Monday, June 26, 2017

Main Street Pokē

I have been excited to try Main Street Pokē since my hairdresser next door told me it was coming soon. I met my friend Suzanne there, as she lives close by and had already been several times and liked it. So it’s set up in the Chipotle style, where you go down the line and pick what you want in your bowl. There are A LOT of choices to make, so you may want to look over the menu online before you go. It’s like healthy fast food though; so don’t expect a fancy restaurant or anything.

The first and most important choice is your size and protein. You can get small, medium and large bowls (2, 3, and 4 scoops of protein respectively). They are $9.95, $11.95 and $13.95 with a few upcharges on certain items. There are several proteins to choose from, but I am guessing the most popular (and I would even go so far as to say probably the best) choices are the tuna and salmon. You can either get it marinated or plain. There are also things like tofu, chicken, beef, cooked shrimp, and even hamachi and unagi, but for me, I was focused on the tuna. I had the medium bowl with marinated tuna (you can also mix your proteins). You get to choose your base as well. I had half steamed rice and half mixed greens. They also offer brown rice or potato chips. Then, there are the toppings—starting with the first sauce over the fish. I chose the house, which is a soy-based sauce with some ponzu. I then added green onions, seaweed salad, avocado (+.50), marinated shitake mushrooms, and they give you a scoop of spicy crab as well. Then you can add some crunch (I had sesame, furikake and fried onions) and a topping sauce. I did half spicy mayo and half miso delicious. (I told you there are lots of choices—and there are tons more options than I described). 

So what did I think? I actually really love this concept—and I really enjoyed my bowl. I wouldn’t make any dramatic changes, although I would like to try the salmon next time. I was torn about whether I preferred the rice or the greens better, so I think I might just stick with the way I ordered it—half and half. I would probably skip the seaweed salad, just because there were just so many things going on, I didn’t really think I needed it. Surprisingly, even though I think the spicy crab is not real crab, it was pretty tasty and I would get it again. I thought the tuna was good quality and everything tasted very fresh. Honestly, I can understand why Suzanne says she often goes multiple times in a week, because if it were close to me, I would probably eat here a lot. There would be a ton of carry out going on. I really like to eat this kind of food, and I like that you can make a bowl that is very healthy if you want, but still has a ton of flavor. I overheard staff mention they are opening one in Fishers, which is awesome—but I would like to request one near Castleton if possible. And I bet a downtown location would do well too. But I am happy that they have opened up and appear to be doing very well. If you like this kind of food, you should check it out.

Main Street Pokē
110 West Main Street #106
Carmel, IN 46032

Thursday, June 22, 2017

U.S. Adventures: Austin, Texas

For spring break this year, the family and I headed back to Austin to see our good friends who moved there a couple years ago. If you’re a regular reader, you will know our last trip last May didn’t go too well—hubby broke his arm and I didn’t get to go to my number one choice of restaurant because we headed home early. 

That restaurant was Uchiko, and it was fabulous. One of the best meals I have had in awhile for sure. I love the small plates concept because you can try even more things. And we certainly did. They do sushi, but a ton of other Japanese options as well. Probably one of my favorite dishes of the evening was the take nabe ($18). It was like a soft porridge with dashi and lots of different mushrooms and a runny egg. I loved the intensity of the flavor of this one. Loved the hama chili as well, which was sashimi of yellowtail with orange, thai chili and ponzu ($18.50). Hubby thought it was a bit bland, but if you ate it with the pieces of orange, it was fabulous. Delicate, but really good. The table all loved the fried caramelized Brussels sprouts with fish sauce, lemon and chili. I don’t think I have ever tasted Brussels sprouts that tasted so rich. And they remained crispy despite everything going on. And wagyu on a hot rock with ponzu ($17)? You can’t really go wrong. You barely sear it and then eat it. The special nigiri was great as well. One of the sushi rolls was tasty, while one was weird and my least favorite thing. The “shag” tempura roll ($14) with salmon, avocado, sundried tomato and sumiso was great. The ham and egg roll ($10) with pork belly and egg custard was not so good. It fell flat. The tempura grouper that was a special was fine, although just didn’t stick out. The desserts on the other hand were as tasty as they were beautiful ($8-$9 each). We really didn’t need three of them, but we ordered them anyway. Just look at them. They were great. I want to go back tomorrow.

The next meal we had was at Home Slice. Why oh why can’t we have pizza like this is Indy (outside of Brozinni, which is awesome, but so far away from me)? It was a great place to take the kids, even though we ended up eating lunch at like 3:00 p.m. because that’s how long it takes to get in EVERYWHERE in Austin. This city is clearly over-peopled. Anyhow, my daughter wanted an antipasti platter ($14.75) and the kids pretty well devoured it. Like I said, it was like 3:00, so it was a good call, because it came out fast. A nice mix of Italian meats, cheeses and my favorite, olives and artichoke hearts. Oh yeah, and those garlic knots. The platter came with a couple and then we got a bunch more (4 for $4.50). They are soft and garlicky and delicious. They come with marinara, which although I prefer Bromine’s garlic butter, was very tasty. The pizza though? The pizza was awesome. The best part was the mushroom and red onion (which was my choice). Just the right amount of each ingredient, and that crust was awesome. It might even be better than Brozinni. The kids ordered a clam pizza ($21.50), and while it was good (you gotta squeeze the lemon on top), it was very, very clammy—those are all chopped clams. I think about half as many would have made it better. It had a white olive oil type sauce instead and lots of garlic and herbs.

For lunch we ate at Top Notch. I mean look at that sign and tell me it doesn’t make you want to eat there? It was cool, a drive-in from way back. The inside was all wood paneled. Their sign advertised fried chicken, so who am I to say no? It was fine chicken, but honestly the burgers the kids ordered were better. The onion rings were quite tasty too and the milkshakes were handmade and delicious. And check out the canned wine. Fancy.

Our last meal was also really good. Still waiting on an Italian place like this in Indy. The restaurant is called Red Ash. It was one of those really hip, popular and LOUD restaurants, but the food more than made up for any noise discomfort. The bread service ($2 pp) alone is delicious. And you have to pay for it, but after that they will bring you free refills. This was garlic and cheese bread and the bread itself was delicious too. We also got an app of roasted clams ($16) and they were the smallest I have ever seen in the US. They were delicious. My family was fighting over them—they were cooked in white wine, herbs, garlic and topped with breadcrumbs. We also ordered beef carpaccio ($14), which was prepared wonderfully as far as the meat was concerned, but it was covered with a lot of horseradish, which isn’t really my thing. You couldn’t really taste the meat anymore. We also had a wonderful fresh halibut crudo ($16) that was seasoned perfectly and it was as beautiful as it was tasty. It ad avocado and lemon, radish and celery. So bright and fresh.  This place definitely excelled the most at apps though I think. Our entrées were good, but the risotto with bone marrow ($36) hubby and I split with hubby was so over the top rich, it was hard to finish. My daughter’s gnocchi ($15 for the small portion) with gorgonzola cream, speck, and fresh cream and was my favorite of the entrées. It was light and creamy and had some nice fresh herbs in it as well. The desserts we all shared (there were 9 of us) were very tasty as well. Dulce du leche ice cream, tiramisu and filled doughnuts with chocolate and blackberry jam (all $9). 

All in all, this trip went much better than the last one that’s for sure. We kayaked and the kids all rock climbed and we ate really, really well (there was some BBQ in there too, don’t worry but I wrote about the place we went (Rudy’s) last time, so I am not covering it again). Austin is a great city, but seriously, it is a bit overpopulated. The traffic was insane and the waits for restaurants were as well. But the food (and the company of course) made it worth it. And hey, if you  have recommendations for other places I am sure we will get back there one of these days.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Elena Ruz Cuban Cuisine

First of all, Elena Ruz is actually located within the building that holds Black Circle Brewing. It’s on 46th right near Keystone, in the back of the old Double 8 foods building if you know the one I mean. It’s sort of hard to realize there’s a Cuban place in there unless you just know. You go into the bar, order drinks at the bar (lots of beer choices, and even a record player) and then order your food from a doorway nearby. Sort of food truck style.

You can’t take kids in there obviously though, since it’s a bar. And we live in Indiana. They do have some limited outdoor seating though. Anyhow, my friend Suzanne and I wanted to try a variety of things so we got the Cubano sandwich ($8.50), the beef empanadas ($6.99) and ended up with a side of tostones ($3.99) because they were out of the plantain chips. 

I thought the best things were the empanadas. There were three of them, and they were filled with super juicy and flavorful beef. A pet peeve I have is when an empanada is all dry inside and these were the opposite. At one point the liquid from the thing was running down my arm. The fried pastry was nice and crisp and held everything in. The cilantro cream sauce was the best. There is no need for other sauces, this stuff was so good, and I wanted to dip everything in it.

The Cuban sandwich was very traditional—layered with roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. I like Cuban sandwiches because; duh, pickles and mustard are two of my favorite things, but also because they are inherently flat and easy to eat (I know, I am weird). This one was solid, although I would have liked a couple more pickles (the ones that were on there were nice and thick though). It’s totally worth getting, or doing what we did, and splitting it along with something else.

I did not care for the tostones. They were really dense and didn’t have a lot of flavor. The garlic sauce that came with it was interesting—pretty much just like crushed garlic in oil, but it wasn’t the right mix with the tostones. I liked them better with the cilantro cream, but even then, not my favorite. 

There are a lot of good sounding things on the menu though—I’m intrigued by the rice bowls. And it’s a great place to have in the area, that doesn’t have a lot of sit down independent places to grab lunch. They’re not open Mondays or Tuesdays though, so plan accordingly. And let me know what you get and what you think.

Elena Ruz Cuban Cuisine 
(Located in Black Circle Brewing Company)
2201 East 46th St, Suite 207
Indy 46205

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pho Real

Pho places seem to be springing up everywhere…well, at least more of them are becoming more central to my location, which I appreciate. There are two or three new places I have been waiting to try and this was one of them. The BFF and I headed over there for lunch and laughed because we knew this strip mall from our very young days, as we grew up nearby. Don’t let the scary dark wood/slightly run down vibe of the outside scare you away; they have done a nice job on the inside of this place. It’s cute and very clean. The menu is big and has Thai and Laotian food as well as Vietnamese.

But, when your name is “Pho Real,” you kinda have to try the pho right? At least on your first visit. But since it was a new place, and we were kinda in the mood, we also ordered some appetizers. We ordered the dumplings ($7.75) and the fried tofu ($5.95). I really liked the fried tofu. It had a nice firm, yet crispy crust that you had to break through to get to a very silky (and hot!) interior. It was served with a very mild sauce to dip in, but it had a slight acidic flavor and I liked it. I also ended up dropping them last piece or two into my pho and that was really good too. They kept their shape even in the broth. The dumplings were pretty tasty too. They were stuffed with pork and a bit of shrimp and served with that vinegar/soy sauce. Maybe not as tender as I would like—the filling was pretty dense—but they had a good flavor.

I ordered the rare beef pho  (Pho #1) ($9.99), which is my classic choice. It’s a deep beef broth with thin rice noodles, cilantro, scallions and it was seasoned with some black pepper it seemed. Oh, and the rare beef of course. I always squeeze my lime in there too from the fresh side plate, as well as throwing in a couple of the slices of jalapeno to steep and spice up the broth. Then I put in the basil and bean sprouts for a bit more flavor and texture. I tend to add a bit of chili sauce—here the only choice was Sriracha, so that’s what I used. I put a bit of soy in as well. Anyhow, that’s how pho is—you kind of doctor it up to your taste. But the thing that makes or breaks pho (or puts it on the just ok list anyway) is the broth. And this broth was very good. It had a very deep flavor and this is up there with my favorite bowls of pho in town so far. Mine also had nice, tender thin slices of beef that seemed a little more flavorful than many, even my favorite, Pho Tasty. Like I said, I also liked throwing my tofu in there as well. 

My BFF had the veggie pho ($8.99) and she seemed to really like it. I was too busy eating all of mine to even try it, but she said it was definitely one of the better vegetarian broths she has had in town. She didn’t love the big hunks of bok choy, because they were almost impossible to eat. If you don’t have a knife, I do believe food should be in bite-sized pieces.

Overall though, this was a great find. And they have lots of great sounding Thai dishes I would be interested to try as well. They also have beer and wine.

Pho Real
9611 N. College Ave
Indy 46280

Monday, June 5, 2017

Asaka Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar

Sadly, I have been a little disappointed with the quality of my sushi place lately, so hubby and I are on the quest for our new (close) sushi joint. I had been to Asaka years ago, and had been recently told by two people in two totally different circles that they really liked Asaka, so we thought we would give it another go. Plus, the only female sushi chef in town, which is pretty cool.

First of all, miracle of miracle, it’s in Castleton, which is notoriously awful for restaurants (although it is certainly getting better). It’s right next to Hooter’s in fact, if that demonstrates my point. It’s a cute little place inside—it has more charm and atmosphere than many, and even some little private rooms in the back where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor.

And here’s something some of you will really like—they do a “happy hour” everyday between 5:00-7:00 where they offer certain items at a reduced rate. I have included the happy hour menu with pricing so you can see what I mean. This post is about two different visits—the first time we weren’t there during happy hour and the second time we were. 

The nigiri is actually my favorite thing here, although I have enjoyed some of the rolls as well. They give you a really long, thin cut of the fish on the rice with the nigiri, and the fish is very good quality. Several of our favorite items (the tuna, the yellow tail and the salmon) were offered on the happy hour menu, so we got several pieces both times. I will say, for some reason during the happy hour visit, the fish was really, really cold, which was a tiny bit off putting to me. I’m not sure if this had something to do with the happy hour angle, but I just let it come to temp a little before eating it.

We tried several rolls on both occasions. On the happy hour menu, we tried the special roll ($5), which on this day was spicy tuna with a layer of yellow tail and some scallions. It was good, and a great deal, but had a little bigger pieces than I like. The other time we went, we had the Hoosier roll ($5.50), which was spicy tuna and avocado. It was a good basic roll. I like that their spicy tuna is nice pieces of recognizable tuna (this was true for the special happy hour roll as well). There were several other rolls as well—not sure of their exact names, but one had spicy salmon and spicy salmon on top, one was basically a shrimp tempura roll and the other was a spicy roll with jalapeno, salmon and avocado with some spicy mayo and eel sauce. They were all pretty tasty, although this is one place where I think I like the nigiri better; it was just so silky and high quality. The menu here features A LOT of rolls with cream cheese, which is not my favorite thing in a roll.

Both times we also had the shrimp shumai ($4.95)(these prices may be a little off, because the online menu doesn’t seem to be totally up to date) and the soft shell crab appetizer ($7.95). The first time we really enjoyed the soft shell crab, it was crunchy and delicious. The second time it was mostly batter and not a lot of the crab. Somewhat disappointing. The shumai were good both times though—I love a good dumpling. Our friend on our first visit just ordered a sashimi dinner and it was beautiful (it came with a bowl of rice).

The second visit (the happy hour visit), we were with the kids. My son got chicken katsu and really enjoyed it. I liked that it wasn’t just white meat and had some flavor. He inhaled it. My daughter got the shio ramen, and while it wasn’t the best I’ve had, it was certainly decent. We all ate some of it, and she seemed to really enjoy it. Again, the online menu doesn’t even show these particular items, so I am not sure of the exact prices. And in general, they have a lot of non-sushi items on the menu, so just about everyone can find something they will like.

Since it seems like I am basically going in reverse order of the pacing of the food, let me tell you about the salad they bring with each entrée. The ginger salad dressing on is super gingery and doesn’t have any creaminess to it. I could pretty much eat that stuff by itself. Just ginger and acid. It’s delicious.

Anyway, it’s a good place and will likely be a regular stop for us in the future, although I will lean more toward sashimi and nigiri here. There are some other rolls I would like to try as well. And there are a lot of appetizers that sound good. I would love to hear your thoughts on what you like here as well as other favorite sushi joints on the northeast side-ish.

Oh—and a super helpful tip, particularly for happy hour—they do take reservations, although not many make them. You can walk right past all the people waiting and be seated if you plan ahead a little.

6414 East 82nd Street
Indy 46250