Good Spots in Indianapolis (Downtown, plus...)
Traveling to Indianapolis for two days, and staying at the Westin Indianapolis downtown, near the RCA Dome.
Need to find two good dinner spots. One needs to be close to the hotel, the other can be pretty much anywhere in the city. Nowhere super expensive ($15-$25 range works); the downtown spot can be a little pricier than the other.
Looking for some good local spots, places with character.
I've been trying a lot of the top spots in and around Indianapolis on my frequent trips to that city. My two favorites are both just two blocks from the Westin (they're right around the corner from each other). 14 West ( www.14westindy.com ) features upscale contemporary food in a casual setting (they also have outdoor seating, which offers the character you're looking for). If you like them, their panned veal sweetbreads are heavenly! The Oceanaire ( www.theoceanaire.com ) features the freshest seafood in a nautical motif. The Oceanaire also offers a bargain three-course special for lunch and up to about 4:30 pm. Both are consistently outstanding in every way. You can read my detailed reports on meals at these and other restaurants in and around Indy in this topic:
BARcelona ( http://www.barcelonatapas.com/ ) a tapas restaurant at the corner of Ohio and Delaware downtown is a recent and very good addition to the downtown dining scene.
I'll always put in a plug for Elements ( http://www.elementsindy.com/ ) an R Bistro ( http://www.rbistro.com/ ), both on Massachusetts Ave as excellent dining choices downtown. Elements is a bit more formal (but not overly so). You can't go wrong with either.
Like those above, I'll absolutely recommend Elements and R Bistro for your downtown experience. Both have websites. Also consider Rathskeller for good german food with great beer options
For you meal away from downtown, I'll recommend Oakley's (my overall favorite Indy restaurant) and - with a measure of hesitation - L'Explorateur where your meal will either be absolutely fantastic or fall short; there is little middle ground there.
Did some research and made some dining choices, and happy to report back about some places I visited in Indianapolis.
14 West -
Very good suggestion, ambiance and atmosphere were nice and very convenient from our hotel in downtown (the Westin). Brought some colleagues from a couple other companies (whom I hadn't met before) and they were quite impressed by my selection. I had the spinach salad to start, which in truth I found to be good but a little undistinguished. The dressing was not as sharp a vinaigrette as I normal prefer, but the ingredients were of high quality. I had the double cut pork chop for an entree. Prior to coming to the midwest, I had not ever seen this, and was certainly surprised at its thickness. I got it medium rare, and although I think it was a little on the medium side of medium rare, I was impressed that the outer edges were not really dry at all. Good, flavorful meat. The best part was the pear chutney....simply fantastic. Great flavor with the pork, and with a good kick (from a spice I was annoyed I could not identify). My only real complaint was the cheddar whipped potatoes; I didn't think it was a starch pairing that flavor-wise, particularly with the cheddar, that complimented the pork and the chutney. From their menu, this is a widely used starch, and they might want to target better. I think sweet potatoes would be a little trite as a pairing here, but maybe more appropriate. Service was very good, unobtrusive and reflected our group (business, not pleasure). Overall, very good.
Cafe Patachou -
Ended up here for lunch. Sandwich (chicken and basil) was good, however, I thought the basil could be accenuated a bit. I also had the summer squash soup du jour, which was pretty bland, but I guess that might be expected given the primary ingredient. Very good quality ingredients. Our server was a little out of sorts; he forgot a few things, and seemed a little frantic and/or spaced out, but was friendly.
St. Elmo's -
Of course I heard the comments that it's past its prime. I hadn't planned to go; I had wanted to go to R Bistro, but when I got there right before 10 pm, they had stopped cooking. Definitely was disappointed. So, I needed a place that was still seating for dinner. I got the basic strip steak; the navy bean soup that came first was only okay, pretty decent. The steak itself was cooked appropriately, and had very good flavor and carmelization. It was very tender but not particularly fatty. I did feel, however, that it was a bit overpriced. My server was very affable and nice, but I had a couple of complaints. By the time I got there, I was totally starving, so I devoured the bread they provided. Before I could object, more bread was placed in front of me, and I was just so famished I kept eating it. Bread provision of this sort is a personal pet peeve. Second, I got a baked potato with my steak. My server asked if I wanted everything on it, and he listed sour cream, chives, and I somewhat cut him off and said yes. Well, my baked potato came with butter, sour cream, chives, bacon, and shredded cheese (generic yellow cheese at that!) On my bill, there was an additional $1 charge. For a restaurant that charges $40 for a steak (at minimum), I thought this was very annoying. But in general, St. Elmo's was pretty good but not my first choice.
I second the recommendation of Cafe Patachou for breakfast or lunch (they're closed for dinner). The downtown location isn't as homey as their others; I especially love Petite Chou in Broad Ripple (which has a similar menu but with a French twist).
R Bistro is in a great space, but the dishes I've had there all have lacked that certain something. As much as I love the "new menu every week" concept, I think the ability to tinker and perfect each dish is sacrificed in the process.
For your less expensive dinner outside of downtown, Thai Cafe in Broad Ripple is an adorable, tiny restaurant that has great food. Brugge in Broad Ripple is a Belgian gastropub. Oh Yumm on 56th and Illinois looks great - has anyone tried it? I never hear much about it.
With R Bistro, you have to go in expecting that the food will taste like its ingredients. No overpowering garlic or cloying sauces. Very pure. A very refined version of the seasonal food I grew up with. Sawasdee, Thai Taste, Asian Spice, and Thai Spice all trump Thai Café for quality of dishes. Brugge *can* be good, but it's wildly inconsistent. Oh Yumm. . .oh boy. Totally overblown. L'Explorateur is the most innovative, Peterson's perhaps the most consistent, Elements very good, The Oceanaire definitely best service and a total bet for great seafood, and many, many more.