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Aug 15, 2006 02:45 PM


Hubby and I will be in Indianapolis Labor Day weekend to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I've been doing research on to make a list of possible places to have dinner near downtown. We are non-drinkers who usually spend around $100 for a nice dinner. (We'll be staying downtown at the Hyatt Regency.) Let me know if anyone would have recommendations! Thanks --

Currently in first place on my list: R Bistro: Would seem to be a top pick on chowhound. I checked out their menu sample - looks good and creative.

Second place on my list: Oakleys Bistro: Sample menu looks good and creative.

Third place: Dunaways Palazzo Ossigeno or Agio - both pretty expensive but it's a special night and I love pasta.

L'Explorateur: Also would seem to be a top chowhound pick but I checked out their menu on-line and didn't see alot that I might actually order.

Elements: I could not find a web site for this restaurant - even though it's highly rated on chowhound I'd like to see a sample menu before I went.....

Palomino: We like this place but have been too much in the past few years.............

Milano Inn: Menu looked like your basic Italian place, not sure if special enough.

St. Elmo's: I think I've read on chowhound that it's become an unworthy tourist destination?

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  1. That's a good list.

    R Bistro is always a good choice. Chef Mehallick always does really creative (and delicious!) things with local ingredients. One thing that may be worth a mention is that there are mainly hard surfaces in the space itself so that it can be a bit noisy. Not obnoxiously so, but if you're looking for a very quiet restaurant this may be an issue.

    Oakley's always gets good reviews (I haven't eaten there myself) but it's a bit of a drive north of downtown on 86th street. Probably not a big deal if you've got a rental car, but if you're relying on taxi cabs it would add quite a bit to the cost of your meal.

    Dunaway's is very good, but very expensive. The portions that they serve can be very large. You may want to take that into consideration since you probably won't have accomdations for leftovers.

    Agio has been hit and miss with us. We've had some wonderful meals just sitting in the bar area (not at the bar itself) and grazing through the appetizer list. Then we had attrocious service while dining in the main dining area. I'm sure it was an aberation, but it was the last time that we ate there (and that was a couple of years ago).

    We haven't eaten at L'Explorateur yet, but it certainly is getting some rave reviews. Again, it's a bit of a drive outside of downtown so that may be a concern.

    I'm not sure why Elements doesn't have a website. It's frustrating because I always recommend them on Chowhound and it would be nice to have a link. One thing that may make it difficult is that the menu is always changing. I think that it changes more frequently than R Bistro. Chef Hardesty creates some outstanding food, though. Especially the fish. I almost always order whatever fish choice is on the menu because I know that it will always be superb. Here's a website that you can check out:

    do a search on "Elements" and you can read a review of their lunch service and several reviews from patrons on the dinner service (I'm not sure why there haven't been any reviews in 2006, but the place is as good this year as it was last year!). The space itself is very elegant and may be more of what you're looking for for a 20th anniversary dinner.

    I wouldn't bother with Palomino, Milano or St. Elmos if I were you.

    A couple of other places that you may want to consider are:

    The Restaurant at the Canterbury Hotel. This is a small European-style hotel downtown. The restaurant is outstanding but expensive. In my opinion, they have the best service in the city. Here's a link:

    You can also check some patrons reviews on the IndyEthnicFood link above. It's a small restaurant so make reservations if you want to go here.

    The other palce is the Restaurant du Soleil, in the new Conrad Hotel:

    The only downside here (other than the price, perhaps) is that they recently lost their world-class chef, so the kitchen may still be trying to adjust. Perhaps someone who's eaten there recently will add some comments.

    After all that(!), I guess my choices for a special anniversary would be The Restaurant at the Canterbury (if cost was no object) or Elements.

    Hope that helps and happy anniversary!

    9 Replies
    1. re: Matt986

      Finding a beautiful, satisfying, exhilerating dining experience in Indy is a challenge, especially for a special occasion. I recently ate at R Bistro and even though it consistently gets great reviews, it continues to be a place that takes itself way to seriously, and it shows in its very skimpy portions and relatively high prices. I ordered a salad with field greens, corn, and seared scallops. There was possibly 2 ounces of field greens on the plate, topped by a tablespoon of corn, and two 1" scallops that were so overly seasoned with a seasoning salt, and seared so heavily that they had an overly thick crust, that even though I was irritated that there were only two scallops, I was glad there were only two scallops! The price 12.95 -- for me, it was just characteristic of the entire menu, and other experiences that I have had there. Also, as a couple who also drinks minimally, I always feel that the staff is aggravated at R Bistro when you do not order wine, since it drives the cost of the meal up substantially.
      LIke I said, I think they take themselves way too seriously. I go there, always hoping for something more lighthearted, and joyful, and am confounded when my entree looks like a posh Lean Cuisine entree that has been plated.

      On the other hand, I have been surprised by the limited discussion of Du Soleil at the Conrad. I have eaten there twice, and even though it had some negatives, (even though Jonathan Wright was still in house), the space, and the food overall far surpassed anything I have had elsewhere. One of the las t items I sampled was a Brandade of cod, with a confit of artichoke. It was very delicious, well plated, and nicely served. I also had a very simple chicken sandwich from the lunch menu, which was absolutely delicious -- beautifully sauteed breast with avocado, on a perfectly selected toast with an outstanding aioli, and bacon. Hardly anyone takes the time anymore to deconstruct a seemingly passe "Wendy's chicken sandwich" and redo it with any aplomb, but they did. It came with perfect pommes frites, and I believe the cost was under 10.00.
      I have had a lousy meal at the Canterbury -- a Thanksgiving buffet that was prepared by trolls, as the usual staff was obviously not working that day. They still charged 45.00 for the worst dreck, I have ever been served . . . Ryan's Steakhouse would have had a better offering. Even though it may not have been typical, I think if you have a restaurant that flaunts its credentials, it should be held up to the standards on every occasion, and just on principle, I have never gone back. Plus, the interior is very fusty -- hunter green, micro swiss dot upholstery, yuck.

      Best of luck to you -- I would go Du Soleil.

      1. re: squashblossom

        But Jonathan Wright is NOT still in house and Soleil has been seriously uneven since he left (and it was uneven before, even though it had transcendent moments.) Until they find a secure footing, I'd be reluctant to trust my special anniversary to them, so would not recommend them for someone else's.

        You are right that portions are not midwestern-huge at R bistro (or at Elements, for that matter) but I have always found them more than enough. Mehallick deliberately sizes them so you can comfortably enjoy three courses, which I appreciate. I don't drink at all and have never noticed any attitude -- service strikes me as very professional, though casual compared to somewhere like L'Explorateur. By and large, my meals there have been fun, satisfying, and tasty. It isn't trying to be Soleil, though. It's "just" a neighborhood bistro with an ever-changing menu of good, fresh, seasonal food.

        I am pretty optimistic about Indy dining -- I think it has come a long way in the last 5-10 years and there are some excellent choices for an anniversary celebration. We even have some great places here in Bloomington. This is not the Indiana I moved to 30 years ago! Hallelujah!

        1. re: myplateoryours

          Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my post. I did want to clarify, my last two experiences at Soleil were post-Wright, and they were excellent. In fact, the most glaring inconsistencies occurred while Wright was still there (his brief 2-3 month stay after opening)? I am still willing to stand behind them, even without the sake of a "face" of a notable executive chef. I am curious, if you have actually eaten there, and what were the circumstances of the meal that have lead you to your opinion.
          Also, I am very curious of your opinion of Au Petit Cafe in Bloomington.
          I have also lived in Indiana between Bloomington and Indianapolis, for the last 30 years. . . so I share your references...

          thanks, the blossom

          1. re: squashblossom

            I also had a less perfect experience at R Bistro recently:
            -though I think myplateoryours reference as a "neighborhood bistro" is more on the mark than to assign it a high dining type place.
            L'Explorateur is the first Indiana restaurant to challange Tallent in my book (I still come in with Tallent at #1)-can you compare Tallent and Soleil? My visits are infrequent, and I am already obsessing over my next visit.

            1. re: squashblossom

              Hi Blossom,

              I have eaten at du Soleil several times, both during and after the brief Wright era. During we had two fabulous meals (though with some odd glitches like a tarte tatin so inexplicably undercooked that I had to send it back) and one really pathetic one where a guest ordered pork belly and got pork shoulder instead and all of our meals were served cold. Since he left I've had a couple of lunches there that have been without either the dramatic highs or the absurd lows of his brief reign -- they were just okay. I have heard from other people who have had okay experiences, and a few who had bad ones, and now you who have had good ones. I am pretty confident that they will find their footing, but the mixed reports lead me to be leery of recommending them for a big deal dinner right now, that's all. I don't think they need a big name chef to make it (in fact, witness Jonathan's experience, maybe that's the last thing they need) but I'm giving them a bit more time before I trust them.

              Petit Cafe? I think it is a darling place with really nice people, a good place for salad or a bowl of soup at lunch time. Unfortunately, I don't really go there much for dinner anymore -- just too inconsistent in my book.

              Like David W, for my money the place to go in Bloomington (or from Indy, if you have transport) is Tallent. I know these Indianapolis threads keep getting redirected to Bloomington by Tallent-heads like me, Candy and David, but I do think it's the best around -- as good as or better than anywhere in the state. (For a book project a couple of years ago I actually drove around Indiana and ate my head off all over the place. Found some wonderful restaurants, but kept being glad I live in Bloomington.)

              To answer your question, David, in my opinion Tallent was always creative and fun, but it has matured into a consistently outstanding restaurant with innovative, often brilliant cooking based on local ingredients and excellent, professional service. And now they are getting a space worthy of the rest of the dining experience -- moving to the downtown Bloomington square in December. Ask me about L'Explorateur in a year or two. Neal Brown is a smart, clever chef and it's a fun place to eat, but it's very new and I don't think it's a fair comparison right now.


              1. re: squashblossom

                I am with Christine on Le Petit Cafe. It has been awhile since I have been there. It was too uneven when it was good it was very good but when it was not it could leave you wanting and disatisfied.

                1. re: squashblossom

                  Tallent's is moving? Please keep us informed...are they going to be closed in December?
                  I take your point about L'Explorateur-I've been to any number of restaurants that were terrific at first but then slowly fails...I've seen it happen especially with chefs who are really trying something new, and discover that not enough patrons want to go with them on the journey. But L'Explorateur is the only Indianapolis restaurant that has me wanting to go back. But Tallent is the only Indiana restaurant that finds me driving miles out of my way so I can eat there.

                  1. re: squashblossom

                    Nope, I think they hope to be closed no more than a week. The building (the old Faris Market and the place next door to it on N. Walnut) are being renovated, so a lot depends on the timing of that. I'll let you know.

                    Sorry -- I misread your earlier post and thought you asked for a comparison of Tallent and L'Explorateur, so I answered the wrong question. As far as Tallent and Soleil, I have to say it's Tallent, hands down. If Jonathan Wright had stayed to do his stuff, it might have been a different story, but, at least the times I have eaten there since, the place didn't really have a new independent identity. Dave Tallent is what makes Tallent work, and I don't sense a similar force and distinctive style behind Soleil right now. Obviously, other posters disagree with me, and I wish the restaurant well, but I think Tallent is pretty special.

                    1. re: squashblossom

                      Ah, I walked past that when I was there.
                      I have to ask about any new place in Indianapolis since going to Tallent usually includes persuading my brother that it's worth the 40 miles each way to eat at Tallent rather than any place in Indy...thanks again.

              2. You might also consider: 1) Restaurant at the Canturbury; 2) Chanteclair; 3) Glass Chimney; and 4) Bijou. Of these, only the Restaurant at the Canturbury is really near downtown, although none are hard to get to. (This is also true of Oakley's.) All but Bijou feature traditional Continental cuisine, while Bijou offers a more modern menu. All are nice enough for a 20th anniversary dinner.

                Of those you've listed, we've had many fine anniversary dinners at Steve Oakley's places. I've never been to L'Explorateur. The others would not be on my 20th anniversay list, although I would and do go there at other times. In the end though, it's what you like that matters, and if you fancy R Bistro for the evening I'm sure you'll have a great time.

                Best wishes,


                1. Thanks for the great replies. I read the reviews of Elements from the site link kindly provided - sounds like a terrific place. But without a web site, how bad would a dinner for two possibly be? We're both non-drinkers but would probably get an appetizer, two entrees, and two desserts. Thanks for the help!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ParmLover

                    I think you'd come in under your limit at Elements if you aren't drinking and it can really be great. No clue why they don't have a web site. I'd just call and ask them what's on the menu -- this is a special occasison and you want to be sure you eat wonderful things. Keep in mind it's called Elements because he reduces the food to simple, elegant components -- a friend of mine who likes big juicy plates of food isn't wild about it, but I love it. Greg is super talented. [*Note: he just closed for lunch so it's dinner only.]

                    R bistro is also really good, but a little more casual. The place has a great "one for all and all for one" feel to it -- lots of local ingredients and Regina even acknowledges the servers and kitchen staff on the menu. The food is really good -- the menu changes weekly -- and it's a nice place to be, but a bit on the noisy side, maybe.

                    L'Explorateur is pushing the edge of more envelopes than anywhere else in town right now. Mostly it works. I like it a lot and while I haven't seen the web site in the last week or so, last time I looked the new menu wasn't up yet. I wrote a "semi-review" of the place here and it might give you a bit of an idea (it's at the end of the post):
                    [*And note that, bucking the trend, they just opened for lunch a week or two ago.


                    Oakley's is good too. I haven't been in a while but only because I am in Bloomington and it's a longer trek up there.

                    Truthfully, I have had some dreadful experiences at Dunaways. It's a gorgeous building, roof top dining is killer, but it's huge and they process a lot of people -- and not always as well as they could. Since it's expensive, when they mess up you are really out of luck.

                    My experiences at the Canterbury have been so-so, but because of that I haven't been in a couple of years. Other people seem to like it.

                    Avoid du Soleil til they get their act together. Reports are really mixed.

                    My Indy choices are Elements, L'Explorateur, R Bistro, and Oakley's -- I don't think you'd go wrong with any of them. And when we are celebrating a special occasion, I always make sure everyone from the reservation taker to the server knows about it. If someone is going to have an off-night, I don't want it to be us. Usually works like a charm.

                    Happy Anniversary!!!

                  2. Many thanks for all the comments - I'll be sure to post a report! I'd say right now I'm pretty much juggling the choices of R Bistro, Elements, and Oakley's. Thanks! --

                    .....there was a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese, on which lived people who did nothing but make macaroni and ravioli and cook them in capon broth. And then they threw them down, and the more of them you took, the more you had. And nearby ran a rivulet of white wine whose better was never drunk, and without a drop of water in it." Bocaccio (1313-1375) 'Decameron' (Day 8, Tale 3).

                    1. "Also, as a couple who also drinks minimally, I always feel that the staff is aggravated at R Bistro when you do not order wine, since it drives the cost of the meal up substantially."

                      Had to reply to this comment in the post - as I said in my original post we are non-drinkers and always have been. I have definitely experienced "aggravated staff" as well because of not drinking. Most often it's displayed by lack of service - waiter doesn't make much effort to serve the table when he/she knows the tip will be affected by a smaller bill. One obvious experience we had with this was in Washington D.C. several years ago - I had as usual researched restaurants and picked several out. I looked forward to one in particular - at this restaurant our group (five people) were immediately told by our waiter as menus were passed out that "this is a wine restaurant". His disgust was obvious when we did not order wine and service was pathetic through the whole meal. We wondered at times if he would ever come back. I wonder, in his eyes was our patronage and expenditure at the restaurant worthless (should we have left?) because of not ordering wine? You would think every dollar spent at any restaurant would add to the bottom line profit, big and small......