Race weekend recap

Ladies and gentlemen – start your… appetites! Last weekend was the busiest weekend of the year here in Indianapolis, it was time for the big race, and some darn good food along the way. Since hubby works in the motorsport industry, he was privy to several invitations to swanky little race-related shindigs, and I got to be his date. All we had to do was line up some babysitters and we were good to party.

The first event I tagged along to was a Brits-in-motorsports mix-and-mingle reception at the Governor’s mansion on Thursday night. (Hubby’s not British, but I guess Ireland is close enough in proximity for him to garner an invite.) In any case, he’s attended this annual party before and felt confident I’d be impressed with a visit to the Governor’s mansion and the food served there.

The party itself seemed fine and the crowd an interesting group. Hearing so many foreign accents in the middle of Indianapolis was a little strange, I must admit, but they all seemed to be enjoying the camaraderie of their common homeland. I was happy enough to play my role as gracious arm candy and people-watch. Governor Mitch was even on hand to greet everyone and say a few words. The food, I’m sorry to say, was the biggest disappointment of the evening.

I forget the name of the caterers, which is telling in and of itself. Even if I could remember it, I wouldn’t use it here to protect their identities. The food was boring and forgettable. A platter of cheese and crackers with a few wilted looking strawberries, skewers of chewy grilled steak and peppers, chicken fingers that weren’t terribly hot or crisp, and some kind of stuffed mushrooms that didn’t look the least bit appealing. I think they contained crab and cheese, but I wasn’t willing to taste one and find out. Now, I know the British aren’t traditionally known for quality and variety in their cuisine, but this was a downright insult!

After an hour and a half of shop talk and networking, we called it quits and headed to the Rathskeller to meet some of my friends for a quick drink before collecting our little one and heading home.

The next night saw us attending an IRL VIP reception downtown at the Conrad, one of the select few four-star hotels in Indianapolis. I had never been inside and was looking forward to checking it out. My cousin Jenny, our babysitter for the evening, was nearly more excited than I was, convinced we were going to be rubbing elbows and hobnobbing with the likes of Playboy Bunnies, Mario Lopez, Carlos Diaz and other celebrities who happened to be in town for the race. Alas, our party took place from 6:30 until 8 p.m., ending well before the big red carpet do, which didn’t start until well after 9 p.m. I was sorry not to come home with photos of myself getting chummy with (team owner and racing enthusiast) Patrick Dempsey, but c’est la vie.

The Conrad party was held in the Vitesse lounge, a trendy little joint full of dark seats and an impressive bar. We were greeted by several of hubby’s contacts and left to explore the buffet. Now THIS is what I’m talking about, Willis. The invitation clued us in to expect heavy hors d’oeuvres, but this was an insanely high-class spread of tasty items, not to mention the handful of attentive servers who passed hors d’oeuvres though the room at regular intervals as well.

The buffet had a distinctly Mediterranean feel – pita bread with olives, roasted peppers, hummus, marinated artichokes, feta cheese, pine nuts, and the like, but that’s only scratching the surface. There was also an array of salads and hot items as well – satay-style chicken skewers with dipping sauces, roasted jumbo shrimp, slices of juicy pork tenderloin, and even a chafing dish of succulent baby lamb chops. I’d never thought of lamb chops as a finger food, but these worked. Perfectly cooked and tender enough to nibble right off the bone, no fork required. The servers passed delectable crab cakes the size of golf balls; chilled shrimp and cocktail sauce; some kind of interesting little tidbit of toasted bread with kiwi, strawberries and cheese, and I can’t even remember what else. Heavy wasn’t the word – these hors d’oeuvres were like a little nine-course tasting menu!

Then there were the desserts… the desserts were a whole buffet all by themselves. I managed to taste three of the half dozen or so options – a shot glass filled with rich chocolate pot de creme, a light-as-air raspberry mousse cake and a tiny pecan tart. All mouthwateringly good. The service was impeccable, too. No sooner did you set down an empty plate or napkin than it was discreetly whisked away before a crumb could hit the floor. I shudder to think what a spread like that must set a person back… hubby and I agreed we’d come back sometime for a drink at the bar and maybe a nosh or two.

So that was Friday night. Saturday night was my friend Alison’s birthday party, another downtown bash. She had chosen to gather some girlfriends at Oceannaire for cocktails and appetizers at the bar, and then proceed on to wherever the evening might lead. Oceannaire was yet another place I’d never been and was excited to check out. Hubby is not a seafood fan, an occasional fish and chips at the Brew Pub is about as far as he goes, but I love it when it’s fresh and done well.

The Oceannaire was just starting to fill up when we all arrived early in the evening, but we snagged seats at the bar and stayed perched there as the place became busy around us. Generous glasses of wine and cocktails flowed. We all ordered food from the appetizer menu; I would love to come back sometime to partake in a full-fledged dinner. Among our group, we covered the calamari, shrimp cocktail, crabcakes and oyster shooters. I couldn’t pass up the crab cocktail, a huge goblet stuffed with shredded iceberg lettuce and loaded up with big chunks of icy cold jumbo lump crabmeat. A side of spicy cocktail sauce was so good, I could have picked it up and sipped it. Deeeeeelicious. We passed around a big steaming plate of hash brown potatoes (enough for about six of us to share and still have some left over) and a plate of tasty green beans almondine. Every bite was fabulous.

And to top it all off, Alison’s good friend Gillian made her a birthday cake from scratch, an outrageously chocolaty concoction with a ganache filling and creamy chocolate frosting. I think we all sighed a collective sigh of utter contentment after taking the first mouthful. As Alison is a frosting junkie, Gillian had the foresight to bring an extra ramekin of extra icing and ganache for the birthday girl. Now THAT’s a pal. Kinda made me wish my own birthday wasn’t so far away…

So for the race weekend events, I batted a solid two for three when it comes to good eats in Indy.

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