Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fresh Market and Morels

Is anyone with me in starting a petition to get The Fresh Market on College Avenue to open the hell up already? Or at least start building. Something. Anything to let me know that it's really going to happen. I am completely in love with TFM but Bloomington is more on my way to work than 146th Street. And I miss Atlas so. When I make the gyro-and-$60-in-magazines buy across the street from the empty lot, I hate the vacuum that was once filled with beef tenderloin (cheap!), tiny turquoise shopping carts, Café du Monde coffee, and the occasional brown paper sack of morels… Morels that are now available in a galaxy far, far away at The Fresh Market. Thank God for small favors. Especially if those favors are earthy little sponges perfect for soaking up butter in my skillet as I tickle them with garlic. Then you move the morels into a dish, put 2 healthy dollops of crème fraiche in the skillet, melt in about an ounce of bleu cheese (I like Point Reyes Blue) and put it – along with the morels – on Cipriani extra thin papardelle. All of which are delightfully available right there in the aisles of TFM. On 146th Street. How is that petition coming along?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brix and Beasts

My esteemed colleague and I usually become somebody else's tourists the last weekend in May rather than staying here and dealing with our own. The siren song of steak frites at any one of several French bistros in Chicago sounds better to us than the whine of 200 laps at 200+ miles an hour and out-of-staters who didn't know you can't buy alcohol on Sundays in Indiana. This year, though, the race caught us without a getaway plan.

We did what we usually do. Sit around reminiscing about meals in other places, dishes most restaurants here would never serve. Until I suddenly remembered Brix in Zionsville. The menu is funky, the wine list interesting, and it's technically out of town. Off we went.

It's Zionsville, so do I need to bother mentioning that Brix is hiply adorable? We even had a Provencal moment when we witnessed the owner's fluffy dog being led back home because he was getting friendly with the sidewalk diners (someday I will tell the story of Jean Paul the bulldog begging at our table in Les Baux de Provence). We perused the menu holding a couple of glasses of something called Love Juice (a wine glass of Prosecco and pureed strawberry. Not exactly an ideal dinner aperitif, but it would have been fabulous before breakfast). We started with the flatbread pizza special – Traders Point Creamery's fromage blanc, smoked tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction on crisp flatbread. I also had the roasted corn chowder. Chowder was good, but seriously overpowered by the flavors of the scrumptious pizza. Even though they tried to jazz the soup up with what looked like chili oil, the overall taste was delicate to bordering on bland, more cream than corn. I think we had a salad, but honestly all was forgotten when the entrees arrived. I had the lamb shank with a mole sauce and poblano corn polenta. I love mole and I really loved this. I'm not a huge fan of polenta and I really loved this. Spicy but not to the extent that you couldn't taste the lamb, the corn, or the polenta. My esteemed colleague satisfied his lack of steak frites with a NY strip and fries. The "fries" were done in the style of most tapas restaurants – sliced thin on a mandoline to form flat strips versus fat rectangles, then served in a salty tangle next to the beef. It was so good that we kept feeding each other bites and exclaiming, "this is really good!" in a surprised way that I'm sure really annoys the chef. A chef that, we heard later that night, has only been the chef since the abrupt departure of the previous chef a few short weeks ago. So our hats were even further off. Sure there were some rough spots (a server who can't open wine, for a minor one), but we'll be more than happy to go back in a few weeks and see if they've been smoothed out. More than happy.

Farmer's Market and Ceviche

Well, I was right about it being a strange spring for things farmery. The market, overall, was mostly full of ready-made things like sauces and soaps and whatnot. But there were, even on that rainy opening day, more than a few edible bright spots. First, pain au chocolat from Scholar's Inn made for a yummy portable breakfast and several dogs who wanted to be my close personal friend. Second, garlic bulbs (like a large scallion with a bigger bulb and garlicy scent) from NuJac that were turned into a super-tasty quasi-ceviche yesterday (recipe below). Third, according to the owner of Hickoryworks, the proprietor of NuJac is a microbiologist who grows cool stuff for fun. That's just neato. Fourth, oyster mushrooms. Fifth, plenty of good bread things from pastries to baguettes to tarts. Sixth, it turns out that Nicole Anderson's market niche is gluten-free baked goods. They looked and smelled yummy, but I'd just finished afore-mentioned p.a.c. Asparagus was abundant and it looked like several varieties of squash were doing well, as were the flowers and herbs. Not bad for the not high season. Especially when you can turn it into tastiness like this:

This recipe is partially stolen from, sorry, inspired by this month's Gourmet, but mostly based on what I had lying around and what I picked up at the market. This is for roughly two people as an appetizer (with leftover salsa).

2 ears of corn
8 large scallops

2 medium tomatoes (medium to me is tennis-ball sized), seeded and diced
Garlic bulb, plus about two inches of the pale green stalk, chopped finely
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced thinly (1/4 to 1/2 inch thick)

First, grill the corn. While the corn is grilling, then cooling, mix together all of the vegetables and the juices except the avocado. When the corn is cool enough to handle, slice the kernels off of the ears and add it to your vegetables. You can refrigerate at this point or not. I prefer the taste of room-temp tomatoes, so I didn't. Then, grill the scallops. You aren't going to be doing the classic ceviche "cooking" of the scallops in citric juices, so grill it to your desired taste. To serve, arrange your avocado slices on two plates (half on each). Place the scallops around, spoon the "salsa" over. You could also add greens under the avocado and turn it into an actual salad. Enjoy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Broad Ripple Farmer's Market Tomorrow

Hooray! It's time to pretend we live in Provence even more than we do on any other day. May 26 (yup, tomorrow) kicks off the 2007 "Faux French" summer season (stay tuned for the fall, winter, and spring kick offs). It's been such an odd spring weather-wise that I'm not sure what to expect, but their web site ( lists old favorites like Capriole and Harvest Moon Flower Farm in addition to newcomer H2O Sushi. At first that puzzled me, but the rumor is that H2O will feature pastry chef Nicole Anderson's ethereal desserts. I'm a little bummed that it's not back at the Art Center, but the parking lot of Broad Ripple High School isn't all bad. If you close your eyes, it's kind of like the Luberon. Okay. No it isn't, but it's still fabulous and I will so be there at 8AM. Now where did I leave my market basket and chapeau....

Cafe Petite Chou

"Go outside?" has an electric effect on a dog. Barking, squeaking, jumping at the door, prancing, whimpering, begging, straining at the leash. I have pretty much the same reaction to "French bistro?" So imagine my unbridled delight when I discovered that the menu at Café Petite Chou was not going to be another version of the Patachou menu, only in Broad Ripple. Mais non! This menu has French words! Les mots francais! Words like Croque Monsieur and Salade de Lardons. Words I know. Words I've never seen on a menu in Indianapolis.

But let's start with the setting. I have a fondness for outdoor cafes, even if they are technically in a parking lot. And this one is quaint, with some thought (and cash) put into the tables, chairs, and umbrellas. My esteemed colleague and I started with a Potage Saint Germain (a classic pea soup, this one has basil) and the soup of the day, a tomato artichoke bisque. The bisque was heavenly, light and filling at the same time. The crouton floating on top was a little tough to eat, though. Bread meant to be eaten with a spoon either needs to be smaller or softer.

Our entrees arrived and the swooning got started in earnest. My Salade de Lardons was not so much about lardons (which is pork belly that's been diced, blanched and fried) as "salad with bacon and a sort-of-poached egg on top," but what's not to like about that? The Croque Monsieur, though, was superbe, if a bit thick by actual French standards. Creamy ¬ and not too heavy – sauce, proper ham (not "ham product"), good bread. If you can take it, they'll put a fried egg on top and call it Croque Madame. And none of the greens, either on the side of the sandwich or those in the salad, needed to be wrung of their dressing before eating.

I couldn't leave without trying a crepe. I've had crepes in Brittany, I've had crepes in New Orleans, I've had crepes in my kitchen, I've had crepes made by a French woman in a closet in Key West. I'm a big fan. And I prefer the classics. Like many bread things, if it requires a lot of stuff to make it good, it probably isn't a good bread thing. So I ordered a plain crepe with a sprinkling of vanilla sugar to finish off the last of my jasmine tea. It was light, yet firm, not too sweet, not too brown, not too raw. Someone in the kitchen knows how to make a damn crepe.

Then brunch was all over. I tried dragging my feet, I tried going to the bathroom really slowly several times, I tried starting conversations with fellow diners, I even tried the soulful eyes.....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tangential Menu Rant

As wonderful as brunch at Café Petite Chou was, there was one big problem. She was sitting behind me. At a French bistro, with a menu full of yummy (and nationally-renown) omelets, thoughtfully put-together sandwiches, and elegant salads, she ordered….turkey on whole wheat. Turkey. On whole wheat. "With no mayo." When it arrived, it had "some creamy stuff on it." She complained to the server, "I said no mayo." The manager came over and explained gently and patiently that it wasn't mayo, it was Alouette and it came on most sandwiches. She huffed again that she requested no mayo, he offered to remake the sandwich, she refused and said she'd eat it. (So why complain in the first place? Do the calories not count if you asked not to be served them? But that's another rant.)

Now. I've worked in the restaurant industry, both front and back of the house, so I'm all for the customer having a pleasant experience and getting what they want. Within reason. The world is full of places to get a dry turkey sandwich. The world is not, however, full of places to get something a little more sublime, a little more interesting, a little more covered in Alouette. Okay, the world is, Indiana is not. And it's customers like this woman who make Hoosier restaurateurs believe that a market for their concept doesn't exist here. Because, unfortunately, it's customers like this woman who are more likely to make their feelings known to management.

So my solution to this is pretty simple. If you're the sort of person who is likely to order a dry turkey sandwich, go to a place with dry turkey sandwiches on the menu. If you're the sort of person who would love to keep ordering Alouette and béchamel-covered grilled cheese and something new and different and a little bit horizon-expanding, wave the manager over and tell him or her how much you enjoyed everything and how truly delighted you are that that restaurant exists.

Canal Bistro Mediterranean Grille

We took a chance. We acted on a whim. We threw caution to the wind. Saturday we happened by the spot that was once, we seem to recall, a perfumery to find it transformed into a chic little outdoor café, done up like a Mediterranean piazza with terrazzo topped tables and deep red umbrellas. Now, I must admit to a certain prejudice against what Indianapolis calls "Mediterranean." Ten times out of nine, it's just another gyros stand with the same progression of hummus, greek salad, gyros, falafel, etc.

And so was this.

But we were already sitting down. Just as I was about to sigh and give myself over to yet another version of sliced "meat" on "pita" with "tzatziki," on the table next to me (containing whom I assume is the owner) was delivered scrumptious-smelling platters of kebabs. I inhaled my sigh and headed for the kebab section of the menu. (Lucky for us, since it turns out they were out of gyro meat anyway.) My esteemed colleague ordered the lamb, I ordered the "mixed grill" (lamb and chicken).

The hummus arrived first. It was good, drizzled with olive oil and what I'm guessing is paprika. Our salads were pretty basic, fresher than most and composed of greens that were actually green. But the kebabs. Oh, the kebabs. We could smell them before we could see them, redolent of some mysterious spice and that new grill smell that you can only get with grilling (unless you're Bubb's Burgers in Carmel, but that's a puzzle for another day). Our server slid them off of skewers that were easily over a foot long, more like long thin swords than those spindly things that come with your GrillNEat Tool Party Pack.

Be warned. "Mixed Grill" does not mean half of one meat and half of another. Oh no. It means easily over a foot each of two meats plus grilled veggies (onions, peppers, tomatoes). The chicken is divine. Nicely spiced without heading into the heavily-coated "this is the chicken, right?" place like some "Mediterranean" restaurants. The lamb was in chunks tender enough that the butter knife sufficed. The rice alongside was pretty much rice, but that didn't really matter. We are not people to take home leftovers, these leftovers we took home.

If you're looking for an extensive wine/beer list or a server who knows what Perrier is, this isn't your place. But if you are looking for yummy grilled meats on a fabulous deck overlooking the Broad Ripple canal wildlife, this is it. And, for a restaurant that had only been open six days when we were there, we definitely don't regret taking the chance.