouse

Every so often I ask on twitter for favorite restaurants in an area, or cuisine, or whatever just to try and get some new motivation. The other day I asked for favorite lunch places and was surprised when one of my twitter friends suggested a place I wasn’t familiar with—Lulu’s Coffee & Bakehouse. So naturally, I had to try it.

I took the BFF and we headed for lunch. It’s a small place and you order at the counter. I was intrigued by the “Greenwich Panini” special and asked what was in it—a very nice lady from the kitchen came and was happy to explain it to me (and answer several other questions about the menu, like is there fruit in the chicken salad? (Yes)).

I went ahead and got the Greenwich Panini because it sounded interesting—it was cheddar and provolone cheese, sliced avocado, jalapeno cream cheese and a sprinkle of cilantro. It was pressed flat and served hot on sourdough bread. The sandwiches are served a la carte, so I ordered a side salad as well (my whole meal with a small bottle of Pellegrino was about $12). I liked the sandwich—it had a good amount of ripe avocado on it so that you got some in every bite and the jalapeno cream cheese added a little bit of spicy heat which made the sandwich unique. I appreciated the addition of the cilantro in theory, but in execution, you couldn’t taste it that much. The sandwich was solid and I ate it all.  The side salad was just romaine lettuce chopped up with a slice of tomato and a slice of cucumber on top. I learned most of the dressings aren’t made in house—I had the blue cheese and it was just standard bottled blue cheese. Too bad because this is the kind of place that could set itself apart by doing something like making their own dressings and using them on the sandwiches as well (apparently they do do this with their one housemade dressing which is the honey mustard).

My BFF’s sandwich was a little more straightforward, and sadly a little more boring. She had the garden sandwich ($5.09) which was wheat bread just stacked with lots of fresh veggies. There were a few black olives on it, as well as a smear of hummus, but I couldn’t really taste the hummus in the bite I had. She also had the chicken chili, which she seemed to enjoy but I didn’t try it.

They’re using fresh ingredients, and the food seems healthy. These are sort of like the kind of sandwiches you could pretty easily make at home yourself.  Not sure I would make a special trip, but if this were my home or work neighborhood, I can see stopping in for a bite. There were several kinds of quiches available as well that looked good (they even do a gluten free one with a crisp potato crust that looked pretty darn good). The people are very nice. Anyone else been there?

Lulu’s Coffee & Bakehouse
2292 West 86th Street
Indy 46260

Lulu's Coffee + Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 14, 2013

Siam Square - Revisit

Hubby and I wanted to go see a friend’s exhibit opening on First Friday this month (and you should go check it out, it runs through November 16th. It’s a cool exhibit about my friend’s grandfather who was an influential, impressive architect.)  We decided with so many options in Fountain Square, we’d just grab dinner somewhere close by. The first place we stopped into was Mama Irma’s and it was completely packed with a wait. It was nice to see and we put it on our mental list to return (hubby has never been).

We just walked a little further and decided to try Siam Square. I think it’s been 2-3 years since I have been there (hard to believe). It was also quite crowded but we lucked into the last 2-top. Our server was very friendly and attentive and quickly brought drinks. After looking back at our last visits on my blog, we settled on the veggie tempura appetizer ($5.95)(last time we wished we had gotten the all veggie version because we liked them better than the seafood). I love that they use more interesting veggies like eggplant and green beans, and I also love that they use broccoli, which is one of my favorite tempura items. What I wasn’t a fan of was the “breading” on the tempura. I sort of expect tempura to be a light batter-type of breading and this had a more grainy texture to it.  They served it with a classic Thai slightly sweet fish sauce-type sauce. I can’t say you could taste the sauce that much with the flavor of the veggies and the somewhat heavy batter. I probably would have preferred a more traditional tempura sauce-something with a little soy. 

Hubby flat out refused to try something new (as I usually try to convince him to do when I am writing a post about a meal) and got the pad seuw ($11.95), which he has had before and really liked. The dish was just as good ingredients-wise—wide, fresh tasting noodles with broccoli, bok choy, garlic, egg and pork in a brown soy-based sauce. Sadly, this time, he ordered this dish “medium” in spiciness level and it was not spicy at all. It tasted like there were no chilies in there—which unfortunately made it a little bland. 

I ordered the Siam Ginger dinner ($11.95) and unfortunately made the mistake of asking for it between mild and medium because in the past, the food had been so hot, even at medium. And it suffered more than hubby’s because it was even milder. The dish inherently was good—it was tender sliced chicken in a ginger sauce with lots of red onions, scallions, celery, cute little carrot flowers, and some mushrooms.  I enjoyed the ginger flavor, which is currently one of my favorite things, but the dish needed some heat. I guess it depends on the day and who is cooking, but I certainly wouldn’t order anything less than medium. I would rather it be a little too hot than too bland.

At hubby’s absolute insistence (and it wasn’t difficult to convince me), we also ordered the Roti rolls ($8.95) for dessert again. They are basically puff pastry wrapped around some cream with lots and lots of butter and sugar. How can you really go wrong? It is really sweet, but I love the slight crunch from the pastry. 

We enjoyed ourselves, and our server was great. I only wish the flavor of the food shined a little more (or should I say burned a little more).  First Friday was fun too, although walking through the studios in the Murphy building reminded me a bit of just how old I am getting (since I think 80% of the people were in their 20s in the place).

So let’s talk Fountain Square and/or First Friday. What are your favorite restaurants in Fountain Square? And what’s your favorite area to hang out for First Fridays?

Siam Square
936 Virginia Ave
Indy 46203

Siam Square on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Greek Islands

Hubby decided he was in the mood for Greek food (which is an unusual thing for him), so I took the opportunity to visit a new place.  When I have posted about Greek food in the past, several people have recommended Greek Islands, so we were happy to try something new.

The bright blue building on South Meridian is cute, and the inside, while I am pretty sure hasn’t changed since the restaurant opened in 1987, was welcoming—the staff was all very friendly as well. I was impressed to see the place pretty full even at a fairly early hour.

Hubby has a think for saganaki ($7.50)(“who doesn’t like flaming fried cheese?”) so we agreed on that as one of our starters. We also ordered the spanakotiropita ($7.95). They brought the saganaki out quickly—and if you haven’t had it, it is a soft cheese that is fried with crispy edges and then set on fire tableside. After the fire is put out, they squeeze some lemon on it and serve it. It is melty and hot, with nice crispy edges, and I like the lemon to give it a little zing. They served it with pita, which was just ok—it wasn’t warm or particularly noteworthy.

The spanakotiropita, or spinach pies, were very good. They were quite large and there were four of them—I liked the way they were made as individual pies. I have a serious thing for phyllo dough so I almost always get these in a Greek place. These had a lot of feta, and not as much of the cooked spinach mix—we both wished for just a little bit more spinach, but we thoroughly enjoyed them. The only thing I would change was that I would love some pickled onions or olives to go with them, just to give it a little acid (Canal Bistro got me on this kick because they serve theirs this way).

We had decided to split an entrée because we had read that the portions were quite large, and judging from the appetizers, we were agreeing with that sentiment. The dinner came with a house Greek salad and we went ahead and ordered another one so we could both have one. The salad was very good. The lettuce was just iceberg, and there were cucumbers, tomatoes, feta and a kalamata olive. Right away I asked for a few extra olives because I am also an olive addict. Our server happily brought me a generous little bowl. The Greek vinaigrette on the salad was really good—very tangy. Oh yeah, and they brought sliced warm bread with butter with the salad and I liked this a lot better than the pita. It was just sliced soft baguette, but it was tasty.

We had a hard time agreeing on a dinner to share, and then we noticed the Kreatopita ($14.95), which neither of us had had before, and was wrapped in phyllo, so I was sold.  It was basically their version of a meat pie—it was mainly spiced ground meat that was wrapped in the crispy thin phyllo crust and then topped with a layer of tomato sauce and cheese. There was supposed to be feta on the inside as well but I didn’t really get much feta flavor (or see any). The tomato sauce wasn’t overdone and there was cheese flavor from the grated cheese on top. We actually really enjoyed this dish (and as it turned out, it wasn’t one of the bigger ones, but it was still plenty for us). I had read a lot of people talking about the potatoes served as a side here, so I was anxious to try them. They are wedges that taste like they have been cooked in chicken stock and then heavily seasoned on the outside with herbs. They must be roasted because certain parts had a delicious crisp texture. That was my favorite part—hubby’s potato wasn’t as crispy and wasn’t as good. The green beans cooked in tomato sauce and the rice pilaf I could take a pass on. Honestly, have you ever met a rice pilaf that was really good?
All in all, we enjoyed our meal and ourselves. The food was being made in house and it tasted like it. There are bursts of flames going off everywhere throughout the meal, which adds to the drama. There was a belly dancer that started toward the end of the meal—honestly I don’t really get into this sort of thing and we sort of slipped out quietly when she started dancing, but I did notice others getting into it.  But for a reasonably priced (and large) meal, this is a good spot downtown.

Greek Islands
906 S. Meridian Street
Indy  46225

Greek Islands on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 7, 2013

U.S. Adventures: NYC- Part 2

Our next NYC meal was at Babbo—which is Mario Batali’s first restaurant (recently awarded a Michelin star again). Friends had been and really enjoyed it, and the menu is one of those Italian menus I see and wonder yet again, why can’t we have nice (Italian) things in Indy? (I felt the same way after reading the Locanda Verde menu). Anyway, it was one of the best experiences of all the dinners we had in New York. It is certainly a nice place, but not as formal as the others (although you could dress just about as nice as you wanted to). Our waiter was great. One of the best I have ever had. He cared about his job, and making sure you got the right things. I loved the wine guy too who suggested our first course based on the wine we chose.

That first course was the grilled octopus ($15). It was served with marinated beans and a Limoncello vinaigrette. It was grilled quite crisp, but the octopus was amazingly tender. And I was worried the vinaigrette might be too sweet, but it was perfect. Love the tanginess in the beans too.  We both had a pasta course because we were so excited about the choices (I really wanted the pappardelle with white truffles and parmigiano but hubby balked at the $120 price tag). So I had the fettuccine with house-made pancetta and radicchio ($23) and it was outstanding. Again, a simpler light butter sauce made richer with some of the pancetta fat. The pasta was extremely fresh and stood out because it wasn’t overwhelmed by some heavy sauce. The pancetta added just the right amount of salty meatiness and the radicchio a bit of crunch and a bit of bitterness. Hubby’s was good as well—homemade garganelli (smooth tubes) with mushrooms and butter and fresh parsley ($22). Very good, but very similar to a dish I make at home, so it was hard to be as impressed. The waiter recommended the grilled guinea hen ($29) for a main dish, so we got it and split it. It was dark meat that was grilled again quite crispy and served with sweet corn fregula (like big pasta couscous) and black truffle vinaigrette. Great flavors, and I liked that they were using all the dark meat, but I enjoyed the simplicity and freshness of the pastas more. We also had a lovely sampling of sorbets and gelatos for dessert.

The next day was a crazy hectic day of museums, musical theater and lots of food. We started the day off at the Modern, which is one of the restaurants in the Museum of Modern Art (also has one Michelin star). We sat in the more casual bar area.  They weren’t completely packed, but I was glad we made a reservation because the tables you got without one weren’t nearly as good. We just decided to split three small plates here, because we knew what was coming later. Everything we had here was great. Really great. One thing was spectacular. Regardless, this would be a place I would put on my list to go back to for a full dinner.

The first two things we had were the salmon tartare ($18) and a Alsatian thin crust tart ($14). The tart was more of what I would call a flatbread, and when I saw it, I had my doubts, but then I tasted it. On top were crème fraiche, onions, and Applewood-smoked bacon. Sounds simple, but it was the perfect combination of salty bacon, a super crisp crust and a bit of tanginess and creaminess of crème fraiche. It was great along with the other things. The salmon tartare was good too- the finely diced salmon was mixed with some diced tomato. It was interesting because color-wise, you couldn’t really tell them apart, but the tomato gave it acidity it needed. I also really enjoyed the crunch of some puffed barley. There was cilantro gelee on top as well, which didn’t have a ton of flavor, but gave it a slight herby taste when mixed in. There were some tiny flowers decorating the top as well (small chive flowers perhaps?). The only thing I missed about this dish was some sort of cracker to eat it on—although they had wonderful soft baguettes that they brought to the table with the best soft, creamy, salted butter so we made do with using a little of the crust.

But the best thing here, and something that will go on my mental list of best things I have ever put in my mouth (yes it really exists) was the last dish we shared. It was Alsatian buckwheat spaetzle with a thin piece of yellowfin tuna on top of it with a piece of roasted foie gras. The tuna was put on the dish raw, but was slightly warmed/cooked by the heat of the spaetzle and foie. The whole dish was dressed in a black pepper gastrique. Everything about the dish was perfect. The creamy, intense foie, the light flavor of the tuna and the spaetzle was hearty but was so fresh it wasn’t heavy at all. The gastrique had a bit of balsamic vinegar so it was acidic, but was also slightly sweet and then the addition of the black pepper made it spicy and savory. There were also some pine nuts sprinkled on top adding a bit of texture. It was a perfect dish.

After an afternoon at the theater and some sightseeing, we ended our day and our trip at Le Bernardin (3 Michelin stars). This is the place that hubby and I both had agreed was the one place we had to go in New York. Everywhere else was negotiable. This one was not. The pricing here is fixed at $130 for 4 courses (well, plus all the extra ones they throw in).

This meal was overall the best one we had. It’s a modern room, but not stark like some. The service is extremely professional, and generally very friendly (there was one guy that was a little cold for my taste, but otherwise, they were great). They served us an amuse of tuna tartare, an oyster and a bisque. The tartare was amazing. It was all good, but that was my favorite (shocker).

The menu is divided into 3 sections—“almost raw,” “barely touched,” and “lightly cooked.” You are meant to order one from each although we negotiated 1 almost raw, 3 barely touched, and 2 cooked because we were having trouble making up our minds. To start we had the tuna from the almost raw—it was really, really good.  It had similar flavors to the tuna at The Modern, but more refined. The tuna was pounded really thin and draped over a very thin piece of toasted baguette that was very lightly spread with like a foie gras pate. The fish was dressed with olive oil and chives.  The other first course we had was Le Bernardin’s take on a crab bisque with large medallions of possibly the most tender king crab I have eaten. And the broth had an intensely rich shellfish flavor. Hubby and I argued over which was better and it was hard to decide. He leaned toward the crab, I leaned toward the tuna. They were both pretty mind-blowing.

After a lengthy discussion with the waiter about sharing different things, we decided we could not share the next course and got two of the same things. These were the langoustines and we learned there were only two on a plate and knew we would be sad if we each only got one. And we were very happy with this decision. This may have been my favorite of the evening. There were two succulent, tender langoustines (sort of like a cross between a large shrimp and a baby lobster) on the plate on top of a rich creamy chanterelle based sauce with just a touch of balsamic. Oh, and did I mention the white truffles? Yeah, they were on top. Amazing.  And perfectly balanced with just the hint of acid from the vinegar.

For our main dish, hubby had the sole and I had the skate.  Funny thing, when they set our plates down, they had brought the wrong dishes, and they were absolutely horrified. No big deal to us, but it earned us a free course (I say, bring on the mistakes!). They instantly whisked them away and brought our entrees. The skate was definitely the better of the two—it was poached and very tender and the sauce was a citrus-mustard emulsion. It was a clean dish. Fairly simple, and very tasty, but not as mind blowing as the others. There was also a side of “Caesar gratin” served with it, which was just okay—like a Caesar salad that had extra cheese and was broiled.

Hubby’s sole was probably the least favorite dish of the evening, although it was still good.  It was sautéed and had a brown butter tamarind vinaigrette, which was what drew us to the dish. But it was just not as refined as the other dishes. The rice alongside--even with the little bits of edible gold leaf --was not memorable.

The next course, which started the barrage of desserts, was the freebie they brought us for setting down the wrong plate and it was amazing. It was a real eggshell with a crumbly caramel (I think) bottom and layers of various flavors of creamy smooth custards—one layer was chocolate. This was easily my favorite dessert so I was glad they screwed up earlier. We then had a nice chocolate dessert and a small cheese plate and then an additional freebie chocolate cake-type thing for our anniversary. Oh and then there were the little petit fours. Honestly by this time, I could barely eat the desserts there was so many of them. I tasted them all. They were all good, but ideally I could have the egg and be done.

My plan if I ever have the pleasure of returning to Le Bernardin is to skip the main course (the “lightly cooked”) and go with all “almost raw” and “barely touched.” They were smaller bites and just had more wow factor going on.  And if I were particularly bold, I might ask if they were still doing the eggs and see if I could get one of those. 

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
Babbo on Urbanspoon

The Modern
9 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
The Modern on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Spice Nation

After my success with my Indian meal recently at Amber Indian, several people raved about Spice Nation to me so I thought it was time to go. So I butted into my friend @zigged and her friend @sssemester’s lunch plans (they eat here regularly). Spice Nation offers a buffet at lunch with lots of different options. It’s all you can eat and it is like $7. A great deal. (Something to know about Spice Nation is it is completely vegetarian--they also designate several of their dishes that are vegan).

This is a tough one for me to write about, because like I have said before, this isn’t a cuisine I am super familiar with, and remembering all the names and dishes was challenging. One of the owners was very kind and made me my first plate, patiently explaining what things should go with what. I didn’t get to everything on the buffet (and there’s a whole separate table full of desserts) before I was stuffed.

Probably my favorite thing (and one of the things he started me with) was the shahi paneer (he recommended to eat it with the lemon rice). It is pieces of the paneer, which is soft homemade cheese cut into cubes. The sauce was creamy with a bit of tomato and lots of spices (judging by the color and taste, I’d say turmeric, coriander and cumin maybe). I liked the creamy, yet somewhat firm (think tofu-esque) texture of the cheese with the sauce. 
There was also a dish called sambar, which is almost like a rich vegetable soup with lentils—the owner recommended I eat it in a small bowl over idli (steamed rice patties). He said to break the rice patty down with your spoon and eat it like you would rice with a dish.

Speaking of rice patties, there was certainly no shortage of starch on the buffet (and brought to the table). Along with the two kinds of rice and the patties, there were little lentil savory fried doughnuts (medu vada) (that were crispy and nutty and delicious) as well as naan, dosas and poori. I am not sure everyone gets served all of these things normally, as my dates are regulars at Spice Nation, but if you asked for any of them, I get the feeling they would be more than happy to oblige.

I really liked the poori—super thin puffed fried bread. It was light and a bit crunchy. A fun thing to dip into everything else. The naan was also good—quite garlicky, which I liked, although denser than some of the others I have had. I wasn’t as big a fan of the dosas, which are thinner rice and lentil crepes that are filled with curried mashed potatoes. Nothing like stuffing your crepe with potatoes. The owner recommended I dip the crispy lentil doughnuts into the rasam from the buffet, which was a thinner tomato-based soup flavored with tamarind, garlic, ginger and cilantro. I enjoyed this one’s slightly more acidic taste to balance out the very rich and starch-based flavors.  

There were lots of veggies on the buffet, obviously as well, and I was served a colorful mix of veggies as a side as well a lentil-based dish. (Sorry, all the names were starting to blur together here).  There were also little onion pakora balls (sliced onions cut into pieces and fried in a chickpea flour) that were really tasty little tidbits as well. Honestly, everything was good, and the enthusiasm and friendliness of the owners was a pleasure. They were happy to tell you what regions the dishes were from, and explained how many typical Indian dishes served in US restaurants come from just a few regions, but how their dishes represent lots of different regions. They also serve Indo-Chinese dishes—one of which was represented on the buffet as a cauliflower based dish, but which I did not get to.

Even though I was pretty full, I tried a couple of the desserts—the fried cheese balls in a sugar sauce (gulab jamon) and the fudge (moahanthal). My preference was probably the fudge because while sweet, it had a bit of a savory component to it that made it interesting—and it was very buttery. The cheese balls were just flat out sweet.

I enjoyed all the sauces they brought to the table—there was a cilantro mint sauce, a tamarind sauce, and a red spicy tomato based sauce. (There was also a coconut sauce on the buffet, but not being a fan of strong coconut flavors, I skipped it). I think there are certain sauces that are meant to go with certain dishes, but it was fun to experiment with different ones on different dishes.

All in all, I enjoyed myself, and enjoyed expanding my horizons with lots of new things (honestly I didn’t even talk about everything I ate). There are a ton of things to try. I would certainly recommend asking for suggestions of the owners on the buffet—they are more than happy to share their passion for the food with you. And if you’re a carnivore like me, you’ll barely miss the meat.

Spice Nation
4225 Lafayette Road
Indy  46254

Spice Nation on Urbanspoon