Monday, March 27, 2017

Road Trip: Chicago--Schwa

This is from ages and ages ago, but I have a little time right now so I am trying to play catch up. Schwa had been on my bucket list since we moved back to the Midwest. It’s quite difficult to make a reservation—the reservations are taken by whoever answers the phone, if anyone answers the phone, and often it’s the chef. Sometimes they will tell you to call back later. Often you get an answering machine and find a full mailbox. I’ve tried multiple times to get reservations…and even talked to someone once, only to be told to call back in a week or two.

So what it took to get a reservation was one of my friends having a friend who knew the staff. But hey, I’ll take it. The place is in a tiny storefront and there is like 10 tables. It‘s a pretty simple black and white minimalist décor—and of course the dripping air conditioner on the wall over my friends’ heads. There is a cool window into the kitchen though where you can see the staff feverishly working on the courses. There is very loud music playing at all times. On the night we were there it was Jurassic Five, which quickly became a favorite of hubby. It’s a BYOB place, and they whisk your bottles (or cans or whatever) away and pair them for you throughout the meal. They do a really good job with this. We really didn’t know what we were going to eat so we brought a lot of different wine, white, rose, reds…they paired them just right. Also, it’s advisable to bring something for the kitchen to drink as well.

The food is much more sophisticated than you might imagine and is really, really delicious. A very cool experience. The first “course” was actually the “bourbon olfactory journey” which was three types of bourbon paired with homemade air fresheners that smelled like different bourbon cocktail accompaniments. You were supposed to sip the bourbon whilst you smelled the different scents to feel like you were getting different drinks. A cool idea, but I am not a brown liquor person.

But there were many, many food courses (about 13 or so), and lots of wine, and a lot of time has passed since we ate there, so it’s hard to remember everything, but here’s some food highlights. 

The first food course was potato & Leek with yogurt, charred potato chips and salmon roe. Inside the charred leeks, there was roe and on top, little crispy potato chips. So tasty.

Um, raviolo with truffle and buffalo ricotta? You know I was going to like that one. It was definitely one of my favorites.

I also really liked the bone Marrow brulee with grapefruit marmalade and Osetra Caviar—it had a great texture variation as well as a nice salty and acidic kick. Or how about the ouster set in a gelee egg of 7 up?

One course was Pig face fried and topped with crispy chicharrones with bacon dressing, gooseberries, dried and not cherry tomatoes. We also got a little pretzel roll with bacon butter. Delicious. Another was lamb belly and lamb loin. 
There was “laundry soap,” a molecular gastronomy take on a drink—you mixed some crystals into a liquid and ended up with a blueberry lemonade type drink. It was tart and a nice palate cleanser.

A Humboldt fog cheesecake?  Yes please. My ideal dessert. A cheese with some blue cheese notes and a bit of a crust added. There was also an artsy sweet dessert.

Anyway, you get the idea. I could write a book if I described every nuance. There is lots of cool stuff going on here. The food is expertly and beautifully prepared and tasted really, really good. I hope that I can manage another reservation some day. And if you have the opportunity, do it. It’s a great food experience and just an all around good time.

1466 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

Monday, March 20, 2017

Salt on Mass

Luckily my kids are always game for trying a new restaurant with me, and since we were taking them to a concert at Old National (the Murat), we decided to check out Salt, which is so conveniently located. I had been wondering about it because I haven’t really heard much about it since it opened initially, but I think the concept of a good seafood-centered restaurant in Indy is one that is needed. Let me state up front that this dinner occurred a couple months back, and it looks like the menu may have changed a bit.

The interior of the place is well done. You can see someone put some time and effort into it. Our server was very nice and shared opinions with us about what she liked the best. We started with the spicy Alaska crab dip ($16) because I love a good crab dip. This one was described as being made with seasonal crab, cream cheese, Sriracha and parmesan. I can’t say I loved it. Ok, yeah, it wasn’t very good. While the crab on top was nice and seemed fresh, the crab that was mixed into the dip came across as very stringy (the whole family was fighting over the tender bits). And while there was supposed to be cream cheese and parmesan, the dip actually came across more oily than it did creamy. I liked the chips—they were nice and light and crisp (even if they could have used some salt ironically). I would probably take a pass on this one in the future. Perhaps the restaurant realized the error of their ways with this dish as it is no longer on the menu.

We also split a wedge salad ($8). They do them a little differently—with a split head of romaine instead of iceberg lettuce. There were quite a few bleu cheese crumbles. Although it was a wee bit lacking on the bleu cheese dressing (we had to order extra) it was, overall, a good salad.

For our main dishes, we ordered the Kona Tacos ($18), Fried Oysters ($15), Hawaiian Sashimi Tuna ($28), and a mahi-mahi dish. Hubby and I split the tacos and the fried oysters and we definitely preferred the oysters, although the tacos weren’t bad. The oysters were crispy, plentiful, and delicious. We were honestly surprised by how many came in a $15 order, there were at least 10 on the plate. They were drizzled in a nice remoulade sauce. There were some crispy bacon chips interspersed throughout the dish and the oysters stayed crispy despite the remoulade. The tacos were ok although they needed more acid and there wasn’t a lot of tuna compared to the amount of taco shell. I ended up breaking the shells in half and eating them open face with tuna so I could achieve proper tuna-to-shell ratio. I really wanted to like them and wasn’t wowed.

My kids were undecided on what to order (they didn’t want to order the same as each other and neither would give up their choice of mahi-mahi) so they compromised and each ordered a fish dish that they shared. My daughter got the Hawaiian sashimi tuna and enjoyed it. It consisted of rare tuna on a bed of Japanese red rice and was topped with sambal, caramel soy, wonton strips, and wasabi cream sauce. My daughter thought it a touch spicy (it had quite a bit of wasabi flavor) but hubby enjoyed it and ended up eating the rest of it after she finished. I enjoyed the crunchy texture-adding wonton strips. The tuna was cooked nicely rare and high-quality.

My son ordered a mahi-mahi dish with asparagus spears and some more of the crab dip (ugh) on top. The fish itself was well cooked. There was a beurre blanc sauce underneath that was good. I’ll try not to reiterate what I said above but I was not having the crab dip, it was oily and not a great addition to the dish. We ended up scraping most of it off. 

We had a little extra time left after dinner, before the concert, so we decided to order dessert. Hubby and I got a salted caramel brownie and the kids split a slice of chocolate layer cake. The cake was one of those generic, cold cakes that you see everywhere (guessing it comes in a box) although the kids seemed to enjoy it. Our brownie was ok, although a bit dense. 

In summary, Salt had a few good dishes but overall doesn’t have me racing back (I have not been back since). The food had some flaws and wasn’t quite as good as we had been expecting/hoping for. Anyone been more recently with better things to say?

Salt on Mass
505 Massachusetts Ave,
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Recently my daughter and I headed to Ben Davis for her ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association) contest. We were going to be down there for a while so while she was playing, I was researching where to eat. Quickly I found Paragon, after a twitter tip. It was less than a mile away so we knew we could get in and out fast. Since my sister lives nearby I invited her and we all met up.

The menu was three plus pages long and had everything from crêpes to paninis to gyros. We spent about 10 minutes just trying to skim it. Eventually I decided on the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich ($5.99). My daughter got a Chicken Panini ($7.50) and my sister got the Fresh Spinach omelet ($7.55). Our food arrived quite fast. My sandwich was fine. I say fine because although nothing particularly stood out about it but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t memorable either. The bacon was fine; the eggs were nice and runny (just how I like them); and there was a lot of unmelted American cheese (so much that I peeled some of it off). The sourdough bread I ordered was nicely toasted. 

I never got a chance to try my sister’s omelet but I did try her biscuits. The biscuits were OK, kind of dry but not terrible. We both had hash browns as a side, which we asked for extra crispy but sadly they did not deliver on this. They were a bit limp. My daughter’s panini was not particularly special either and she commented that her fries were dry.

All in all, the main word I would use to describe the place would have to be bland. The food was OK and the menu was huge. You can certainly please a lot of different tastes. The staff all seemed to be friendly and acknowledged that the portion sizes were large. Not a place I’d choose to go back to, but, if necessary isn’t somewhere I’d avoid at all costs. 

Paragon Restaurant
118 S Girls School Rd, 
Indianapolis, IN 46231
(317) 271-3514

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pogue's Run Grocer- Deli

I am doing an internship right now on the Near Eastside and had the opportunity to eat lunch at Pogue’s Run Grocer. It’s a little grocery store, but they also have a deli in there and a couple of tables and chairs. I’m guessing they mostly do carry out though, which is what I did. The deli has a pretty extensive list of sandwiches including vegan and vegetarian options. Being neither of these, I opted for one of the meat-filled choices.

The Tuscan turkey sandwich ($6.89) is Boar’s Head Tuscan turkey sliced with provolone, green peppers, lettuce, kalamata olives and basil mayo. I didn’t get the green peppers, because I can’t stand green bell peppers, but man oh man was this sandwich good. It’s one of those sandwiches that although it was quite large, I had a hard time not finishing the whole thing (ok, let’s be honest, I did finish the whole thing. I also got a giant pickle, which they quartered for me. Also delicious.

It had lots of the basil aioli on there, and you know how I feel about a well-sauced sandwich. It adds great moisture but also a ton of flavor, especially a sauce like this. Add the kalamata olives which are chopped up small and very plentiful and you have a killer sandwich. The turkey was sliced nice and thin and was tender (Boar’s Head is always good lunch meat). They press it in a panini press so everything squishes down a bit and the cheese gets melty. I am telling you, I am sitting here writing this thinking I need to get this sandwich tomorrow. For real. It’s basically an ideal sandwich for me between the aioli and the olives (and it’s warm, as I am not a huge fan of cold sandwiches usually).

Check out this place for a quick sandwich next time you’re over this way. It’s a worth a stop. And I am totally getting one this week.

Pogue’s Run Grocer
2828 East 10th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46201

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Vanguard

The other day some friends went with hubby and me to The Vanguard for a dinner while our sons played tennis. I have been itching to try it ever since I heard the guys from Turf Catering designed the menu.  I also received a very nice email from the owner telling me I was the one who introduced him to the Turf Catering guys through my blog, so how cool is that? It’s a small world indeed.

The Vanguard is in the old Usual Suspects space in Broad Ripple, which I had never been to. I am not sure how much redecorating/remodeling they did for the switch, but I really like the interior of the Vanguard. It’s modern and comfortable—and there is a family side with several booths where you can bring your kids (good to know, as we will likely do this soon). It’s a bigger spot than I would have guessed and feels a lot more grown up than much of Broad Ripple.

We started with several appetizers (I love friends who like to order lots of stuff). We had the pimento cheese ($10), the Cajun shrimp ($13) and the roasted vegetable gnocchi ($13). Every single one of these was a winner. Truly, I loved them all. The pimento cheese plate came with a nice portion of the cheese (if you have had it at Turf, you know how good it is—one of my favorite versions in town). It also came with some toasted bread slices, smoked ham, and half of a boiled egg topped with pickled mustard seed. You guys, I loved this dish. The cheese is so good, and the ham tender and smoky (I think they smoke all their own stuff at Turf). And the combo of the egg with the mustard seed was perfect. The only thing I would change is to ask for a few extra slices of the bread because we ran out before we ran out of the toppings. I could easily make a meal out of this plate by myself, but it's also a really nice thing to share and a great mix of different tastes.

Hubby’s favorite was probably the Cajun shrimp, which was really delicious. It was two large pieces of grilled crostini topped with the shrimp, which is cooked in a spicy, buttery, garlic sauce. And get this, the shrimp wasn’t tough and overcooked. It was just right. And there was plenty to share around the table. Such a nice rich flavor to the sauce without being too much. 

The last appetizer that we shared was the roasted vegetable gnocchi. Wow, this one was great too. The gnocchi were lightly sautéed, so they were just a little brown and crisp on the edges, which is exactly how I like them. They were topped with peas, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and shallots. There was a great acidic kick from the tomatoes and the mushrooms were wonderful. I even liked the peas and I am sort of washy washy on peas sometimes. The dish was mixed in a brown butter sauce, which is something I wish you saw more of in Indy. Brown butter gives a nice earthy, nutty edge to a dish, while still maintaining richness from the butter, but without being over the top with cream or cheese. Brown butter is a great sauce to use when you really want the ingredients to shine.

I could have walked away at this point of the meal and been happy and fairly full, but we ordered three of the main dishes as well. Hubby and I ordered the fried chicken (of course I did) ($16) and our friends ordered the short rib ($20) and the Mediterranean chicken ($17). The winner here was definitely the fried chicken, although nothing was bad. The fried chicken had a slight smoky flavor as well as a hint of pickle—maybe it was pickle brined? It was really good and cooked just right. The meat was tender and the skin was crisp. The pieces (there was a breast, wing, leg and thigh) were served with mashed potatoes and chicken pan gravy. All of it was good—and that gravy was delicious. I am not even usually a gravy person when I eat fried chicken, but I found myself dipping the bites in it—it had a nice salty kick, which just enhanced the chicken. 

I had a bite of our friends’ dishes and they were my least favorite of the evening, but not bad. The short rib was very smoky (maybe a bit much for me) and just a touch on the dry side. My friend who ordered the chicken doesn’t like chicken on the bone, and this was a seared boneless breast topped with tomatoes, garlic, olives and herbs and for me, this tasted more like something you might make yourself at home on a good night. They also have a butter-smoked chicken (on the bone) that sounds more interesting to me if you’re not in the mood for fried and don’t mind eating off the bone.

All in all, I can safely say that this is certainly one of the best new places to open in Broad Ripple in ages, and is likely one of the best places for food in Broad Ripple right now period. I could easily and happily make a meal of appetizers (there were several more I would like to try) and would love to try that butter-smoked chicken, if I can pull myself away from the fried chicken. We will certainly be taking the kids as well, as my son loves fried chicken the way I do, and my daughter is a gnocchi fanatic. If you haven’t been here yet, you should go. And why this place isn’t getting more press, well, that’s Indy for you.

The Vanguard
6319 Guilford Ave
Indy  46220