Prime time

I received a sneak peek invitation for a preview dinner this week at the new Ocean Prime prior to the restaurant’s grand opening Thursday. Once again, I must say, my work does not suck.

Ocean Prime exterior

Ocean Prime resides near Keystone at the Crossing next to that funky split-personality bridge that crosses over into the Clearwater area. It’s in front of the Old Navy strip near Distinctive Diamonds and on the same side of the road as Maggiano’s. Valet parking is available if you need it.

Part of the Cameron Mitchell restaurant empire, the original Ocean Prime opened in Columbus, Ohio in 2006, and a handful of others followed soon after.

The first thing that occurred to me when I walked in was that perhaps I was a tad underdressed in my cotton sundress. Hubby was fine in his button-down shirt and dress slacks; most of the other folks in attendance were in suits and flashier attire. I was feeling a little conspicuous until I saw some young gal walk through in cut-off shorts and a beach top. Seriously. Can we possibly dumb down our already dismal fashion image any further, people?

one of the Ocean Prime dining rooms

Ocean Prime brings the swank with rich cherry furniture, classy textured stone walls and nifty boxed light fixtures. Servers (all men, from what I could tell) wear white jackets and black pants, and swarmed like bees. I know it was a dress rehearsal of sorts, but I’d venture to guess the floor staff might have outnumbered the customers.

We were seated on one of the main traffic aisles, which was fine because it allowed us to check out the food coming and going as we made our choices. Our server was a friendly chap who walked us through the intricacies of the menu with ease and authority. First things first. Drinks. There’s a fairly extensive wine selection here (bottles take up an entire wall in the Prime Room) and full bar service showcasing a dozen or so specialty cocktails. All handcrafted, of course. This seems to be the buzzword du jour when it comes to adult beverages. Oddly, we didn’t see any beer selections on the drink menu, although our server managed to rustle up a Sun King Osiris pronto when hubby asked if they carried any local beers.

the delectable Whiskey Clover

I was all set to ask for a glass of Shiraz when something called the Whiskey Clover caught my attention… Gentleman Jack, Hennessey, honey, fresh orange and lemon juice. Yes, please. Not my usual Maker’s Mark, but still damn tasty. Served in a martini glass, it kinda reminded me of the Seelbach Cocktail at Libertine. I spied a few other cocktails passing us by, including something called a “Berries and Bubbles” with actual bubbles frothing up over the rim of the glass. Not sure I’d want to drink something that looks like a bubble bath, but with Belvedere citrus, marinated blackberries, sour mix and a splash of brut, I could be persuaded without much protest.

Ocean Prime’s wedge salad

We skipped over the appetizers and split a wedge salad to start. This is one of my favorite summertime dishes. You really can’t go wrong with a wedge as long as the ingredients are good, and these were. Everything was snapping fresh and crunchy, and the dressing was nicely tangy. With slices of warm crusty sourdough from the breadbasket, it was a respectable prelude for what followed.

(We didn’t order any, but I should note that Ocean Prime offers some appealing raw bar selections, and the shrimp cocktails and seafood platters we saw flying out of the kitchen waft contrails thanks to a little dry ice in the dish. Great visual appeal.)

blue cheese-crusted KC strip

Hubby doesn’t like seafood, so I knew he’d opt for steak. And what a steak this was — a whopping 16-oz. Kansas City strip crusted with Maytag bleu cheese. This thing was massive, served with a half-head of roasted garlic and a sprig of rosemary as garnish. Hubby had asked for it medium/medium-well; this was more like medium-rare/medium and a little bloody for my personal taste, but he scarfed it down with no complaint. The meat was very tender (wet-aged, I believe the server said?) and I loved the bleu cheese crust on top.

OP crab cakes

Lots of things sounded great among the seafood options, but I finally settled on the jumbo lump crab cakes from the Chef’s Compositions (also available in a starter portion). They were gorgeous, two big broiled (not fried – yay!) mounds of meaty crab with very little filler, and a splash of sweet corn cream underneath. I also received a few stalks of asparagus that were basically unnecessary, and a little ramekin of tartar saucy concoction studded with fresh corn kernels. The corn and crab played nicely together, and it made for a tasty combination.

Parmesan truffle fries

On the side, we shared an order of Parmesan truffle fries that were perfectly crispy and delish. Hubby said he still thinks the pomme frites at Taste are better, but I’m not so sure. These spuds made a pretty impressive showing. The jalapeno au gratin potatoes are on my radar for a follow-up visit.

We couldn’t leave without dessert, a list heavy with time-tested traditional steakhouse crowd-pleasers like blueberry cheesecake, crème brulee and chocolate cake with handspun ice cream. Having never tasted baked Alaska before, I figured this was a good opportunity to give it a whirl.

Baked Alaska

The portion size was intimidating, a ginormous frozen slab of pound cake, ice cream, raspberries and marshmallowy meringue. Wow. The chocolate syrup underneath was just ok, but the fresh raspberry coulis really sang. There was no way we were finishing this puppy, though. After a few bites, we groaned and conceded defeat.

Service was attentive down to the tiniest detail. I know it was a training night, but it was almost too much at times. At one point, I think three different people stopped by our table within five minutes to ask how everything was.

Ocean Prime is a high-end dining destination, and prices are on the steep side, as you’d expect. We enjoyed our meal very much, but I have to wonder just how many upscale steak-and-seafood establishments Indianapolis can feasibly support. OP faces some stiff competition right in the neighborhood from Sullivan’s, Fleming’s and Ruth’s Chris, not to mention Peterson’s just up I-69 and all the downtown heavy hitters. For me, St. Elmo’s is still going to be the sentimental favorite when I’m in the mood for a good steak and shrimp cocktail, but I have a feeling Ocean Prime is definitely poised to make some waves here in Indy.

For more info:

www.oceanprimeindy.com

Ocean Prime on Urbanspoon

Burn baby burn

When I was in high school and college, it was a summertime Richmond tradition to cruise by the fire station on South A Street and wave to the cute firemen who hung out on the bench by the street.

I’m happy to report there’s a new place in town to ogle cute firemen, and eat some darn good food at the same time. Local firefighters Rick Bolen and Tom Broyles teamed up to open Firehouse BBQ and Blues in the Historic Depot District last January, a labor of love two years in the making.

inside Firehouse BBQ and Blues

This hopping new restaurant/live music venue is located in what was Richmond’s first fire station back in the 1800s, and Rick and Tom have kept much of the building’s original architecture intact; the dining room sits where horses were once stabled to pull fire “trucks” in days of old. Make sure to take a gander at the incredibly detailed murals while you’re here; the one on the exterior side of the building is so lifelike, you might actually think it’s on fire at first glance.

exterior murals

By the way, Rick and Tom recently made an appearance on Indy Style, where they prepared mouthwatering brisket and pulled pork that definitely whetted my appetite prior to my visit. These guys will crack. You. Up. (Watch them “smack the butt” around the 0:49 mark: http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/indy_style/kitchen/firehouse-bbq-and-blues)

Let me get back to the food – this is some tasty, down-home-style ‘cue. Definitely the best in Richmond. My friends and I got off to a good start with the BBQ Nachos, a messy and delicious plate of tortilla chips loaded up with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, baked beans (!), cheese, onions and jalapenos. You could make a meal of this dish on its own.

barbecued nachos

Dinners come with two sides and a jalapeno corn muffin and meat choices include all of barbecue’s greatest hits: Pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, baby back ribs, and a somewhat intimidating concoction called “The Smokin’ Hog.” Take a smoked sausage, slice it and put it on a bun, pile on some pulled pork, cheese, onions and barbecue sauce. There you go. Diners with smaller appetites will be happy to hear you can get the “lunch special” all day long, a sandwich with one side.

the Smokin’ Hog with mac and cheese

Everything we tasted was good. If you twisted my arm, I’d have to name the beef brisket as my fave, although the pulled pork was pretty rockin’, too.

beef brisket with baked beans and cheesy potatoes

From the sides (all served in adorable short Mason jars), the cheesy potatoes came out the winner in my book, reminding me my aunt’s comfort food-classic hash brown casserole recipe. The baked beans were delish as well.

pulled pork with baked beans and cole slaw

Sadly, I had to take off around the time the live music was just tuning up for the evening. This place offers a whole calendar full of acts from throughout the region to rock the house every weekend. Kids are welcome here throughout the week and until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, after that, the crowd is 21-and-older only.

If you like good barbecue in a really interesting atmosphere, get yourself down here pronto. I’m already looking forward to coming back again next time I’m in town. This place is hot. Dare I say, it’s on fire!

For more information:
http://firehousebbqandblues.com/

Firehouse BBQ and Blues on Urbanspoon

Divvy is divine

I’d read some mixed feedback about Divvy prior to last night’s visit with the hubs, but tried to keep an open mind going in. I’m traditionally not a big tapas fan; I’d usually rather enjoy a full-sized serving of one entrée that I can keep all to myself. Divvy, however,  is making me rethink my stance.

Divvy exterior

Located in the high-falutin’ Carmel City Center alongside Eggshell Bistro and an soon-to-emerge Hubbard and Cravens, we encountered a little trouble just getting in the Divvy door. Literally. From its corner location, there are what appear to be several entrances, and for the life of us, we couldn’t seem to choose the correct one. A kind gentleman, who I assumed to be the owner, finally opened the locked door we were trying to wangle our way into like a couple of idiots and directed us to the hostess station.

We stopped in around 8 p.m. hoping to miss the dinner rush, but the place was still quite busy. Décor is pretty nifty with what looks like reclaimed wood floors, two-top booths with tall backs that offer privacy while still looking modern, and a really cool wall in the dining room composed of little squares of wood in different tones and varying heights. Visually interesting, and a nice departure from the chalkboard walls that everyone else seems to be featuring these days.

Divvy’s cool wall o’ wood

The menu is presented in a neat wallet-like leather binder that stays at the table to revisit as you make continued small-plate selections throughout the meal. However, once I opened it and started flipping through, my palms started to sweat a little. There is a LOT of stuff to choose from here, starting with drinks through a half dozen or so categories of tapas, and then desserts. It all started to blur together. Making decisions here requires some time and consideration. Fortunately, my ahead-of-time research predetermined a few things I knew I wanted to try going in.

Once the text stopped swimming before my eyes, I found it easier to zero in on some choices by process of elimination. Due to hubby’s predilections, anything with onions or leeks was automatically out, as was seafood. This made reaching decisions slightly easier.

First up, drinks… in keeping with the “Sip. Share. Savor.” concept, Divvy offers sampler flights of wine and beer. I might have gone for the “Maple Manhattan” or the “Bubbles Taster Tour” for $10 had I not already consumed a glass and a half of pinot grigio before we arrived. Instead, we simply opted for a single glass of wine for me and a nice draft Anchor Steam for hubby.

Back to the menu we went, finally agreeing to order something from the spreadable “Toppers” and the “ooey-gooey goodness cheese” selections to get the ball rolling. I’d heard mention of the bacon jam in another blogger’s review, and it piqued my interest. Sold.

jam on it

I LOVED this stuff and spent my precious bites trying desperately to decode the recipe. The jam arrived in a little ramekin with several halved pretzel buns to spread it on, and another ramekin of horseradish mustard that hubby avoided but I adored. Between us, we scraped out every last trace of the salty-sweet deliciousness.

gorgonzola cheese balls

The gorgonzola balls weren’t quite what I expected – I had in mind that they’d be some kind of deep-fried hush puppie sort of thing, when they were really just whipped blobs of creamy cheese served with crackery slices of toasted focaccia, sliced red grapes and more sunflower seeds. All fine and dandy, but somehow lacking the wow factor of the bacon jam.

After inhaling the first two plates, we went back again to the menu. Or, I should say, I did. Hubby left all the ordering in my hands. The other item I knew I wanted to try was the corn crème brulee, having read raves about it on every review I’d seen. I toyed with ordering the andouille sausage with maple bourbon gastrique (you know how I feel about all things bourbon these days) and the chili-glazed duck drumsticks, but red meat won out in the end. I went for the Worchestershire-seared steak bites.

corn creme brulee

The crème brulee… O.M.G. Think of the creamiest, richest, most indulgent mac and cheese you’ve ever tasted, swap out the pasta for sweet corn and brulee some sugar on top. Sooooo yummy. A trace of jalapeno gave it a nice kick. Hubby doesn’t usually like rich creamy saucy things like this, and I had to wrestle the spoon away from him to get my share. The brulee portion on top was more sticky than crunchy, but whatever. We didn’t care.

Worchestershire steak bites

The steak bites looked more like medium than the medium-rare as advertised and came with some halved roasted red potatoes. I would have liked a spoon to dish out the jus-like sauce in the bottom of the plate. I think hubby liked this more than I did. Again, it was tasty, but didn’t blow me away to the degree that the jam or the corn pudding did.

We debated ordering one more small plate, but fearing overkill, turned our attention to the desserts, available in larger two-person sizes as well as the smaller mini-morsel portions. I was tempted by the Krazy Krispies, a sharable Rice Krispie treat with peanut butter glaze and chocolate chips, but went instead for the first two items among the small-sized offerings.

butterscotch blondie

Both were cute as can be in presentation, each with its own tiny demitasse spoon. The Blondie Bite with butterscotch bourbon glaze, banana and whipped cream was delish, but I preferred the Dreamsicle cake, a tres-leches sort of thing but with blood orange juice instead of milk. I really liked the unexpected fruity, juicy burst of flavor, and the white chocolate shavings on top.

Dreamsicle cake

I must give props to our server — I don’t think he ever formally introduced himself, but the receipt says his name is Lewis. This guy was warm and courteous without a hint of condescension or insincerity, and his pacing throughout the meal was absolutely perfect. Excellent, excellent service. Good job, Lewis.

I could easily return here and happily order a completely new spread of items to try, but I’d have a hard time passing up the bacon jam and corn crème brulee again. All told, we left contently full and very satisfied, pledging a return Divvy visit soon. Go here. Now.

For more info:
www.divvycarmel.com

Divvy on Urbanspoon

Here’s my beef

Maybe I’m in a bit of a foul mood, but a few things have been bothering me that I’d like to get off my chest. It seems when I dine out, I repeatedly encounter several situations and circumstances that always serve to irk me like fingernails down a chalkboard or Paris Hilton’s voice. Therefore, if you dear readers don’t mind indulging me, I’d like to run down several of my biggest restaurant pet peeves:

• My No. 1 offender is geared toward breakfast/brunch eateries. Sorry to single you out, but there’s nothing I loathe like saying “why yes, kind server, I would indeed like cream with my coffee,” and then having a small dish of those scary little single-serving tubs of non-dairy product deposited on the table. It boggles my mind when this happens in borderline upscale restaurants that bill themselves as trendy gourmet, like the cafe that shall remain unnamed where hubby and I went for breakfast earlier this week.

These non-dairy packets should be outlawed in my opinion. They are not natural, they taste like crap, and I don’t trust anything resembling dairy that doesn’t require refrigeration. I’m sure they’re cost-effective and all that, blah, blah, blah. Seriously. I know it’s easier to plop down the non-dairy creamers, but would it kill ya to bring me a tiny pour of Half and Half, or even milk would be better? I guess I could be more specific when agreeing to the proffered “cream,” but I always get the feeling if I start making detailed requests right off the bat, I’ll immediately be pegged one of “those” customers.

• Second biggest pet peeve is servers who drop off your check before you’re done eating. I know you work on tips, and I can appreciate that if the place is packed with people waiting for seats, it behooves you to turn the tables as quickly as possible. But when the place is only half-full to begin with and your shift isn’t over for another two hours, there is no excuse for slapping down my bill when I’m not even halfway through my food. And softening the blow with a “no rush, just whenever you’re ready…” does not make it any better. You might as well say “Chew a little faster, grandma, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass.”

• For hubby’s sake, I must bring up the big O. That would be onions. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times he has specifically asked a server if a dish contains onions and is told no, only to have said dish arrive teeming with the things. Or, he clarifies that a certain item on the plate will not contain onions and then discovers that some other side dish or accompaniment contains them. (We were recently in a breakfast place that promised there would be no onions in his omelet, only to serve him country potatoes laced with ‘em.) God forbid, the server takes the onion-laden dish to the kitchen to remedy the problem, simply removes the slice or ring and then returns the already tainted plate as is. He will still smell them and taste them. For people with heavy-duty food allergies, this could be a very serious matter. While onions will not cause an anaphylactic reaction or any life-threatening condition for my husband, their mere presence will usually put a serious damper on the meal for the both of us.

In the nearly seven years we’ve been married, I must shamefully admit to trying to pull one over on him a time or two, and he’s busted me every time. No matter how finely the onions are grated, no matter how many other spices are competing in the recipe, no matter how clever I think I’ve been about disguising them. He ALWAYS knows. And once he’s been wronged, it takes a recovery period for me to regain his trust, during which time I will have to reassure him time and again that no, I haven’t put any onions into whatever I’m dishing up for dinner. Just tonight, in fact, he asked me if I’d put onions in something, even though it’s been several years since my last attempt to sneak some by. I’ve learned my lesson. I personally enjoy onions, but now I save them for meals I’m cooking solo or for other audiences.

• Servers who say “No problem.” Me: “Excuse me, this fork is dirty. Could I get another one, please?” Server: “Sure, no problem.” Um… hold the phone. Yes, Houston we DO have a problem! If there were no problem, I wouldn’t be asking you to replace it. Or… Me: “Thanks.” Server: “No problem.” The correct response is “You’re welcome.” Perhaps this is the nitpicky English major/grammar snob/editorial drill sergeant in me rearing its ugly head, but still. It bugs.

• Restaurants without web sites. In this day, age and economy, my dining-out dollars are somewhat precious. If I’m considering checking out a place I’ve never been before, I’d like to have a general idea of what I’ll be getting for my money. I don’t need a 360-degree interactive view of your dining room and a virtual meal experience. However, I would like to be able to check out your menu ahead of time. With prices, please. It doesn’t have to be anything super flashy, just take the time to make sure your online presence is up to date. If your Yelp or Urbanspoon listing links to a web address that’s a dead end or if the menu you’ve posted is ten years old, it makes me suspicious and you risk me going somewhere else.

• Suggested gratuity amounts at the bottom of the bill. You make think you’re conveniently making the math easier for the customer, but in fact, you’re being presumptuous as hell. Last time I checked, tips were still not compulsory. If my server is going to arrive at the table with a surly attitude and act like I’m doing him/her a favor, perhaps he/she should consider a new vocation. I must justify this remark by saying that I pride myself on being a respectful customer and a consistently good tipper, at least 20 percent for problem-free service, and often more like 25 or 30 in places I visit regularly. I assume diners with half a brain know how to calculate a decent tip for decent service. I could be wrong. If so, I will stand corrected by issuing a hearty apology.

Whew. Thanks for listening. I feel so much better now. I promise to lighten up on the bitching and make my next post much more chipper.

Lest restaurant owners and servers think I’m trying to pick on them, I’d love to turn the tables and hear some of YOUR biggest customer pet peeves about customers! (Feel free to post anonymously if necessary.)

Here's my beef

Maybe I’m in a bit of a foul mood, but a few things have been bothering me that I’d like to get off my chest. It seems when I dine out, I repeatedly encounter several situations and circumstances that always serve to irk me like fingernails down a chalkboard or Paris Hilton’s voice. Therefore, if you dear readers don’t mind indulging me, I’d like to run down several of my biggest restaurant pet peeves:

• My No. 1 offender is geared toward breakfast/brunch eateries. Sorry to single you out, but there’s nothing I loathe like saying “why yes, kind server, I would indeed like cream with my coffee,” and then having a small dish of those scary little single-serving tubs of non-dairy product deposited on the table. It boggles my mind when this happens in borderline upscale restaurants that bill themselves as trendy gourmet, like the cafe that shall remain unnamed where hubby and I went for breakfast earlier this week.

These non-dairy packets should be outlawed in my opinion. They are not natural, they taste like crap, and I don’t trust anything resembling dairy that doesn’t require refrigeration. I’m sure they’re cost-effective and all that, blah, blah, blah. Seriously. I know it’s easier to plop down the non-dairy creamers, but would it kill ya to bring me a tiny pour of Half and Half, or even milk would be better? I guess I could be more specific when agreeing to the proffered “cream,” but I always get the feeling if I start making detailed requests right off the bat, I’ll immediately be pegged one of “those” customers.

• Second biggest pet peeve is servers who drop off your check before you’re done eating. I know you work on tips, and I can appreciate that if the place is packed with people waiting for seats, it behooves you to turn the tables as quickly as possible. But when the place is only half-full to begin with and your shift isn’t over for another two hours, there is no excuse for slapping down my bill when I’m not even halfway through my food. And softening the blow with a “no rush, just whenever you’re ready…” does not make it any better. You might as well say “Chew a little faster, grandma, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass.”

• For hubby’s sake, I must bring up the big O. That would be onions. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times he has specifically asked a server if a dish contains onions and is told no, only to have said dish arrive teeming with the things. Or, he clarifies that a certain item on the plate will not contain onions and then discovers that some other side dish or accompaniment contains them. (We were recently in a breakfast place that promised there would be no onions in his omelet, only to serve him country potatoes laced with ‘em.) God forbid, the server takes the onion-laden dish to the kitchen to remedy the problem, simply removes the slice or ring and then returns the already tainted plate as is. He will still smell them and taste them. For people with heavy-duty food allergies, this could be a very serious matter. While onions will not cause an anaphylactic reaction or any life-threatening condition for my husband, their mere presence will usually put a serious damper on the meal for the both of us.

In the nearly seven years we’ve been married, I must shamefully admit to trying to pull one over on him a time or two, and he’s busted me every time. No matter how finely the onions are grated, no matter how many other spices are competing in the recipe, no matter how clever I think I’ve been about disguising them. He ALWAYS knows. And once he’s been wronged, it takes a recovery period for me to regain his trust, during which time I will have to reassure him time and again that no, I haven’t put any onions into whatever I’m dishing up for dinner. Just tonight, in fact, he asked me if I’d put onions in something, even though it’s been several years since my last attempt to sneak some by. I’ve learned my lesson. I personally enjoy onions, but now I save them for meals I’m cooking solo or for other audiences.

• Servers who say “No problem.” Me: “Excuse me, this fork is dirty. Could I get another one, please?” Server: “Sure, no problem.” Um… hold the phone. Yes, Houston we DO have a problem! If there were no problem, I wouldn’t be asking you to replace it. Or… Me: “Thanks.” Server: “No problem.” The correct response is “You’re welcome.” Perhaps this is the nitpicky English major/grammar snob/editorial drill sergeant in me rearing its ugly head, but still. It bugs.

• Restaurants without web sites. In this day, age and economy, my dining-out dollars are somewhat precious. If I’m considering checking out a place I’ve never been before, I’d like to have a general idea of what I’ll be getting for my money. I don’t need a 360-degree interactive view of your dining room and a virtual meal experience. However, I would like to be able to check out your menu ahead of time. With prices, please. It doesn’t have to be anything super flashy, just take the time to make sure your online presence is up to date. If your Yelp or Urbanspoon listing links to a web address that’s a dead end or if the menu you’ve posted is ten years old, it makes me suspicious and you risk me going somewhere else.

• Suggested gratuity amounts at the bottom of the bill. You make think you’re conveniently making the math easier for the customer, but in fact, you’re being presumptuous as hell. Last time I checked, tips were still not compulsory. If my server is going to arrive at the table with a surly attitude and act like I’m doing him/her a favor, perhaps he/she should consider a new vocation. I must justify this remark by saying that I pride myself on being a respectful customer and a consistently good tipper, at least 20 percent for problem-free service, and often more like 25 or 30 in places I visit regularly. I assume diners with half a brain know how to calculate a decent tip for decent service. I could be wrong. If so, I will stand corrected by issuing a hearty apology.

Whew. Thanks for listening. I feel so much better now. I promise to lighten up on the bitching and make my next post much more chipper.

Lest restaurant owners and servers think I’m trying to pick on them, I’d love to turn the tables and hear some of YOUR biggest customer pet peeves about customers! (Feel free to post anonymously if necessary.)

Claim your steaks

Another contender has just muscled its way onto my personal favorite-steak-in-Indiana list… St. Elmo’s in Indy remains the sentimental choice, and Joseph Decuis in Roanoke certainly satisfies with hospitality and top-shelf Wagyu beef, but Chop’s Steak and Seafood in Fort Wayne has just blazed onto my scene with a sizzling debut.

Chops Steaks and Seafood in Fort Wayne

This locally owned strip mall steakhouse on the western side of town has actually been around since 2003, but only recently came to my attention thanks to a fellow freelancer friend in Fort Wayne. I had opportunity to visit for dinner last week, and was seriously impressed with what I saw and what I ate.

Be forewarned if you’re expecting a quiet evening of intimate conversation — the restaurant is on the loud side. And the signature chopped salad could have used a little more dressing (I like my salads fairly saucy), but the tender 7 oz. filet mignon I received was outstanding. It arrived atop bacon cheddar mashed potatoes with some veggies on the side, cooked to a perfectly pink-but-not-bloody medium degree of doneness just as requested. Lesson learned. I will never order steak in a restaurant anything other than medium ever again. This meat was perfection. Did I mention the big pat of horseradish butter on top, melting slowly into the beef? Aw. Yeah. My friend also was very pleased with her ginormous black and blue ribeye, giving it her best shot before crying uncle halfway through. She said the leftovers made a fabulous lunch the next day.

filet with horseradish butter

To sample the seafood, my dining companion and I shared five plump grilled shrimp, which we dunked into a cocktail glass full of cocktail sauce nearly spicy enough to rival St. E’s. One bite of this stuff made my nose tingle and my eyes water, in a good way. I was hooked.

grilled shrimp

Also worth noting — Chop’s features not one, but TEN house wines by the glass for $5.50, and what a glass it is. If it had been any more full, I would have had to slurp some off the top before being able to safely raise my glass without sloshing. The Malbec I enjoyed was light and lovely. If you’re a wine drinker, I daresay this has got to be one of the best deals in town.

To that end, Chop’s also operates an adjoining wine bar next door that serves its own highly tempting menu of trendy plates both small and large. The CWB burger on pretzel bread, pork belly sliders, Latin-spiced lamb riblets, and an Asian-inspired chicken and waffles with Korean chili-garlic glaze and a cashew slaw make me want to look at my calendar to see how quickly I can get back up to Fort Wayne again.

Our bill for two very full glasses of wine (which honestly was more like four glasses) and two entrees was right at $70, which seemed plenty fair for food and drink of this quality. If you covet red meat done right, definitely check into Chop’s on your next trip to the Fort.

For more info, visit www.chopswineanddine.com.

Chop's Steak & Seafood on Urbanspoon

Watch and learn

The breakfast quest continues… Hubby’s been going into work at noon on Wednesdays, a schedule that lends itself nicely to a weekly breakfast date. This morning’s destination? First Watch, a newly opened breakfast/brunch/lunch joint on 86th Street just across from Keystone at the Crossing.

First Watch exterior

Part of a Florida-based franchise, First Watch roosts in the corner spot of the strip mall, on the end near Shanghai Lil. This is the company’s first foray into Indiana, and plans for several additional locations are in the works around town.

We arrived mid-morning mid-week, and the place was doing a fairly brisk business. It’s bigger than I expected with tall ceilings, a black chalkboard on the wall for specials, semi-retro booths and table seating including a tall eight-top with tall stools in the corner, and cheery details like colorful albeit generic art of coffee cups. Imagine a cross between Denny’s and Panera and you’re on the right track. The orange tulip-ish light fixtures and the rectangular vases filled with tall grasses anchored in beds of coffee beans were interesting touches.

The menu covers the usual breakfast bases — eggs, omelets, several varieties of hash, pancakes, some healthy items, and variations on something called a “crepegg.” Quite a few ingredients and recipes, though, are a step up from ordinary bacon, eggs and cheese. For instance, omelet selections include any number of elevated fillings along the lines of chorizo, avocado, spicy chicken, crimini mushrooms and roasted zucchini. First Watch seem to hit a lot of Americanized international flavors; I counted Mexican, Cajun, Greek, French and Italian themed choices among the omelets alone. There are also nods to First Watch’s Florida roots in names like the Floridian French Toast and the Siesta Key Cocktail yogurt parfait.

We started off with coffee, which was your meh standard drip served in a carafe. Hubby drinks his black with a little sugar, but I need some dairy to mellow mine out. Alas, I had to resort to the single-serving non-refrigerated creamers from a small bowl on the table. I’m sure they’re cost-efficient for restaurants, but these things should be outlawed in my opinion. Dairy that doesn’t need refrigeration is disturbing, and it tastes like crap. This is without a doubt my biggest dining-out-for-breakfast pet peeve. I suppose I could have asked for some fresh milk or Half and Half, but I hate having to. Restaurants that sweat the small details should just automatically serve it, or at least ask diners if they’d like fresh creamer.

Via Veneto omelet

Anyhoo, hubby ordered the Via Veneto omelet. Curious, I asked for a Key West Crepegg. The food arrived hot and promptly. Serving sizes were good, not ginormous but certainly generous. Hubby loved the flavorful Italian sausage in his omelet, and the roasted red peppers, tomatoes, herbs and cheese all played very nicely together in their egg wrapper. A complaint, though — hubby HATES onions. (I believe I might have mentioned this once or twice?) When he ordered his omelet, he specifically asked whether or not it contained onions, and the server said no. We’ve learned the hard way it’s always good to double-check. However, when his plate arrived, the accompanying cubed potatoes were peppered through with — you guessed it — onions. You’d think maybe the server might have picked up on this and said something when he was ordering??? Sigh. This happens to us a lot. You wouldn’t believe how often. Why reassure him there are no onions in the main dish if you’re only going to stealth-bomb him with the little suckers in a side or on a salad? He doesn’t like onions, people. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand and get right.

My Key West Crepegg (pronounced “crepe egg” FYI) was tasty. Honestly, I’d forgotten it was a crepe at all. It arrived at the table looking like a flat omelet, and it wasn’t until I dug in that I remembered it was a crepe. A thick, eggy, slightly sweet crepe that made a good foil for the turkey, avocado, bacon, cheese and tomato housed within. It was also topped with sour cream and served with a little ramekin of housemade salsa that I loved. There’s really nothing about this omelet that screams “Key West,” though. When you say Florida Keys, I automatically think of key limes, coconuts, seafood and rum runners. I also got a side of the same cubed potatoes with onions, as well as a basic English muffin.

Key West crepegg

Other than the onion hiccup, service was attentive and friendly. Almost too much so. I can appreciate that this is a new restaurant and the staff is working hard to make a good impression, but at a couple points, I felt like we were being watched like a hawk for any opportunity to swoop in and ask if we needed anything. Still, I suppose this is much better than being ignored and having to flag someone down.

So, while we had a decent meal at First Watch, I can’t say there was anything about it that really knocked my socks off. I may go back and try it again for lunch sometime. Prices are pretty much in line with Denny’s or IHOP; our bill for two was right under $30. Always nice to have another breakfast option in town, but Café Patachou and Taste are still holding rank at the top of my list.

For more information:
www.firstwatch.com.

First Watch on Urbanspoon

Wise cracks

Indy seems to be experiencing an influx of new breakfast/brunch joints. To do our part in supporting this morning meal movement, hubby and I ventured north today to Carmel to scope out Eggshell Bistro.

I could probably go vegetarian without much fuss, but eggs are something I simply cannot live without. I actually tend to eat eggs more for lunch and dinner than for breakfast; egg salad sandwiches and microwave-poached eggs atop a salad are typical lunchtime fare in my house, and omelets loaded with cheese and veggies are a standard dinner go-to. So when I first caught wind of a bistro that focused pretty much entirely on elevating the humble egg, I immediately put it on my radar.

Eggshell Bistro in Carmel City Center

I’d read a couple of enticing reviews beforehand, but Eggshell Bistro was still surprising in quite a few ways. First of all, it’s much smaller than I expected, tucked away on the north side of Carmel City Center under an awning that could be considered subtle if it weren’t for the “Eggshell” emblazoned across it.

Eggshell Bistro interior

Inside, the décor is charming as can be, calling to mind a tiny upscale French-themed café with interesting antiques, funky metal chairs that look like they came from a quaint porch but I’m sure cost a mint, and nicely restrained jazz wafting through the background. I was impressed right off the bat with the handsome we-mean-business Gaggia espresso apparatus adorning the counter. After sampling top-shelf coffees all over Europe, hubby can be something of a coffee snob when it comes to watery American drip, and who can blame him? I’m thrilled to say Eggshell Bistro really delivers on the a.m. beverages with SerendipiTeas, tisanes, Blue Bottle Coffee in a variety of blends, and a Kyoto cold drip set-up that looks like a mad science experiment. (Like the absinthe at Libertine, I was itching for someone to order one just so I could see how it worked. Alas, the place was pretty empty during our Tuesday morning visit, and the customers that were there didn’t look overly adventurous when it comes to their java.)

whole latte love

Hubby pronounced his Americano spot-on and my latte was nothing short of a work of art, each cup accompanied by a couple of chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds in our demitasse spoons. Sugars and sweeteners are delivered to each table in metal coffee tins. Enchanted, we were off to a good start.

Like the place itself, the menu isn’t large, and pretty much every dish highlights eggs in some shape or fashion. It’s a little on the fussy side, though, and our server spent a LOT of time detailing each item for us. I usually like my fare more straightforward, but some of these items do beg for further explanation. Which is fine, I suppose, but seems like a lot of unnecessary pomp and circumstance to me. Our server was obviously well trained and well versed in the menu, and that’s always reassuring to see.

The half dozen or so main breakfast offerings range from open-faced crostini and brioche layered with sous vide-poached eggs, cheese, pancetta and asparagus to a decadent-sounding brioche French toast with blueberry fig chutney and toasted pecans. Heartier options take in quiche, frittata and a sweet potato hash. You could also easily assemble an a la carte meal from the side items — more eggs, toast, grits and a selection of Smoking Goose bacons and sausages. For diners who want something more continental, a tempting display window of housemade scones and baked items greets customers as they walk in the door.

the Chinese herbal tea egg

Based on the reviews I’d read, I knew I wanted to taste the Chinese herbal tea egg, and ordered that first as a “starter,” if you will. I love hard-boiled eggs, and this one looked and sounded particularly intriguing. After boiling, the eggshell is cracked and the whole thing pickles overnight in an herbal tea infused with cinnamon, cloves and star anise. It arrives at the table in a glass egg cup with a beautiful marbled surface and a heady scent. Lovely to look at, for sure, but when I cut into it, I realized it suffered the fatal flaw of overcooking. The white carried the spiced tea flavor nicely, but the yolk had an unpleasant dark ring. Although it was perfectly fine to eat, I just couldn’t get past the yolk’s appearance and left it behind.

For such a small menu, it took us a long time to make our selections. In the end, hubby ordered the mixed heirloom potato frittata with garlic, spinach and Capriole Farms goat cheese (anything with poached eggs or onions was automatically out of the question for him and helped narrow down his choices more quickly than mine). I seriously considered the truffled egg brioche with fontina cheese and asparagus as well as the Parisian toast, but ultimately opted for the daily special — a strata with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

mixed heirloom potato frittata

The presentation on both our “entrees” was fantastic, although at first glance, we wondered if the servings weren’t a little on the small side. Admittedly, this is the unfortunate effect of eating at places like IHOP and Waffle House that have brainwashed us into thinking more is more and too much is never enough with their over-the-top, super-sized servings that leave you feeling like a beached whale for the rest of the day. When we dug in, we found both plates deceptively filling (especially the strata), and realized we definitely didn’t need the servings to be any bigger than they were. I’d much rather have a smaller but still plenty satisfying portion of something like this made with high-quality gourmet ingredients than load up on a huge plate of something that’s just meh.

A couple very small criticisms — hubby likes his potatoes soft, and the few pieces in his frittata were fairly al dente, but he loved the goat cheese and the applewood- smoked bacon he’d ordered on the side was perfectly cooked and full of flavor.

roasted tomato strata

My strata was rich and delicious, but could have used a tiny sprinkling of crunchy salt and there is none offered on the tables here. Hubby thinks I’m a salt-aholic, so this probably wouldn’t even be an issue for most people. The roasted tomatoes were a great ingredient, but I would have liked more basil in the mix or even a little pesto; I think I detected two small leaves and that was it. No matter. We still cleaned our plates. My strata also came with a small fruit cup of fresh berries and Satsuma orange sections that hubby made short work of.

Food here isn’t cheap – with tip, our breakfast bill came to just shy of $45. Still, for a special occasion or a once-in-awhile splurge, we’d definitely revisit. Hubby says he’d bike back up just for the coffee alone.

If you come by after 11 a.m., Eggshell Bistro serves several sandwiches, salads and soups by way of lunch options. Our server said dinner service in the works, but they’re still mastering the art of breakfast, lunch and brunch before branching out.

The web site could use a little updating, but for basic info:
www.eggshellbistro.com

Eggshell Bistro on Urbanspoon

A very bueno breakfast

From what I can tell, Biscuits flies somewhat under the local dining radar, tucked away as it is at the end of the Broad Ripple Station strip mall behind the much larger, much flashier Thr3e Wise Men. After an inaugural breakfast visit with the hubby, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been overlooking this little gem for way too long.

Biscuits in Broad Ripple

The name is something of a misnomer; you wouldn’t expect an authentic Mexican eatery to disguise itself under a name like “Biscuits.” At least, I wouldn’t. Don’t be fooled. This is some yummy, rustic south-of-the-border food.

The décor isn’t anything fancy, just blue booths and tables and a couple televisions. Wasn’t very busy mid-morning on a Wednesday, but the customers we did see were a pleasantly diverse group — business folks, Broad Ripple youngsters, an older couple. The gang’s all here.

I was a little intimidated when I got a peek at the size of the plates. Normally, I’m not a big breakfast eater. A bowl of cereal or a muffin and some coffee usually does me just fine for the a.m. These breakfasts are not messing around. This is a seriously gut-busting amount of food for a morning meal.

Choices include a range of standard short-order fare along the lines of eggs, bacon, toast, B&G (natch) and the like, but I figure you can get that stuff anywhere. Instead, we set our sights on the Mexican offerings – huevos rancheros, quesadillas, chilaquiles, and such. Hubby ordered a breakfast burrito and I opted for the chorizo scramble.

Biscuits massive breakfast burrito

The food was cooked fresh at the grill, and arrived on piping-hot plates. Hubby’s burrito was stuffed with sausage, eggs, cheese and potatoes, served with refried beans (not sure how smart this is first thing in the morning), rice and some shredded lettuce. Not an onion in sight, thank God. He also got a small dish of what I thought was salsa, but was actually more like a spicy blended sauce accompaniment served hot.

Biscuits chorizo scramble

Likewise, my chorizo scramble was darn tasty — a skillet of eggs scrambled with copious amounts of chorizo sausage, potatoes and tons of cheese. I also got a couple of warm very fresh tortillas, a welcome alternative to boring old buttered toast. For garnish, I received a little plastic cup of some sort of chili sauce, but it had obviously come straight from the fridge and concealed into a strange Jell-o consistency. I skipped it and went for a few splashes of Cholula instead.

Our server wasn’t terribly chipper, and the coffee was your basic drip variety served with those terrifying little non-dairy creamers that don’t require refrigeration (my biggest pet peeve when dining out for breakfast), but all in all, Biscuits is a great discovery I was happy to make. Our total bill was $19 for two pre-tip. Not exactly cheap, but certainly a fair price for this amount of food.

Adios for now, amigos. We’ll be back.

Biscuits Cafe on Urbanspoon

All hands on deck

When the sun re-emerges after the long dark days of winter and the temperatures start to soar, there’s one place on Indy’s west side that begs for a visit. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard features perhaps the best deck scene in the city with gorgeous views of Eagle Creek Reservoir. However, since Rick’s is on the polar opposite end of town from where I live, I don’t get there very often. Maybe a couple of times a season, usually alongside hubby as he wines and dines with fellow racing cohorts. Last night, I grabbed my girlfriend Laura and we descended for drinks and some dinner.

Rick’s Boatyard Cafe pre-summer deck scene

The weather in central Indiana has been unseasonably beautiful this month, so Rick’s has busted opened the deck for action earlier than usual this year. And the deck is where you want to be here. The old thermometer was hovering right around 80 degrees yesterday, and the place was jammed when we arrived around 6:45 p.m. The crowd here can best be described as Ike and Jonesy’s West. Everywhere I looked, there were cougars on the prowl, and lots of men hoping to become their prey.

We worried about a wait and contemplated indoor seating, but luck was on our side and Laura was able to quickly snag us an outdoor perch next to the railing. We settled into our spot and waited. And waited. And waited… As I mentioned, the place was slammed, and so was our server. She finally arrived to clear the beer bottles left by the former occupants, and seemed to take her time bringing us our drinks and food, although some kind gentlemen a few tables over seemed to think we were getting much speedier service than they were. This was ok; we weren’t in a hurry and were plenty content to just enjoy a leisurely hang in the warm evening air. Just be forewarned, if you’re really hungry or thirsty and don’t like to wait, an indoor table might be a better idea.

Rick’s claim to fame is its seafood. I recall eating some kind of insanely good dish there a few years ago that included deep-fried lobster, but didn’t see whatever it was on the menu this time around. Dang. We ordered an appetizer of crab-stuffed mushrooms and turned out attention to the mains. The mushrooms took awhile to make their appearance (shocker), and the waitress told us that their preparation takes longer than some of the other starters. Not sure why, but ok. Whatever. They finally showed up — a half dozen or so mushroom caps brimming with crab filling with mornay sauce and melted cheese on top. Didn’t blow me away with flavor, but they were fine.

crab-stuffed ‘shroom

Laura was in the mood for shrimp, and the server told her she could add on “huge” jumbo shrimp to any salad for $4. Per shrimp. Um, hello!? For $4 a pop, those shrimp had better be the size of my foot!

Mahi mahi sandwich with chili fried onions

In the end, Laura changed gears and ordered the Islamorada Mahi-Mahi sandwich. I went with a blackened catfish sandwich, and wasn’t overly impressed with either choice. For supposedly having been coated with spices, my fish was really bland and nearly got lost amid two vast slabs of bread. This sandwich needed a more substantial piece of fish or a much smaller bun, and the whole thing could have used a hearty dose of Tabasco or sriracha (Laura’s Bloody Mary also needed a wake-up call, come to think of it).

blackened catfish sandwich

The fries I seem to remember ordering were conspicuously absent from the plate; instead, I got a little ramekin of cole slaw and another of tartar sauce. Laura fared somewhat better. Her Mahi-Mahi was much meatier with more flavor thanks to the addition of some crunchy chili fried onions.

sunset over Eagle Creek Reservoir

All in all, it was great hanging out on the deck and watching the lovely sunset while sipping a few beers, but I won’t be rushing back to Rick’s anytime soon for the food.

For more information, visit www.rickscafeboatyard.

Rick's Café Boatyard on Urbanspoon