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A repast with a past

Last week, I got to spend a night at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill during my jaunt to Lexington. (Actually, Shaker Village is located in Harrodsburg, about 30 minutes south of Lexington, if you want to get technical about it. But why split hairs.)

Trustees Office

Shaker Village Trustee’s Office inn and restaurant

For those unfamiliar, Shaker Village is the largest restored Shaker community in the country, dating to 1805 and active for more than a century back in its heyday. Those Shakers were some busy peeps, noted for their innovative farming methods, communal living practices and religious fervor. Touring through this collection of refurbished buildings is really interesting, and costumed interpreters are on hand for craft demonstrations, Q&A sessions and general color. Think Conner Prairie, but bigger. And with hiking/biking nature trails running throughout the beautiful rolling countryside, production gardens, overnight accommodations and a well-reputed restaurant. The grounds are crisscrossed with rustic stacked stone walls built by Scottish/Irish immigrants.

Although kitted out with period furnishings and décor, my room was surprisingly up-to-date with a nice bathroom, Wi-Fi and a flatscreen TV. As part of my overnight I enjoyed a very pleasant dinner at the Trustee’s Office Dining Room with the Shaker Village communications manager.

The vibe here is definitely rustic, as you’d expect, yet the huge hurricane candles on each table created a warm, romantic glow. For me, this was a friendly business dinner, but I could see how folks of a certain age might come here for a special occasion meal or a date night.

Shaker Inn dining room

In keeping with the theme and setting, the menu features home-cooked “seed to table” fare, and many offerings are made using ingredients straight out of the gorgeous gardens you can see from the dining room windows. Most of the dishes feature traditional Shaker recipes, such as the tomato celery soup that’s always available. Among the half dozen or so dinner entrees ($15.95 to $22.95), you’ll find classic skillet-fried chicken, country ham steak, pot roast, fried catfish, and a quiche-like vegetable tart. Sauteed Gulf shrimp seemed the most modern option, but even it’s served on toasted croutons made with old-school salt-rising bread.

relish

relish tray

All dinners are served with charming retro touches like a relish plate to get things underway; a basket filled with warm rolls and cornbread sticks; and bowls of roasted potatoes, glazed carrots and corn pudding served family-style. All good stuff, just like grandma used to make. It’s a lot of food to take in. You may want to consider skipping lunch.

ham steak

country ham steak with red eye gravy

For my main, I went with the ham steak with red eye gravy. I know country ham is inherently salty by nature, but with the gravy, this was almost a little too much so. Still, the meat was tender and tasty, and the corn pudding on the side was rich and luscious.

fried chicken

skillet-fried chicken

My dining companion ordered the fried chicken, a ginormous three-piece serving, and after a valiant effort, ended up taking half of it home.

desserts

dessert selections

Don’t even think you’re getting out of here without dessert. Our server brought over a tray laden with four options to tempt us — chocolate pudding, pumpkin spice cake and two kinds of pie. I know, I know… you think you’re too full and don’t have room. Get over it.

lemon pie

Shaker lemon pie

I got the Shaker lemon pie, and it was unlike any other lemon pie I’ve ever had. Lest you think this is going to be some of sort of curdy, mile-high meringue, nope. It’s a double-crust pie with a thick fruit filling made from whole lemons, peel and all. It’s not sour, but it’s not overly sweet. The server had warned me that not everyone likes it. I did. Nothing fancy, but different and unusual. My friend ordered the pumpkin spice cake, just to taste. It was good, too, a sheet cake-style slice with a light whippy topping. Like something you’d get at a church dinner or bake sale, and I mean that in the best possible way.

To drink, there’s a small but nicely vetted selection of wine, beer and… bourbon. Of course. I washed things down with an expertly made Buffalo Trace Manhattan.

Shaker Village isn’t trendy or fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re looking for an interesting dining experience with historic flair and delicious, accessible comfort food (lots of it), it’s worth putting this place on your radar for a road trip.

The Trustee’s Office Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more information, visit www.shakervillageky.org.

Another adventure in my I-can’t-believe-this-is-really-what-I-get-to-do-for-a-living life… last week, I traveled south to Lexington, Kentucky and my beloved Bourbon Country. A professional contact and friend invited me down for a preview of the new Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition opening this weekend at the Lexington Center Museum.

Titanic sign

This exhibit came through Indianapolis several years ago for a stint at the Indiana State Museum, but I somehow managed to miss it, so I was glad for this second-chance opportunity. So worthwhile. We’ve all seen the movie and heard the tragic tale, but looking first-hand at dishes, still-partially-filled bottles of champagne, postcards and personal effects collected from the actual shipwreck two and a half miles down in the north Atlantic is both chilling and amazing. Kids will love the chance to touch an iceberg, a self-regenerating block of ice that will stand throughout the exhibition’s run.

Displays put a face on the Titanic story with lots of details about the folks who sailed on the ship that fateful night in April 1912. Visitors are given a “boarding pass” when they enter, detailing the name and background of one of the actual passengers; at the end, you consult a wall that contains the names of everyone who survived or perished to find out if you made it. Sadly, I was the only one of our group who didn’t.

place setting

Following our sneak preview, we enjoyed an elaborate Titanic-themed dinner in the attached Hyatt Regency. This was so cool — the chef and his staff recreated a four-course meal of period recipes that might have been served aboard the Titanic. We kicked off the repast with era-appropriate cocktails like Sidecars and Planter’s Punch, garnished with ice cubes shaped like the ship itself. Appetizers included mini beef Wellingtons and crab-stuffed deviled eggs that our small group couldn’t stop raving about.

soup

potage of winter vegetables

After we took our seats, the chef came out to give us a quick primer on the menu as servers came around pouring wine and offering herb biscuits. First up, a delicious potage/soup made of winter vegetables like carrot and parsnip and garnished with two toasted bread croutons. Maybe not as visually appealing as what was still to come, but delicious with a spicy kick I wasn’t expecting. This is just the kind of thing I’d love to eat a big bowl of on a rainy autumn night with some cheese, some nice bread and red wine.

Waldorf

Waldorf salad

The salad course was a duo of traditional Waldorf salad and a few leaves of Bibb lettuce with candied pecans. Pretty as a picture, and very tasty. I remember my mom making a basic Waldorf salad on occasion way back when with chopped apples, celery and walnuts mixed with Miracle Whip. Chef’s dish elevated the recipe, of course. His Waldorf was more like a creamy apple slaw with halved grapes. So good, especially when I sprinkled the candied nuts over the top.

steak

Filet Mignon Lili

For the main event, we got to choose from three entrees — Ballotine of chicken supreme, filet mignon Lili, and poached salmon mousseline. Everyone at our table ordered the filet, except for one brave gal who broke the mold and got the chicken.

chicken

Ballotine of chicken supreme

The tender, flavorful filet was cooked to order and served with a rich demi-glace, thinly sliced potatoes, a few spears of asparagus, and a tiny marrow bone filled with carrot hash. The woman who ordered the chicken sat next to me; her dish consisted of a chicken breast wrapped around a forcemeat filling and then poached, I believe? It looked good and she liked it.

dessert

“The Iceberg”

Dessert… ah, dessert. The menu described it simply as “the Iceberg,” and the chef was mysterious avoiding further description, so we were all immediately charmed when the plates arrived. We each got a sugar cookie decorated to resemble the Titanic herself, plated beside a scoop of bourbon ice cream that had been covered in toasted meringue to look like an iceberg. Both items sat in a small pool of coconut-ish blue curacao in lieu of the ocean. A little disturbing if you think about it too much, I suppose, but sooooo creative. And even though I was completely stuffed by that point, I could not stop eating that bourbon ice cream.

Titanic: the Artifact Exhibition is on now and running through Jan. 26, 2014 at the Lexington Center Museum right next to Rupp Arena. For more information, visit www.lexingtoncenter.com.

I believe the Hyatt Regency (where I stayed) might be offering package deals in conjunction with the exhibit. The hotel is first-rate, located in the heart of lovely downtown Lexington and connects directly to the Center. If you’re looking for a great weekend away, definitely check it out — www.lexington.hyatt.com.

Shades of blue

Indy’s twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion always provides a great reason to test drive new local eateries, or pay overdue visits to old favorites at reduced prices. For two weeks or so, you can score $30 prix-fixe menus at a couple dozen of the best restaurants in town.

Last night, I grabbed some gal pals and we ventured down from the north side to check out Cerulean. This place has been on my hit list for some time now, and I was eager to get a peek at the Alexander Hotel that houses it.

The hotel itself is sleek and gorgeous. The lobby feels very European (Scandinavian, perhaps?) with modern furniture and lots of clean lines. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to wander for an hour or two and take in all the art, which starts in the parking garage and carries through the common spaces, conference rooms and guest rooms. Pretty neat stuff. If you go, make sure to take a gander at the flying birds installation created from vinyl record cut-outs. And the colorful glass lantern lights that hang throughout the Plat 99 bar on the 2nd level are nothing short of magical.

Plat 99

Plat 99 on the second level, Alexander Hotel

Our first hiccup was finding the restaurant. The entrance is on the first floor of the hotel. We’d parked on the second floor of the garage, then taken the pedestrian bridge over. We came across Plat 99 first and wondered at first glance if that was it? Nope. It’s not. The guy manning the desk in the hotel lobby (also on the second floor) must have thought we were asking how to get to the restroom, not restaurant, and directed us to the facilities in a quiet corner. Uh uh. Don’t think so. Third time’s the charm, right? We finally managed to take the elevator down a floor and find the rather unassuming Cerulean door in the corner.

Cerulean entrance

Once inside, there’s no mistaking that you’ve definitely arrived at one of the trendiest eateries in town. In keeping with the hotel’s artsy vibe, Cerulean boasts retro-mod light fixtures, tiny bowls of succulent plants on the tables instead of flowers, dark wood and creamy leather seating. The real conversation piece is… what to call this thing?… an igloo structure near the entrance composed of pieces of lumber. If you can imagine, it’s like a giant beaver dam. And if such a thing can be considered trendy, this is. You can even sit at one of a handful of tables inside it. Strange. Yet intriguing. The girls and I occupied a more standard banquette out of the main fray.

decor

the view from my seat

The wine list here is pretty extensive (in addition to cocktails and craft beer) and required a little time to consider. In the end, I took our server’s suggestion for a sparkling rose, served in a pretty stemless flute. My friends seemed satisfied with their chardonnay and zin.

Foodwise, I’d perused the Devour Downtown menu online and figured that’s what I’d order from, but the regular menu was tempting as well. It’s small enough to be manageable, conveniently divvied into a page each of small, medium and large plates. I’ve heard good things about Cerulean’s bento box-style lunches (note to self, must return to try.) I believe the menu changes seasonally, if not more often, and chef Caleb France gives a nice shout out to all his local food producers and suppliers on the last page of the menu. Although the buffalo chicken skins, chilled corn soup and duck breast with lemon fettuccini all sounded mighty good, I stuck to my original plan and went with the Devour menu. Two of my friends had the same idea, but one ventured out on her own to try the striped bass instead.

peach soup

chilled peach soup

The first course on the Devour menu offered a choice of soup or salad. The chilled peach soup was much more savory than I’d expected, topped with a little garnish of diced fruit, several thin slices of cucumber and a drizzle of cream. I loved this. A refreshing starter for a hot summer night, and really delicious.

salad

Bibb salad

The salad looked good, too, a fresh mound of Bibb lettuce topped with black-eyed peas, tomato and a light buttermilk dressing.

veggie risotto

summer veggies with risotto

The three of us who ordered the Devour offerings all got the same entrée — a flavorful mélange of summer veggies over risotto with a smear each of dandelion and blueberry purees. This, too, was an excellent summer dish. The veggies were nicely cooked, and the risotto was creamy without being heavy. On paper, it didn’t sound like blueberries should work with this, but they did, adding just a touch of sweetness. (The other second course option was a chicken thigh over the same risotto and purees).

sea bass

striped bass

My renegade friend loved her fish dish, especially the small tangle of lemon verbena pesto-dressed linguine that came with it.

Last up, the Devour desserts were a choice of chocolate bourbon cream or cherry clafoutis. Tough call. You all know how I feel about bourbon, but I was very curious about the whipped cherry beer on the clafoutis as well. Bourbon won out in the end.

chocolate

chocolate bourbon cream

This plate had a lot going on — a luscious quenelle of chocolate bourbon mousse/pudding/ice cream sitting atop a small spoonful of yuzu-poached pears and spiked with a tiny wafer cookie containing, of all things, Pop Rocks. (!) Three tiny dollops of Brie studded with chocolate brioche croutons surrounded the cream (and were basically unnecessary, I thought). The cream was rich and yummy, but I couldn’t really taste any bourbon in it. Overall, good, but won’t go down as one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

cherry

cherry clafoutis

My friend who ordered the clafoutis generously let me have a little taste. The cherry cake was beautiful to look at and very moist. The whipped cherry beer foam was interesting, but I’m still trying to decide if I liked it.

Serving sizes throughout the meal were pretty much spot-on. We all cleaned our plates and left feeling full, but not stuffed. Without the Devour deal, prices can get up there when you tack on a drink or two.

We all agreed that we liked the food, but our service left something to be desired. Our waiter was enthusiastic, fun and friendly, but we waited an awfully long time to place our orders, and he dropped the ball when one of my gals ordered a cup of coffee to go with her dessert. Plus, my bill had a major discrepancy — it included an extra $35 charge for an entire bottle of wine I never had. Our guy was apologetic, of course, and fixed the error, but I think we all felt that a little more focused attention would have made a big difference in our overall experience. On the upside, our water glasses never ran low.

Cerulean was cool, maybe a little too trendy for my tastes, but I’m glad I finally got here. Will come back again to sample one of those bento-box lunches, or to have a drink at Plat 99.

For more info: Cerulean.

Cerulean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

California dreaming

Bakersfield moseyed into the trendy Mass Ave dining scene several months ago, setting up shop in the space formerly known as Bazbeaux. To be honest, I totally forgot this used to be Bazbeaux at all until I just typed that. That’s how different it looks now.

I went there for a Saturday night dinner-and-drinks girls’ night out, and it proved to be a good choice. The shine definitely isn’t off the Bakersfield penny – the place was packed with a crowd that overflowed onto the sidewalk out front. Three of my friends were already there when I arrived, holding down a set of bar stools in prime corner real estate. The décor is industrial-chic with brick walls, nifty caged hanging light fixtures and clever little nods to the rockabilly-ish “Bakersfield sound” musical era. Case in point, the women’s restroom is indicated by a picture of Loretta Lynn on the door. All in all, a young hipster’s see-and-be-seen sorta digs.

Bkfld interior

Bakersfield’s hopping Saturday night scene

So Bakersfield is part of a franchise with additional locations in Cincinnati, Columbus and elsewhere. The claim to fame is Mexican street tacos and an eye-crossing list of tequilas, although the joint carries a perfectly respectable selection of bourbons and whiskeys as well. The girls were already well into a pitcher of margaritas by the time I got there, so I grabbed a glass and joined in before I’d gotten a good look at the drinks menu. Otherwise I might have sipped and sampled a bourbon or two, or ordered up a Chester Ave that sounds suspiciously like a Sazerac. Three of the signature craft cocktails feature Buffalo Trace bourbon. These are my kind of people. I don’t often drink margaritas, but when I do, this is just the way I like ‘em. Fresh, sweet and tart with lots of salt on the glass.

marg and guac

an extra salty margarita with chips and guacamole

The food menu’s not huge, but as our server said, they’d rather do a few things and do them well rather than offer a ton of stuff and do a half-assed job. Ok, maybe the half-assed part wasn’t his exact wording, but that’s what I imagined he said. Here’s what you’ve got to choose from – chips and salsa, chips and guacamole, chips and queso (get the idea??), a couple of salads, a couple of tortas and eight soft taco variations.

The guacamole and tray of chips were enough for all four of us to share, and these were some darn good chips. Freshly made from white corn (and even gluten-free, which we discovered after the dietary-challenged member of our group made an inquiry). The guacamole was top-shelf, too, a very basic recipe with big chunks of fresh avocado, a little squeeze of citrus and a few pieces of radish (!), an unusual addition, but a good one. Yummy stuff. We also gave the red and green squeeze bottles of salsa a good workout; I preferred the green.

tacos beans

tacos and a side of black beans

I think we managed to sample six different tacos. They’re small enough to order two or three per person (although we stuck to a dainty two each). The most fun tacos to say also seemed to be the tastiest — the cochinita pibil with kicky achiote braised pork, pickled onion and cilantro; and the huitlacoche, a vegetarian option with corn truffles, roasted poblano and cotija cheese. A little crema on top, a squirt of green salsa, and we were cooking on gas, baby.

IMG_0313

fish taco on the left, short rib taco on the right

My chicken mole taco was also good, but not quite as good as the cochinita pibil. I hadn’t realized I’d ordered two braised meat tacos until they arrived. The mahi fish taco and the rajas (another veggie option) that my friends got both looked good, but I didn’t get the skinny on whether they liked ‘em or not. Everything we ordered disappeared in short order, so I’m assuming they did. Best of all, each taco only costs $3 or $4, making Bakersfield surprisingly affordable for lunch or dinner. Even when you tack on some chips for a few more bucks and a drink or two, you can still get in and out of here for $15 to $20. A very refreshing surprise for a downtown night out.

After hanging out here for about two hours total, the bill was paid, we rolled out and girls’ night out raged on. I’d come back to Bakersfield again in a second. The food was great (and cheap!), and I’d love to sniff around that bourbon list a little more…

For more info:
www.bakersfieldmassave.com.
Bakersfield Mass Ave. on Urbanspoon

A fortuitous journey is just seeing me home from 24 hours in the Big Easy (well, more like 22 hours to be exact, but who’s counting).

NO

How do I even begin to describe New Orleans? She’s a grand old dame of a city, showy and decadent and seductive. Historic and storied. Mysterious. Dangerous. Excessive in everything from the lacy ironwork that adorns the endless balconies to the rivers of booze that flow through the French Quarter to the ungodly sticky weather. The thick, honeyed Acadian patois of the local residents is as mellifluous and musical as the jazz and blues and zydeco that waft from the street corners. There’s a stink to the streets, distinctive and not entirely unpleasant. A survivor, like the mighty river that flows along, as it always has and always will. There’s nowhere else like it.

I’d been to NoLa twice before, and had a few ideas about how best to spend this short amount of time in the city. My traveling companion had never been here, so a quick tour of the main highlights was in order. We pulled into town on the train around 3 p.m. and were out and exploring by 4.

hurricane

Pat O’Brien’s hurricane – a New Orleans tradition

Our first priority was a stroll down Bourbon Street, stopping in the fern-filled courtyard at Pat O’Brien’s for a signature cocktail. That means one thing. A hurricane. This is where the near-lethal rum concoction originated (4 oz. of rum in each serving – ouch!), cleverly disguised to taste like punch. So you don’t realize exactly how quickly you’re getting drunk. A couple of these babies will take you from “Hm, this tastes good.” to “Hello. I’m wasted.” before you even get around to nibbling the maraschino cherry. I’m proud to say, my friend did an admirable job of drinking hers down without any ill effects.

sazerac

my Sazerac

I ordered a Sazerac, a retro cocktail made with rye, bitters, licorice-y anise-flavored liqueur and a lemon twist. Icy cold and heavenly on a hot day.

After more wandering and explorations that included a quick pop into Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Shop and photo ops of the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square and the riverfront, we started searching for food. For me, New Orleans means Cajun food and seafood, often simultaneously. The sheer number of restaurants in this town makes deciding where to eat a downright dizzying task. In spite of soliciting a dozen or so suggestions before we’d arrived (which we forgot and left back in the hotel room), we ended up just picking a place in the French Quarter near the pub where our ghost tour was due to kick off shortly after. Pere Antoine’s. Not bad. Not great. I figure this is a typical example of the Cajun Creole fare most places in the city serve, some better than others.

BBQ shrimp

barbecued shrimp at Pere Antoine’s

I ordered barbecued shrimp, and if I’d known ahead of time how much work they were going to be, I’d have gotten something else. I knew I’d have to peel them myself, but naively, I figured they’d already have the heads removed. Nope. This was a whole plateful of huge full-bodied prawns atop a scoop of white rice with a couple pieces of greasy garlic bread to sop up the broth. The shrimp were overcooked and although the broth was spicy, it didn’t have the depth of flavor I’d hoped for. Sticky up to my elbows with shrimp juice running down my chin, I gave up wrestling with the whole thing halfway through and called it quits.

jambalaya

Pere Antoine’s jambalaya

Janet got the jambalaya, the better of our two entrees. My fork kept sneaking into her dish to snag bites of her sweet small shrimp and kicky tomato sauce.

Another round of drinks in the hotel bar after our ghost tour entailed a hurricane for me (much more fruity and sweet with pineapple juice flavor than Pat O’Brien’s version), and a strawberry margarita for Janet. It had been a long day and night, and these nightcaps ensured we’d sleep well.

Breakfast was a no-brainer. When in New Orleans, you HAVE to come to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets. If not for breakfast, then any old time; the place stays open 24-7. Beignets are insanely simple but addictively delicious squares of puffy fried dough buried under an avalanche of powdered sugar. You can get them elsewhere in town, but really, why would you?

cafe du monde

beignets and a cafe au lait

Part of New Orleans’ original French Market, Cafe du Monde has been continuously operating since the 1860s. They serve coffee (black or au lait) and beignets. That’s it. And they do an excellent job. They churn plates out like an assembly line – I actually got a peek at the deep-fry station when I went to the restroom, and they are just popping these things out of the grease non-stop so that every order is served fresh and still-warm. When you add in the historical factor, quick service and the fact that an order of three plus coffee will only set you back about $5… well, you’ve just got to come here. That’s all there is to it.

staircase

Palace Cafe staircase

We lunched today at the Palace Café, a New Orleans dining institution from what I understand. Situated in a former department store in the warehouse district and part of the Brennan’s fine-dining empire, this place cuts a dashing figure with a gorgeous staircase that winds through the main-floor dining room up to more seating on the second level. This seems to be a popular destination for business lunches and jazz brunches, and I can see why. The food was outstanding. Classic old-style New Orleans dishes like shrimp remoulade, gumbo and pan-roasted oysters made it hard to decide what to order.

oyster salad

the Werlein salad with fried oysters at Palace Cafe

Janet got the Werlein salad, a house specialty that looks and sounds for all the world like a Caesar, with big chunky croutons and fried oysters scattered around the edges. She enjoyed it, and the oyster I tasted was piping hot and delish.

crawfish

Caprese salad with popcorn crawfish tails

I went with a special appetizer composed of popcorn-fried crawfish tails atop an heirloom tomato Caprese salad. Yum. The crawfish tails weren’t at all greasy or overpowered by spice and breading, just sweet little bites of meat. If you didn’t know it was crawfish, you might think it was tiny tender shrimp. The tomatoes and mozzarella underneath were fresh and flavorful. There was so much crawfish, I’m sad to say I couldn’t even finish it all.

crab

a “side” of crab

Palace Café also lets diners order “sides of seafood.” I LOVE this idea. Let’s say you really want to order a shrimp entrée, but the jumbo lump crabmeat sounds tempting, too. The seafood sides are basically a small bonus dish of whatever seafood you want to taste without having to order another full entrée of it. Like seafood a la carte. Janet and I split a side of sautéed jumbo lump crabmeat, and it was fabulous.

And with that, my whirlwind trip to New Orleans came to an end and now I’m heading back home. I certainly won’t miss the 95-degree/75-percent-humidity weather, and I could never imagine myself living here (and wouldn’t even dream of bringing my son). But I’m sure at some point, that sweet temptress of a city will once again start singing her siren song, and I’ll find her impossible to resist. Until then, au revoir, ma chere.

Dinner last night at Delicia with a lovely friend. After hearing great things about this place for months now, my expectations were high from the get-go. Maybe a little too high. After our meal, I find myself scratching my head and trying to figure out if I really liked it. I didn’t not like it. It wasn’t a bad experience in any aspect. It just didn’t blow me away to the degree of, say, Seviche a couple months ago.

Delicia exterior

It would be quite easy to miss Delicia entirely were it not for one small sign in front of the otherwise nondescript SoBro building it calls home. (This structure used to be a video store in its most recent former life.) There’s a tight little parking lot in front of the restaurant, but you’re probably better off to skip it and scope out a space on College Avenue instead.

Delicia interior

Once you get inside, though, the sleek and chic decor totally belies the ho-hum exterior with a massive mirror-backed bar, retro hanging light fixtures, a long white banquette running the length of the restaurant, airy beamed ceilings and subdued colors. The place was pretty hopping for a Sunday night with a diverse range of diners in attendance. No kids though. I’d have to check to confirm, but pretty sure Delicia is 21 and up only. And even if it isn’t, this is not the kind of place you want to bring the little guys.

caiparinhna

caipirinha

So we ordered drinks and then turned our attention to the menu. I’d never had a caipirinha, and figured I’d try one for something new. (How fun is caipirinha to say, by the way? Go ahead. Try it a few times.) Caipirinhas are traditionally made with sugar cane liqueur, lime and sugar. This would lead one to believe it would be sweet, but not here. To be fair, our server warned me that the Delicia version wasn’t at all sweet, but is instead more light and refreshing. Since it was damn near 90 degrees outside, this was ok by me. And the cocktail was perfectly refreshing for a sultry summer night, but for some reason, it was a little too gin and tonic-ish for my taste (although it doesn’t contain any gin). I’m not a gin fan — see previous posts extolling my love for bourbon. Still, I drank it and it was fine.

mojito

mojito

My friend enjoyed a glass of sangria. Again, the server accurately described it as being very wine-forward. Fruity? Not so much. Later in the meal, I switched to a mojito. Also refreshing and tasty (and served in a big wide-mouthed water glass – yikes!), but I was a little bummed that the bar here uses a mint syrup as opposed to fresh muddled mint leaves, which look so pretty in the glass. The spearmint flavor came through loud and clear, but halfway through, it suddenly got a little too cloying for me to finish.

beet

spicy beet salad

While not terribly extensive, the Delicia menu offers plenty of intriguing dishes. This is not your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. If you’re looking for basic crunchy tacos and burritos, keep on driving. Delicia is upscale new-wave Latin cuisine. After debating appetizers for a short while, we agreed to share a spicy beet salad to get things underway. The kitchen thoughtfully split the serving for us, giving us each a beautifully arranged mini-plate version. This might have been my favorite part of the meal. Spicy was an understatement, so much so that it caught me off guard at first bite. These beets will kick you in the throat if you’re not ready, thanks to a bold jalapeno/sour orange mash-up. Elsewhere on the plate were a little mound of salad greens, pretty julienned red radish, crumbles of queso fresco and sweet-salty candied pumpkin seeds. A tasty blend of flavors, and the initial rush of heat quickly smoothes out into something sophisticated and delicious.

Our server had promised us each a little amuse bouche or something of broth redolent with the Latin flavors to follow, but somehow, this item was forgotten until my friend thought to ask for it halfway through our salads. Delivered in a little sake-style cup, I’m having a hard time pinpointing just what this was, apart from an earthy broth with a umami-mushroom flavor. Not quite sure what the point of it was, but it didn’t hurt anything.

I considered several different entrees, namely the pork carnita tacos, the carne chimichurri, and the duck enchiladas I’ve heard several raves about. In the end, I selected the tamal corn cakes (partially because of our server’s strong recommendation), and my friend ordered something called tapou — trigger fish in a coconut milk stew with rice and sweet potatoes. Our eyes nearly popped when the entrées appeared; the portions here are ginormous. We easily could have split one and saved room for dessert.

tamal corn cake

Tamal corn cakes with barbacoa beef

I thought the food was good, but not great. My plate arrived lukewarm and so heaped with shredded barbacoa beef that I could barely make out the two small, but thick corn cakes beneath. The whole thing was drizzled with a cilantro lime crema and topped with a light sprinkling of pico de gallo. The meat was tender, and there was a ton of it, but I felt a little misled. As it’s advertised, it seems like the cornbread-like corn cakes should be the star of the show here. To that end, I had to scrape off some of the beef just to get to them. And I wished there had been more crema and pico de gallo (then again, I tend toward a heavy hand when it comes to sauces and condiments). The plate was mostly meat, and could have used a little more seasoning. In fact, now that I think about it, I felt like everything I tasted needed a dash more salt to really make it sing.

tapou

Tapou fish dish

I think my friend liked the fish. I had a bite, and it tasted good, but the texture was strangely chewy. I was expecting it to be much lighter and flakier. The coconut milk broth was yummy and the sweet potato chunks were well cooked. However, I couldn’t help thinking that this curry-style dish would have seemed much more at home in a Thai or Indian restaurant than a Latin eatery.

We made as much of a dent in our dinners as we could, but still called it quits around the halfway point. The short list of Delicia desserts includes flan, tres leches cake, churros and a plantain bake with ice cream that sounded sorta like a cobbler. Alas, our stomachs had reached capacity and we had to pass.

Props where props are due — to our server. While she wasn’t particularly warm or smiley, she did know the menu inside and out, capably answered our questions and offered intelligent comments about the food and drinks throughout our meal.

While Delicia is a breath of fresh air on the Indianapolis dining scene and I’m glad I finally got there, I don’t think I’ll be rushing right back. I know several people who absolutely love, love, love this place, but for now, I’m firmly on the fence about it.

Delicia doesn’t have a web site, but you can locate its Facebook page (including a complete menu) with a quick search.
Delicia on Urbanspoon

Wait, it would appear I’m mixing up not only my songs, but my musical genres… oops. My bad.

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Last night, a girlfriend and I paid a visit to the new Twist Lounge, an offshoot of the ever-popular Zest! Exciting Food Creations in SoBro. (One of my brunch go tos — crème brulee French toast and bacon. Need I say more?)

This place is swanky with super fun décor. You enter the lounge through a swinging chain curtain that immediately made me think of the Brady Bunch episodes where Greg had his own groovy room in the attic with the beaded curtain over the door. Am I showing my age, here? Anyway, Twist is very dimly lit, which prompts me to preemptively apologize for the quality of my phone pics.

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There’s a whole array of seating to choose from including tall stools along the bar, a private-ish room full of plush couches by the front windows, a couple of booth/tables with padded leather seat backs and funky clear plastic chairs, and even hanging swings. Oh, and a disco ball. !!!! There should be more disco balls in the world, if you ask me. How can anybody hate a disco ball? Fun fact – did you know that 90 percent of the world’s disco balls are made in Louisville. True dat. But I digress…

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I’d heard a rumor that Twist does a mean house Manhattan made with an Indiana-produced rye, so that’s what I ordered without even first looking at the menu. This baby arrived in a large water tumbler-size glass garnished with a skewer of those great gourmet cherries (not those artificially red grocery store numbers). They are not messing around here. Jess, our friendly bartender, really seemed to know what she was doing, and this was a damn fine drink. Once I did scan the menu and saw the list of other craft cocktail offerings, I was almost sorry I hadn’t branched out and tried something called a Blood and Sand or a Spicy Little Tart, but I am a bourbon girl, first and foremost. You stick with what works, ya know? My friend ordered a mojito and seemed quite pleased with her selection; Jess told us she’d personally picked the fresh mint that evening. One of those small details that makes a big difference.

At 7:30 p.m., we were the first patrons to arrive for the night, and although several other drinkers slowly rolled in, the place never did really fill up. I get the feeling this is more of a weekend or late-night hang. We did see a couple here on a date night, but it’s more the kind of hotspot you hit with a group of gals. I can’t imagine many single guys stopping by for a post-work scotch of their own accord.

After sucking down our first round of cocktails probably faster than we should have, we knew we needed food. The full dinner menu is available both in Twist and in the flagship restaurant attached. I’ve eaten dinner at Zest before, and love, love, love their three-napkin burger, but they’ve added some new temptations to the menu since the last time I was here. After strongly considering the chicken and waffles, I instead opted for the chile rellenos, and was quite glad I did.

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These were no ordinary chile rellenos. For starters, I only found one small pepper on the whole plate, but no matter. With rice, penne pasta, black beans, sauce and a showering of crunchy tortilla strips on top, there was plenty going on here to fill me up and keep my mouth entertained.

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My friend ordered some sort of grilled romaine wedge salad that looked beautiful and delicious. We also each got a pint of local beer to go with our dinners; there’s a solid selection here to choose from.

I really liked Twist, and would definitely put it near the top of my destination considerations for a girls’ night out. (As a side note, I don’t know what they put in that chile relleno, but I had the craziest dreams last night…)

For more info:
www.zestexcitingfood.com.

Twist Lounge on Urbanspoon

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