Thursday, June 28, 2007


Sorry it's been so long, dear reader (someday maybe I'll be able to add an 's'). There was this beach in Jamaica that needed me to hold it down with the help of a few Appleton and Cokes. I'm back now and, as promised, I headed back to Brix to check on the new chef, as always with my esteemed colleague.

He started with the duck salad again, which just has way too much dressing on it for my taste. Good dressing, yes, but I like duck and I like to be able to taste it. I started with the scallops, which were FAN-TAS-TIC. Having rubberized scallops on my own a time or two, I know having them come out perfectly tender without being raw is a trick. Chef made this trick a bit harder by butterflying the scallops, then sandwiching paper-thin slices of potato in the middle (where DOES one find potatoes of exactly the right circumference as the scallops? Do you buy the scallops first, then hunt down the potatoes? Is there some poor prep chef in the back with a ruler and a scallop? Hmmmm....), the whole thing is covered in a sauce that I can best describe as a heavy-on-the-vinegar hollandaise and a fine dice of braised pancetta. Yumm-ee.

I had the New York strip and bordelaise that my esteemed colleague had the first time (scroll down to read) while he stepped up to the ribs. The NY Strip was as good as it was last time but the ribs (which is what I really wanted but my esteemed colleague is occasionally a stubborn ass) were astronomically good. Falling off the bone with a sauce that wasn't too sweet but could be a touch spicier. I, however, would eat fire if they could figure out a way to make it pourable, so consider that whenever I say something could be spicier. The ribs were served with a sweet carroty slaw and a yummy potato "salad" that was cool and creamy. My esteemed colleague will choosing something else next time, as I too can be a stubborn ass when it comes to tasty ribs.

As an aside, we met up with friends DK and R at the bar, then headed down the street to Friendly Tavern. On the way, I said "what is that fried chicken smell? That smells fabulous!" Keep in mind, I just had scallops, duck, most of a steak and as many ribs as I could steal with my famous "hey, is that the BeeGees limo?" ploy, so this chicken smelled pretty damn great. Turns out, it was coming from Friendly. We settled into a place that looked like what my dad's den in the 80's would have looked like if my dad's den had been a restaurant - all burgundy paisley wallpaper and "wood." And, as luck would have it, the nice people next to us were just being served that very chicken. It arrives as a platter heaped, and I mean heaped, with wings and served with a variety of hot sauces and other extras. The nice man next to me said they "were the best wings on the planet." Next time I'll make sure I haven't eaten my way through the food chain so I can let my reader (hi there!) know if they're as yummy as they smell.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Brazilian Grill

I'm a churrascaria virgin. If you don't know what a churrascaria is, so are you. A churrascaria is (c'mere, Wiki) a Portuguese or Brazilian steakhouse, specifically barbeque as that word is used to describe items cooked on or over a fire (versus American barbeque that usually describes food seasoned in a particular way that will cause generations-long feuding in some parts of the country). Several servers, each bearing skewer of different grilled meat, circulate among the diners and portions are sliced or slid off the skewer right at the table. A card at your side lets the servers know if you're ready for more (green) or can't take any more (red).

Oh, and there's a salad bar with the standard stuff, plus slightly more exotic things like marinated mushrooms and grilled eggplant. A steamer table nearby contains the extras – roasted potatoes, truly spicy shrimp, rice, black beans, garlicky chicken, braised collard greens.

Sounds good, right? Well, like so many other deflowerings that make you wonder what the big deal is, this wasn't. Oh, parts were good, even great. The star by far were the caipiranhas – the cachaca and lime cocktails were perfectly sweet (which means not too), perfectly strong (which means very), and none of that club soda stuff mucking up the works. The bacon-wrapped tilapia was tender and rich. The skirt steak was excellent. The sausages were short, plumb revelations of fennel-enhanced porkiness. The winner by far was a prime-ribesque stack of three steaks that was sliced into thin, buttery ribbons of rareness, juice and fat.

But the pork ribs were, how do I put this?, inedible. They looked edible, they smelled edible, but the eatable part of being edible was missing. And anything that was wrapped in bacon (with the exception of the tilapia) was extremely greasy because the bacon had somehow steamed instead of actually cooking, let alone crisping. I left a pile of pallid strips on my plate and I have been known to fix bacon in the middle of the night out of sheer need.

The space is quite nice. Nothing exists of the former (beloved) La Margarita, not even the walls, of which the remaining ones are now painted a warm mustard. The bar and tables are sleek-on-a-budget, but the entire feel would have a kind of funky, homemade elegance. If it weren't for the lighting. Wow. The steam table, salad bar and wide-open space already makes it feel like a cafeteria. Installing a gazillion 80-watt heat lamps in the ceiling completes the illusion.

So, okay, I'm not here just to complain. I'm here to help. Here's my advice. Turn down the megawattage, tell your servers to stop standing around looking bored (so what if the restaurant is empty? It's a restaurant, I guarantee there's something to do somewhere), ease up on the bacon, lose the pork rib vendor, and reconsider the $27.50 per person price tag until the whole thing improves drastically or you'll never get anyone back. Just don't mess with the caipiranhas.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

BARcelona Tapas

Attention, Indianapolis. You now have a tapas restaurant. And it's a good one. Don't complain, don't mope, don't look all concerned and think that it's populated by shirtless girls. Tapas is easy. Easier, even, then deciding on a single entrée at a normal restaurant. Why just have the steak when you can have the steak (with Cabrales, a stout Spanish blue cheese), the shrimp (with chili oil and butter), the gazpacho, the calamari, the albondigas (meatballs in red sauce), the patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), lamb chops, AND the bread pudding. All in bite sized morsels (each dish yields roughly 6 to 10 bites, depending on what you call a bite). And every bite was genuinely delicious. I've been plotting for another chance at the meatballs. Two orders next time, as my esteemed colleague and I wrestled for the last one. I won by heaving one of the rock-hard patatas bravas at his forehead, slightly stunning him long enough for me to make off with the meatball. In an otherwise lovely and well-prepared series of dishes, only the spicy potatoes were a pretty serious disappointment. I think I chipped a tooth. It was so weird given the yummy perfection of everything else. The Cabrales tenderloin was an unctuous rare med-rare, meatballs juicy (have I mentioned how much I like the meatballs?), red sangria neither too sweet nor too reminiscent of fruit salad with wine dribbled on it, perfectly grilled tiny lamb lollypops, tender calamari in a lightly crunchy breading, buttery shrimp, spicy gazpacho, gooey and creamy and caramelized bread pudding. But the potatoes. Huh. It's a mystery.

If you're looking for a quiet place to whisper sweet nothings, stay home. Any sweet nothings will need to be conveyed with a megaphone to be heard over the 50-decibel roar. It seems to be a tapas thing. I've been to tapas places in Chicago, New York, and San Fran and they've all been absolute landing strips. Maybe it's the cumulative ordering. Instead of once, each table can, should, and does order as many as four or five times during the course of the meal. The cries for Cabrales then echo up the brick red walls, ricochet around the exposed ducts near the 20-30 foot ceiling, then descend on the unsuspecting diners at the barstool-height tables. All tapas restaurants are required to be high-ceilinged brick buildings. I think it's in the Constitution.

Now that I've done the tapas classics, I want to check out the pepper encrusted tuna, which looked fabulous, and one of the several sausage dishes. I'll give the potatoes another whirl. But if you have a leftover meatball, get ready to duck.