Thursday, September 30, 2010

Illinois Street Food Emporium review

It is interesting how that once you start a food/restaurant blog, you finally get motivated to try some places that have been "on the list" for a long time. And, Illinois Street Food Emporium has been one of those places for me. I like the little cluster of shops and restaurants in this stretch around 56th Street and Illinois Street, in the Butler-Tarkington / Meridian-Kessler Neighborhoods.

I've always heard really good things about Illinois Street, so one day a few weeks back I found myself in the area at lunch time so I stopped by. There were 7 policemen having lunch there at the time, so.... well, that was a sign of something.... [I couldn't quite get the nerve to spin around and take a picture of all of them at the table]

I place Illinois Street into the "Panera Segment", which means that it is a mix of sandwiches, soups and baked goods (and, I realize that Illinois Street may have existed far before Panera first came to town). Anyhow, they also have some breakfast items, and some frozen entrees and sides that you can but to take home.

My first visit, I tried the California sandwich, and you can get soup, salad or a side. I had the cream of mushroom soup. The California is a grilled sandwich which comes with cheese, bacon, mushrooms and tomato (yes, I also assumed it would avocado - isn't that what most places throw on anything that is dubbed "California"?) Anyhow, it was a tasty little sandwich, and the bowl of soup is a really nice sized portion, and it was creamy, woody and savory. The meal costs $9.40.

I thought it was a place that the Better Half would definitely like, so we returned on a Saturday. She had a grilled cheese (and you can add two veggies to the sandwich), and I had spinach melt. Again, very tasty sandwiches. The soup that day was the chicken velvet, and while it came highly recommended from the counter person, I needed to add some pepper and some tobasco, otherwise it seemed quite plain to me.

We've also tried the chocolate croissant, a donut and a cinnamon roll from the baked goods counter, and they're all very tasty, fresh and indulgent sweets.

I really enjoyed Illinois Street, and I think it's now in the mix for simple lunch spots, and I definitely want to try their breakfast. And, while I don't really care for cold cuts, their sub sandwiches are just enormous.

I suppose the one down side I recognized is that the grilled sandwich & soup combo here is maybe a dollar or more than a place like the actual Panera. But, it is a wide menu, and, I think Illinois Street is a great local joint. It obviously has a lot of good local support, but if you're waited to give it a first try like I did, I think it is worth heading over and trying it.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Warm, homey, tasty.

One extra tip and recommendation - if you can't justify the prices of a Colts game, and if Purdue, IU and Notre Dame are too far away (or too expensive), but you'd like to get out to a little bit of football on a crisp fall afternoon - give Butler a chance (their schedule here). Yes, it is quite a bit lower level of football, but it is a great little setting over there, the team has been improving in the last 3 years, the crowds are getting better, they actually even do some tailgating there, too. And, it's a really affordable game. I especially recommend going if you're taking kids that are not quite yet into the full experience of a more expensive football experience. I believe they let kids still kind of run around behind the end zone. Give the Bulldogs a chance, there are still 4 more home games this year, including this Saturday against Campbell University at noon.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taylor's Bakery

With the Better Half away for the weekend, I was doing some work around the house. This brought about the inevitable trip to Lowes. We used to live downtown, and earlier this summer we ended up moving into the Nora area (I miss downtown dreadfully, but love our new place, too). Anyhow, the Lowes on Keystone near Glendale Mall is where I went to pick up some supplies.

[By the way, I've heard some anecdotal tale that Lowes has done surveys of customers as they arrive at a store and survey them regarding how much they plan to spend, and then they find them when they are leaving and there is some crazy statistic that the average customer leaves having spent like $40 more than they originally expected. I completely fit it with this group.]

Anyhow, seeing as I have a constant sweet tooth, I zipped over on 62nd street to a little plaza on 62nd and Allisonville to try Taylor's Bakery. I've gone by it numerous times, and wanted to finally drop in.

Before I had left and driven home from Taylor's, I noticed at least 2 people eating some sweet, baked good in their car in the parking lot.... so, I had high hopes. As you walk into the bakery, it is as though the air is perfumed with a super fine, sifted powdered sugar. It just smells that sweet. There is likely about 40-50 feet of glass casing, with all of the cases being two-tiered. They have donuts, eclairs, cinnamon rolls, ... about any baked good you could want. So, I bought a whole collection of stuff - a large eclair, two cinnamon rolls - one frosted, and a small little donuty-thing that was filled with cinnamon. This whole plate cost me all of just $4. That's a diabetic bargain!

Okay, now, I didn't eat all of this in one sitting. All of it was good, but the eclair seemed to me like it had possibly been there for a bit and wasn't tasting all that fresh (the Better Half worked in a bakery through high school and college and said that their bakery baked fresh each day, but with as full as Taylor's cases were in the early afternoon - can that possibly be true? Wow, if so, either they have a huge rush in the afternoon or they have a ton of waste each day). The cinnamon rolls were nice but more like a donut, not a rich buttery cinnamon roll. I like that the place feels so local, and that, according to the website, it is in a 4th generation. There's a ton more to sample here, so I'd definitely go back and try some other items.

The verdict: 3 belly rubs (out of 5). Homey, huge selection, affordable.

This below has nothing to do with baked goods (well, they so have a brief clip of Sweetness), but it sure is great to have fall here. Love the feel of the air, the slant of the sun, the crunch of the leaves. And love that football games require a sweatshirt now. And, does anyone else think that Sean Payton sounds like ESPN's Stuart Scott during the preample to this video?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A couple links

Serious eats has a small interview with Alton Brown here.....

and, mostly, as a big Converse All Star fan and a fan of Dr. J, there is this commercial from Converse using a very cool White Stripes song....

Nick's Chili Parlor review

The Better Half is away for a long weekend to see her sisters up in Toronto, and also visit her grandmother. So, I'm hope alone, doing some house projects. Anyhow, while she's gone I decided to finally pay a visit to a somewhat local legend in Nick's Chili Parlor. The Better Half has generally voted thumbs-down on Skyline Chili, as I think that mountain of cheese (mmmmm) that is loaded on to your food kind of leaves her feeling a bit ill at the mere sight of it (though, I'm happy to report the dear lass is a-okay with hot dogs or chili). Anyhow, worked late one day and dropped down the the near west side to get to Nick's.

The restaurant is currently under construction, and they have an illustration of what the restaurant will eventually look like, and it looks like an impressive face lift. I had looked this place up before, and I don't remember a website, but there is now the nice, clean website that I linked to above. I didn't ask many questions, so I'm not sure if there is new ownership, or merely a push to upgrade the facilities, but it looks like it will be a nice addition. Otherwise, the current location seems like a pretty simple, older-style fast food restaurant.

They don't have any "value meals" at Nick's, but they do have a daily special. I had tried to prepare during the day for this meal, so I had oatmeal for breakfast with some fruit, and at lunch I'd had a PB&J on Brownberry whole wheat bread, and an apple. I ordered the footlong with chili and cheese and an order of their "natural trim" fries.

The hot dog was a pretty thin wiener, but it had a nice ladling of chili, a fair dusting of cheese (no comparison to the mounds from Skyline) and onions. The chili is fairly standard and, dare I say it, a bit "Hormel-ish" in taste. But, the onions and an addition of some hot sauce helped it. The fries may have had some skin on them, but they certainly seemed to be the frozen-out-of-a-bag variety to me, and while airy and crisp, nothing very exceptional. The meal put be back about $7.15, and I wasn't really full (I also tend to have to spend too much at Skyline, too - so maybe it is me). I considered a bowl of chili to better gauge the chili on it's own without the hot dog, but I passed. Being a mere mile or so from the Long's Donut's on 16th and Lafayette Road, I also considered a stop there... but, I knew I had some cookies and cream ice cream at home, so held off.

The Nick's website touts the slogan "home of the Not Yet World Famous Chili"... and, well, I guess they're being a bit self-deprecating and yet honest at the same time. It has a lot of local lore and followers, but I wouldn't put this chili up there as anything special on it's own. And, I guess you can call me picky, but to pay $7.15 for a footlong, fries and a soda that didn't leave me full, well... I don't think that is very good value either. If I would have added a 5-way, a bowl of chili or just another chili dog, this meal would have been in the $9.50-$12 range, and that is way too much.

The verdict: 2.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Homey taste, but mostly middle-of-the-road.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Steak n Shake signage?

I passed this Steak n Shake today, and is it just me or are they rolling out new signs? I definitely like it......

Kalbi burger?

Man, I'd love to stumble upon this place, a joint serving both Korean and Vietnamese styled burgers! I'm all for it...

While I don't get too crazy at home, the most common burger I serve anymore is a half lamb/half beef Greek-style burger with homemade tzatziki sauce.....

Saigon review

While this is not along the lines of a Mr. Obvious revelation like "the sky is blue", I feel like I'm stating the obvious when I tell you - Saigon restaurant on the near West side is really good!

The Better Half really likes Vietnamese food, so we've tried a handful around the city. She was a bit spoiled from 6 years in Toronto and the great, little authentic places in the Asian neighborhoods, so we've had a bit of a struggle in matching the easily found quality that Toronto had to offer. So, after finally getting to Saigon twice now, it is definitely the top of the small collection here in Indianapolis in our opinion.

While the Better Half loves the bun dishes....

I really prefer rice-based dishes.....

And, we both love the grilled pork spring rolls.....

But, most importantly, Saigon serves a great example of the Banh Mi, or Vietnamese sandwich. The Bahn Mi is served on a small French loaf, with just the best marinated grilled pork that I think you'll find in the city. There are multiple ways to build this sandwich, but our favorite is the straight forward one with just the grilled pork. Some additional fish sauce and hoisin, along with the herbs and carrot-radish "slaw" and.... Mmmmmmmm..... fantastic. [Sorry, tore into this one before taking the picture]

The Better Half was really craving a Banh Mi this week, so we stopped in on Monday. But, alas, they were out of the bread. Another couple arrive after us and also were not able to get the Banh Mi. When the owner came back around, I mentioned something about the sandwich, and I think he was initially annoyed thinking I was complaining about the lack of the bread. Actually, what I suggested to him was if he'd ever considered having a food cart serving nothing BUT the Banh Mi at a downtown corner. He didn't seem to keen on it, but.... this sandwich is just $4. It's a fantastic deal.

Saigon has fantastic flavors, great value (most entrees under $8) and really no flaws that I can think of.

The verdict: 5 belly rubs (out of 5). Tastes great, great value.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chain-O-Rama: Donato's Homestyle Garlic Gread Pizza

I would say that when it comes to nationally franchised pizza chains, Donatos is my favorite. Plus, if I'm not in Chicago, I generally prefer thin crust pizza. And, since I'm a big fan of quadrangles, I like the slicing method at Donatos.

Anyhow, we wanted to get some pizza, and I'm always apt to try something new. So, we ordered a medium Founder's Favorite on thin crust and also picked up one of Donatos new Homestyle Garlic Bread pizzas. On the Garlic Bread pizza, we had ham and onion.

I put the can of Coke in the picture to give some sense of relative size perspective. I found the coupon flier touting the new pizza style to be a bit funny. It said "2 pizzas feed 4". Okay, and since I'm not fractionally challenged, I figured 1 pizza would feed 2. Now, I suppose that statement is true, one of these pizzas could feed 2, but it certainly would not FILL 2 people. Of course, I have a fair sized appetite, but I could have polished this thing off quite easily on my own.

The crust on the Garlic Bread pizza has a nice crisp crust and is about 3/4ths of an inch thick (okay, perhaps 5/6ths). On it's own, I don't believe the crust has much garlic bread taste, it is just pizza dough. But, on top of the pizza, they do seem to sprinkle an herb and garlic salt that adds some garlic taste to the pizza. Overall, its pretty good, especially since I like garlic salt. The quality of the ingredients is consistent, the presentation of the pizza is good, it is just another consistent product from Donatos, which I find to generally be a well run chain. They must provide good systems and training to their franchisees.

But, I didn't really think this was a great menu addition. I like many of Donatos specialty pizzas, and prefer the thinner crust. So, I'll stick to those, but I liked trying something new. At $5.99 for a one topping, though, that isn't bad for what I would call is a very filling lunch for one person.

The verdict: 3 belly rubs (out of 5). Consistent with Donatos quality, one pizza is big meal for one person.

Now, I don't go to Donatos enough to know if they use the box the Garlic Bread pizza comes in for another item, but I think it is pretty fascinating what all goes in to the creation of new items. I mean, I am sure Donatos packaging engineering partner bends over backwards to keep the account, but it seemed like the pizza box itself was even a new item. I just found that interesting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Istanbul Cafe review

Last week, we made a first visit to Istanbul Cafe, in the plaza at 86th and Ditch Road. Mom was having a small procedure on her knee the next day, so we were taking her out. Now the funny thing is, that while I was sitting with her in the recovery area, at one point the nurse was checking in on her, and Mom mentioned, "we had Turkish food yesterday, it was really good...".

And, truly, the food was really good at Istanbul Cafe. It was not busy at all when we arrived, though it was Tuesday evening. The interior is quite trendy and pleasant, and I especially liked the veneer wrapped vertical posts in the dining area.
The service was friendly and quite prompt. We started with a small appetizer platter, which included tabouli, hummus, babaganoush, ezme, and dolmates if not a few other items. And, they were all great. The babaganoush variation here is a bit different, and you can taste the mayonnaise they put into it, tho it is still very tasty. I'm not sure I would have picked out the mayo, but it was noted on the appetizer's menu. I'm not sure there was much tahini in the babaganoush, or at least I couldn't pick it out. But all of the items on the appetizer sampler were great, and they provide you a full basket of warm pita, so you don't feel like you have to conserve the pita you're given.

Mom had the mixed kebab platter, which came with all of the meats they offer. The Better Half wanted the gyro (doner) kebab, and I had the stuffed cabbage. All of the grilled meats were really tasty, but I wouldn't go back for the stuffed cabbage. I guess I am used to stuffed cabbage with more rice and tomatoes in them, and these were just some meat. They were okay, but nothing very special. The yogurt sauce provided has a great taste, but was more watery than I prefer, but had lots of good garlic and spices in it, and wasn't overdone with the cucumber taste.

The prices are in line with most other Mediterranean places locally, with most entrees in the $15-$18 range. And, the portion sizes are ample enough to definitely leave you feeling sated. As we were talking about Istanbul Cafe, I wondered if, from my perspective, that Mediterranean isn't some of the most consistently well performing restaurants of any cuisine type I most likely frequent in the city. You have a few good choices just on the NW side of the city alone, between Athens at 86th and Istanbul Cafe. I still feel like Santorini's in Fountain Square is my favorite, but Saffron Cafe is my favorite gyro/shwarma in the city.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Tasty, filling, savory, no real low lights.

And, how can you not have a mention of Istanbul without bringing up the old Istanbul (not Constantinople) song by those smart rockers They Might Be Giants. And, if you want a different version, check out this jazzy one.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Twix Triple Chocolate review

You know what I love? Chocolate.

You know what I love more than chocolate? Double chocolate.

You know.... er, you see where this is going.

Yup, Twix has a limited edition Triple Chocolate out there. Jumped into the grocery cart it did (sayeth Yoda).

What's different? The regular cookie is replaced with a chocolate wafer, and the caramel is now a chocolate caramel. Same milk chocolate coating. And, surprise it is good. But, really, it isn't better. Of course, the Twix bar was a landmark bar, and I distinctly remember when it arrived as a young boy (1979, according to this timeline). For my taste, no newer bar that I know of (not the Take 5, not the NutRageous, etc.) has become such a cultural confectionery mainstay.

But, the original is still better, in my humble opinion.

There's also this (with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, if that matters to you). I'm such a sucker for retro-packaging.

Hope everyone has a good weekend. We're going camping on what looks like a spectacular weather weekend. Irish Fest at Military Park downtown if you're staying in town.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shanghai Lil review

After lamenting the erosion of quality Chinese restaurants, I feel like I've had a nice run lately. Shanghai Lil is often referred to as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city, but this is a city in which i don't feel like the bar is exceptionally high for Chinese food.

From the website, which I had not really paid any attention to before, Shanghai Lil is owned by the group that has the Mikado Japanese restaurant downtown. And, most would know that their is a sushi bar at Shanghai Lil. I am not one to rightly review sushi as I don't have a strong affinity for it, and I tend to trend towards the more typical sushi rolls such as the California roll or the tempura shrimp roll. If a restaurant has a Godzilla-named roll, well, that does perk my interest, though.

Anyhow, Shanghai Lil (across from Keystone at the Crossing) is well established, well-reviewed, well thought of. So, I'm certainly not breaking any new ground in reviewing it. But, with our recent visit, I guess I just wanted to confirm feelings about the place.

Yes, Shanghai Lil is still very good. We went on a weekday evening, and the place was pretty quiet. This establishment was built under the notion that going out for Chinese and Japanese food was fine dining, not just a buffet. The table coverings are cloth, the lighting is low. The lighting was so low, that pictures were nonsensical, and I just can't bear the thought of using a flash for food pictures. The service was polite and efficient, but there were few competitors for our server's time. We started with a stuffed eggplant appetizer that was really the low light of the meal. The crumbled pork sauce that came with it was flavorful, but nothing remarkable.

We did share three entrees. The Shanghai Lil General's Chicken was a step above most places, lightly battered and fried, savory and spicy. The Moo Shu Vegetables were one of the best vegetarian dishes I've had in a long time, but I'm very fond of hoisin and/or plum sauce. Then, the Basil Ginger Chicken. This was one of the best things I'd had at a Chinese restaurant in a very long time. Overall, very high quality and great taste. A few dishes were a bit on the salty side, but that tends to be fairly true of many Chinese dishes. One major issue for me though is that I feel like the prices are a bit high, with most being more than $15 per entree. Maybe the buffet-trend has really damaged my value definition for Chinese food, but to spend upwards of $80.00 for three people and not getting any alcohol, that just seemed like a lot.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). A classic, high quality location, hits high notes, but a bit pricey.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Loughmiller's Pub

This is 2 weeks old already, but during the week leading up to Labor Day, we finally made it over to an Indian's game. I'm a football and college basketball type of guy, but baseball is dear to me as it was my dad's favorite sport, and we made a lot of little treks over to games that are very dear memories to me. We seemed to always be in minor league cities between Denver (pre-Rockies) and Indy, but I prefer the "intimacy" and pricing of minor league baseball anyhow. Our days in Denver were so much before they got a sniff of the Majors that we used to go see the Denver Bears, not even their next incarnation as the Denver Zephyrs.

Anyhow, we were meeting up with some good friends, but I got downtown early to meet up with the Better Half for a pre-game dinner. We walked from some free street parking and stopped in at Loughmiller's Pub.

Loughmillers (pronounced lock-millers) happens to be in one of my favorite buildings downtown. It is at first a rather inconspicuous building on Washington Street, across from the State Center, but... if you take just a little bit of time to look at it, I think it has some spectacular details. The Old Trails Building is only about 6 stories tall, but it has some very cool gargoyles on top of the building, and these neat old Indian heads on the building's facade. I just think it is a great little building, tho I can't speak for the interior of it.

Anyhow, since Loughmiller's is a smoking facility after lunch, we ate out on the patio. Now, patio seating is great, and having the skyline to look at its pretty nice, even if you are on Washington Street. Plus, Indy is such a mild traffic city downtown, that even on a game night for baseball, it is mellow and relaxing to sit on the patio. The service was attentive and we had no problem getting through placing orders, eating and being out of there in just under an hour without feeling rushed.

Anyhow, it was a first visit for both the Better Half and myself. We ended up trying the two specials, which were themed around summer and featured avocado. I had a California chicken sandwich which had some avocado slices and a bit of a mango salsa. It was decent. The salsa it came with was a creamy style and it too was decent. Same was true of the Better Half's meal. Decent. But, nothing about this meal stood out, other than being outside on a spectacular clear and not-very-humid evening in the waning days of summer. I've said before I'm not anti-chain just to be anti-chain. In fact, I feel like I'd have had a bigger, better sandwich at Champp's than I did at Loughmiller's. My suggestion to a place like Loughmiller's is - stand out in some manner. And, maybe they do with their beer, but to me nothing about the food I had or saw stood out. The fries were out of a bag, the buns were cheap and out of a bag, the sandwich was small and typical. Really, instead of comparing it to a chain, I should actually compare it to a major caterer like Aramark. And, really, I think you might well get a better sandwich at the Lilly cafeteria.

The verdict: 1 belly rub (out of 5). Nice setting, historic building, unremarkable food.

I do want to post this picture, too. I love Victory Field, it is such a nice stadium and it has such a nice view of our city. We met up with two sets of friends, and the two brother's of the respective families are both in construction. They were mixed on the new Marriott hotel that is being built. I like it. I like it a lot. Sure, it seems more like a Vegas style hotel with all the glass, and it does dominate the skyline when you are driving in from the West, but I just think it is a cool looking building and I'm glad it is here. I just hope they can keep it filled with lots of conventions and visitors.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Product Review: Chocolate-covered Halloween Peep

Trolling through the super market, I couldn't resist grabbing one of these chocolate covered Peeps, this one being a pumpkin. Of course, as you can see, once I opened the package, the product itself doesn't really resemble the item on the wrapper very well.

Now, I don't really care for Peeps. Being chocolate covered, it made this a lot more acceptable. But, once you bite through it, the marshmallow itself is a deep, rich, vibrant orange - and with one look, the Better Half no longer had an interest in tasting this one. Anyhow, it is soft, gooey, super-sweet. More than anything, it gives me an excuse to link to this fantastic gallery of the Washington Post's annual Peeps contest, where they seek submissions of creative projects using the marshmallow peeps.

And, if you happen to be a fan of ESPN's TMQ column, you know that his Unified Theory of Creep is about how stuff creeps in to stores earlier and earlier each year for holidays, most notably Christmas. With the potential for mid-80 degree days, it certainly seems summerish still, but this morning I biked in to work, and it was a crisp morning and I wore a fleece... so, I don't know if it is too early for Halloween junk or not.....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Some more links

I really enjoy New York Magazine's weekly "New York Diet" column. I have certainly not been to NYC that often, not been to basically any of the places that get mentioned, but I just find it interesting. Most are absolutely unattainable as a week of eating to me because the guest columnists are typically all from a higher tax bracket than me, but nevertheless they are usually somewhat interesting. Jeffrey Steingarten, who I mostly only know as a common judge on Iron Chef, had a pretty interesting one last Friday, especially for his comments on coffee geekism and Brooklyn boosterism.

This is one from Anthony Bourdain from earlier in the summer. From it, I was caused to look up the chef Gabrielle Hamilton, and I love this piece she wrote - mostly cause I just get really annoyed by the people who try to be so high minded and flowery about local food. Yeah, that's great, I get it. But, come on, I want strawberries in February, sweet corn in March and new potatoes in April.

Labor Day Weekend Recap

We ran up to Chicago to visit one of the Better Half's cousins and go to a wedding. The wedding was way up North in Libertyville, but we stayed in La Grange. Overall, it was a wonderful weekend with some splendid fall temperatures. We didn't do any special eating for the most part, sadly. The folks where we stayed seemed to have their own little war chest from Trade Joe's, so it didn't seem like this was the family to suggest a visit to Hot Doug's or Mustard's Last Stand.

[Note - I mean the Mustard's Last Stand in Evanston, IL, right by the Northwestern U. football field. There apparently is a Mustard's Last Stand hotdog cart in Indy.... huh... Per Google, there looks to also be one in Denver. I assume none of these are related in any formal way, but I wonder if someone just found the name a good one to borrow? This might be a good case for some investigative reporting or.... nah.... whatever]

Anyhow, we did stop at Millennium Park on our way out of Chicago and over to the Skyway. Love the bean.

But, finally, on our way back to Indy, we did stop at the Portillo's in Merrillville. The Italian Beef there is just great.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tiger Lilly

A commenter recommended Tiger Lily restaurant, on 86th Street between Meridian and Ditch. Prior to heading to Chicago for the Labor Day weekend, I met a friend there for lunch on Friday. From what I can tell, Tiger Lilly does not have a web page, but instead does have a very active public Facebook page. They also have a nice album of their food, which of course outdoes my self-conscious, quickly-taken iPhone pictures.

Tiger Lily has been open about a month, but it has gained a strong following. In fact, as my friend noted, they've already gained 7 reviews on Urban Spoon, and they're all favorable. That's impressive to me, especially in such a short amount of time.

I've only made one visit so far, but I will definitely be going back to introduce the Better Half to this spot. I really liked the lunch menu, with two of us eating for $14.17 including tax, but with only water to drink. As many other reviewers have noted, the ingredients seem and look fresh, and are not from bags of frozen vegetables. The dining area is modern and well decorated. The sauces are light and yet full of flavor. The management is local and cares, and the wait staff is attentive and efficient. I didn't inquire too much, but our server did mention that these owners used to previously have a restaurant in Brownsburg, and after a move have returned to Indy and opened Tiger Lily.

The special of the day on Friday was the Chicken Bulgogi, which my friend ordered and I sampled. This dish is indicative of a fusion focus within the menu. From the album, they also have a stir-fried pork with kimchi dish that excites me, because I just love the Korean influence. Now, the chicken bulgogi didn't really seem to be the traditional soy-sesame-scallion-sugar concoction, but included more of a chili sauce which may have been the Korean sauce gochujang. Regardless, it was tasty, moist and a nice level of spice.

I had the orange peel chicken, and it had a tasty, tangy sauce over lightly battered, still-moist fried chicken pieces. It was a rather familiar taste, but well prepared and solid execution. I liked the dish, but next time I'll go deeper into the menu (lunch and dinner).

I didn't have a chance to spend a lot of time with the dinner menu, but the lunch prices were very affordable. The serving sizes are ample, but they won't leave you full. For $7 you'll likely get 40% more food at a place like Panda Express. But, the variety of the menu is great at Tiger Lily and the food is a welcome addition to the local Chinese offerings.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Great taste, well prepared, average sized portions, but good value.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Looking Ahead: Weekend Plans (Sept. 10-11)

Hopefully you have a full Labor Day weekend planned. But, if you're looking ahead, there is a lot of great art-based events on the calendar for the weekend of Sept. 10-12 that you might want to consider.

The Penrod Art Fair is a fantastic event, with hundreds of booths from artists all over the country. It is a one day art fair, on Saturday, September 11th. And, it is on the grounds of the lovely Indianapolis Art Museum. Some locals that will have booths that I hope continue to get more attention there are Gayla Hodson and Ben Johnson.

The night before, on Friday, Sept. 10th, the Indianapolis Art Center in Broad Ripple has their annual open house. Currently on exhibit, you can see works from the IAC's instructors and winners from the student division in the main gallery (check out Lisa VanMeter's monoprints and woodblock prints). I especially appreciate Matt Kenyon's glass (scroll to find Matt and check out the slideshow) and Susan Hodgin's paintings (Gayla Hodson is also an IAC instructor). Yats and BRICS will both have booths at the open house!

This weekend, well you'll want to root for Purdue to hopefully spoil Brian Kelly's debut at Notre Dame.

Italian Gardens Restaurante

Out on East Washington Street, near the old L. Fish furniture store, you'll find the venerable Italian Gardens Restaurante. While I tend to not often crave Italian, we wanted to get over to this stand-by for many for an updated taste for a review.

What stood out immediately upon entering the establishment was.... the smell. In the little lobby/anteroom, the place just smelled old. I'm not sure you can buy or import that smell, but it certainly smelled like the dust-embedded furniture in your great-aunt's place. Once within the restaurant itself, the smell improved drastically, with all of the age covered in the smell of the food, so that was an immediate upgrade.

We were there on a Tuesday night, and it was pretty slow. The wait staff was casual, friendly, but prompt and attentive. The decor seemed to be themed around vintage clutter. But, I kind of liked all of the old, decorative glass in the window as I prefer structural art objects over 2D. And, I really like how much detail they used to put in some of the old bottles.

Anyhow, we had great service the whole time. I think this restaurant gets a LOT of return customers with a long standing history with the place, and that says a lot. One thing that stood out to me is that the salad dressings were very tasty and they definitely seemed to be made in house. I had the Mediterranean salad before my entree (there are 4 salad choices) and you could taste the honey in the dressing that was used to sweeten it. The Greek dressing was also great. The bread was a bit more dense than I'd prefer, but they were coated in a fine glaze of garlic butter.

We had three entrees delivered to our table - shrimp scampi, spinach ravioli and creamy pesto with chicken over linguine. I had the creamy pesto, and it had a rich, deep, textured flavor that I really enjoyed. The sauce was liberally dispensed, however as the sauce cooled, the olive oil separated more and more from the cream and left unappealing oil pockets throughout depressional areas in the bowl. Regardless, this was a really taste pasta dish that I would not only have again, but I might go back just for the dish. And, I tend to order new items, not necessarily do many repeat items at restaurants.

The ravioli was nice, but the dish again was liberally coated in sauce. Somewhere beneath the surface (below) are several nicely made and tasty ravioli.

The shrimp scampi was a disappointment to look at. The shrimp themselves looked like they came from a bag of frozen shrimp from Kroger. They were okay, but definitely paled in comparison to many other versions of this dish. The accompanying pasta was fine, but not noteworthy.

Overall, the prices seemed a bit expensive to me, with all of these entrees in the $15 range. I may not be giving enough credit to what goes into the labor of the food, but the location strikes me as being pretty reasonable rent if it isn't owned outright. But, often, I find that pasta tends to be overpriced - so maybe it is just my bias.

The verdict: 3 belly rubs (out of 5). Some quality notes elevate from the vintage (musty?) surroundings.

Maybe the most humorous part of the evening, for me, was when I picked up on the music at one point. And, yes, Frank Sinantra was singing "Old MacDonald".... Now, I'm not up on the Sinantra discography, but this cracked me up. When I pull up the song on YouTube, I realize he had re-done the lyrics, so it made more sense to how it would be a Sinatra song, but... still, found it pretty funny. We also were treated to some Dean Martin, so the music fit the decor quite well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Product Review: Whoopie Pie (from farmer's market)

Working from the downtown library yesterday morning (a.k.a - Indy's most expensive homeless daycare facility), and stopped by the downtown farmer's market. Picked up some sweet corn, an eggplant (made baba ganoush last night), a seedless watermelon, and some cherry tomatoes. But, I was also wanting to pick up something sweet, and decided to pick up a Whoopie Pie from the booth from Kuns Kountry Kitchen (appear to be Amish or Mennonite folks that have this booth).

I then picked up a friend who I had introduced to Papa Roux, and we made a dash out there for a ginormous Po Boy (by the way, Papa Roux is now open for supper on Thursdays as well as Fridays). So, later in the afternoon, I stopped at the downtown Border's to grab some Wi-Fi, and I tried the Whoopie Pie.

Before talking about the baked good, I do need to mention that I just don't really get the quaint charm of misspelling, like with the word "Kountry". And when your initials come out to K-K-K, well.... I think that is something I'd try to avoid and keep to the correct spelling. Now on to the Whoopie Pie.

This thing is SWEET. I mean it is literally really sweet. The cake is tasty and was fresh, but my goodness... the cream filling was light in consistency, but it was like pure powdered sugar in creamy foam form. I love sweets, but this was actually a bit too much - I couldn't even finish this palm sized morsel. It was certainly the best whoopie pie I'd ever had, but... it may well have been the first I've had.

A tasty treat, for sure, but more than really wanting to rate this item, I just want to give a shout out to the farmers market. I'm not some big proponent of purely local and organic - more so, I just like the sense of community that these little markets bring to a city. And, again, more than being militant about "organic", I'm more a fan of foods that are fresh and whole.

Did you realize that there is a Whoopie Pie Festival? It's over in Pennsylvania, and if a state can be underrated, it is Pennsylvania. The place is just rolling and beautiful from border to border, and so much history that dates back to our birth as a nation.