One-Two punch

Within the past month or so, I have righted a very serious culinary wrong.

It’s shameful that Tinker Street has been open now for as long as it has, and I’ve only JUST gotten there. If you know anything about dining here in Indy, you’re probably already familiar with the dream team that is Peter George and Tom Main. I’m honored to have recently made their acquaintances myself, although their reputations as creative, warm restaurateurs certainly preceded our introduction.

I visited Tinker Street on a Thursday night with my friend, Eileen, and found myself making pleasant small talk with one of the regulars at the tall communal table on the heated patio as I waited for her to arrive. Once seated, we received small shots of sparkling wine to kick off our meal… and here’s what we ate:

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A delicious plate of beets with Point Reyes blue cheese, paper-thin radish slices and honey. I must admit, I’m a late arrival to the beet party, but now that I’m in the door, I’m not leaving anytime soon.

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Artisan bread slices with herbaceous butter to slather on top. As a young girl, our dinner table ALWAYS included slices of plain white bread and margarine. This is the grown-up, sexy edition.

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Several friends had recommended the shrimp and grits to me, and I can see why. Perfectly tender gulf shrimp, fragrant bisque, creamy grits, green tomato concasse — what’s not to love!?!?

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For dessert, we had what I like to think of as a semi-deconstructed cheesecake. For ages, I’ve been wanting to see someone serve a scoop of cheesecake filling on an ice cream cone or in a sundae glass with hot fudge. The TS “cheesecake” arrives not in a traditional crust, but atop a shortbread cookie round doused with an addictive pineapple jam (can I buy a jar of this to take home, please!?!?!?) and garnished with a few bright citrus segments.

Service was outstanding through our entire meal, by the way…

I was a little quicker on the draw getting to Festiva, Peter and Tom’s most recent project, managing to squeeze in my first visit just a few weeks after it opened! Between my friend Laura and I, we demolished:

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Several (ahem) margaritas. There are three options available, along with some pretty clever and innovative craft cocktails. We sampled the signature Festiva Margarita (with a sugar rim instead of salt, ‘cause that’s how Laura rolls), and the floral, fruity blood orange Margarita Estacional. Both were pretty damn delicious.

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If you put avocado and hot sauce on a shoe, I would eat it, so clearly, an order of guacamole was a given. The presentation here is beautiful, sprinkled with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, cilantro and serrano peppers. Happily, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

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It was hard passing up the tacos, but we opted instead to share two entrees. The pozole. Think a deep, rich Mexican chicken soup/stew. If I were feeling under the weather, I’d tuck into a big bowl of this.

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The costillas — pork ribs — were perhaps my favorite thing we ate all night. Super spicy (we’d been warned by our server), meaty and tender. So, so good.

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Laura’s a big flan fan, so that’s what we got for dessert. Again, the presentation was lovely, and the custard was light and silky with sweet caramel syrup poured over and capped off with an edible flower.

Is your appetite is sufficiently whetted? Support our local business scene by checking out these fine establishments for yourself. Just know before you go, both are 21+ crowds only, and neither accept reservations. (P.s. Tinker Street is participating in the Devour Indy promotion going on now through Feb. 5).

http://www.tinkerstreetindy.com
http://www.festivaindy.com

 

Ultimo 2016 — dining doesn’t get much finer than this

Restaurants are the new casinos in Las Vegas, and smart celebrity chefs have capitalized on the paradigm shift that’s taken place in recent years. To wit, the international roll call of high-end eateries that now exists here has given Sin City a reputation for fine dining that’s easily on par with — if not outranking — its appeal as a gaming/entertainment destination.

Las Vegas Strip view from hot air balloon, credit Amy Lynch.jpgOh sure, you can still find an old-school $5.99 steak dinner if you look hard enough, but why would you? The new breed of Vegas foodies is savvy with discriminating tastes, seeking out upscale meals in trendy venues.

Ultimo may just be the superlative Las Vegas dining experience of the year. And in this town’s current culinary climate, that’s saying something.

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I had the great fortune to attend “Le Grand Voyage” festivities Dec. 9 to 11 at The Venetian and The Palazzo, the fourth incarnation of the annual event (during which I believe I drank my weight in champagne).

Belvedere cocktails, credit Amy Lynch.jpgPick-up from McCarran International Airport in a Rolls-Royce Ghost kicked off a weekend of sheer indulgence, followed by a Friday night reception fueled by caviar and Belvedere cocktails. Later that evening, a dessert buffet awash in Dom Perignon Vintage 2006 capably kept the glow going.

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Ultimo dining table – Anthony Mair

The 2016 party culminated in a black-tie dinner of epic proportions hosted by Robin Leach with dishes prepared by a star-studded roster of chefs that included Thomas Keller, Curtis Stone, Jerome Bocuse and Ming Tsai. A dining table dressed for the occasion spanned the length of the Venetian’s showy frescoed Colonnade, where candlelight, artful video projections and Lalique vases filled with calla lilies and orchids set the stage for a dramatic meal before the first plate ever arrived.

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Chef Pierre Thiam Red Snapper Caldou with Sorrel Relish over Folio with fermented dawadawa Power – Anthony Mair

Ranking the six impeccable courses is like choosing a favorite child, but a few of the plates I’m still dreaming about a week later — Chef Paul Bartolotta’s decadent white truffle-laced broth with tortellini, a kicky red snapper caldou with sorrel relish from Chef Pierre Thiam, and Chef Vikram Vij’s luscious lamb over fenugreek cream curry.

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Chef Vikram Vij Marinated Lamb Popsicles with Fenugreek Cream Curry – Anthony Mair

Wine pairings from Dom Perignon, Metaphora, Marques de Murrieta, Pio Cesare and Memento Mori took the feast over the top.

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In keeping with the Grand Voyage theme, this year’s Ultimo itinerary went well beyond the table to include a Rolls-Royce driving experience that let attendees chauffeur themselves up and down the Strip, a hot-air balloon adventure provided by Las Vegas Balloon Rides, a Dom Perignon picnic in Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, a Louis Vuitton fashion show and a Patron-sponsored farewell brunch on Sunday morning.

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Sebastien Silvestri, vice president of food & beverage for The Venetian and the Palazzo, organizes the annual event, traveling the globe to assemble the spectacular roster of chefs, winemakers and sponsors.

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A portion of Ultimo proceeds goes to benefit Ment’or BKB Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to educate, inspire and support a new generation of American culinary professionals.

For more information, visit venetian.com/entertainment/ultimo.html.

Dining in the D

Last week, I spent a pleasantly enlightening five days exploring the delights of Detroit during a Midwest Travel Writers Association conference. In the midst of an urban renaissance, the “D” is rising once again thanks to the dedicated efforts of hardworking folks who want to see the Motor City survive and thrive. And that kind of work takes fuel.

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Fortunately, as I quickly learned, Detroit is full of opportunities to eat… and eat well. More to come on my noshing journey through Eastern Market, but here’s a quick taste of a couple places I visited to whet your appetite:

Michael Symon’s Roast. I’ve long harbored a minor crush on the Iron Chef with the great laugh, and I was thrilled to dine at Symon’s Detroit outpost, an offshoot of his signature Cleveland-based eateries. Within the bespoke confines of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, Roast is NOT the place to go if you’re a vegetarian.

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Although you could compose a non-meat meal from salads and sides (and it would be delicious), meat is really the main attraction here.

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Think beef cheek-stuffed pierogi, braised short ribs, meltingly tender lamb shanks, marrow bones and steaks for days. Hearty and delicious, the kind of food you want to stuff your face with on a chilly winter night with a sassy glass of cabernet.

Pegasus Greek Taverna. My accommodations at the lovely Greektown Casino Hotel sat right on the edge of the Greektown district, populated as you’d imagine with authentic eateries serving up souvlaki and shish kebab. Lunch at this local landmark was a three-course affair that started with bread, saganaki and salad, followed by tasty pastitsio and a honey-drenched square of baklava. Opa, indeed!

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Slows Bar-B-Q. Stopping at Slows on the Corktown strip (Detroit’s oldest residential neighborhood) is a MUST if you’re a barbecue fan. Ribs, pulled pork, chicken, brisket, soulful sides like mac and cheese — the gang’s all here. Decisions were mighty hard to make, but I finally opted for something called the “New Style,” a whopping pile of brisket bathed in sharp cheddar with onion, mushrooms and pickled jalapenos on a sub bun. Onion-laced slow-cooked green beans on the side.

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Tabletop sauces to choose from ranged from spicy and sweet to mustard and apple-based(!). Slows boasts a sweet beer and bourbon list, too. Nice.

More to come soon on my Detroit dining adventures soon…

A second helping of Paducah? Yes, please!

As good luck and fate would have it, I had an opportunity to return to Paducah last week for a few more days of fun and feasting!

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1857 Hotel made me feel like a rock star, greeting me warmly and welcoming me back with open arms. I’d barely gotten checked in when Jo, my new favorite bartender, invited me to come downstairs and try some Bird Dog Ruby Red Grapefruit Whiskey she’d just gotten in. The “Kentucky Mule” she mixed up for me was DELISH. (And, she even poured me a bonus taste of cocoa cayenne liquor I wanted to lick right out of the glass.) If I lived here, this bar would definitely be my “local.”

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For dinner my first night in town, I visited Max’s Brick Oven Café, a charming little spot with a courtyard patio that looks like something straight outta N’Awlins. My wood-fired salmon with mustard cream sauce over spinach with roasted potatoes paired perfectly with a chilly Chardonnay.

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Breakfast at G&O Pharmacy and Grill was a fun little find. Imagine a full-service pharmacy with a short-order grill and lunch counter in the corner. There ya go. The breakfast menu’s about as basic as it gets — coffee, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast and hash browns. But really, what more do you need in the morning? And tons of local color. Gotta love a place where you can sit on a stool with a counter full of regulars sharing their newspapers and discussing whether or not Earl should put new blades on his lawnmower.

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Culinary students capably staff Kitchen’s Café on the groovy little Paducah School of Art and Design campus. And imagine my surprise when I walk in and see a huge old iron engine furnace cover made in Indianapolis, IN — a fun little taste of home! The fresh hummus pita wrap I ate was darn tasty, too – nice and garlicky with snappy slices of cucumber, greens, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of feta served with a cup of fresh diced pineapple.

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Happy hour took place at Dry Ground Brewing in the currently shape-shifting retro Coca-Cola plant on Broadway, an amazing renovation work in progress. This place is sleek and contemporary, populated with a great staff and a menu of buzzy microbrews that touts offerings like Under Tow Imperial IPA, 37 Flood American IPA and Rapture Imperial Stout. The Preacher Pils I sipped was smooooooth, and I also liked the seasonal sample I tasted. Can’t remember the name, but it was made with chamomile tea?!? Ed, Andy — Help me out here, guys??

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I’d been daydreaming about revisiting the Freight House from the second I found out I’d be returning to Paducah, and chef Sara and her team did not disappoint. I sat at the bar where I was downright pampered with a Pistol Ave cocktail made with cinnamon whiskey, Fernet Branca and tamarind soda.

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My amazing tomato/plum salad with cornbread croutons and “fire and ice” tzatziki tasted like summer on a plate.

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And then there was my butcher steak entrée served with peach/potato/peanut salad and charred creamed corn. Just when I thought my dinner couldn’t get any better, the lovely couple sitting next to me paid for my meal. I. Love. This. Town. (Thanks again, David and Linda!)

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Returned to the Coke plant for breakfast at Piper’s Tea and Coffee, where I took advantage of a sweet $5 coffee and Kirchhoff’s scone deal.

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Laura, my lovely Paducah guru, met me for lunch at Starnes Bar-B-Que, a local institution that’s been around for decades. The tiny menu boasts not much more than a couple grilled white bread sandwiches filled with low-and-slow cooked meats, but there were swarms of people eating in and carrying out. To accompany, you can choose from cole slaw, potato salad and bagged chips. And no Coke vs. Pepsi debate here — Starnes is all about the iced tea and the RC Cola, baby! The sauce is a spicy, vinegary recipe not quite like any other barbecue I’ve ever had. I ordered my pulled pork with cole slaw on the sandwich itself (‘cause that’s how I roll) and gave it good dousing. Mm good.

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Other notable moments — sitting by the river watching the water and clouds drift by…

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Coloring and crafting to my heart’s content with Kristin at Ephemera in the Lower Town Arts District…

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And glimpsing two mama deer and two fawns crossing the road while cruising through the idyllic Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

See you next time, Paducah — thanks for the memories and the Southern hospitality!

Can you dig it?

If you’re a foodie like me, it’s impossible not to dig the scene at Indiana’s biggest and best annual farm-to-fork festival.

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Last weekend, Dig IN made the move from White River State to its new location in Military Park, a set up that seemed to work well. Lots of room to move around in between the six food tents, beverage stations and a couple live music stops. The only thing that seemed like an oversight was the lack of seating. My friends and I took a break from the feeding frenzy to cop a squat in the shade, but the ground was slightly muddy due to all the rain we’ve been having lately. Would have been nice to have some long tables or somewhere to sit and eat.

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And make no mistake about it. There is so, so much to eat here…. Four hours isn’t enough time to really do it justice; it’s logistically impossible to cram in samples from THIS many chefs and food stations. My friends did a much more admirable job than I did, I’m afraid. I tend to fill up quickly, especially after a pint of beer, and cried uncle way too soon.

Still, I feel like I got a good representative sampling. I strategically tried to make a meal of sorts by sampling some veg, soup, salad and meat dishes, and was mostly happy with everything I tasted. Of course… there were some favorites.

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First thing to cross my lips, a watermelon soup with pickled rind relish from the Local Eatery and Pub proved a pretty, and pretty refreshing, way to kick things off.

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Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets splashed out into savory territory this year with a beautiful Dijon-forward tomato tart. Yummy, and a perfect way to highlight spectacular Indiana summer tomatoes at their peak.

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I also enjoyed the blueberry corn salad with cubes of crispy pancetta from Restauration in Lafayette, and really appreciated that the lettuce was served still chilly.

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My friend like the bison tongue misickquatash (a Native American corn succotash-style recipe, best I can tell) and fry bread from Taxman Gastropub more than I did, but I think just knowing it was tongue put me off mentally a bit more than I expected. The meat, however, was super tender…

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Madison’s from Pendleton pulled out some big stops by serving entire legs and thighs for their maple bourbon BBQ duck dish. A lot of meat for one sample, but the bite I enjoyed tasted deliciously smoky, like it had just come straight off a charcoal grill in someone’s backyard. Madison’s also seemed to have the longest lines of the day. Sadly, my friend waited it out to get hers, then accidentally dropped her duck leg in the grass after just a bite or two. #diginfail!

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Cerulean offered a BOLD bacon-wrapped pork belly with a dash of barbecue sauce. Seriously yummy, and seriously ballsy to serve it come-as-you-are. No bread. No garnish. Just in-your-face chunks of meltingly tender porky deliciousness.

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Easily nabbing “most fun station” honors, Revery from Greenwood parsed out samples of liquid nitrogen frozen popcorn. Genius move on a such a hot day, and super fun being able to see your breath when it’s 90 degrees.

There’s so much more of course, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even delve into anything sweet! The corn cake with peach, blueberry and corn husk cream from Vida looked beautiful (and how have I not dined here yet?!?!), and the line for coffee sugar cream pie at Bee Coffee Roasters was a mile long. Until next year, Dig IN….