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

Puff daddy

One word strikes fear into the heart of cooks and chefs everywhere. And that word is… soufflé.  When made correctly, it’s sublime, but there is perhaps no other recipe so fraught with potential for disaster.

Souffle can be a finicky little bugger. If you don’t give it the love, attention and respect it deserves, it can pout and refuse to rise to the occasion, so to speak. It will show you who’s boss by emerging from the oven sad, flat and floppy instead of heavenly light and pillowy — a mere baked omelet instead of the puffy, fluffy masterpiece it was intended to be.

Hubby just got home last night from another work trip. When we got up this morning and saw the snow blanketing down (AGAIN. Ugh.), we decided to skip our planned yoga class and hole up inside for the day instead. Our thoughts turned to food, and hubby mentioned a “soufflé omelet” one of his colleagues enjoyed during a breakfast meeting the other day. Then he said, “Why don’t you ever make stuff like that?” I immediately bristled at this passive-aggressive comment and took offense. You want a soufflé, buddy? You got it.

I’ve made soufflés a couple of times before, but haven’t banged one out for a long time. And I have made them for hubby in the past, which he’s conveniently forgotten. No matter. I was up for the challenge.

The only soufflé recipe I’ve ever used is a Julia Child cheese version. Now, those of you who’ve ever prepared a Julia recipe know right away that her directions are going to make everything sound ten times more complicated than it needs to be, and you’re going to dirty every pot and pan in your kitchen before it’s all said and done. On the upside, your finished product is going to be delicious.

Souffles are one of those dishes that go a long way on just a few ingredients. Basically, all you need are eggs, milk, butter, a little flour and any ingredients you want to use as flavoring — cheese, sugar, melted chocolate, Grand Marnier, what have you. Since our soufflé was intended to serve as a late breakfast, we included shredded sharp cheddar cheese, slivered ham and a little diced red pepper. (Some sautéed onion would have made a nice addition, but you all know my audience…)

You start by greasing up an oven-safe casserole dish with butter and dusting it with grated parmesan cheese. This gives the eggs something to grab onto as they rise so impossibly high up the sides of the dish.

Next, you make a thick béchamel sauce on your stovetop by melting butter into flour to make a roux and adding milk, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Take it off the heat and stir in your egg yolks (just the yolks, mind you), shredded cheese and other flavoring ingredients.

Meanwhile, the egg whites come into play in a separate bowl (told you this was labor-intensive). Whip the heck out of them with an electric hand-mixer until they reach the stiff peak stage. As I’ve learned the hard way, you have to be painstakingly careful when separating your eggs. If there’s even the tiniest hint of egg yolk in the mix, they won’t whip up.

Once that’s done, fold the whipped whites into the béchamel, ever so gently so as to avoid deflating the whole concoction, and pour the whole mess into your casserole dish. Transfer it into the oven, set your timer for 30 minutes, cross your fingers and hope for the best. If all is well, you’ll see your soufflé slowly making its way up the dish as it bakes, but you’ll have to content yourself with watching it through the window. Don’t open the oven door, no matter how tempting it is. You’ll let in a rush of air that can disrupt the steady temperature and screw it all up.

When the timer goes off, if your culinary prayers have been answered, you should open the door to find a lovely, browned dome of feather-light eggs.

cheese souffle just out of the oven

Serve immediately to achieve maximum oohs and aahs; the soufflé immediately starts to sink back down the second it comes out of the heat. Tap into the crusty top and scoop out a big steaming serving. Don’t be shy. The consistency is so light and airy, you can eat a ton of this without stuffing yourself.

just look at that eggy lusciousness!

If you want to cut corners or you just don’t have the patience, stick to making an omelet or a frittata. But if you really want to impress your guests at brunch or turn out something truly romantic for a special-occasion breakfast, a soufflé is a great way to go.