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

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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.

Image

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.

Seviche on Urbanspoon