Sonata Cafe

11 May

In celebration of a friend’s birthday and birthday month, a few girls and I decided to participate in a progressive dinner in the Carmel Arts & Design District. After a few sips of wine at Shiraz, we walked our way down the street towards Sonata, one of the newer restaurants in the area. We were excited to share a few tapas while continuing great conversation and company.

Walking into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted by the hostess. The main floor of the restaurant was empty on this particular Wednesday evening, but it was pretty easy to imagine people lounging at the tables with a coffee in hand. A casual environment, there was a coffee bar and counter that had bakery items available for purchase. Art adorned the walls, though I didn’t get a very warm fuzzy vibe. More of a casual, clean and simple feel of a Spanish cafe. The hostess grabbed a few menus and we walked through this area to the stairs to head our way up to the second floor. Upstairs, there was a larger group (also celebrating a birthday) enjoying their evening, a full bar with several seats open for patrons, and a table of six seats perfect for our group.

After ordering a round of sangria, beer, and one whiskey old fashioned for me, we settled on a few plates for our first round. We began with (starting left and moving clockwise) empanadas, brick vegetariano, and hummus. The empanadas were stuffed with gouda and sweet corn. A crisp exterior, the empanada was served with a simple concasse sauce – which really is a red marinara sauce. Overall, it was crisp and tasty, though a bit dry in the contents for me as I couldn’t taste much from the gouda. The brick vegetariano was delicious: layers of vegetables and phyllo covered with a concasse sauce once again. The mozzarella between the layers melted beautifully tying in the perfect level of salt to the dish among the crisp phyllo. I really enjoyed every bit. The edamame hummus was creamy in texture and subtle in flavor. I did enjoy it, but the brick won my heart in the first round.

Second round had us focused on the bread basket. We ordered a few breads to compare, all different in their own way. From the top moving clockwise, we ordered goya, monet, and giotto. The goya was a portabello mushroom on top of a toasted ciabatta type of bread, slathered with herbed goat cheese. Goat cheese goes a long way in my book, especially with some marinara. The mushroom was tender and rustic in flavor, but really I was loving up on the goat cheese. Carrying on with the goat love, the monet was the same bread vehicle slathered in the herbed goat cheese, but this time topped with a bacon jam. Per the menu description, it was a tampenade. Per my taste buds, it was sweet, salty, and savory. I wanted a bit more out of it, but it was still good. Just my least fave of the bunch. Finally, the giotto was fantastic all because of the balsamic glaze that adorned the bread. Under the savory glaze were sauteed leeks, onions, and garlic. It was missing asparagus (and the server noticed this, taking off some money to make up for it), but to be honest, I really didn’t miss it as I enjoyed all the flavors melting together with each bite. I enjoyed all three though I think the goya and giotto may have slightly bat out the monet.

Our final round has us munching on four plates. Beginning on the right and moving clockwise, we began with the gambas, which are essentially deep fried shrimp. The shrimp are somehow stuffed with cream cheese before battered in a corn flake crust and deep fried. They were then served with this intense raspberry sauce. It was too sweet for me, though I could see how one may really love all the flavors. The shrimp was lost in flavor though as the raspberry was the dominate flavor. We also had the dedo de poll: goat cheese stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon. The chicken was tender with mild taste of goat cheese and the bacon was crisp, but I really enjoyed the slightly spicy sauce on top. Chunks of apples gave it a slight sweetness which balanced the sweet & spicy contrast nicely.

Next up was the gnocchi con gambas, or pasta with shrimp. Gnocchi is a dense, potato pasta and these were tender and cooked well. Once again, the marinara is very clean and has good, simple flavors. I wasn’t blown away though. It is definitely a simple yet good dish, I was looking for something a bit more extravagant that evening. I didn’t get that extravagance with the croquetas de jamon either, though I did enjoy popping these little fried pieces of deliciousness in my mouth. Simple, but yum. a mixture of ham and bechamel cheese is always great. When you fry them up croquete style, that fried and crispy crust always ties them well.

With drink, prior to gratuity, total bill was $24 per person. Not bad when you have a plethora of food to select from. Service was good and I really enjoyed the relaxed environment. We definitely were all full as we had bites of everything around the table. It is good to note that a few things are capable of being added onto if you have a larger group. For instance, we ordered additional gambas to ensure we all one to taste for a few dollars more. I’ll be returning with a group, because that is the best way to do tapas!

I also have to apologize. I’ve been absent due to traveling and catching up with life. And unfortunately, during professional dinners, taking photos isn’t usually a top priority. I may be critiquing in my head, but just not in a picture. BUT, I’ll be making it up to you come the 21st. They’ll be a give away for some delicious food. Why the 21st? Well, I’m traveling again…stay tuned…and thanks for being a reader and contributor!

Sonata Cafe, Bar & Art * 31 east main street * carmel, 46032 * 317.844.5551

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El Meson

1 May

A colleague and I have decided to try a new restaurant around our office space once a month. After working there for several years, I was shocked to see all the random places I have not been. Hoping to cure that over the next few months, we began with El Meson.

In the quite large restaurant, there is more than meets the eye of the bright exterior Mexican restaurant. Set up to simulate an outdoor garden in decor, the colors are bright and bold. To the right of the main dining area is more dining, but to the left is this dark, mysterious night club atmosphere. Open late, I have to imagine that a club atmosphere is exactly what it turns into. But on a lunch hour, we weren’t interested in those details. We came hungry for some chips and Mexican flavors.

I opted for a chimichanga as it had been quite a while since the chimi and I engaged with one another. What I received was a full plate of food, all that was good but not the best thing I ever ate. The beans and rice were simple, mild in any flavor profile. The main component, the chimi, was also average. I had expected something a bit different as most chimi’s are wrapped up tight and are full of filling. This was wrapped with open ends, stuffed only with a mild and slightly dry chicken filling. The edges were all crispy due to the frying, but it wasn’t heavy in oil taste or anything like that. Just an average meal. Covering the chimi, the classic white cheese sauce was the highlight of the meal for me. Basic quest is always good in my book – very rarely will I turn on a cheese.

It took quite a while to order our food, though our server was pleasant and engaging. That day, El Meson filled my Mexican craving though I would have liked a bit more flavor throughout. My colleagues enjoyed their meal, so maybe I just need to break up with the chimichanga once in for all.

El Meson * 8920 wesleyan road * indianapolis, 46268 * 317.872.4600

Grille 39

19 Apr

Located in the Renaissance Indianapolis hotel on North Meridian, Grille 39 may be ignored because it is a hotel restaurant. Usually, if you live in the area, you don’t visit hotels thus ignoring the restaurants within. As someone who travels for work, I have no problem with many hotel restaurants. In this case, I was looking forward to the atmosphere that blended well with the Renaissance feel of earthly elements. Together, the two fit nicely, and I was impressed with the overall experience of the restaurant that evening.

We had Easter brunch at the hotel the previous weekend and had been invited to return for the Grille 39 experience. We dined at the restaurant on a Friday evening, around 7 p.m., and I wasn’t surprised to see many open tables due to it being a hotel restaurant. However, once you are seated you may even forget you were in a hotel lobby. The decor is rich in colors: burnt orange, dark yet brilliant blues. The seating was comfortable as we were sat near the fire for the evening. We were quickly seated and met by our server who was pleasant and informative throughout the evening. She explained the weekly specials and a few of her favorites after we placed our drink orders. With a smile, she delivered our drinks and we relaxed with images of a delicious meal in our heads.

Our appetizer were the bleu cheese potato chips. We had been looking at few other items but I just couldn’t resist a bleu cheese fondue and crispy, homemade potato chips. They were quick to be delivered and we immediately started crunching away. The potato chips were crisp with a heavier weight and flavorful with each bite as they were seasoned with something more than your typical salt and pepper. They were great on their own, but I really did enjoy the creamy and decadent bleu cheese fondue all over the chips. It wasn’t sharp like I imagined it to be, but still rich in flavor. Bleu cheese crumbles gave it the subtle sharpness that I was expecting. I liked the contrast of creamy and crunchy. It was also quite a large portion as we didn’t finish knowing we had a good meal ahead. But even with that being said, we also were given a basket of their breads. I had a nibble (okay, a whole slice) of their toasted cinnamon bread. It may have had some raisin components, but it was dried and delicious. Imagine taking a loaf of cinnamon bread and slicing it incredibly thin and drying it out. That’s what you got, but the flavor is so intense that it was a sweet treat for the beginning of the meal.

Hubs had ordered the sea bass for his dinner, grilled in cooking style. This 10 oz. piece of fish looked much bigger than we both imagined (and it warmed up great the next day for the two of us to split I might add). It doesn’t look like the classically grilled piece of fish we both imagined. We believe it was cooked in their infra-red broiler like their steaks. Despite this dish being bland in presentation color (that was due to the side items hubs selected), the fish wasn’t even close to being bland in flavor. It was cooked perfectly and had such moisture locked in the slightly crunch crust. It was a really great piece of fish, leaving us both wondering when the last time was that we had fish that great. He had also ordered it Oscar style. The subtle sweetness of the lump crab was great with the creamy richness of the hollandaise. The best bite included the fish, crab, risotto and hollandaise. His two sides were a potato au gratin (will explain later) and a Parmesan risotto. The risotto was a little too creamy for me (I know, it’s cheese risotto) and monotone in flavor. But hubs really enjoyed it and thought I was crazy for thinking that. I personally think I just wasn’t in the mood for risotto, because the next day it tasted pretty good as leftovers.

I enjoyed a steak dinner – something I normally never order out. But our server informed us that they sell more steaks than anything else so I couldn’t resist to see why. I ordered the ribeye (once again, completely out of character for me) to see how their infra-red broiler would work with the marble of fat and meat. I ordered it medium rare and what I got was spot on. One of the best cooked steaks I have ever ordered out, it had a beautiful sear locking in all the juices and resting to the perfect temperature that I had ordered. The crust was created through high heat and a house bast wad used to create a great flavor component. Olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, and black olives created a tapenade type of topping for the steak. A steak purist might baulk at this, but I thought it added such a great and unique flavor to every bite. Like the fish, the steak also came with a sauce on the side. I ordered the bernaise, a classic egg and butter sauce, but didn’t really eat it as the steak was so flavorful on it’s own. But I do have to mention the bearnaise was made very well. My sides were grilled asparagus, delightfully crisp and tender at the same time, and the potato au gratin. The au gratin looked great, loaded with four different types of cheese, but when eating it I was left wanting something else. I couldn’t help but see it prepared in a large pan and refrigerated, cooked and then cut into portions before being reheated. I’m sure that wasn’t the case (though I didn’t ask how it was prepared) but there was nothing to rave about. The flavors of four cheeses was underwhelming as cheddar was the main taste. It didn’t seem like it was cooked all the way through either, too dense in texture. The steak was clearly the winner of my meal as it was absolutely delicious.

I left surprised. I couldn’t help it. Even as one who isn’t against hotel restaurants, I wasn’t expecting the really great meal that hubs and I had. The prices seemed a little high (steak was mid-$30′s, as was the fish) but a few other items seemed standard. There was an ahi tuna burger that I was tempted to try and would have if it had been lunch. I could easily see having a drink and some appetizers and progressing into a casual dinner. I liked the environment, I really enjoyed the food, and with company like I had, you can’t go wrong on a Friday night date.

Note: the meal was compliments of Grille 39, but the opinions are honest and entirely my own.

Grille 39 * 11925 north meridian (renaissance hotel) * carmel, 46032 * 317.814.2550

Grille 39 (Marriott) on Urbanspoon

Woody’s Library

17 Apr

I’m a sucker for Sunday brunch. Wanting to stay somewhere close to home, hubs and I settled on Woody’s Library for some good eats before running a few weekend errands. I love Woody’s atmosphere – an older library layout that has been converted into a restaurant. The separate rooms allow it to feel more intimate while still maintaining a business casual environment. The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived, thus allowing us to take in the atmosphere while being seated quickly.

I began with a berry sparkling beverage. Sparkling wine mixed with a berry simple syrup, though a little sweet for my normal drink preference, was a great way to begin this meal. Hubs had ordered an iced tea and enjoyed the carafe he was given without request to ensure his thirst was constantly quenched. The menu for their brunch is somewhere between simple/expected and unique. There are the scrambles, but you can add on a variety of ingredients. We somehow both decided on one of my all time faves, eggs benedict, but each with our own little twist.

Hubs ordered the classic benedict with ham. Appropriate as the following day was also national eggs benedict day. He said the ham wasn’t very apparent, he missed the taste that it could have lent the dish. But he was really enjoying all the other components that even though he missed the ham, he didn’t miss the enjoyment of the dish. With brunch items, you also order a side for your dish. He opted for the mini sausages. When he received them, it was definitely different from our expectations. Mini sausages, like you would use to make pigs in a blanket, were swimming in a sweet and sour sauce. No explanation anywhere that you would receive it that way. Personally, we didn’t mind as we are okay with sweet and sour, but if you didn’t like that flavor combination, you would have been severely disappointed with your selection. They were pretty good, but we both acknowledged that the sausages weren’t local or homemade by any means. We wouldn’t be surprised if the sauce was the same situation. They were fine, but nothing earth shattering.

As mentioned, I too ordered the benedict. But mine was with crab cakes – yum! I love seafood benedict, it is one of my all time favorite breakfast dishes. Like hubs, two biscuits served as the base. They were dense as I expect a biscuit to be, and a little dry on their own. I prefer the classic toasted english muffin though because it isn’t as filling and is always adds just a bit of crunch to the base. My crab cakes were apparent with every bite, but when eating them without the fillers of the benedict, I was slightly disappointed to see how bread dense they were. They definitely had the flavor of crab, but the texture was heavy in breadcrumbs. But they were cooked well, crispy on the edges and tender inside. The two poached eggs were just a tad bit overcooked, so I wasn’t given the runny yolk that I adore sopping up with every bite. But the holandaise was luscious and savory. It was simple, not heavy in any ingredient, as all the ingredient flavors meshed perfectly. What I really liked about the benedict was the fried leeks that adorned the top. They were crisp and gave the perfect onion flavor that I didn’t realize I wanted.

As my side, I ordered the mini potato cakes. They were adorable (I love mini foods!) in size and great in flavor. Light, not with that greasy fried taste, the potatoes were seasoned well with salt and pepper and had a crisp edge. I also ordered the cinnamon roll wedges solely because I can never say no to a cinnamon roll. I should have in this case though as it was extremely dry. Don’t be fooled by the photo, this was hard and could have been warmed up a bit. I’m sure that would have helped and made it more enjoyable if it was at least served warm. The flavor could have been there, but I was so consumed with how dry it was that I ended up only taking a few bites and finishing with the strawberries. But honestly, I was so full with my main dish that I really didn’t even need the half of the roll for $2.

Overall, the meal was good. I really enjoyed the benedict despite the eggs being slightly overcooked and the cakes being breadcrumb heavy. I thought the flavor components were all there as expected. I may swap out the sides next time just to try something new, but I may ask to be sure there are no unexpected twists like the sausage hubs ordered. Once again, not bad, but out of left field. I’ll definitely be back, maybe for lunch or dinner as I haven’t been for those meals. Anyone else?

And another note, Woody’s is owned by the same restauranteur of Divvy. Two great restaurants with two very different feels.

Woody’s Library * 40 east main street * carmel, 46032 * 317.573.4444

Woody's Library Restaurant on Urbanspoon