Monday, October 30, 2017

John Adams Catering

Recently, some friends and I decided to have John Adams cater a dinner for us. In case you are not familiar, John has cheffed at a lot of my favorite restaurants throughout our fine city. I met him at H2O sushi (RIP). He left there to open Bluebeard and eventually also worked at Plow and Anchor and most recently Marrow (RIP as well). And for the moment, he is doing private catering. A friend of mine had used him for a special dinner party she was planning and raved about the food, so several friends and I decided we needed to plan something as well.

I loved the menu from the moment he sent it to me and I was not disappointed. We started with a beautiful salmon tartare with capers, cucumbers and tomato ponzu. It was artfully wrapped with cucumber as well and topped with a Parmesan crisp. It was really light and tasty and reminiscent of those H2O days. I could have eaten a bowl full.

The next course was a Vietnamese pancake (also one of my favorite things). It was a crisp, light crepe filled with shrimp, green papaya, and bean sprouts and topped with crushed peanuts. There was a great tangy lemongrass broth underneath it and the whole dish was full of wonderful acid, one of my favorite flavor profiles. I was impressed watching him whip up individual little pancakes for everyone.

The main course was seared Loup de Mer with roasted sunchokes, chard and a shallot and sunchoke soubise—which is a creamy sauce made with cream as well as the shallots and sunchokes. There was also a red wine jus on top of the soubise. The fish though, that fish was delicious. It had skin on it, but it was seared so well, the skin became the star of the dish. It was so crispy; it just sort of exploded when you bit into it. 

The savory courses were definitely the strength—he joked that he’s not really a pastry chef, and we enjoyed the bananoffee pie, but I enjoyed the other things much more. The first three courses were so perfectly executed and balanced, it just made the pie look ordinary. Still tasty, just not as exciting.

I loved having Chef Adams cook for us, and would love to be able to have it more often—am going to have to organize some more dinners. As much as I liked it though, I’d still rather see him in the kitchen of a local restaurant where more people can enjoy his food. I think he is exploring several options and I look forward to see where he turns up. In the meantime though, if you’re looking for a local chef to cater a wonderful dinner, he’s your man.

Chef John Adams

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sakura - Revisit

Ok, continuing on the sushi quest, we decided to go back to Sakura. I know a lot of you guys like this place best, and it is the oldest sushi place in Indy as far as I know. The things that keep me from coming here more often are the crowds and the slow service. This time we went on the early side on a weeknight and the crowds weren’t too big yet. Our service was fine too, although as soon as it starts to get busy, it slows down.

Anyhow, we took the kids so we could all determine whether it would or could be our new go to spot. We had the standard miso soup to start, which was standardly good. Nothing unusual to mention. Hubby and I ordered several rolls—the Gabe ($6.70), the soft shell crab roll ($9.50) and the Crunch roll. The Gabe roll is their version spicy tuna mixed with some roe both inside and out of the roll. They also mix in green onions. They use nice fairly large pieces of tuna here, and it comes across like a tuna tartare roll. It’s a good choice and is probably one of hubby’s faves. The soft shell crab roll was fine. Again, it’s a lot of fried bits with spicy mayo and it gets kind of boring after awhile. The crunch roll was shrimp tempura and avocado inside I believe and crunchy bits outside. All were good—none were particularly memorable for me. We also had some ahi tuna nigiri ($4.40) as well as albacore nigiri ($4.30) and both were very good. I like the way they lightly sear the albacore and then serve with ponzu and bonito. It’s very tasty.

My daughter ordered chicken teriyaki ($12.75). They give you a TON of meat here. I like that there are lots of little pieces of the meat and that it includes dark meat. I thought the flavor of the sauce was also very good. My daughter was less of a fan. She likes a leaner piece of breast meat and not quite so much sauce. We brought a lot of it home.

My son had the chicken cutlets ($12.75), which were exactly what he likes—pounded chicken breast meat lightly breaded and fried. It was very good—and the dipping sauce that went along with it had a little deeper flavor than most. It did not come off as just sweet, like many do.

It’s a solid choice for sushi, but it’s still not luring me back in with anything that was really, really good. But everyone was pretty satisfied, so my guess is we’ll be back more frequently than in the past. If you’re a fan, tell me your favorite rolls....

7201 North Keystone
Indy  46240

Monday, October 16, 2017

Canal Bistro - Brunch

I had a brunch meeting on a weekend with a small group, and we decided to try Canal Bistro because they take reservations. On the weekends, I just don’t have the patience to wait an hour to eat. I had never been to Canal Bistro for full on brunch, so it was almost like going to a new restaurant.

They have a very large menu of choices for brunch, although there are several areas that are variations of similar items—various breakfast sandwiches/pita wraps takes up half of the back page for instance. It’s nice to see some interesting things on there though. I ordered the Mediterranean frittata ($11). It is described as a frittata with leeks, roasted tomatoes and spinach topped with feta, sundried tomatoes and basil. So I sort of pictured a frittata that had the first three ingredients mixed in and the other stuff baked on top. This was more of a (huge) piece of frittata with everything baked inside. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t really get much of the cheese flavor. The whole thing was decently moist, but just a little on the bland side. They should throw some olives in there. It’s huge though. I also ordered a side of bacon, which was crispy and delicious.

Oh, and if you like a mimosa or bloody Mary with your brunch, they were $5. And you can get your mimosa made with a range of various juices. I had a mango one and it was very nice.

My daughter had “The Classic Fool” breakfast plus one egg (she got it sunny side up, but you can get it however you want). This is a bowl of slow-cooked fava beans mixed with olive oil, tomatoes, onions, parsley and fresh lemon and then topped with the egg. The egg was cooked nicely and she enjoyed the dish. It was nice that it had a touch of acid to it.

All in all, while the dishes didn’t blow me away, this is a nice spot to sit outside and have brunch. The menu is quite large, and I look forward to trying something else next time.

Canal Bistro
6349 Guilford Ave
Indy 46220

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vida - Revisit

Hubby and I had a date night on our own and decided to go back to Vida—we hadn’t been since my birthday in December. I made a reservation (one of my favorite things about this place is that you can book it ahead) and asked to sit in the bar side. We had never sat there and I really enjoyed it—the tables seem spaced a little better and it has a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s a pretty room too.

They first brought us a amuse bouche that was quite delicious. It was a cube of sticky rice topped with a little bit of spicy tuna, kimchi and wasabi. It was a great little bite. Loved the way they made the rice into a cube.

They have changed the menu a bit since I was there and now you can get a four-course meal for $65, or you can order a la carte.  We kind of picked a few from the various sections and shared. The first course section is really just a few bites—not really meant for sharing. We did though.

I ordered the tuna ($18) for my first course and hubby the guanciale ($15). You guys know I love my tuna dishes, but this was one of the best one I’ve had in awhile. It was just three slices of wasabi-crusted tuna with a little mound of buckwheat soba noodles topped with honey sesame vinaigrette and some pickled red onions. Wow—I loved the crunch of the wasabi peas (I think that’s what they were) that were crushed up and used as the crust on the tuna—they gave it crunch and a kick of flavor. I also really loved the noodles on the side—the vinaigrette gave them a really nice acidic flavor. Just a really well put together dish. My stomach is growling writing about it and I had a hard time giving hubby a piece (but I did).

His first course was also really delicious and really well crafted. It was toasted focaccia bread topped with thinly sliced guanciale (which is jowl bacon) and really equally thin slices of manchego cheese. The bread was topped with tomato herb butter and on top of the meat and cheese was some frisee and fig mostarda. Really good.

For the next course, we split the heirloom tomato salad ($12). This was also very good. There were nice chunks of tomatoes, large pieces of burrata cheese, some focaccia croutons, red onion, several herbs and a parmesan crisp. This was also well composed, and had a nice refreshing flavor. The croutons were a little hard to cut because they were so crunchy, but other than that, it was very good.

Speaking of croutons, the complimentary bread basket (which seemingly comes at random times at different tables from my observation—ours came after apps but before salads) is always good at Vida. This night they had little brioche loaves and blueberry friendship bread. And nice and creamy, spreadable butter. Both were delicious.

For our main dishes, I ordered the tortelloni ($24) and hubby the lamb chops ($38). My tortelloni was outstanding. There were several large tortelloni filled with mascarpone and alongside little crispy fried potatoes, asparagus, candied red onion in a sage brown butter sauce and topped with lots of shaved truffles. As soon as I walked into the restaurant and smelled the truffles I knew I was going to have to order whatever it was. It was such a cool combination of flavors. The only bad part of the dish was the asparagus, which was really thick and really woody. 

Hubby’s lamb chops were served with fire roasted cherry tomatoes, green beans and a tahini sauce. The flavor of the dish was really good—you got a real nicely roasted flavor. The chops themselves were a little fatty (and therefore chewy) for me however.

We ended up splitting one dessert. Vida has a great young pastry chef and it would almost feel wrong not to get something (yes, I am giving you an excuse about why you must order something when you’re there). We went with the ricotta doughnuts at hubby’s choice (I think they’ve had some version of this since opening) and we were certainly not disappointed. They had a bourbon maple glaze; candied bacon, maple cream and brown butter ice cream alongside. This was like the flavors of pancakes and bacon for breakfast taken to an amazing level. So good. They also have one of the best (if not the best) dessert wine lists by the glass of any restaurant in Indy if you’re into that sort of thing (I am).

So if it’s a nice meal you want with excellent food, this is one of your top choices right now in Indy. Really good.

601 East New York Street
Indy 46202

Thursday, October 5, 2017

North American Adventures: Toronto

Recently, we did a short family vacation to Toronto. It’s a big city (4th largest in North America we learned) and there are tons of food options. It was slightly more challenging to research for me than many cities we’ve visited, but I combined sources and talked to a local blogger there and made my choices. (Prices are Canadian dollars).

The first day we landed right at lunch time and I had read about the Dumpling House not too far from our hotel in one of the three (!) Chinatowns in Toronto. It was a kind of hole in the wall place where people line up for one of the crowded tables. It reminded me of some of the places we used to frequent in San Francisco. The man seating you is a bit gruff and it’s not a place to linger. Naturally we wanted dumplings, but there were many things on the menu. We sort of asked the server for advice and she recommended the things we got: fried rice ($7.99), an onion pancake and the fried dumplings ($8.99). We also got an order of the steamed dumplings ($8.99) as well. They come about a dozen to an order, but luckily you can pick up to three flavors per order for a small upcharge. We had a variety of flavors including shrimp and pork, shrimp and veggie, and lamb in order, but the favorite was the pork and chive. The server was right, the pan-fried ones were the best (they cook them in one big piece and then flip them over to serve). However, the fried rice and the onion pancake were quite good as well (the chicken in the rice was shockingly tender). We pretty much inhaled the whole lot of it. Two women stand in the front widow constantly making dumplings, and their business is non-stop from what I could tell.

For dinner that night, it was just my daughter and me (boys were at a soccer—I mean football—game), and we chose Grey Gardens. It’s a restaurant owned by a female chef who is known for her attitude apparently, and that sounded good to me. We started with the house bread plate ($5) that was served with butter and schmaltz. It was interesting bread—grilled to the point that it had a distinct smoky taste even though it wasn’t overly browned. Our shared salad was really good though. It had pea shoots and snow peas and then throughout, this wonderfully tender sliced grilled calamari. There was a dollop of hollandaise next to it as well. You ran your fork through that and then took a bit of the wonderfully acidic salad—it was great and so unique. We both ordered a pasta dish—mine was my favorite. It was papardelle with fried sweetbreads and tiny little chanterelle mushrooms. It was in a light sauce made with ginger ($25). It tasted very rich but somewhat light at the same time. The sweetbreads were fried perfectly. My daughter had ravioli with corn, chorizo and cotija cheese. Also very good, with a little spicy kick. I liked the unique combos here.

Another day we had lunch at El Catrin Distileria in the Distillery District, thanks to a recommendation from my social media friend, @attackresist. We really enjoyed this meal as well, even though he warned me it was a bit pricey. We started with tableside guac ($12.95), which was nice and fresh but needed salt.  The margaritas were also good. The tuna tostadas also very tasty ($16.95) and my daughter enjoyed a burrito. My son had a quesadilla and all was well in the world. We also got some churros for dessert. The chocolate dipping sauce was eww… but the dulce du leche was on point. It was a very enjoyable lunch in the Distillery District where we spent a few hours.

Dinner that night was at Buca, which was the one restaurant everyone had helped pick. It’s Italian, and we all know how difficult that is to find in Indy. Buca was in a sort of busy, hopping neighborhood of bars and restaurants. It was weird though—it was pretty early, but you did not see kids (besides ours) anywhere. I don’t think Torontonians take their kids out to eat much. Anyway, it was a cool restaurant that was set in a basement. Lots of cured hams hanging everywhere and wheels of cheese. We started with the steak tartare. It was interesting because it had a ton of cheese with it, as well as the standard egg. It had a unique taste, but was good. The fried zucchini flowers ($15) were my favorite though. These were stuffed with not just cheese, but also scallop, giving it a heartier flavor. I also liked that they leave the tiny baby zucchini on the stem as well. We also really enjoyed the nodini ($6), which are little bread balls with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Can’t really go wrong here. My daughter loves gnocchi and enjoyed Buca’s version, which were actually stuffed with pesto (in the shape of a cube!) and topped with tomato sauce. Unfortunately the rest of our dinner was just meh. My son’s carbonara had little flavor and the flatbread hubby and I ordered was also doughy and bland, which was weird considering it had porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola on it (as well as mascarpone and rosemary). We enjoyed the restaurant, but it was probably our least favorite meal.

The next night my daughter and I were on our own again (baseball game this time) and went to Byblos (a place my daughter would like me to point out that she picked out). I really, really liked this place. It was the first place with an extremely friendly server, and the food was excellent. We started with citrus olives that were marinated in chili, preserved lemon and cilantro ($6). They were so good—particularly the lemon part. The other first course we had was the black truffle pide ($17). Pide are like flatbreads rolled up around fillings. This was the best thing I ate the entire trip. And they have a whole bunch of different pide flavors. I would like to try them all. This one was stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and halloumi cheese and truffled crème fraiche. Oh yeah, and sliced black truffles on top. This was mind blowingly good. Warm and crisp on the exterior and gooey and truffley inside. For our main course we split the chargrilled Cornish hen ($36) with sabzi sauce, toum, and topped with shaved crispy fried leeks. The hen itself was so tender and the herby sauce (the sabzi) was nicely accented by the toum, which is like a garlic aioli. We had hand rolled couscous with brown butter, saffron and herbs ($8) and it’s a great accompaniment to the saucy poultry. We also had a side of their Brussels sprouts ($9), which are roasted like you see so often these days, BUT WITH CHEESE. They put big hunks of haloumi in there as well as some tahini and yogurt. Really nice. We didn’t really have room for dessert, but we ordered it anyway. It was a fancy hazelnut chocolate mousse and it was as pretty as it was delicious.

The last place we went as a family for dinner was Bar Isabel. It was a bit of a drive from our hotel, but it was worth it. We were sort of wondering how it would go over when we walked in because it really was pretty much a bar, but they gave us a nice table, and while our server was not especially friendly, he gave us great advice about the menu. It was Spanish tapas and was very traditional. We started with a cheese plate ($18) and a ham tasting ($34). There were three kinds of Spanish cheese including a very strong blue that was the table favorite. The ham plate included Iberico and Serrano. Everyone was happy with these. We also got some Spanish olives ($6) that were delicious. My son was suspicious of the color of them and then ate one, and then promptly ate them all. We had to get more.  Next we had the Jamon croquettas ($9 for 2). These were intensely rich. They were basically balls of cheese and Béchamel with some ham mixed in there and then breaded and fried. Hubby really liked them, but they were a little much for the rest of us. The octopus was highly recommended everywhere I read about the place, so we ordered a quarter of one ($22) (you can get a half or whole also). This was wonderful. The kids were starting to wonder if tender octopus was a thing, and they finally got to have some. It was chargrilled and served with a light, slightly acidic sauce and some chorizo. Delicious. Our server also recommended the “pork secreto” ($14), which was possibly even better. It was seasoned a grilled and was amazingly tender. Served with a wedge of grilled lime—perfect. We also had a side of patatas bravas ($10), which were very traditional and a nice side dish. They’re fried potatoes drizzled with a red pepper sauce as well as a mayo type sauce. The best thing might have actually been our dessert though. I would have probably never ordered this if it hadn’t been for all the reading I did online and the way people raved. It is a Basque cake ($10). This was a small round cake that is not overly sweet. At the table they pour a sherry cream sauce all over the top. It was stunning. So simple, and completely amazing. I have already looked up the copycat recipes. I would say as a complete experience, this was our favorite meal.

So that’s it in a nutshell as far as our food experiences in Toronto. Based on what I saw, you could eat for months here and not repeat a restaurant, and that’s a good quality in a city as far as I’m concerned.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Wasabi on 82nd - Revisit

If you are a regular reader, you know I have been on a quest for a new sushi place near my house. None of the ones I have found have been bad, but I have yet to find one to declare my allegiance. So we decided to go back to Wasabi on 82nd because it was a place we used to go on occasion and hubby always liked their nigiri. (Note: I am not confident about the prices listed here. I got them from the website, but I think they might be outdated).

So, it was a little sketchy from the start, because it was 7:00 on a Saturday and there was literally one other table there. A sushi place with no business is always a little scary to me. We sat down and decided to get a little appetizer and ordered the agedashi tofu ($5.50). It was two large chunks of tofu that were lightly fried and sitting on top of some tempura sauce (which is a fish broth base). It was covered by lots of bonito flakes, which are cool because they are so light; they kind of move, making the dish almost look alive. It has a nice crisp exterior and soft interior—the only thing I would change is to make the pieces a little smaller in order to have more crunch ratio—the inside of the tofu was a little too creamy when you got to the inside bites. Anyway, hubby was sort of against it, but in retrospect it was one of the best things of the evening.

For rolls, we ordered the Indy roll ($15), the Fantastic roll ($16), and the Chop Chop Crab roll ($12). The Indy roll is shrimp tempura inside and salmon, tuna and avocado across the top drizzled with mayo and eel sauce. The Fantastic roll is spicy tuna and crunch topped with salmon, yellowtail and avocado. The chop chop crab is soft shell crab mixed with spicy mayo inside and out. Ok, so the first two look pretty good in the picture right? But none of these rolls were good. I can’t put my finger on it totally, but the fish was just flavorless. And some of it seemed sort of like it might have not been the freshest. The spicy tuna in one of them was a mushy paste-like substance. The chop chop crab had lost its crunch and tasted like it could have been made with fried anything. These were not good rolls. I had maybe one or two pieces of each and just stopped eating. It just wasn’t worth the calories.

My daughter had the katsudon ($10), which was a fried breaded pork cutlet sautéed with onions and egg over rice. This dish did not look very appetizing and the taste wasn’t much better. It was also extremely bland and lacking in flavor.  My son’s New York strip teriyaki ($20) was the other best thing on the table—the steak was tender and cooked just right. He was quite happy with his and we all kept sneaking bites.

All in all, Wasabi will not be a place we will be returning. Honestly, with the amount of business they had that night (maybe one or two other tables came in and one carry out order was filled), I am surprised they are still in business.

Wasabi on 82nd
5025 East 82nd Street
Indy 46250