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L'explorateur in Indianapolis

h
HMK Feb 16, 2007 05:42 PM

After reading the good reviews of L'exploratuer in several Indianapolis Monthly editions, my husband and I decided to try it. We left rather disappointed; in fact, we turned down dessert to go finish the evening with drinks and dessert elsewhere.

We had 6:30 reservations on a Saturday night. The place felt deserted. The restaurant is in a former residential home, and is broken up into several smaller room, perhaps explainig why it felt completely emtpy. In retrospect, peraps I should have been concerned about the lack of customers.

For starters, we had the duck confit on goat cheese, which was the highlight of the meal, and the trio of soup. The presentation was nice, but not spectacular. The soup was presented in a bulls-eye fasion with a bisque-like outer ring that was good (not great). The middle ring was a carrot puree and tasted exactly like my daughter's babyfood - totally bland and uninspired. The center ring was a purree of green lentils and was good but still not worthy of ordering again.

For main course, my husband had the bass. It was cooked perfectly and tasted very good; yet was not spectacular. We've had better fish a multiple restaurants in Indy. I had the scallops. Huge dissapointment. First complaint is that there were three medium sized scallops with some sauce...nothing else, no hint of a side, no vegetable, not even a micro-greeen.......nothing. The sauce tasted heavy of molasses and was unappealing. The scallops were topped with pop-rocks, yes, the candy pop-rocks. Here, I appreciated the invetiveness and even enjoyed the surprising first couple of bites. But, after just a couple of bites, the pop-rocks became a huge annoyance. They continued to pop ong-after the bite was gone. This also ruined the glass of wine (short pour, by the way). Even after trying to scape off all the pop-rocks, the scallops were permeated with a very odd, orange flavor reminesent of the candy. For $30, I expect for than 3 scallops, a partial bag of cheap candy, and a couple tablespoons of unappealing sauce.

Compared to the other fine chefs and restaurants in Indy, we felt that L'explorateur fell far short. I would recommend Oakleys, Elements and R Bistro well before L'explorateur. I don't give this place much more than 6 months.....it will be doomed just like all those that have failed at its same location.

  1. nsxtasy Oct 31, 2007 11:45 AM

    Since comments and comparisons are being made here about several other Indy places as well as L'Ex, I should mention that I have visited Oakley's Bistro on my most recent visit to Indy. I reported on my dinner there in this other topic:
    www.chowhound.com/topics/348586

    In brief, I thought that my dinner at Oakley's was phenomenal, just a fantastic meal - superb food, outstanding service, just excellent in every way. I consider it the best meal I've had in Indiana (which is not to take away from the fine meals I've had at 14 West and the Oceanaire). As reported in the other topic, my dinner at L'Explorateur was very good, too. I have not yet tried Elements or R Bistro, but I visit Indy several times a year, and they are next on my list of places to try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy
      Cookiefiend Oct 31, 2007 12:15 PM

      We'll be looking forward to your reviews as well!

      ps - Thanks for the link to Buttonwoods Farm in Terre Haute.

    2. n
      NewYorkFoodAndWine Oct 27, 2007 09:34 AM

      After writing an unfavorable review of L’explorateur in 2006, Chef Neal Brown e-mailed to offer a free dinner. Not accepting, for logistical reasons, I instead gave Neal some suggestions such as serving wine in varietal-specific stemware, obtaining two electric wine cellars (to avoid fully chilling certain whites and 78 degree room temperature reds), and increasing entrée sizing. After all, there is a standard of amenities, service and value foodies expect from pricier restaurants.

      This autumn, I plan on reevaluating L’explorateur, since it shows potential for becoming a successful niche restaurant in Indianapolis. Pretentiously amateur cuisine and unrefined service, I hope, has evolved since my first visit.

      5 Replies
      1. re: NewYorkFoodAndWine
        Cookiefiend Oct 29, 2007 08:13 AM

        NewYorkFoodAndWine ~

        Please let us know what you think after your autumn visit.

        L'Explorateur is one of our favorite restaurants - yes they still have a few issues (primarily service) but we try to let them slide because there are few places like l'Ex in Indy.

        Neal knows about the problems and I do think they are trying.

        If you can, try to get a seat in the bar. Things seem to go a bit smoother in there.

        Have you been any where else in Indy that might be comparable to L'Ex? Elements, 14 West, R Bistro or Oakley's? Those places have similar styles and Peterson's in Fishers (primarily steak) does as well.

        At any rate I am curious to see what you think!
        Thanks!
        Dawn

        1. re: Cookiefiend
          n
          NewYorkFoodAndWine Oct 29, 2007 10:38 PM

          Dawn,

          Oakley’s Bistro, R Bistro and Elements are competent restaurants. Great steakhouses normally escape review, since quality meat should never be embellished beyond sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, so creativity is not expected from main course.

          Steven Oakley of namesake bistro is perhaps one of the most talented chefs in Indiana. Move his restaurant out of a strip mall and it could possibly earn a Michelin Star. Their teamwork oriented service is only overshadowed by their food and wine quality.

          Regina Mehallick is also a fabulous restaurateur, although service at R Bistro is not as flawlessly executed as service at Oakley’s Bistro. Furthermore, since R Bistro employs a one check policy, two ore more couples dining together are forced to awkwardly and tackily sort the bill after a wonderful meal.

          Greg Hardesty and Michael Sylvia of Elements, from recollection, have a decent product. The last time I dined there, however, was during summer of 2006. Therefore, I only remember enjoying a half bottle of Gruet Blanc de Noir sparkling wine from New Mexico.

          Will certainly let you know what I think about L’explorateur after I visit them again, perhaps on November 30th. I have high hopes for Neal Brown and Lindy Arnold, since Broad Ripple desperately needs their style of innovative cuisine.

          1. re: NewYorkFoodAndWine
            Cookiefiend Oct 30, 2007 10:59 AM

            Not just Broad Ripple, the entire city!

            1. re: NewYorkFoodAndWine
              i
              indiwaiter Oct 30, 2007 10:50 PM

              Hey NewYorkFoodAndWine-

              I used to work at R Bistro as a server. I am curious how R Bistros service doesnt execute as well as Oakleys? I have never dined at Oakleys so I cannot make that comparison. Please keep in mind I no longer work at R Bistro so please be as candid as possible. I look forward to a response.

              1. re: indiwaiter
                n
                NewYorkFoodAndWine Oct 31, 2007 06:26 AM

                indiwaiter,

                R Bistro, first of all, is a fine restaurant and one of my favorites. Service is good, and I love the concept of servers tempting tables they are passing, by showing entrees they are about to serve other patrons. What separates Oakley’s Bistro are two main things: 1) They always pass the “Four Person Team Test.” To conduct this test, the next time you dine at a fine restaurant, count how many different people unobtrusively and professionally service your table. At Oakley’s Bistro, no less than four different people visit your table during the course of a meal: maitre d’, assigned server, neighboring server and bus person. 2) They do not make a big deal about separating the bill between two or more people.

                Again, R Bistro is a fabulous establishment. Service, in my opinion, is simply better at Oakley’s Bistro.

        2. Spoonula Apr 13, 2007 07:09 AM

          Kudos to L'Explorateur for going the extra mile - I've read way too many posts of poor customer service and it's refreshing to read that a restaurant has taken criticism to heart. Rather than saying "oh well, there are other customers out there" - they know that word of mouth is either the death nell of their business or the best advertising.
          and kudos to HMK for giving them a second chance and posting on their second experience - that's a real foodie.
          this is what we natives call - Hoosier Hospitality

          1. h
            HMK Apr 10, 2007 12:55 PM

            As promised, here's the review of our second visit to L'exploratuer.

            The short version is that it was 100% different experience.

            The long version is this:
            Again early evening reservations. This time, we were seated in the bar area and it proved to be a great spot. I'll always ask for this location when returning. By sitting in the bar area, we are able to watch the chef as he prepared dishes using ingredients from the raw bar. He was in and out of the area all night. It was great to see patrons stop by to talk with him and compliment him on their meal. Additionally, we were able to observe the interaction with his staff. The environment isn't malignant; everyone there seemed happy to be so.

            After ordering a glass of wine, we simply instructed our server that we would leave our meal to the discretion of the Chef. Great move on our part. We started with the Hamachi Carpaccio. By report, this is the only item that can't be removed from the menu...it's always in too great of demand. We agree. Perfect flavors of the hamachi, chili oil, crunchy roe, and freshly grated horseradish. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

            Next came a dish not listed on the menu. Called "a study in salt," were numerous thin slices of tuna and salmon. Not thick nigiri style, but beautiful thin slices. Each was topped with something salty. One with bits of kalamata olives, one with capers, thin red onion and a lovely bit of sauce, another with caviar, another quite simply with a sea salt. They were all quite good and so different from each other.

            A nice lettuce salad was next. It had fennel (not too much), pears (maybe not quite enough?) and fabulous candied nuts. The dressing was light yet flavorful. This salad paired very well the previous two dishes yet also helped transition to the next course.

            We were then presented with a good-looking dark green soup with a contrasting portion of Opakapaka resting in the center on top of a hidden piece of toasted brioche. Excellent. I've never had this fish before, but it reminded me of great mahi-mahi in Hawaii. The soup, puree of Jerusalem artichoke, was so incredibly flavorful. It was like eating the artichoke without all the work.

            Main courses were apparently chosen based on the wines we had previously ordered (Pinot Noir and a Cab). My husband had duck with a tasty pepper au jus. The duck was perfectly cooked - not at all overdone. It had a nice crusty skin. Luckily I managed to get a slice prior to my husband gobbled it all up. My main course was an enormous pork chop. I am not typically a fan or pork, but this was really very good. Moist and flavorful with an amazing crunchy outer texture. I can say that I've never had pork this good. The best part was the red wine risotto and sautéed shitakes. Again, the risotto was the best I've had with a perfect bite and flavors.

            Finally, we ended with a lovely drinking chocolate and a nice rhubarb and strawberry cobbler served in an individual soufflé dish.

            To chef's credit, we were completely satisfied, but not uncomfortably stuffed. Also to his credit, we spoke briefly about our previous experience and his goals for the restaurant. It comes down to this: we will go back. We will always let the chef guide us thru a meal only specifying the number of courses desired. I am impressed by his drive to make his restaurant succeed and I think that while there are still a few wrinkles to iron out, you must give him a ton of credit. It's an enormous challenge to change your menu every 2 weeks. When you do that, sometimes you'll miss the mark, but as a customer it's great to be challenged to try something new.

            3 Replies
            1. re: HMK
              nsxtasy Apr 10, 2007 01:47 PM

              Thanks so much for the report!

              I honestly believe that anyplace (even the very best) can occasionally have a problem. It's all the more impressive when they realize it and do everything they can to make it right for those affected.

              Your report could not have been more timely, as I will be at L'ex the day after tomorrow. I've already checked out the menu on their website and everything sounds superb. I'll report when I'm back early next week.

              Thanks again!

              1. re: nsxtasy
                nsxtasy Apr 16, 2007 09:47 PM

                I had dinner at L'Explorateur on Thursday and I liked it a lot. On the same trip, I also enjoyed 14 West, but found Tallent disappointing. I posted details in this other topic:
                www.chowhound.com/topics/348586

              2. re: HMK
                b
                bonmann Apr 11, 2007 07:34 AM

                I think it is wonderful that you were willing to take the chance again and even more pleased that you enjoyed your second experience. Not enough people are willing to expend the effort you did even if contacted by the restaurant about a bad experience.

              3. h
                HMK Apr 2, 2007 10:26 AM

                UPDATE:

                I must give a huge kudos to L'explorateur. Several weeks after my original post regarding the disappointing dinner, I received a phone call from L'explorateur. Getting my contact information took several steps of investigative work (likely cross-referencing chowhound with open table and a bit of luck) piecing the details together to identify me and my contact information.

                In brief, the phone call was not to dispute or explain-away our sub-par experience. Instead, it was meant to intice us to return - to give it another chance. To proclaim their desire to be one of the top Indy restaurants. Initially, I had no desire to re-visit. On second thought howerer, I realized that in a town full of chains and in desperate need of high quality, innovative cuisine, we had to give them another chance. Clearly, the efforts of L'expolrateur indicate their strength of dedication. I admire this to no end and therefore, are giving them another chance. We have reservations for this weekend and hope to report back a very diiferent review than that of our first visit.

                2 Replies
                1. re: HMK
                  nsxtasy Apr 2, 2007 12:15 PM

                  Kudos to them for the effort.

                  I'm going to try to make it there (and also Tallent) next week, and hope to report back.

                  1. re: nsxtasy
                    IndyGirl Apr 2, 2007 01:30 PM

                    Tallent is fabulous.

                    I've never been to L'Explorateur, but I'm impressed that they tried to entice you back and worked so hard to find you!!

                2. d
                  David W Feb 18, 2007 08:40 AM

                  I'd like to chime in as well-I've only eaten at L'Explorateur once, last summer-I've copied my review at the time below:

                  "We had a great dinner back in Indianapolis at L’explorateur. It’s in a house up in Broad Ripple (in Hanslit’s old spot)-the neighborhood was pretty wild on a Friday night, but the restaurant attracts a very different group than the drinking sorts at other area spots.) This is a very serious place. The raw selections are very fine-hamachi with little fish-egg horseradish (calling F. Adria), salmon and tuna crudo, Spanish Remjon yellowfin/tail. Wonderful, fresh, perfect (a warning for the clumsy-they serve it with chopsticks.)
                  The Basque Ttorro with mussels was marvelous, laced with saffron and with a broth that made me ask for a spoon. The trout with corn gnocchi was full of flavor. The black and white and red all over (I’m giving away the game-sorry) was three large scallops, each with a different preparation-my favorite was a squid-ink noodle. Desserts included a peach soup, a vanilla panna cotta and a chocolate thingy (well, a bottle of wine and dessert wine-what do you want?) A note-they don’t serve any sort of bread, which makes some sense with the Japanese-inspired food, but less so with the Spanish food. They also don’t serve espresso, but have a good presspot. I would highly recommend this spot-the best I’ve had in Indianapolis."

                  1. t
                    TThomas Feb 17, 2007 11:54 AM

                    I have no stake in L'Explorateur, but I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy your experience. We've been there only once, but it was excellent. We didn't order off the menu, instead asking the chef to prepare food until we said "stop." There were three of us, and we had probably six or seven courses. Several of them were from the menu, but most were not. They were uniformly fresh, literally and figuratively. I've heard similar reports from others who have been there.

                    I don't doubt that your experience was sub-standard, and I'm glad you reported it. If I had had your experience, I probably would never go back. I didn't, and I will.

                    Cheers,

                    T.

                    1. gargantua Feb 17, 2007 08:08 AM

                      I agree with HMK. I have been to L'Explorateur several times. The food is occasionally quite good but often puzzling or arbitrarily odd. The service is uniformly amateur. And it is too bad since Indy needs places like this.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gargantua
                        i
                        IndyFoodGuy Feb 19, 2007 07:04 PM

                        I agree with gargantua that the service is subpar. I once went for lunch last summer when the place was nearly empty. It took a good 20 minutes before the waitress even took our orders.

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