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

Windy City wow

Move over this little piggy, there’s a new porker in town.

Our local babysitters extraordinaire/lovely neighbors/surrogate grandparents down the street offered to take the toddler overnight so hubby and I could sneak off for a quick trip to Chicago. Hubby had to go up there to pick up his new passport and also had an Expedia credit burning a whole in his virtual pocket, so we decided to make a night of it.

After some deliberation, we booked a room at Hotel 71, right on the river at Wacker and Wabash. A competent and comfortable choice. The hotel looks mod and hipster from the outside and in the lobby, but the rooms are sumptuously furnished with subdued upscale pieces and neutral décor. We stayed on the 16th floor with an impressive view of the river and bridges below. Nice. The orange-scented bath products are worth mentioning as well, they smelled yummy enough to make your mouth water. Our only (very minor) complaints were that the water in the shower and bath wasn’t as hot as we would have liked, and there was some noise in the morning from what sounded like construction going on next door. Other than that, the location was ideal and we agreed we’d definitely stay here again.

Chicago is foodie heaven for someone like me, and the choices are dizzying. For dinner, we’d already pre-scouted thanks to recommendations from a friend who used to live there (thanks, Renate!) The Purple Pig looked fun from the get-go, and has been rated one of the top 10 new restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit. Good enough for me.

To get to the Purple Pig proper, you enter under a metal archway off Michigan Avenue and walk back along a sidewalk to the restaurant itself. The place offers indoor and outdoor (heated) seating, but it’s not large. We ended up sitting across from each other at a long indoor table, elbow to elbow with fellow diners. Fortunately, the high ceilings and the acoustics help keep the noise at a somewhat manageable level (much better than, say, Napolese…), but it still felt intimate and cozy with lots of light wood and a huge wall of glass-fronted wine racks.

Our server was really on top of his game and somehow managed to keep our whole table and then some buzzing and well taken care of. The wine list is huge and overwhelming; I finally just closed it and told our server what I liked. I don’t even know exactly what he brought me, but it was a light, fruity, fragrant red just like I’d asked for. Hubby was pleased with his glass as well, a more assertive red with distinctive jammy but not sweet flavors.

The Purple Pig advertises “cheese, wine and swine,” and that’s pretty accurate. The menu is full of Mediterranean-tinged, small-plate tapas goodies. Now, I’m usually not all that crazy about tapas because I would usually rather eat a full serving of one thing I really like than a few bites each of half a dozen different dishes. Plus, I don’t like sharing my food. Tonight, though, this was somehow perfect. It was terribly difficult to make choices because so many things sounded tempting. The fact that hubby hates seafood helped narrow options down somewhat, as did obvious items like pig’s ears and tails that we both agreed were not personally appealing. We subtly tried to check out what our fellow diners were eating for inspiration; not difficult considering our quarters were so close, we could have just reached over and eaten off their plates.

We started with two dishes from the fried portion of the menu – breaded chorizo-stuffed olives with a lemony mayonnaise underneath, and proscuitto bread balls that came with a mild tomato sauce. I was a little surprised we only got five smallish pieces with each, but the flavors were so bold and vibrant, that was really all we needed. The savory green olives were good, but the proscuitto balls were AWESOME, a steaming-hot hush puppyish concoction with a crispy browned outer crust. The tomato sauce was a little bland, but a great complementary foil for the much saltier bread balls.

Next up was a sharable plate of mixed green salad with slivered pieces of asparagus, crushed hazelnuts and a citrusy vinaigrette dressing. Light, lovely and a refreshing way to cleanse our palates after the fried treats. We’d already started perusing the menu again by this point, looking for other items to order. The cured meats and cheeses are always a hit with both of us, but we looked beyond to the “smears,” a series of spreadable offerings delivered with slices of crusty brioche or Italian peasant bread. Hubby fought for the whipped feta with sliced cucumbers, but I lobbied hard for the eggplant caponata with goat cheese and won.

The serving size of the smear was pretty substantial – five slices of bread, each slathered with soft goat cheese that made a just-right base for the messy but delicious caponata. The chunky eggplant spread was like a sweet-and-spicy chutney with a nice vinegary tang and plump golden raisins (no onion, thank God!)

Hubby had his eye on the chicken thigh kebabs with fried smashed potatoes and tzatziki or the Jimmy’s housemade Greek sausage with rapini and grapes from the larger-portion “la plancha” selections, but let himself be swayed by the server’s suggestion to try the pork blade steak instead. And again, props to the server – this was fantastic, and something we never would have ordered of our own volition. The steak was a thin but generous piece of meat that had been brined in a salt solution, then quick grilled on both sides and topped with a little honey, arugula and parmesan cheese. A sweet and salty masterpiece. There were a few fatty bits here and there that we spit out, but the meat for the most part was tender and delicious. And underneath was what I thought at first glimpse to be sliced tomatoes, but was actually something called “ ‘Njuda,” a soft spreadable form of salami.

By the time we polished off the pork steak, we were starting to feel pleasantly full. The desserts were intriguing, especially the olive oil soft-serve ice cream, but we decided not to overstuff ourselves and went straight to the check. We were fully expecting a bill of at least $100, and were surprised and even a little shocked that our total was only $71. VERY fair considering the amount of quality of food and wine we enjoyed.

If you’re in Chicago and looking for a fun, scrumptious, pseudo-communal dining experience, pay a visit to the Purple Pig. I wish, wish, wish we would have taken a camera in with us. However, you can get a gander at the menu, the décor and some of the dishes for yourself at www.thepurplepigchicago.com. You’re welcome.

Incidentally, after the Purple Pig, we had a drink at the Redhead Piano Bar, then ended up at Blue Chicago. A colorful evening, to say the least.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

Za Za Zing!

Yesterday marked the auspicious occasion of what I’m calling the first of my 39th birthdays. (I refuse to accept that next year, I will be hitting the four-decade mark and have decided just to stay at 39.) Such an occasion, of course, merits due respect.

Some people prefer their birthdays to go unheeded and unnoticed. I am not one of those people. I love for my birthday to be remembered and my existence to be celebrated once a year. Expensive gifts are not necessary, just a phone call or an email to say “Happy Birthday, glad you were born!” is more than enough to make me happy. So imagine my delight when my birthday-related events took in not just one day, but an entire long weekend!

It all started on Friday night. Last summer when junior was about three months old, hubby had the grand good fortune to go to France on business to attend the annual 24 hours of LeMans race (24 heures de LeMans, for those of you playing the Francophile version…) While he was calling to tell me about the gorgeous hotel rooms he was staying in, the glitterati-strewn parties he was crashing, and the famous elbows he was rubbing, I was aching for a solid uninterrupted stretch of sleep and attending to the demanding needs of our new baby. When hubby got back from his weeklong trip and saw how frazzled I was, he packed me up and sent me off for a night on my own at a local hotel. The room turned out to be something of a disappointment, but the night of sleep and solitude was greatly appreciated. I wrote the hotel manager an email to let her know my displeasure about the state of the room and she graciously credited my preferred guest account with enough points for another night’s stay on the house. Well, what better time to take advantage than my birthday, I ask you!

As much as hubby travels for work, staying in a hotel is second nature to him at this point, but it’s still a big deal to me. There’s just something naughty and indulgent about being able to use as many towels as you want without having to throw them into the laundry afterward. Hubby and I had hoped to find an overnight babysitter and make the stay an adults-only evening for two, but alas, our sitter options were not jiving with the time and date, so I flew solo. The manager must have put a note or something on my account, because when I checked in Friday night, I was upgraded to a suite. Ninth floor, spacious, clean, nice view, two rooms and movie channels all to myself. What more could a girl want? I only left to walk across the parking lot to enjoy a beer while I waited for a Friday’s takeout burger and fries. The rest of the evening (and much of the next morning) was spent watching tv from the king bed in blissful quietude.

Saturday, I returned to the casa. Hubby, junior, stepson and my dad took the boys to the zoo for the afternoon. Good fun was had by all.

Sunday evening was the friend-gathering birthday celebration. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub is sort of “our place.” Well, really, it’s hubby’s place and become my place only through our association. It’s the site of our very first blind date meeting many moons ago, and many, MANY evenings after. It’s a great spot in the summer when the warm weather allows al fresco drinking and dining, and it’s even better in the winter when you can hole up in the dark and cozy Snug to enjoy some darn fine pub grub along with a hearty pint. And, the establishment is smoke-free and kid-friendly. Double bonus.

The weather Sunday was warm enough for us to enjoy a drink on the patio with friends as they arrived, then we all moved inside for dinner. My go-to order at the BP is the spinach melt, and it never disappoints. A surprisingly rich plate for a vegetarian option, the savory spinach mixture is sandwiched thickly between two slices of sourdough, along with tomato slices and cheese, then the whole thing is grilled until toasty. I always order it with the colorful fried veggie chips instead of the boring old potato variety.

Our friend Alison and her daughter Aine offered up babysitting duty on Monday night for my actual birthday so hubby and I could enjoy a fancy-dress dinner out together. I wore my favorite fabulous beaded black dress, which in retrospect might have been a little overkill for a Monday night in downtown Indianapolis. I didn’t care. Hubby looked dashing as always in that classy European way as only he can.

I spent some time looking at some menus online to decide where we should go, and finally settled on tapas at Zing, a relatively new eatery on Indiana Avenue just west of the canal by about a block. I had been there once before over the holidays for our friend Theresa’s surprise 40th birthday party, but only for a glass of wine. I regretted not eating anything then, but I had just catered a baby shower lunch that afternoon and was too full and exhausted to really enjoy the food that night. I pledged to come back when I could really partake, and last night was it.

Zing wasn’t very crowded when we arrived at 6:45, but a small and steady stream of customers trickled in and out the entire time we were there, which I was happy to see. Zing is a little bit trendier than I usually go in for, decorated in bold colors with interesting touches like a beaded curtain up the stairs and rather loud fake-glass low light fixtures, but I like it. Our table next to the window offered a view toward IUPUI to the west, and the rather unfortunate sight of the recently fire-ravaged luxury condos to the east.

I’m not terribly sold on the whole idea of tapas, although I know it has gained a huge amount of popularity in recent years. As I said before in my all-you-can-eat post, I’d still rather order one decently portioned plate of something I know I like rather than have one or two bites of a dozen different things. In my mind, however, tapas is different because it’s all made to order and of higher quality ingredients. I’m still not sure about the concept of “sharing” with a dozen or so different people, though. If I order a small plate of something that I turn out to love, I don’t want to feel bad about polishing the rest of it off. I don’t want to have to feel guilty about someone else getting shafted! Between the two of us, it was a perfect sharing situation. We like different things anyway, so we were able to trade small tastes of our choices, but still load up on the stuff we liked.

The waitress told us about a deal where if you buy a bottle of wine, they throw in a complimentary meat and cheese antipasto sampler tray. I don’t know if this is just offered on Monday nights, or if it was just offered last night, but if you’re ever there and it’s thrown out at you – take it! Hubby and I would have each had a glass or two wine anyway at $6 or $7 apiece — the Spanish red we chose was $26 a bottle, and the meat and cheese usually cost $3 or $4 a pop. So for us, it worked out to be a bargain. The wine was served in these really cool stemless glasses. On the sampler, we received several thin slices of capricola, salami, provolone and asiago, plus a little ramekin full of a delicious marinated garbanzo bean salad, a taste of grape salsa and giardinera – along with a basket of thin bread slices and some olive oil to dip them in. It was a perfect starter course — just enough to give you a great taste of everything and whet your appetite for the other tasty treats to come.

Hubby doesn’t like seafood and nearly half the Zing menu consists of fish dishes, so we narrowed down our choices quickly — some fantastic chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, broiled and served with a kick-ass spicy tomato sauce that tasted like something straight out of New Orleans; a trio of fried risotto balls full of sexy melted mozzarella and peas atop a creamy tomato sauce for me; and for hubby, a very generous serving of fingerling potato fries with crumbles of sausage and a squeeze of lemon (what can I say, you can take the boy out of Ireland…). Between the two of us, we finished every delicious bite. It sounds like a lot of food, but when you consider we each had a few slices of cheese and meat, two dates each and the rice balls for me, potatoes for hubby, it really wasn’t all that different than sharing a starter and then each enjoying our own meal. The ingredients all echoed each other and blended nicely, too, and the red wine capped everything off in an ideal way. We left feeling perfectly full and content, but not stuffed. Our total bill was $50 on the dot, not including tip, which we felt was extremely fair value for the amount and quality of food and drink we enjoyed.

In short, I really liked Zing. A lot. Good value for what you get foodwise, and a dynamic decor in which to savor it. We’ll be back.

Zing – http://www.zingrestaurant.com