Devour Downtown Indianapolis is June 2-15. I had the privilege of tagging along with a couple of culinary aces to a preview of this semiannual program, which aims to recruit new patrons via reduced priced menus. The consensus? Everything is tip-top perfect, way beyond the prix fixe price of $30 per person — except for a couple of things.
First up: The Capital Grille. Staffers took the crew back to a separate room with a spread of perfectly plated filet mignon, skin-on mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, citrus grilled salmon and full-size chocolate espresso and cheesecakes. All are part of a four-prong dinner experience.
I found the filet mignon a bit more flavorful than the dry-aged Kona-crusted sirloin, which was a bit dry. (Dry-aging a steak for days in a refrigerator, as opposed to shrink-wrapping it in its own juices, concentrates the beef flavor and produces an enzyme that tenderizes the meat. Supposedly.) But the sirloin was paired with a delightfully fruity Argentinean Malbec (Terrazas de los Andes, $9) that you should try. If you’re a salmon lover, don’t pass up this tangy-sweet dusted interpretation.
Onto The Oceanaire, where we were greeted by a superb salad of flakey smoked salmon and soft goat cheese punctuated by sweet purple beets. Frisée tendrils gave texture.
My favorite thing about The Oceanaire is its ambience. The pretty hostesses seem to have escaped from the city’s portly reputation, and the wait staff’s white captain’s coats remind me of crisp doctor’s scrubs. Proprietor Roddy Kirschenman’s trademark black-rimmed glasses were comically echoed by at least one diner.
Chef Ryan Nelson wants everyone to know there’s no set menu for Devour Downtown: He’ll use whatever fish is freshest from the purveyor.
My lucky example consisted of the aforementioned salad, Dungeness crab cakes and scallops with bacon, crimini mushrooms and mint. Either might be a second course choice. I prefer the ever-moist crab cakes, with their peppery, charred exterior.
Nelson’s desserts never fail to impress. The hands-down winner of the entire preview seemed to be The Oceanaire’s strawberry-rhubarb crisp, served mouth-scorchingly hot in a ramekin with cold vanilla ice cream and gooey oats tucked between the two.
We sailed for 14 West with full bellies. Here, the “New American” cuisine features clear, crisp flavors that stand out, independent of the whole dish. The incredible pretzel rolls are a perfect preview to West’s pungent tastes, especially if you eat them smudged with the throat-warming Dijon mustard.
First course was a crisp Bibb salad dotted with salty-sweet treats like a honey Dijon drizzle, green apple, alfalfa sprouts and walnuts. Our second sample had the potential to be great: free-range chicken from LaGrange, Ind., in a flavorful beef broth. Accompanying veggies — including green onion, red bell pepper, asparagus, green beans — were crisp, bright and firm. But the chicken should have been dark meat, or at least tenderized. I’m not sure this entrée choice will run all through the DD promotion, so just ... avoid the free-range chicken. They had a good run off the plate, at least.
Devour Downtown, formerly known as Indy Restaurant Week, is supposed to be a bargain event. Still, there are some restaurants — Claddagh, Elbow Room and J. Gumbo’s (formerly Badaboomz) among them — that are pricing up for it.
J. Gumbo’s menu is including four courses with 5-ounce beer pairings, including a first course of crispy crawfish tails with ranch dressing and Redhook Sunrye Ale and a third course of Cajun-rubbed top sirloin with Brugge Black.
Claddagh is doing two meals for $30. The banger sausages with mashed potatoes really hit a soul food spot — even with the sort-of-salty goop of rosemary demi-glaze. Word on the street says the original Irish investor of this Indiana-incepted chain is taking it back. A truer-to-the-motherland menu should be in place by early fall.
Restaurants are putting out their best for this event. Have at it.
Devour Downtown Indianapolis
Participating restaurants will have a “special $30 Devour Downtown menu”
Thirty-two restaurants are participating; see www.indyrestaurantweek.com