Shades of blue

Indy’s twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion always provides a great reason to test drive new local eateries, or pay overdue visits to old favorites at reduced prices. For two weeks or so, you can score $30 prix-fixe menus at a couple dozen of the best restaurants in town.

Last night, I grabbed some gal pals and we ventured down from the north side to check out Cerulean. This place has been on my hit list for some time now, and I was eager to get a peek at the Alexander Hotel that houses it.

The hotel itself is sleek and gorgeous. The lobby feels very European (Scandinavian, perhaps?) with modern furniture and lots of clean lines. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to wander for an hour or two and take in all the art, which starts in the parking garage and carries through the common spaces, conference rooms and guest rooms. Pretty neat stuff. If you go, make sure to take a gander at the flying birds installation created from vinyl record cut-outs. And the colorful glass lantern lights that hang throughout the Plat 99 bar on the 2nd level are nothing short of magical.

Plat 99

Plat 99 on the second level, Alexander Hotel

Our first hiccup was finding the restaurant. The entrance is on the first floor of the hotel. We’d parked on the second floor of the garage, then taken the pedestrian bridge over. We came across Plat 99 first and wondered at first glance if that was it? Nope. It’s not. The guy manning the desk in the hotel lobby (also on the second floor) must have thought we were asking how to get to the restroom, not restaurant, and directed us to the facilities in a quiet corner. Uh uh. Don’t think so. Third time’s the charm, right? We finally managed to take the elevator down a floor and find the rather unassuming Cerulean door in the corner.

Cerulean entrance

Once inside, there’s no mistaking that you’ve definitely arrived at one of the trendiest eateries in town. In keeping with the hotel’s artsy vibe, Cerulean boasts retro-mod light fixtures, tiny bowls of succulent plants on the tables instead of flowers, dark wood and creamy leather seating. The real conversation piece is… what to call this thing?… an igloo structure near the entrance composed of pieces of lumber. If you can imagine, it’s like a giant beaver dam. And if such a thing can be considered trendy, this is. You can even sit at one of a handful of tables inside it. Strange. Yet intriguing. The girls and I occupied a more standard banquette out of the main fray.

decor

the view from my seat

The wine list here is pretty extensive (in addition to cocktails and craft beer) and required a little time to consider. In the end, I took our server’s suggestion for a sparkling rose, served in a pretty stemless flute. My friends seemed satisfied with their chardonnay and zin.

Foodwise, I’d perused the Devour Downtown menu online and figured that’s what I’d order from, but the regular menu was tempting as well. It’s small enough to be manageable, conveniently divvied into a page each of small, medium and large plates. I’ve heard good things about Cerulean’s bento box-style lunches (note to self, must return to try.) I believe the menu changes seasonally, if not more often, and chef Caleb France gives a nice shout out to all his local food producers and suppliers on the last page of the menu. Although the buffalo chicken skins, chilled corn soup and duck breast with lemon fettuccini all sounded mighty good, I stuck to my original plan and went with the Devour menu. Two of my friends had the same idea, but one ventured out on her own to try the striped bass instead.

peach soup

chilled peach soup

The first course on the Devour menu offered a choice of soup or salad. The chilled peach soup was much more savory than I’d expected, topped with a little garnish of diced fruit, several thin slices of cucumber and a drizzle of cream. I loved this. A refreshing starter for a hot summer night, and really delicious.

salad

Bibb salad

The salad looked good, too, a fresh mound of Bibb lettuce topped with black-eyed peas, tomato and a light buttermilk dressing.

veggie risotto

summer veggies with risotto

The three of us who ordered the Devour offerings all got the same entrée — a flavorful mélange of summer veggies over risotto with a smear each of dandelion and blueberry purees. This, too, was an excellent summer dish. The veggies were nicely cooked, and the risotto was creamy without being heavy. On paper, it didn’t sound like blueberries should work with this, but they did, adding just a touch of sweetness. (The other second course option was a chicken thigh over the same risotto and purees).

sea bass

striped bass

My renegade friend loved her fish dish, especially the small tangle of lemon verbena pesto-dressed linguine that came with it.

Last up, the Devour desserts were a choice of chocolate bourbon cream or cherry clafoutis. Tough call. You all know how I feel about bourbon, but I was very curious about the whipped cherry beer on the clafoutis as well. Bourbon won out in the end.

chocolate

chocolate bourbon cream

This plate had a lot going on — a luscious quenelle of chocolate bourbon mousse/pudding/ice cream sitting atop a small spoonful of yuzu-poached pears and spiked with a tiny wafer cookie containing, of all things, Pop Rocks. (!) Three tiny dollops of Brie studded with chocolate brioche croutons surrounded the cream (and were basically unnecessary, I thought). The cream was rich and yummy, but I couldn’t really taste any bourbon in it. Overall, good, but won’t go down as one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

cherry

cherry clafoutis

My friend who ordered the clafoutis generously let me have a little taste. The cherry cake was beautiful to look at and very moist. The whipped cherry beer foam was interesting, but I’m still trying to decide if I liked it.

Serving sizes throughout the meal were pretty much spot-on. We all cleaned our plates and left feeling full, but not stuffed. Without the Devour deal, prices can get up there when you tack on a drink or two.

We all agreed that we liked the food, but our service left something to be desired. Our waiter was enthusiastic, fun and friendly, but we waited an awfully long time to place our orders, and he dropped the ball when one of my gals ordered a cup of coffee to go with her dessert. Plus, my bill had a major discrepancy — it included an extra $35 charge for an entire bottle of wine I never had. Our guy was apologetic, of course, and fixed the error, but I think we all felt that a little more focused attention would have made a big difference in our overall experience. On the upside, our water glasses never ran low.

Cerulean was cool, maybe a little too trendy for my tastes, but I’m glad I finally got here. Will come back again to sample one of those bento-box lunches, or to have a drink at Plat 99.

For more info: Cerulean.

Cerulean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

St. Elmo's still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

St. Elmo’s still delivers

I love St. Elmo’s Steak House. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually ever eaten there mind you, but I love it, and the twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion makes a great excuse to get on down to this granddaddy of Indianapolis dining establishments.

I took my dad to the venerable St. E’s on Saturday night under the pretense of doing research (I got a freelance gig that covered my meal if I was willing to write a report about it and take a few photos). Dad and I hit up St. Elmo’s for Devour Downtown two summers ago as well, if memory serves…

My dad is sort of funny about this sort of excursion. After all, this is a man who enjoys the weekly $1.99 country-fried steak special at KFC without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. To him, any dinner that costs more than about $10 is terribly extravagant. He admitted he didn’t just think he could enjoy eating at St. Elmo’s at regular price. And he’s right, it is expensive, as upscale steakhouses by nature are. Then again, it’s not like we’re eating at these types of place every week. In my book, a $30 three-course meal at St. Elmo’s once or twice a year is a STEAL, and an opportunity well worth taking advantage of.

We didn’t make a reservation during our previous visit and lucked out by just showing up around 5 p.m., getting seated right away. This time around was a different story. Hindered by bad weather, downtown construction and tons of traffic, we rolled in the door around 5:25 p.m. and were told we could expect an hour and a half wait before getting any sort of table. Ugh. Our lucky stars were shining on us again, though, and we were able to immediately snag a bar table from a couple who were in the process of vacating. Unknowingly snatching it out from under another pair, who proceeded to fix me with the evil eye for the ensuing hour, even though they got the table right next to us within a matter of minutes.

The bar scene at St. Elmo’s is actually pretty trendy and happening in spite of its old-school rep, but it did not make a great spot for dinner with pops. My dad has trouble hearing to begin with and all the loud ambient noise precluded any effort at dinner conversation. Our attempts at reading each other’s lips failed miserably, and we resigned ourselves to eating our meals while watching some golf tournament on the flat-screen TV over the bar.

On the upside, the food was fantastic. For $30, the Devour Downtown menu provided us each with a shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with red-skin mashed potatoes and garlic green beans, and a dessert. Everything is a slightly smaller portion than you usually receive, but still more than enough to fill you up. In fact, I took a few bites of steak and green beans home with the intention of assembling a kick-ass black-and-bleu salad for lunch the following day. (Alas, hubby intervened…)

The cocktail contained three HUGE succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of St. Elmo’s signature blow-your-head-off horseradish sauce. Can’t speak for my dad, but my steak was perfectly cooked to medium-well just the way I like it, and tender like butta. Yum. Yum. And yum.

St. E's filet mignon

Dessert was perhaps the only slightly underwhelming part of the meal. My slice of cheesecake was rich and delicious and the accompanying raspberry coulis garnish tangy and fresh, but my dad’s crème brulee wasn’t all that. It was just a tiny custard cup with a barely-caramelized crust. Instead of that satisfying crack you get when you sink your spoon into the first bite of a really good crème brulee, this one only offered a few blackened spots on the surface, much like the cheese bubbles on a pizza. Eh.

Adding up the bill, we spent around $90 all in – two dinners, one glass of wine for me, tax and tip. Great value in my humble opinion, considering you can easily spend this much per head there any other time of year.

So what’s your vote? St. Elmo’s – hotspot that’s held up over time, or just plain over-rated?

For more info:

http://www.devourdowntown.org/

http://www.stelmos.com/home.html

 

 

 

 

 

St. Elmo Steak House on Urbanspoon

A date with my dad

My dad had never been to St. Elmo’s, up until about a week ago. I’ve suggested going several times over the years, only to be soundly rebuffed. “It’s too expensive.” Some of Dad’s friends have been to St. E’s from time to time, including one gentleman he knows who apparently was extremely vocal about finding it overpriced and overrated. I think Dad had been swayed and made up his mind that there was no way he could consciously enjoy a meal that costs that much.

Until Devour Downtown came to the rescue… Twice a year, a collection of the most upscale downtown Indianapolis restaurants bands together to offer 3 course meals for $30. The promotion takes place twice a year and lasts for a few weeks at a time. (How could I not have known about this before now??) We’re talking about the best fine dining establishments in town, places you couldn’t get in and out for less than $50 to $100 per meal under normal circumstances. What a deal! And on the list, I found St. Elmo’s.

For non-Indy readers, St. Elmo’s Steakhouse is perhaps the quintessential Indianapolis eatery. It’s been around for a century and serves what I would venture to say are some of the best steaks you’ll find in the Midwest, if not the country. The menu is a short list of meat, yet their claim to fame is a shrimp cocktail starter with a horseradish sauce so spicy it’ll blister your sinuses. The place is seriously old school, and everybody who’s anybody dines here when they come through town. In fact, the walls are lined with autographed photos of sports stars, musicians, politicians and celebrities who’ve visited at one point or another.

When Dad came over to visit us and the boys last weekend, I decided to spring my ambush on him. He’s really helped me out this summer with babysitting on many occasions, and I never did get him a Father’s Day gift this year. I based my pitch on the premise that I’d much rather do something like take him out to dinner at St. Elmo’s than struggle to buy him some piece of clutter that will only end up relegated to a closet, drawer or shelf only to sit there unused and forgotten. It wasn’t as hard a sell as I expected; he agreed much more readily than I thought he would, although he feared such an outing might quickly become a habit.

It being a Saturday night, I figured a reservation was probably a smart idea, but when I got online to make one, the earliest seating we could get wasn’t until 8:30 p.m. Bummer. It was only mid-afternoon and neither of us had eaten much for lunch, so we decided to chance it and head down early, arriving at about 5:20 p.m. To my delight, there were tons of open two-tops in the bar and when we asked the hostess about a table, she got us seated immediately in one of the main dining rooms – score!

I think Dad was momentarily blinded by the wait staff, all smartly decked out in tuxedos, but when he saw the diversity of our fellow patrons, he relaxed a little bit. In our room, there were all kinds of dining customers – from a few couples on dates to a young family with two small kids to a tableful of Gen-Con gamers. The crowd ran the gamut.

The Devour Downtown menu is a scaled-down version of St. Elmo’s classics – we both opted for that famous shrimp cocktail followed by filet mignon entrees. The waiters were super-attentive without being insincere, overbearing or oversolicitous; in my book, one of the the marks of a truly good restaurant.

A throw-away gimme in many restaurants, the bread basket merits mention here. This basket contained half a dozen or so pieces of warm nibbles in a variety of styles – dense rye slices, a light yeasty roll, and several squares of an addictively cheesy flatbread.

Our shrimp cocktail arrived lickety-split – three huge succulent pieces of shrimp buried under an avalanche of horseradish barely laced together with tomato sauce. Tasty, tasty, tasty. It comes with a wedge of lemon and a few packets of soda crackers to offset the heat.

Next up, the pieces de resistance. The steaks were ideally portioned and thick, expertly cooked to a slightly rosy pink medium well, just like we like ’em. Sides of red-skinned mashed potatoes and garlicky al dente green beans rounded out the plate perfectly. I wish I’d had a camera to take a picture of my dad’s face as he sunk his teeth into that first juicy savory bite. This is a man who eats chicken-fried steak from KFC every Tuesday without fail and thinks it’s a great meal. He immediately proclaimed that he was now ruined and will never eat steak (I use the term loosely) at Golden Corral again.

Even though the St. Elmo’s plate was a smaller-than-normal version, I still couldn’t finish it. I wanted to save room for a bite of dessert and ended up packing the remaining few bites of steak and green beans to take home.

For dessert, we shared a creme brulee and a piece of cheesecake draped with some kind of berry sauce. I could only cram down a taste or two of each and figured we’d end up taking these home too, but Dad polished off the entire remaining portions.

All in all, the meal was absolutely delicious and perfectly paced. Between our two $30 specials, an iced tea for Dad, a massive glass of Shiraz for me and a big tip, we still made it out of there for less than $100. I’m telling ya, this is the way to go if you want an excuse to eat at St. Elmo’s, or any fancy downtown restaurant for that matter, without breaking the bank. We’re already looking ahead to the winter Devour Downtown for our next father-daughter date at St. Elmo’s.

Dad said he woke up the next morning still thinking about the meal and didn’t know why he’d waited so long.

St. Elmo's Steak house, an Indianapolis tradition

St. Elmo's Steak house, an Indianapolis tradition

St. Elmo’s Steakhouse – http://www.stelmos.com