Special occasion restaurant in or near Indianapolis
I have a friend who is looking to take his girlfriend of two years to a special restaurant in the Indianapolis area for her birthday. Any suggestions? Not looking for any particular kind of food, just the best place period, if one place is head and shoulders above the best, etc.
This was just discussed in another topic on this board:
In an e-mail to a friend, I tried to summarize the recommendations in that topic, and also looked up the restaurants' websites and also their listings in the Indianapolis Star (they call their entertainment website "INtake"). Here is the list I came up with, based roughly on the strength of recommendation:
1. Restaurant Tallent
208 North Walnut Street (new location as of 12/4/6
)Bloomington IN 47404 (50 miles south of Indy)
Phone - 812-330-9801
Web site: http://www.restauranttallent.com
Address: 415 N. Alabama St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 634-8888
Web site: (no website
)INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
3. Oakley's Bistro
Address: 1464 W. 86th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46260
Phone: (317) 824-1231
Web site: www.oakleysbistro.com
INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
4. R Bistro
Address: 888 Massachusetts Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 423-0312
Web site: www.rbistro.com
INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
5. Restaurant du Soleil (in Conrad Hotel
)Address: 50 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 713-5000
Web site: http://conradhotels1.hilton.com/en/ch...
INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
6. 14 West
Address: 14 W. Maryland St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 636-1414
Web site: www.14westindy.com
INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
7. Dunaway's Palazzo Ossigeno
Address: 351 S. East St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 638-7663
Web site: www.dunaways.com
INtake (Indianapolis Star) Dining Guide listing:
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Web site: www.dinelex.com
I should note that I have not been to ANY of these restaurants yet (but plan to do so). One place in Indy that I have returned to repeatedly when I'm in town is The Oceanaire downtown, which I heartily recommend if you enjoy seafood:
30 South Meridian Street
Indianapolis IN 46204
Web site: http://www.theoceanaire.com
This past weekend, I was visiting central Indiana, and was able to try three of the more well-known fine dining destinations in the area. As it turns out, I liked two places a lot more than the third - and they were the reverse of what I had been led to expect based on information posted here. Especially when measured by "wow moments" - the times when, taking a first bite of a dish, where the flavor makes you want to say "wow, that's wonderful". If you don't want to bother reading this entire post, I'll spoil the ending: I loved 14 West, I liked L'Explorateur too, and I was really disappointed in Restaurant Tallent.
Thursday night, I ate at L'Explorateur. Their food was the most unusual and creative of the places I tried. It is located in what appears to have been, at one time, a home in the Broad Ripple area of Indy. If you go there and you're looking for the restaurant, you'll want to keep in mind that there is no sign on the outside, other than a barely visible etching on the door, which faces the parking lot on Coil Street, around the corner from its street address on Ferguson Street.
Three of the starter courses appealed to me, so I mentioned that to my server (Valerie, who was knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly). She suggested that I could go with those three and that would be plenty of food (as, indeed, it was). The meal started with an amuse bouche of a Thai oyster shooter; I'm not big on oysters, but it was okay. I had the sweetbreads, which were a conventional preparation (i.e. lightly breaded) and tasted very good. They were served with bone marrow ice cream, which was mild in flavor, and a bit of green sauce on the plate that didn't do all that much to add to the dish. I then had the Jerusalem artichoke soup. This was a wonderful dish, that had previously been recommended here by another Chowhounder (thanks!). It was delicious, very strong with artichoke flavor. It also included quite a sizable piece of opakapaka (fish) on top of a brioche pedestal. The fish was mild and very good, and the brioche was wonderful. Nice to have three items all so flavorful. I then had the foie gras, served with toast and Japanese plums. They prepare it by searing it lightly, then forcing it into a square box, then searing it a second time before serving. Seeing a "mosaic" of foie gras in a rectangular shape was unusual. It was still cold in the center, so I sent it back for additional cooking, after which it was delicious. The only other oddity was that I had to ask for bread.
They had three desserts available. I declined the cold chocolate-cinnamon beverage and the vanilla creme brulee, and went with the strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, served with a lavender-herb biscuit crust topped with cinnamon whipped cream. What was interesting was that, unlike a conventional cobbler where the fruit is baked inside and becomes mushy, the fruit was only mildly cooked, although it had the conventional cooking liquid around it. As a result, the fruit was crunchy, so the strawberries tasted like fresh ones, which was good. The rhubarb was cut up small and, while I think I would have preferred them cooked a bit more, they were not overly tart, as rhubarb sometimes can be. All in all, the cobbler worked very well (the crust, in particular, was delightful).
Bottom line, I liked L'Explorateur and enjoyed all the dishes that I ordered. It was a very good meal.
Friday night, I went to Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington. I had heard lots of gushing reports here, so I had high hopes for wonderful things. My first disappointment was with the menu. I appreciate the fact that they try to use local ingredients where possible. However, there was an overabundance of heavier ingredients that I don't find all that appealing (half the appetizers had ham/pork/bacon, a lot of the dishes were cheese-based, and sides like Brussel sprouts, beans, Swiss chard, and kale don't excite me). They served an amuse bouche of crostini topped with boiled beets and goat cheese which was bland as can be. The foie gras was good, although it was overwhelmed by too much blackberry jam. The potato leek soup with cheddar brioche crouton and bacon crema was another overly bland dish lacking flavor. (The brioche was a huge contrast with the much more flavorful one in the soup the previous night at L'Ex.) Like so many of the dishes we had, the mixed greens salad with poached pears, spiced pistachios, brie, and pomegranate-port vinaigrette sounded great, but really didn't have a lot of flavor of the ingredients in it. We had two entrees. The lemon and herb stuffed trout with parsley cous cous, broccoli, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette was another dish that just didn't have a lot of strong trout flavor. The nightly special was roast halibut with cheese grits, dungeness crab, and meyer lemon sauce, but there was very little crab or lemon flavor to it - again, just not bursting with flavor. One dessert was the high point of the meal - an apple gallette, with a delicious crust as well as apple filling (the salted caramel ice cream was okay, the caramel candy was overkill) - the only dish of the entire meal that impressed me. The other dessert was the chocolate banana bread pudding, although the pudding itself wasn't overwhelming with either chocolate or banana flavor; in fact, I'm not sure whether the pudding even had any banana in it, other than the sliced banana on top. We were served pieces of citrus nougat at the end of the meal, and they, too, just didn't have a lot of flavor.
Bottom line, I really wasn't impressed with Tallent at all. Maybe I just didn't like the dishes that I had there, but the real problem with most of them was that they were just too bland for my taste.
Sunday night, I wanted to go somewhere before returning home to Chicago. Of the places I listed above, only one - 14 West - is open on Sundays, so it was either go there, or go to the Oceanaire, which I have been to on numerous occasions and always enjoyed. I decided to check out 14 West. I had not seen the menu before (they don't show it on their website, which for at least a month has said that it would be posted within a few days), so I figured I would check it out, and if it didn't sound good, I would go around the corner to the Oceanaire again. I was happy to find that it was a delicious sounding menu; the restaurant would do themselves a big favor if they could post it on their website.
I started with the panned veal sweetbreads, served with crimini mushrooms, fennel salad, and marsala sauce. This was wonderful, easily the best dish I had the entire weekend. The sweetbreads were in small bite-sized pieces, and went extremely well with the sauce, simply delicious. The fennel salad they were served over was also interesting and enjoyable. At this point, they also brought out their delicious pretzel rolls, along with whipped butter, herb butter, and a very hot honey mustard. The next item I ordered was a chopped salad with bacon, bleu cheese, cucumber, hearts of palm, roasted tomato dressing, and fried leek. This was very, very good. The one thing that surprised me about this salad was its size. I assumed it would be a relatively small portion, based on its price ($7, vs $11 for the appetizer and $20-36 for the entrees), but it was quite sizable, enough for a main course for lunch. I then had my entree, pan scallops with spicy cranberry, radish salad, and sambucca beurre blanc. I really enjoyed the scallops. One of my pet peeves with scallops is that they are often served undercooked (raw in the middle), which prevents the full flavor of the scallops; I ordered these "cooked through" and, although the very center was not quite cooked through, they were nicely seared/browned on both sides so that the scallop flavor came through without being overdone on the outside. Very nice. I also enjoyed the accompaniment, the radish salad with spiced cranberries, which was surprisingly delicious and a new taste to me.
Desserts were the one area where I was somewhat less impressed. Most of the ones on the menu at 14 West were heavy and gooey, with two kinds of cheesecakes and a third dessert based on peanut butter, as well as a dense chocolate cake. I really enjoy desserts, but I generally steer away from those heavy types, and the lemon tart didn't appeal to me. I decided on the bread pudding with whiskey sauce and ice cream. It was pretty good, and reasonably moist.
The service was very good, although the one oddity was a bit of confusion when serving beverages (I wasn't offered or asked about sweetener when the iced tea was served, and the refill was served without a straw.)
I had one other concern about 14 West that turned out to be based on misleading information. I wanted to get an idea of appropriate attire at the various restaurants I was going to, so I looked them up in Intake Weekly, the entertainment website of the Indianapolis Star. All of them *except* 14 West show attire as "business casual" (for men, this usually means a shirt with a collar and full-length slacks that are not blue jeans). The listing for 14 West states that attire is "business attire" (for men, this usually means a jacket and tie). As it turns out, business casual attire is the norm at 14 West, and I even saw a middle-aged gentleman seated with a t-shirt and blue jeans. I know that there are not many restaurants in Indianapolis that require jacket and tie, and this would have been a problem on this trip, so I was pleased to see that the Intake Weekly listing is just wrong in this aspect.
Bottom line, I thought 14 West was terrific. The sweetbreads blew me away and the scallops were outstanding as well. Of the three places I dined over the weekend, the one I most look forward to returning to is 14 West. I highly recommend it.
I should also add that L'Explorateur and 14 West both offer outdoor seating areas when the weather is warmer.
Have not been to 14 West and am pleased to hear good things about it. We'll have to try it. The scallops sound great, though I like them caramelized on the outside, but very rare inside. I get more of the briny sea that way. Preparation sounds yummy, though.
I agree with you about L'Ex. Playful food. Glad you had fun.
Bummer about your experience at Tallent. I hate recommending a place that someone doesn't enjoy. I agree that sometimes the menu has heavier dishes than I like, but then I order two or three first courses, which tend to be lighter (hold the bacon if necessary.) I call it "the salad tasting menu." Usually the flavors are leaping off the plate.
With the recent freezing blast, brussels sprouts, chard and kale are probably all that survived. I know the asparagus in our garden took a beating and the farmers at our market (the same farmers Chef Dave buys from) have had pretty thin pickings the last couple of weeks. Fortunately (for me, not you!) I love those late winter vegetables. Hope you will give it another try, maybe in summer when the flavor palate chages dramatically.
Funny that while you were in central Indiana, I was in Chicago last weekend. Didn't try anything new, just repeat visits to old favorites. Had another really excellent meal at Naha. Good, fun (if loud) Mexican at Salpicon (amazing duck confit with caramelized pineapple!) And an eggplant parmesan to die for (and given the serving size, that could happen) at Bruna's (where, by the way, after the cab never showed up to take us back to the Peninsula, despite repeated calls, the waiter actually drove us all the way back. Talk about great service as well as great old fashioned Italian American food!)
Hmmm. I had dinner at L'explorateur over the weekend. The food was pretty good but sometimes it seems like they read an article about Alinea and are just winging it, I mean please, bone marrow ice cream?
Like Tallent local produce is featured at L'ex, dandelion greens, chard, fiddlehead bacon etc. I think the two restuarants keep an eye on each other which is good. My big problem at L:'ex is the service which is more often than not completely clueless.
To me nothing would ruin a special occasion more than sending back underdone dishes and asking for bread.
I like the idea of L'ex and I will keep going but they have a long way to go to be in the big leagues.
Thanks for your post.
I'd never would have considered trying 14 West before reading your review. You are correct, they need to post the menu on-line.
I've been wanting to drive down to Tallent, but it looks like I might keep putting it off for awhile - plenty of good places in the city to try.
Next time you are in town, try Oakley's bistro. It ranks up there (and perhaps higher) than Elements, L'ex and others.
Thanks. Next time (probably late August), I'll probably do what I can to try one or more of the others I mentioned - not only Oakley's, but also Elements, R Bistro, and Dunaway's (unless something else, maybe someplace newly opened, also gets recommended). I can't go to any of those on Sunday, when they're all closed, so I can use Sunday for a return visit to either 14 West or the Oceanaire.
I was visiting Indy last Thursday night. Oakley's Bistro or Elements? It turns out this was an easy choice, because Elements was closed for a private party. So here is my report on my dinner at Oakley's Bistro.
Bottom line first: I thought my dinner at Oakley's was absolutely spectacular in every way. This was the best meal I have ever had in Indiana, where I visit a couple times a year, always seeking out new restaurants to try.
I'll start out by mentioning that this is the first time I really "got" the whole "item ingredient list menu concept" - and that was because of Chef Oakley's cooking style. So let me take a moment to elaborate on this point, because it really illustrates his style of cooking. I've seen a trend towards this concept, where, for example, instead of having a dish described as "grilled salmon with lemon butter sauce", it's described as "salmon - lemon / butter / parsley". I've never been all that thrilled with this style of menu, primarily because it usually doesn't describe how you would expect the dish to look and taste. But in Chef Oakley's case it's extremely appropriate - because in his dishes, each of the ingredients listed retains its individual taste and texture, while adding to the dish's total effect. When he serves a "seven vegetable lasagna", you can actually taste each of the seven vegetables! And the total effect is just wonderful. And in addition to the creativity (and wonderful taste!) of his dishes, he is also having a lot of fun, as a spirit of playfulness permeates the menu.
I was first served bread with tapanade and squash spreads and olive oil.
As an hors d'oeuvre, I ordered two of the "shrimp 'corndogs' with bistro honey mustard" ($1.75 each). These were excellent, with the shrimp inside, surrounded by the classic corn dog coating. The small amount of bistro honey mustard they were sitting in was just the right touch, adding a very nice taste to the dish without overpowering it. One other nice thing about this dish is that they are priced individually, so you can buy one or two as an "amuse bouche" while ordering other courses as well.
Next, I had the "Lobster Waffle - chive waffle / maine lobster / sweet corn zucchini relish / bacon cream / tomato fondue" ($12.75), which was just outstanding in every way. It was served as a "tower", with the small round waffle on top, and layers of the other ingredients including nice chunks of lobster. One ingredient not listed, and making an important contribution to the dish, was artichoke hearts, with large chunks throughout the bottom layer of the dish. I really loved this dish, which became much more than the sum of its delicious parts.
I had the salad "Spinach - goat cheese / peaches / smoked pecans / red onion / potato hay / mustard sherry vinaigrette" ($8.75). This, too, was excellent, with all the different ingredients adding up to a very nice salad.
Among the entrees, nothing really jumped out and grabbed my attention. Furthermore, I was afraid that I would have too much food (with the other three previous dishes). After consultation with my server (also excellent) regarding serving sizes (in this case, smaller was better), I ordered the "Summer Vegetables four ways - seven vegetable lasagna / sesame noodles - mushroom souffle / artichoke chile relleno" ($19.75). This, too, was a wonderful dish; in this case, these were served as four separate items on a divided plate arrangement. The seven vegetable lasagna was unusual; instead of using pasta for the layers (along with the vegetables), Chef Oakley used layers of polenta - yum! What a great idea! The cold sesame noodels were very nice, the small mushroom souffle was great, and the artichoke chile relleno was excellent too, with the artichoke mashed in a filling inside the chile (think "poppers"). Just a wonderful assortment of tastes, all on the same plate.
I skipped dessert, as I was just too full. But I was very happy with my entire meal. I loved all the tastes, and the way Chef Oakley brought them all together. BRAVO!!! Oakley's Bistro is a wonderful restaurant, and I strongly recommend it.
1464 W. 86th Street
Indianapolis IN 46260
Incidentally, on this trip I also enjoyed dinner in Terre Haute at ButtonWoods at Sycamore Farms. I've reported on that dinner in its separate topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/423677
This past weekend, I made another trip to central Indiana. In addition to two unremarkable dinners (both for large groups, planned by others) in the small town where I was staying, I had dinner at R Bistro on my way through Indy. It was very good!
I should mention, first, that the reason I had tried several other restaurants last year before getting to R Bistro was that nothing on the menu on their website at that time really grabbed me. This spring, though, the latest menu had several options that sounded good. I think the tip there is that the menu at R Bistro is somewhat small (5 starters including one soup and two salads, 5 mains including one vegetarian item, and five finishers including three desserts, truffles from next door, and one cheese course). So you may want to check out their menu first, more so than at places with more extensive offerings.
R Bistro is located at the end of the Mass Ave district just northeast of downtown Indianapolis. There's a small bar and the decor is contemporary, with a nice casual bistro feel to it. I noticed that Regina was in the house, since she came out to chat with a couple at the bar while I was there.
I started with the "Green onion pancake with broiled shrimp and cilantro-lime cream". The pancakes themselves with small, thin, and somewhat tasteless (I was actually hoping for more of an onion taste), but I think this was done intentionally, in order to contrast with the tart lime flavor of the cilantro-lime cream (which was in small dabs, with a consistency similar to yogurt). The shrimp were good, although they just seemed to be additions rather than an integral part of the dish, if that makes sense.
That contrasts with the main course, which was "Sauteed skate with bacon-butter braised cabbage and potato puree"; because the two ample pieces of skate were placed on top of the vegetables, it seemed like more of a single assemblage. The skate was very nice and tasty, with a crunchy corn meal breading that worked well. The cabbage was quite good, too, and so was the potato puree (although I'm not sure of the difference between potato puree and mashed potatos).
For dessert, I went with the classic "Chocolate pot de creme". It was excellent, with a nice dollop of whipped cream on top. This is one of my favorite desserts.
The service was excellent. All in all, R Bistro is a nice place offering very good food, and it's yet another very good restaurant in Indianapolis.
Incidentally, before dinner I stopped next door at "The Best Chocolate in Town" and I was not impressed at all with what I had (several truffles that did not taste like their main ingredient, a chocolate covered pretzel that wasn't as good as the packaged ones at Trader Joe's, and toffee that seemed stale, didn't have the crisp crunch that toffee should have).
I love R Bistro but don't get there as often as I'd like to. I really like the menu, the 5 starters, 5 mains and 5 sweets - to me, this gives so much freedom - it's really "do what you like!". I also like that Regina changes the menu every week to show case whats best in town right now. My first taste of lamb was there, several years ago during a wine tasting, it made a convert of me - delicious!
At at recent fund-raising event for the zoo, the favors were chocolates from The Best Chocolate in Town. I only ate the caramel sprinkled with sea salts - it was great, as in I could have eaten a box of those. I've also had a bite (Mr CF and I shared) of a mint truffle (Thanks BG!) and it was also very good. But I'm only talking about 2 tastes - not quite enough to base an opinion on...
I guess I better be heading downtown, to R Bistro and The Best Chocolates in Town!
Last month I finally got a chance to try Elements. I liked it a lot!
It struck me as very similar to R Bistro; both are small places with contemporary decor, on or near Mass Ave. (Those who are not familiar with Indy - this street extends northeast from downtown, with Elements a reasonable walking distance from the circle, R Bistro somewhat further.) Elements is in a somewhat funky area, with the trendy Mass Ave a block to the south, and the Salvation Army on the next block north. Not really dangerous, just... funky.
One thing about Elements is that they have a very limited menu: around 5 starters, around 5 mains, and 3-5 desserts, and they develop their menu each day. So you will be restricted to what they have that particular day.
I started with an endive and bleu cheese salad that was outstanding. None of the main course selections sounded particularly compelling to me, so I settled on a grilled swordfish. It arrived undercooked, so I sent it back; the second time, it was fine - maybe not unusual or "blow you away delicious", but competent and tasty.
For dessert, they had an almond financier cake (a moist cake) with a white chocolate sauce, and this was simply sublime. One of the frequent problems with white chocolate based desserts is that they rarely have a strong white chocolate flavor, since WC is so mild and easily overwhelmed by other tastes. Theirs was a wonderful exception to that rule; the white chocolate sauce truly tasted of WC (I suspect there was little else in it, perhaps just some cream to give it a somewhat liquid consistency) and it complemented the financier perfectly.
Elements is part of the above group of excellent restaurants in Indy, and it's worth considering for a special occasion or just a nice night out. Due to the limited menu, picky eaters may want to call ahead to find out what they're serving on any particular evening.
P.S. On this trip I also returned to ButtonWoods at Sycamore Farms in Terre Haute, and it was again outstanding.
Thanks for the write up nsxtasy -
Elements has a new chef and owner and while the Indianapolis Monthly has a small write up on Elements in the September issue, I appreciate your review considerably more than theirs - having been mislead in the past by them...
Good to see you back on Chowhound!
Don't put off Tallent too long. As your own experience at L'Explorateur highlights, one person can have two very different meals even at the same restaurant. Given how idiosyncratic tastes can be, you might have a different take on Tallent than this one negative reviewer. He/she loves Oceanaire, for instance, and I can't stand it. He/she had a bland meal at Tallent, and I think the flavors there are explosive and vibrant. Vive le difference. But do give Tallent a try sometime.
I agree that Oakley's is up there with Elements. I like Hardesty's effort to use local foods so that gives him an edge in my mind. I'd put L'Ex a notch below, just because of the consistency issue. But still lots of fun.
Great list, but you could have stopped at #1. If it's about the food, Tallent is worth the drive and worthy of the business.
Let me add that Tallent has recently moved as you've noted and the new space is gorgeous. With an open kitchen, great artwork, and a spacious, comfortable layout, it is as nice a restaurant as I've eaten in. And the food, as always, is a delight.
Elements is also excellent, as is R bistro (though that one is a little more casual, maybe a touch less "Special Occasion.") I like L'Explorateur very much -- it's a little bit more cutting edge. Usually it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's always fun. Oakleys is very good as well.
I have a question for those familiar with the fine dining scene in Indianapolis.
I travel to the Indy area 2-3 times a year. As I noted above, I have been to the Oceanaire numerous times and really like it a lot. I am usually passing through around 5 pm or so, when it (and most restaurants) are not yet busy for dinner. That's fine with me, because I enjoy eating early (great service, not too noisy) but I don't get a sense of which restaurants are popular. Lately I've started using opentable.com to make reservations, which has many of the better places in Indy (as well as here in Chicago). I've noticed that the Oceanaire, more than any other place, seems to be the most difficult place to get a reservation; even during the week, they seem to be booked up at the prime times (for example, a week from today, it doesn't show openings later than 5 and earlier than 9). Based on this, would it be fair to say that the Oceanaire is not a "hidden" gem that I've "discovered", that it's one of the most popular and well-known restaurants in the city?
(And FWIW, the next time I'm in the area will be in April, and I already made a reservation at Tallent. ;) )
Yah, chain restaurant and 'hidden gem' just does not mix. Although the perfect link to a chain is PREDICTABLE. myplateoryours is right about her comment concerning the Oceanaire. All you have to do is check out the portion sizes, which I love---because when I'm forced to eat at a chain---we tend to split plates and are totally satisfied. Unfortunately, I've experienced some extremely unprofessional service because of this. Why is that? Chains are for the masses and the staff should realize this before they sign on to work at such places. Bigger portions for less money. Any thoughts...anyone?
Can't wait to get back down to Bloomington for dinner at Tallent and also Farm(still never been)...and a few beers at Nick's, of course! Elements and R Bistro are on my list also.