Conrad confessional

Valentine’s Day arrived a week late at my house this year. An ugly wave of strep throat followed by a cold sore epidemic hit me and then hubby in quick succession, soundly defeating plans for the romantic staycation we’d arranged in downtown Indy. Fortunately, a week of recovery time saw us both in much better shape and we were able to resume our rescheduled reservations. (Thank God, the toddler somehow managed to avoid the contagion.)

Child-free overnight getaways are a big deal for us, and only happen maybe a few times a year if we’re lucky. Again, it was our fabulous neighbors to the rescue, taking in the toddler for a fun-filled night of indoor camping.

Since hubby and I weren’t actually in the same country for either of our two wedding anniversaries this past year, we decided to really splurge for Valentine’s Day and call it three occasions in one. Site of said rendezvous? Indy’s most upper-crusted luxury hotel — the Conrad.

My only prior experience with the Conrad property had been an awesome race week cocktail party hubby brought me along for two years ago, and a glass of wine at Tastings with a handful of women friends two weeks ago following a play at the IRT.

Let me spell it out for you. Nothing about the Conrad is cheap. The restaurants, the rooms, nada. You’re going to drop some cash to stay here. Figuring what the hell, I requested the room upgrade option when I made the reservation, assuring us of a soaking tub and a Monument Circle view.

Figuring we’d try to cut a corner, we ditched the car at a 24-hour Circle Centre garage (for about half the price valet parking would have cost us) and checked in around 3:30 p.m. The common areas of the hotel are spotlessly clean, and the lobby features a gorgeous huge Chihuly-style glass light fixture that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Sure enough, the windows in our 18th floor room opened out onto a spectacular view of the monument and the eastern side of the downtown skyscape. Not too shabby. The room itself was subtly decorated in classy neutral shades with a massive flat-screen TV and a bathroom I could have lived in for a few days. Deep soaking tub, separate shower, marble countertops and another TV. Sweet. Our only very minor complaints – the full-length mirror in the room was streaky and didn’t look like it had been cleaned very well, and the tub itself leaked slightly, which we remedied by placing an extra washcloth over the drain.

The Conrad offers a pretty 6th floor indoor pool/whirlpool area we hit soon after checking in. The lounge chairs all held fresh towels and the side tables were stocked with fruit and bottles of water. The water facilities were great, but hubby and I quickly realized we both reeked of chlorine on the elevator ride back up to the room.

Since the weather outside was so frightful, we’d decided to just hole up and spend our entire stay on site at the Conrad. After bathing and relaxing in the room for a few hours, we got dressed up and made our way back downstairs for a pre-dinner drink at Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro. I like this place, it’s full of nifty high-tech wine dispensers that look kinda like vending machines. The wines are grouped by theme and style — i.e. pinot noirs, Italians, sparkling. What you do is wander around reading the descriptions below each until you find something you want to drink, then use a key card to dispense a glass worth or just a taste. Hubby found the whole thing a little crass, but I thought it was cool in a Jetson’s kind of way. There’s also table service, of course, if you want to be prosaic.

We chose to stick to the menu with hubby ordering a robust glass of cabernet; I selected a so-so Sangiovese that the waitress recommended. As tempted as we were to sample a plate of the blue cheese kettle chips, we decided wisely to save our appetites for our dinner to come at the Capital Grille down the hall.

I’d never eaten at Capital Grille before, although I’d heard they serve a kick-ass burger for lunch. The first thing that hit me when we walked in was “wow, this place is DARK.” Dark, intimate and masculine. Very old boys’ club-ish, as most steak houses usually are. Someone could make a fortune creating a steak house that caters to women, decorated and staffed accordingly. (Hm… note to self??) Good thing we were hungry and ready for some serious eats.

The menu wasn’t nearly as extensive as I expected, mainly a short list of wet-aged steaks, seafood and a la carte sides. I must admit, our service was outstanding; our waiter came off as knowledgeable and friendly without a hint of condescension. His pinot noir recommendation was spot on, and way better than what we sampled at Tastings next door. I did get a little tired of the guy who kept swooping in to refill our water glasses every time we took a sip.

But back to the food. After much consideration, we both opted for steaks. When in Rome… Hubby ordered steak au poivre, a hefty slab of sirloin that came drenched with a peppercorn brandy cream sauce so good I wanted to drink it off his plate. I got a straight-up filet mignon, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked to medium well doneness. We split two sides — a dish of steamed green beans with roasted tomatoes that hubby refused to touch after he spied a few slices of onion in the mix, and a sinful pile of crispy fries drizzled with truffle oil and dusted with shavings of parmesan cheese. Yummy.

Everything was delicious, although the two women seated next to us were apparently not having the same experience. We couldn’t help but overhear them bitching to the waiter and insisting on getting the manager out there to take something off their bill, although we never did figure out just what had gotten them so riled up in the first place.

The tab? Again, not cheap. We justified it by reminding ourselves that this was really three special-occasion dinners in one. Very upscale, tasty and professional, but honestly, I think I still prefer St. Elmo’s if I’m in the mood for a great steak.

We retired to our room, wrapped ourselves in the complimentary robes and settled in for a movie and some rejuvenating relaxation.

For breakfast, room service was the logical choice. Service was quick, and we luxuriated in bed over pastries, fruit, fresh squeezed juice and coffee. Ah. Bliss.

All in all, the Conrad was lovely. A few very minor hiccups, but certainly nothing to detract from a wonderful overall stay. Looking back, I’m not quite sure the value we got was worth what we paid. The problem with staying or dining someplace so upscale is that your expectations are so high going in, the disappointment is that much greater if there’s any misstep or things aren’t absolutely perfect. Not that we were disappointed, but next time, I’d probably go somewhere a little more affordable and try to build in an extra night instead. Still, I’m glad we checked it out and can now check it off our list.

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