Monday, June 25, 2018

Next Door

The family and I finally got around to trying Next Door, the other new Kimbal Musk restaurant. This one is in SoBro. I have always thought this location just called out for a restaurant—it pretty much looked like an old diner, so I was glad to see something interesting go in here.

We went for lunch (although I think their menu is the same at all meals). Wanting to try a lot of things, we ordered a couple of shareable items to start. We had the chips and guacamole ($8.95) and the buffalo chicken bites ($10.95). We were excited when we saw the chips—they sort of reminded us of the flour tortilla chips from Nada, which we all love. But these were not as tasty and needed salt. They were fine but not super exciting. Sadly, the same could be said of the guac. It definitely needed salt, and a little lime, and maybe some heat would have helped too. It was just kind of bland. The buffalo chicken bites were good. Nice slightly spicy flavor from the buffalo sauce that was tempered by the creamy dressing and chunks of blue cheese. I liked the flavor from some thin slices of celery and celery greens as well. I guess if I were going to improve the dish, the only thing I would suggest is that the pieces of chicken might be slightly bigger—they were a tad on the dry side. But ultimately, this ended up being my favorite dish on the table.  Hubby and I also had a house margarita ($7.50) and I have to say, it wasn’t very good—it was very light and had little flavor going on. I rarely meet a margarita that I just don’t like, but this was one.

For our main, hubby and I wanted to split a Cuban sandwich ($9.95) but were told only upon ordering it that they were out (hint, might want to tell people this at the very beginning of the service). We last minute changed to the “Merlin’s Carolina pork” sandwich ($11.95). This sandwich has pork in mustard BBQ sauce, pickles, crispy onions, and cole slaw. So, this sandwich suffered from dryness too. You could barely tell there was sauce on the pork, and there seemed to be more crispy onions than there was pork. I liked the idea of fried onions on the sandwich, but in this case, they sort of just added to the dry factor. I asked for a side of sauce, which I eventually got, and this made the sandwich bearable, but still not particularly good. They serve the sandwiches with chips and dressed greens. Both were fine, but nothing that stood out.

My son had the burger ($10.95). It comes topped with white cheddar and with the traditional garnishes on the side. They did not ask how he wanted it cooked, and it was cooked pretty well done. So guess what? Also, dry. Of the main dishes, it was probably the best one, but still not great. They really ought to cook it to order, or else cook it closer to medium.

The worst of the entrées was my daughter’s ancho chile chicken bowl ($13.95). If I thought the other dishes came across as dry, this one took the cake. It was mainly rice topped with shredded chicken—both of these things pretty dry. There were some tortilla strips on top, a bit of corn, beans, and peppers and then the whole thing was very lightly drizzled with lime crema. There was nowhere near enough of this crema to bring the moisture this dish needed. The few bites she ended up eating, she had with some of the leftover guacamole. The chicken wasn’t particularly flavorful either. This was definitely a pass.

We thought we should try dessert just to give every course a chance. The only option was a gluten free chocolate chip cookie, so we went ahead and took a pass on this, considering we had homemade gluten-full chocolate chip cookies at home. 

Ok you guys, I wanted to like this place, and it’s really cute, but there was nothing that made me want to go back. Even the service was up and down. For instance, it took a solid 15-20 minutes to get our appetizers, but then we got our entrées within five minutes of getting the apps, even though we ordered them separately and later. It took awhile to get that side of sauce for our sandwich, and to get extra plates and things like this. We sat outside, which was lovely, but inside seemed pretty loud. The only thing I would consider ordering again were the buffalo chicken bites. So, if you have found something you love, please let me know. Otherwise, I am unlikely to return.

Next Door
4573 North College Ave
Indy 46205

Noise rating: 4 bells (out of 5) inside, quieter outside.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Road Trip: Corto y Lima--Lexington, KY

Recently I posted about going to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. You know I would never leave on a 6-hour road trip without picking a place to stop for lunch on the way. So, thanks to Twitter, I chose Corto y Lima in Lexington, Kentucky, conveniently almost exactly half way there. I could have gone with a more traditional choice but knowing the kind of food we would likely be eating all weekend, some Latin-themed food seemed like a good plan.

We started with the guacamole and chips ($10) at the recommendation of the server. Now, I make a pretty darn good guac myself, so I am sort of particular about it, but this is probably one of the best ones I have had in a restaurant. It had roasted garlic in it and was really nice and acidic. It also had plenty of salt. Salt and acid are the things that make or break good guac in my book. It had some diced tomatoes and red onions on top and freshly made chips alongside that were also nicely salted. They gave extra limes on the side, and you really didn’t need them. It was a miracle. The only bad thing I can say about this is that I wish there was more of it. The serving bowls makes for a deceptively small portion. It looks like more than it actually is. We licked it clean. I also had a margarita because it just sounded good and I wasn’t driving, and it was delicious. Nice and fresh and limey as well.

We just got a bunch of stuff for the rest of the meal. I really liked the elote ($5), which was an ear of corn cut into smaller pieces and seasoned with lime aioli, queso fresco and Tajin (which is like a Latin seasoning salt). It had all the good stuff too—lots of salt, lots of seasoning and lots of acid. It was pretty decadent too with all that mayo and cheese. Again, gave us limes and we didn’t need them. Also, the blue corn empanadas ($9) were great. They were little fried pockets of masa filled with rock crab, green chilies, and cream cheese. They were topped with little pieces of fresh diced pineapple. Again, loved the use of acid in the pineapple to balance the rich crab and cheese. There was also a hot sauce on the side that was studded with some hunks of cheese and also had a bit of pineapple flavor to it. It had a thick, almost buttery texture. It was great for dipping the empanadas. I would love to eat these again.

The other items we had were not quite as good as the first items, but still had redeeming qualities. The crispy shrimp tacos ($8) weren’t bad, although they were smothered in peppers that gave a lot of heat! We both pulled a lot of them off in order to be able to eat them. There was also jalapeno aioli on there, which was nice because while it had a little kick, the creaminess of the aioli balanced it. There was also some shredded romaine on there for texture. The least successful dish, and my biggest disappointment, was the chicken chicharron ($8), which is described as fried chicken thighs, crispy chicken skins, chili escabeche, cilantro and lime. Sadly, there was nothing crispy about this dish—almost like it had sat too long somewhere. I couldn’t even differentiate the chicken skin part of the dish. We barely touched this one, which was fine because we had a lot of food really.

All in all, it’s a place I would go regularly I think if I lived in the area…I would like to try all the various dips they offer and there are several menu items that are very tempting. But I would always get the guacamole too. 

Corto y Lima
101 West Short Street
Lexington, KY 40507

Noise rating: 3 bells (out of five)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bento House

My daughter and I had a Friday night to ourselves while the boys went to an Indians game and we decided to try something new. Bento House opened in the old Boogie Burger space and from what I understand is owned by the people who also own Watami---the all you can eat sushi placed a couple doors down.

It was pretty dead in there when we got there—only one other table. People did come in and out for carry out orders, but it was quiet. A few other tables came in as we were leaving, but still on the slow side. The service was pretty speedy though even though I think there was just one server waiting on all the tables. She was very nice.

Ok, so the most positive thing I can say about this place is that they give you a lot of food for the money. We each ordered a Bento Box with various things in them and they were around $12-14 each. I started with the hot and sour soup and she got miso (soup comes with the bento box). The hot and sour soup was pretty good—it had a nice amount of heat actually, which sometimes can be lacking. I love a lot of tofu in my soup, and there wasn’t a lot, but that’s probably just random. My daughter enjoyed her miso.

In my bento box ($12.95), I had the hibachi chicken (you get a choice of a meat entrée), the crab Rangoon (you can get this or spring rolls, which she got), gyoza, chicken skewers (they come in all of the boxes) and white rice. My daughter had sweet and sour chicken, spring rolls, shrimp tempura, the chicken skewers and fried rice (which is an upcharge) ($14.95).

What can I say except the food was all just kind of ok. It wasn’t bad per se, but there was nothing that I really liked. My daughter enjoyed her orange/passion fruit boba smoothie ($4.50), but other than that, she felt about the same as I did. The chicken on my plate was pretty dry, especially the skewers. The hibachi chicken was really pretty bland. The fried things were probably the best—I liked the shrimp tempura just fine, although it wasn’t the best I have had for sure. The dumplings were pretty good too. The weird thing is, they put the appropriate sauce in the little compartment with the items they go with. I think I would prefer them on the side, as I sometimes like to use just basic soy with some things. My daughter’s sweet and sour chicken was not tossed with the sauce—it  was just on the side, which was also a little strange I thought. Good for takeout maybe to keep it crispy, but in the restaurant, sort of came across like battered chicken nuggets.

Anyhow, glad to see a new place go in there, and that it is independent, but I can’t say I will be rushing back. Has anyone else been?

Bento House
1904 Broad Ripple Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46220

Noise rating: 0 bells (out of five) (with the exception of the alarm bell that went off every time someone entered the restaurant.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hedge Row

I have been patiently waiting to try Hedge Row (I like to wait a couple of weeks if I can), so recently after my graduation from grad school (no big deal), I told my family this is what I wanted. This is where local chef Brad Gates has landed as well if you’ve been wondering and the restaurant is owned by Kimbal Musk, brother of Elon. We had a reservation and were running a few minutes late due to traffic (again, graduations everywhere), but they were perfectly nice about it. The patio was open, but we sat in the main dining room. There’s a fair amount of seating with the patio and bar, but I was a little surprised at how small the main dining room actually is. However, regardless of size, it was not lacking in noise, so prepare yourself if you’re sensitive to loud restaurants.

It is a very cool looking place that feels like it is straight out of a larger city—very modern and boisterous. It was very crowded, and the drinks took a little longer than I would have wanted, but I am pretty sure that was a problem at the bar and not our server. Right away we ordered some snacks, and then perused the rest of the menu. We ordered the shrimp hushpuppies ($6) and the hand cut garlic fries ($5). Both were good. The fries were a big hit at our table—they were very hot and extremely crispy. We all liked the ones that had some extra crispy bits. And while I usually am bored with ketchup, this one was house made and very good. Lots of acidic flavor, and not so sweet as most are. Once I realized the hot honey to dip the hushpuppies in was kind of pooled on the bottom of the serving bowl, I really liked these as well. They are really large hush puppies made from cornmeal and studded with small bits of gulf shrimp. Dredging them in the slightly hot honey was very tasty. Hubby loved them. I liked them a lot, although they were a tad dry, but maybe that’s just cornmeal for you. I would have probably added a sauce on top—and after looking at other pictures online, most show the hushpuppies with some sort of topping that ours didn’t have. Maybe just overlooked in the kitchen.

The way they do food here is ideally family style, and my family was just fine with that. So, this means they just bring things out as they are made. The next things that were delivered were the crispy fish “tacos” (which are wrapped in lettuce) ($14). These were one of my favorites for sure. They take nice pieces of rockfish (one of my favorite fish for fish and chips in San Francisco), and tempura fry it. They put some smoked chili tartar sauce underneath and top it with pickled onions and radish slices. I really liked this take on a taco—hubby started to balk at the lettuce aspect, but honestly, by using it, it really lets the fish shine. It was a great dish. The four of us fought over them. Our server said we could add one if we want and we would definitely do that next time so we all had our own.
Next came the caramelized brussels sprouts and turnips with Smoking Goose ham hock vinaigrette ($8). Love the use of the pork and some acid (although I think it could have used a bit more) and I thought the sprouts were very good. What blew my mind actually was how good the turnips were. They were roasted perfectly and had an amazing pillowy consistency. Normally turnips don’t really get me going that much, but I was grateful to have my mind changed here. We also had the tuna ceviche ($15) because we all love tuna, but for whatever reason, this was probably the least favorite of the table. The tuna was impeccably fresh and it was an interesting mix with apples and red onion, but the flavors just didn’t really come together for me.  It had a coconut lime vinaigrette that I felt was more coconut than lime. And it needed some salt. I am hoping that they mix up the seasonings on it sometimes though, as that tuna practically melted in your mouth.

The next thing that came out was the salmon ($26) from the “large” section of the menu. This was an extreme crowd favorite at our table. It was one of the other stars of the night for sure. It was a piece of salmon that had skin on that had been seared crispy—so crispy we were fighting over it. There was this amazing smoky bacon broth that it sat in that tasted like it had some soy going on there too. The veggies with it were bok choy and shitake mushrooms. The bok choy was just right. Not so “fresh” that it tasted raw, but cooked enough that it was a little soft, but with a pleasant fresh crunch. There was a parsley-hazelnut pistou (sort of like a pesto) on it as well. So much flavor packed into this dish. It was great. 

We also got the pasta Bolognese ($19) at the request of my son. This was also extremely good and tasty. It was basically penne pasta topped with a sauce that had a mix of ground beef, pork, and lamb. Lots of fresh parmesan on top. An extremely well done, and hearty pasta dish.

We were celebrating after all, so we splurged on several desserts as well. My kids both had the salted chocolate chunk cookies ($4 each) and they were delicious. Warm and gooey and just the right kick from the salt. Hubby and I tried a couple of different things—the sticky toffee pudding ($8) and the butterscotch pot de crème ($7). The pot de crème was very tasty—a nice change from the more traditional chocolate version. It was served with a little piece of cashew brittle. The sticky toffee pudding didn’t really do it for us, and we are generally big fans, after coming to love this dish while living in England. This one was topped with a lot of pecans, and the cake had a much more date type taste than others I have had, which were more like rich, moist gingerbread almost. I feel like you kind of have to cover it in sauce too, and because of the way this one was served in its own baking dish, this was impossible. 

Overall, I think this is a very nice addition to the Indy restaurant scene. We enjoyed pretty much everything we had, and the restaurant has a nice hip and friendly vibe. Service was a little spotty at times, but I am hoping that will get worked out with time and experience. I look forward to going back—as does everyone else in my family. Who else has been? Please share your favorite items!

Hedge Row
350 Massachusetts Ave
Indy  46204

Noise rating: 5 bells (out of five)