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.

guacamole.jpg

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

 

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…

Ciao bella!

On my trip to Florida a few weeks ago, my friends Kim and Mike took me out for an Italian dinner that was so good, it merits its own blog entry.

Cassariano Italian Eatery is located on the adorable downtown Venice main strip, tucked in among a string of cute boutiques and cafes. My pals said they happened upon it by chance several years ago, and are now regulars. Then again, it seems the staff and managers treat everyone here like famiglia, which is a good thing.

The interior and vibe somehow manage to pull off casual and sophisticated at the same time. Definitely date night or special occasion-worthy.

old fashioned.jpgMike swears that Cassariano’s makes the best Old Fashioneds. EVER. Now, I’m a bourbon girl, so anytime someone throws out a bold statement like that, it immediately piques my interest. I’m not sure I can 100 percent agree with him after my many trips and repeated sampling in Kentucky, Chicago, Indy and well, everywhere… but the one I enjoyed here was pretty damn good.

panzanella.jpgI think my friends have tried almost everything on the menu, and immediately steered me toward the panzanella di granchio appetizer, tender pieces of soft marinated bread atop sliced cucumber; studded with bits of red onion, avocado and tomato; molded into a round and topped with fresh crab meat. No arm-twisting needed here! I’m a slut for anything with avocado to begin with, and when you throw crab in there, too… holy moly. Fresh and refreshing. The perfect summer appetizer. (I didn’t get a pic, but should mention that the bread basket arrives not with the expected garlic butter or marinara for dipping, but with super-smooth hummus. Well played, Cassariano’s. Well played.)

The Flintstones-esque tomahawk veal chop was impressive and hard to pass up, but we each ordered a different pasta to share and sample.

spaghetti.jpgForget what you think you know about spaghetti and meatballs drenched in Jersey Shore red sauce. First of all, Cassariano’s makes all its own pasta fresh in house, so there’s that. The meatballs are made with ground lamb (!) and the whole thing arrives at the table artfully plated with roasted grape tomatoes, a dollop of goat cheese and a drizzle of basil oil.

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The housemade pappardelle with savory sausage and mushrooms in a velvety robe of ricotta was equally fantastic, although I think it’s something I would probably enjoy more on a chillier fall or winter evening, in front of a fireplace with a hefty glass of red, than in the dead of summer.

ravioli.jpgThe pasta I ordered, though, was my fave. I’ve had gnocchi with creamy gorzonzola and walnuts in Milan, but Cassariano’s took this idea one step further, filling tender ravioli with a toothsome blend of crushed walnuts and ricotta, draping the squares with a light cheese sauce and garnishing with slices of poached pear. O.M.G. Heavenly, and so unique.

chocolate mousse.jpgI didn’t think I had room left, but then a classic crème brulee and a parfait-like chocolate mousse arrived. Bellissima, indeed.

This place is definitely on my radar for a return visit next time I’m in the Sunshine State. Molto grazie, Cassariano’s. Mi piace.

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

Delicia presents a dilemma

Dinner last night at Delicia with a lovely friend. After hearing great things about this place for months now, my expectations were high from the get-go. Maybe a little too high. After our meal, I find myself scratching my head and trying to figure out if I really liked it. I didn’t not like it. It wasn’t a bad experience in any aspect. It just didn’t blow me away to the degree of, say, Seviche a couple months ago.

Delicia exterior

It would be quite easy to miss Delicia entirely were it not for one small sign in front of the otherwise nondescript SoBro building it calls home. (This structure used to be a video store in its most recent former life.) There’s a tight little parking lot in front of the restaurant, but you’re probably better off to skip it and scope out a space on College Avenue instead.

Delicia interior

Once you get inside, though, the sleek and chic decor totally belies the ho-hum exterior with a massive mirror-backed bar, retro hanging light fixtures, a long white banquette running the length of the restaurant, airy beamed ceilings and subdued colors. The place was pretty hopping for a Sunday night with a diverse range of diners in attendance. No kids though. I’d have to check to confirm, but pretty sure Delicia is 21 and up only. And even if it isn’t, this is not the kind of place you want to bring the little guys.

caiparinhna

caipirinha

So we ordered drinks and then turned our attention to the menu. I’d never had a caipirinha, and figured I’d try one for something new. (How fun is caipirinha to say, by the way? Go ahead. Try it a few times.) Caipirinhas are traditionally made with sugar cane liqueur, lime and sugar. This would lead one to believe it would be sweet, but not here. To be fair, our server warned me that the Delicia version wasn’t at all sweet, but is instead more light and refreshing. Since it was damn near 90 degrees outside, this was ok by me. And the cocktail was perfectly refreshing for a sultry summer night, but for some reason, it was a little too gin and tonic-ish for my taste (although it doesn’t contain any gin). I’m not a gin fan — see previous posts extolling my love for bourbon. Still, I drank it and it was fine.

mojito

mojito

My friend enjoyed a glass of sangria. Again, the server accurately described it as being very wine-forward. Fruity? Not so much. Later in the meal, I switched to a mojito. Also refreshing and tasty (and served in a big wide-mouthed water glass – yikes!), but I was a little bummed that the bar here uses a mint syrup as opposed to fresh muddled mint leaves, which look so pretty in the glass. The spearmint flavor came through loud and clear, but halfway through, it suddenly got a little too cloying for me to finish.

beet

spicy beet salad

While not terribly extensive, the Delicia menu offers plenty of intriguing dishes. This is not your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. If you’re looking for basic crunchy tacos and burritos, keep on driving. Delicia is upscale new-wave Latin cuisine. After debating appetizers for a short while, we agreed to share a spicy beet salad to get things underway. The kitchen thoughtfully split the serving for us, giving us each a beautifully arranged mini-plate version. This might have been my favorite part of the meal. Spicy was an understatement, so much so that it caught me off guard at first bite. These beets will kick you in the throat if you’re not ready, thanks to a bold jalapeno/sour orange mash-up. Elsewhere on the plate were a little mound of salad greens, pretty julienned red radish, crumbles of queso fresco and sweet-salty candied pumpkin seeds. A tasty blend of flavors, and the initial rush of heat quickly smoothes out into something sophisticated and delicious.

Our server had promised us each a little amuse bouche or something of broth redolent with the Latin flavors to follow, but somehow, this item was forgotten until my friend thought to ask for it halfway through our salads. Delivered in a little sake-style cup, I’m having a hard time pinpointing just what this was, apart from an earthy broth with a umami-mushroom flavor. Not quite sure what the point of it was, but it didn’t hurt anything.

I considered several different entrees, namely the pork carnita tacos, the carne chimichurri, and the duck enchiladas I’ve heard several raves about. In the end, I selected the tamal corn cakes (partially because of our server’s strong recommendation), and my friend ordered something called tapou — trigger fish in a coconut milk stew with rice and sweet potatoes. Our eyes nearly popped when the entrées appeared; the portions here are ginormous. We easily could have split one and saved room for dessert.

tamal corn cake

Tamal corn cakes with barbacoa beef

I thought the food was good, but not great. My plate arrived lukewarm and so heaped with shredded barbacoa beef that I could barely make out the two small, but thick corn cakes beneath. The whole thing was drizzled with a cilantro lime crema and topped with a light sprinkling of pico de gallo. The meat was tender, and there was a ton of it, but I felt a little misled. As it’s advertised, it seems like the cornbread-like corn cakes should be the star of the show here. To that end, I had to scrape off some of the beef just to get to them. And I wished there had been more crema and pico de gallo (then again, I tend toward a heavy hand when it comes to sauces and condiments). The plate was mostly meat, and could have used a little more seasoning. In fact, now that I think about it, I felt like everything I tasted needed a dash more salt to really make it sing.

tapou

Tapou fish dish

I think my friend liked the fish. I had a bite, and it tasted good, but the texture was strangely chewy. I was expecting it to be much lighter and flakier. The coconut milk broth was yummy and the sweet potato chunks were well cooked. However, I couldn’t help thinking that this curry-style dish would have seemed much more at home in a Thai or Indian restaurant than a Latin eatery.

We made as much of a dent in our dinners as we could, but still called it quits around the halfway point. The short list of Delicia desserts includes flan, tres leches cake, churros and a plantain bake with ice cream that sounded sorta like a cobbler. Alas, our stomachs had reached capacity and we had to pass.

Props where props are due — to our server. While she wasn’t particularly warm or smiley, she did know the menu inside and out, capably answered our questions and offered intelligent comments about the food and drinks throughout our meal.

While Delicia is a breath of fresh air on the Indianapolis dining scene and I’m glad I finally got there, I don’t think I’ll be rushing right back. I know several people who absolutely love, love, love this place, but for now, I’m firmly on the fence about it.

Delicia doesn’t have a web site, but you can locate its Facebook page (including a complete menu) with a quick search.
Delicia on Urbanspoon

Twist, and shout, and let it all out

Wait, it would appear I’m mixing up not only my songs, but my musical genres… oops. My bad.

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Last night, a girlfriend and I paid a visit to the new Twist Lounge, an offshoot of the ever-popular Zest! Exciting Food Creations in SoBro. (One of my brunch go tos — crème brulee French toast and bacon. Need I say more?)

This place is swanky with super fun décor. You enter the lounge through a swinging chain curtain that immediately made me think of the Brady Bunch episodes where Greg had his own groovy room in the attic with the beaded curtain over the door. Am I showing my age, here? Anyway, Twist is very dimly lit, which prompts me to preemptively apologize for the quality of my phone pics.

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There’s a whole array of seating to choose from including tall stools along the bar, a private-ish room full of plush couches by the front windows, a couple of booth/tables with padded leather seat backs and funky clear plastic chairs, and even hanging swings. Oh, and a disco ball. !!!! There should be more disco balls in the world, if you ask me. How can anybody hate a disco ball? Fun fact – did you know that 90 percent of the world’s disco balls are made in Louisville. True dat. But I digress…

photo-50

I’d heard a rumor that Twist does a mean house Manhattan made with an Indiana-produced rye, so that’s what I ordered without even first looking at the menu. This baby arrived in a large water tumbler-size glass garnished with a skewer of those great gourmet cherries (not those artificially red grocery store numbers). They are not messing around here. Jess, our friendly bartender, really seemed to know what she was doing, and this was a damn fine drink. Once I did scan the menu and saw the list of other craft cocktail offerings, I was almost sorry I hadn’t branched out and tried something called a Blood and Sand or a Spicy Little Tart, but I am a bourbon girl, first and foremost. You stick with what works, ya know? My friend ordered a mojito and seemed quite pleased with her selection; Jess told us she’d personally picked the fresh mint that evening. One of those small details that makes a big difference.

At 7:30 p.m., we were the first patrons to arrive for the night, and although several other drinkers slowly rolled in, the place never did really fill up. I get the feeling this is more of a weekend or late-night hang. We did see a couple here on a date night, but it’s more the kind of hotspot you hit with a group of gals. I can’t imagine many single guys stopping by for a post-work scotch of their own accord.

After sucking down our first round of cocktails probably faster than we should have, we knew we needed food. The full dinner menu is available both in Twist and in the flagship restaurant attached. I’ve eaten dinner at Zest before, and love, love, love their three-napkin burger, but they’ve added some new temptations to the menu since the last time I was here. After strongly considering the chicken and waffles, I instead opted for the chile rellenos, and was quite glad I did.

photo-51

These were no ordinary chile rellenos. For starters, I only found one small pepper on the whole plate, but no matter. With rice, penne pasta, black beans, sauce and a showering of crunchy tortilla strips on top, there was plenty going on here to fill me up and keep my mouth entertained.

photo-52

My friend ordered some sort of grilled romaine wedge salad that looked beautiful and delicious. We also each got a pint of local beer to go with our dinners; there’s a solid selection here to choose from.

I really liked Twist, and would definitely put it near the top of my destination considerations for a girls’ night out. (As a side note, I don’t know what they put in that chile relleno, but I had the craziest dreams last night…)

For more info:
www.zestexcitingfood.com.

Twist Lounge on Urbanspoon

Rook’s worth a look

I was excited to check out Ed Rudisell’s new Rook venture yesterday for lunch with an old friend. I like what Ed’s got going on at Black Market, and had high hopes for his new Vietnamese banh mi sandwich shop.

R

The little eatery’s located directly on the Cultural Trail as it leads to Fountain Square from downtown via Virginia Avenue. Definitely a smart move, location-wise. Rook’s on the south side of the street just down a block from Bluebeard and in the same building with some sort of shared co-op space for creative types. Customers enter in the same entrance as the co-op, and as I sat in the front of the restaurant, I’d say more than half of the people who came in tried to go in the co-op first before realizing it wasn’t the door into Rook. No biggie, but might be something worth addressing?

interior

Rook’s fun and funky interior

Rook is small and industrial-chic with concrete floors, white walls and tables, strings of bare-bulb lights, and these awesome distressed yellow metal chairs. The vibe kinda felt like hanging out on a really trendy patio in someone’s backyard.

Ed was chatting about the food with another customer when I came in, and I overheard him saying that this was the kind of stuff chefs like to eat when they get off work. I don’t blame them. You can’t beat a good sandwich with a can of soda and something crunchy on the side.

The menu here is fairly short, but offers a nice range of options. For the uninitiated, Vietnamese banh mi is a long, flat sandwich made on soft bread and filled with yummy things like pork, steak, and sausage and topped with pickled vegetables. Not really all that different than a sub or hoagie when it comes right down to it. Rook offers nine varieties to choose from with whimsical bird-themed names like the Raven, the Nighthawk and the Magpie.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

My friend ordered the Rook, stuffed with Vietnamese pork roll and chicken liver terrine; I went with the Crow’s Nest with Chinese BBQ pork. Both were garnished with a light smear of mayo, cilantro, thin slivers of jalapeno and a bit of shredded pickled radish/carrot slaw. We jazzed things up with some spicy sriracha – it’s the only condiment here, but available in mass quantities via a shelf full of bottles for help-yourself service.

The Crow's Nest with shrimp chips

The Crow’s Nest with shrimp chips

The sandwiches (all $8) were good and the ingredients were very fresh. A few pieces of my pork were a little chewy, but it had good flavor, and I loved the fresh garnishes. The pickled radish and cilantro really brightened up the whole concoction. My friend seemed pleased with his banh mi as well, polishing it off in short order.

The only sides here are pork cracklings and shrimp chips (although on my visit, the chalkboard menu included lotus chips as well). For fried food fans and pork rind enthusiasts, the cracklings were like little bites of crack. Seriously, I could have easily downed a couple bags of these with a nice light summer beer and called it a meal. The shrimp chips were fine, but the crunchy still-warm (!!!!) pork cracklings were definitely the winner.

For dessert, Rook carries several Circle City Sweets macarons in Asian-themed flavors like black sesame, green matcha and lemongrass.

Overall, Rook was a great little lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just distinctive, fresh, reasonably priced sandwiches and chips in a fun atmosphere. Banh mi is something unique for Indianapolis, and I hope it catches on. Check it out.

For more info, www.rookindy.com.

 

Rook on Urbanspoon

Rook's worth a look

I was excited to check out Ed Rudisell’s new Rook venture yesterday for lunch with an old friend. I like what Ed’s got going on at Black Market, and had high hopes for his new Vietnamese banh mi sandwich shop.

R

The little eatery’s located directly on the Cultural Trail as it leads to Fountain Square from downtown via Virginia Avenue. Definitely a smart move, location-wise. Rook’s on the south side of the street just down a block from Bluebeard and in the same building with some sort of shared co-op space for creative types. Customers enter in the same entrance as the co-op, and as I sat in the front of the restaurant, I’d say more than half of the people who came in tried to go in the co-op first before realizing it wasn’t the door into Rook. No biggie, but might be something worth addressing?

interior

Rook’s fun and funky interior

Rook is small and industrial-chic with concrete floors, white walls and tables, strings of bare-bulb lights, and these awesome distressed yellow metal chairs. The vibe kinda felt like hanging out on a really trendy patio in someone’s backyard.

Ed was chatting about the food with another customer when I came in, and I overheard him saying that this was the kind of stuff chefs like to eat when they get off work. I don’t blame them. You can’t beat a good sandwich with a can of soda and something crunchy on the side.

The menu here is fairly short, but offers a nice range of options. For the uninitiated, Vietnamese banh mi is a long, flat sandwich made on soft bread and filled with yummy things like pork, steak, and sausage and topped with pickled vegetables. Not really all that different than a sub or hoagie when it comes right down to it. Rook offers nine varieties to choose from with whimsical bird-themed names like the Raven, the Nighthawk and the Magpie.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

My friend ordered the Rook, stuffed with Vietnamese pork roll and chicken liver terrine; I went with the Crow’s Nest with Chinese BBQ pork. Both were garnished with a light smear of mayo, cilantro, thin slivers of jalapeno and a bit of shredded pickled radish/carrot slaw. We jazzed things up with some spicy sriracha – it’s the only condiment here, but available in mass quantities via a shelf full of bottles for help-yourself service.

The Crow's Nest with shrimp chips

The Crow’s Nest with shrimp chips

The sandwiches (all $8) were good and the ingredients were very fresh. A few pieces of my pork were a little chewy, but it had good flavor, and I loved the fresh garnishes. The pickled radish and cilantro really brightened up the whole concoction. My friend seemed pleased with his banh mi as well, polishing it off in short order.

The only sides here are pork cracklings and shrimp chips (although on my visit, the chalkboard menu included lotus chips as well). For fried food fans and pork rind enthusiasts, the cracklings were like little bites of crack. Seriously, I could have easily downed a couple bags of these with a nice light summer beer and called it a meal. The shrimp chips were fine, but the crunchy still-warm (!!!!) pork cracklings were definitely the winner.

For dessert, Rook carries several Circle City Sweets macarons in Asian-themed flavors like black sesame, green matcha and lemongrass.

Overall, Rook was a great little lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just distinctive, fresh, reasonably priced sandwiches and chips in a fun atmosphere. Banh mi is something unique for Indianapolis, and I hope it catches on. Check it out.

For more info, www.rookindy.com.

 

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Latin love at Seviche

Dear readers,

I’m sorry for being so remiss in tending to my blog in recent months…. But I just had a meal so truly transcendent, I feel inspired to share. Immediately.

I think I may have mentioned my love for all things Louisville a time or two? Well, I’ve had the privilege of spending the past few days here for the Midwest Travel Writers Association conference, and dinner at Seviche for last night’s dine-around has just taken our relationship to a whole new level.

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Seviche entrance

Chef Anthony Lamas has been bringing Latin flavors with Southern flair to Louisville since he opened Seviche in the hip and trendy Highlands neighborhood in 2005. I met him on a trip here last year for another travel conference (see earlier post about the show taping for “Secrets of Louisville Chefs” and Chef Lamas’ fabulous chorizo with grits and orange bourbon barbecue sauce demo). We’re now Facebook friends, so I get to stay up to date on Chef Lamas’ doings and dishes. In 2011, he won the title of Food Network’s “Extreme Chef,” a Survivor-meets-Top Chef-style show in which chefs are dumped in the middle of the desert or jungle with, like, a can of tuna and told to prepare a gourmet meal for 50 people. That should tell you something about how bad-ass this guy is.

We arrived last night ready to be wowed, and were ushered to a semi-private dining room in the back of the restaurant (created, along with a new lounge area, in a recent expansion). The interior is sleek, done up in rich neutral shades, and I loved the jars of pickled fruit and veg lining the shelves that served as decor. Chef Lamas kept a sweet 80s soundtrack playing in the background, which we later found out was his own iPod. This, of course, only made me like him even more.

mojito

My mojito

We started with drinks, as you do, and I ordered a mojito. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with this libation, usually sticking instead to wine, beer and bourbon, but I figured this place probably knows how to do ‘em up right. My suspicions proved correct. The drink arrived in a tall glass, loaded with muddled lime and mint. Sweet, but not too sweet. Tart, but not too tart. Totally fresh and refreshing with a big spike of sugarcane to gnaw on in lieu of a swizzle stick. So far, so good.

Chef Lamas had pre-planned a multi-course tasting menu for us, a smart move because so many things on the menu sounded delicious, we might have been there all night just deciding what to order. An avalanche of small plates soon started arriving, all beautifully presented and each tasting even better than the last. Seriously, I felt like a Top Chef judge, and found myself wondering how Padma does this all the time and still maintains such a hot bod.

First up, the starters. We received sharable family-style dishes here — a plate of grilled shishito peppers with ponzu sauce and a little sesame, and fried bison-filled empanadas with an avocado-jalapeno puree and pico de gallo.

shishito peppers

blistered shishito peppers with ponzu and sesame

Our server Daylon (I apologize if I’m butchering the spelling of your name here, dude), who ROCKED by the way, described these peppers as a Russian roulette of heat. Some are mild, some will blister your sinuses, and like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get until you bite in. My pepper was mild, and I liked the texture – sort of like a banana pepper or giardinera. It had a little toothsome bite left, and the sesame ponzu was a nice touch.

bison empanadas

bison empanadas with pico de gallo and avocado-jalapeno puree

I like making empanadas at home every now and then, although I bake mine instead of frying, and I’ve never had them filled with bison. Both great ideas. These cute buffalo meat hot pockets had good flavor, but what made the dish for me was the avocado jalapeno puree. I’m an avocado junkie anyway, and the tingly heat from the jalapeno provided a much-appreciated kick. Think spicy pureed smooth guacamole. Only way better.

tuna ceviche

tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned”

Next up was a little glass of tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned.” This was my favorite item of the evening; and a day later, it’s the one I’m still daydreaming about. Sushi fans take note, this was AWESOME. Gorgeous colors and a perfect balance of flavors – chunks of buttery soft tuna, sweet tiny diced pineapple and an orange supreme, a wee splash of bourbon, sesame, salty soy sauce, verdant cilantro, and something addictively spicy that left my lips tingling after I’d dug out every bit with my chopsticks. I very nearly tipped the glass up to drink the few precious last drops of juice in the bottom. I can’t tell you how much I loved this. I wanted to make out with this food.

halibut ceviche

wild halibut ceviche

For comparison, the next dish was a wild halibut ceviche. This fish was chunkier, soft and mild, with a little corn, onion, microgreens and garnishing sauce I couldn’t quite place. Good, but didn’t nearly blow me away to the same degree the tuna ceviche did.

swordfish risotto

grilled swordfish over mushroom risotto with crispy leeks

One member of our group had requested the swordfish, and that’s what showed up next – a small square of perfectly grilled fish over a spoonful of mushroom risotto with crispy almost onion-ringy leeks and a lobster truffle sauce ladled around the plate. This fish was so tender, it practically melted in my mouth, and the risotto was a luscious earthy complement.

scallop fideos

seared scallop over fideos with goat cheese, artichoke and asparagus

As much as I liked the swordfish, I went crazy over the grilled scallop that we received afterward. I’ve been hit or miss with scallops in the past, some too rubbery, gritty or just plain meh. This one was stellar, nicely browned and tender enough to cut with my fork. It sat atop fideos – a nutty tasting, Spanish-style pasta that looks like short strands of angel hair spaghetti — with pine nuts, goat cheese, an asparagus spear and a chunk of artichoke heart. I think the sauce had truffle in it, but I was so distracted by this sexy scallop, I didn’t care.

churrascuro

Churrascos and chimichurri, oh my.

My tummy was starting to reach capacity at this point, but there were still more good things to come. Such as a Churrascos-style bite of grilled skirt steak with garlic mashed potatoes, a dab of demi-glace, and a bold herby chimichurri sauce I had trouble not licking straight off the plate.

desserts

sweet finales

A dessert trio platter ended things on another high note. Liquid nitrogen frozen caramel corn lent a unique crunch factor. The housemade macadamia nut ice cream was rich, creamy and perfect. The bourbon butterscotch pudding smooth and decadent. But I couldn’t get enough of the avocado ice cream, another Chef Lamas trademark dish. Imagine, if you will, avocado flavored ice cream (don’t hate – it is DELICIOUS) that’s prepped to look exactly like an avocado. See the pic below – the ice cream is scooped into a thin chocolate shell with a bourbon ball truffle nestled into the middle just like a real avocado pit. All edible. What else is there to say about this, really? Genius.

avocado ice cream

Seviche’s signature avocado ice cream

Thus, our feast came to a reluctant end. Not a misstep in the whole shebang. Chef Lamas even graciously came out and spoke with us after the meal, politely answering our questions and submitting to our endless photo requests even though I’m sure the kitchen must have been completely slammed behind the scenes.

Chef Lamas

Chef Anthony Lamas himself. Rock. Star.

To stay on our event schedule, we only had about 90 minutes or so to spend at Seviche in total, so everything felt a little rushed. This was the kind of meal I would have liked to savor over three hours or so. Still, I was grateful we got to taste as much as we did, and I have a pretty good idea what I’d order again on my next visit. And bank money on it, there WILL be a next visit. Soon, I hope. I’d drive two hours to Louisville again just to eat here. So should you.

For more information about Seviche, check out www.sevicherestaurant.com.

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Nick's still does the trick

For many Indiana University alumni, no Bloomington establishment evokes stronger nostalgia than Nick’s English Hut. (Which is neither English in origin, or a hut. Discuss.) Just saying the name brings to mind (usually drunken) visions of the quirky little shingled-awning, half-timbered façade on Kirkwood Avenue just a block from the edge of campus. Indeed, within stumbling distance.

Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Ave.

Inside, the nearly eighty-year-old restaurant welcomes drinkers and diners into its dark and cozy man-cave environs with Indiana University memorabilia strewn over every available inch of space. Be forewarned, taking in the IU license plates, photos, pennants, mounted deer heads and newsprint-style tables feels like looking through a giant kaleidoscope, and being in here for any length of time can be enough to make you feel dizzy. If the room starts to spin, just focus on the food, or one of the televisions scattered throughout the joint (this is one of the best spots in town to settle in for an IU game).

I didn’t hang out at Nick’s often when I was an IU student, but I do recall one particular end-of-semester happy hour with J-school ethics class comrades and regular lunches here with coworkers when I interned at the Herald-Times newspaper. This was 20-some years ago. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Chili, sandwiches, pizza and deep-fried apps are what you want here.

My old college partner in crime (her nickname, in fact, was the Crime Dog), and I hit Nick’s for dinner about a week ago when I passed through town. First, we fueled up on a mini-pitcher of beer across the street at Kilroy’s, our old hang. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “last call for alcohol!” within those walls… but that’s another story. Nick’s seemed more family-friendly than I remembered, perhaps because you can no longer smoke inside. Maybe we’re just older now.

Nick’s mushrooms with Dijon dipping sauce

We shared an order of the (deep-fried, of course) mushrooms as a starter. Yummy, greasy beer-battered goodness on a plate. The Dijon mayo dipping sauce was pretty tasty, too.

cup of Nick’s house-recipe chili

I followed this up with a cup of cheddar-smothered chili; Crime Dog went with the stromboli. Both house specialties. Nothing fancy, just the kind of solidly dependable eats you want in a place like this.

Nick’s famous stromboli

They say change is good. Not always, though.

For more information, visit www.nicksenglishhut.com.

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