New Chancellor's at IUPUI makes Hoosier cuisine "haute" Terry

New Chancellor’s at IUPUI makes Hoosier cuisine “haute” Terry Kirts
A maple and brown sugar "barbecued" salmon ($16)
Sometimes the obvious doesn’t hit you until you’ve eaten the dessert, stowed the leftovers in the refrigerator and settled in for the night. A few hours after I’d helped devour the baked Alaska ($9) at the end of a curiously delicious but often quirky meal at the newly refurbished Chancellor’s at IUPUI, I suddenly realized what had gone wrong. Sure, this Cold War culinary relic was gilded with amaretto cake, bing cherries and crispy little cinnamon nuggets we mistook at first for the cherries’ pits. A staff member had even set it aflame for us, our waitress stepping aside lest her fingernails catch fire. But it wasn’t baked. Only the heat of the flame had browned the meringue shell, but no oven had softened the ice cream around the edges, giving this “baked” Alaska its signature hot-cold yin and yang. But can you really complain about a dish when you’ve eaten every bite? Can you fault a few missteps in a meal when a restaurant has only been open, or even reopened, for just a month? Part of a whopping $13 million renovation at IUPUI’s University Place Conference Center and Hotel that has outfitted guest rooms with flat-screen TVs, Chancellor’s, once a place the rest of Indianapolis could largely ignore, is now causing heads to turn. With a makeover from, in our waitress’ words, a “New York designer,” as well as Chef Jon Oliver’s new menu of upscale Hoosier eats, this is no longer just a place for hungry professors and travel-weary conference guests. The spiffy bistro now wears a stylishly restrained wardrobe of soothing earth tones and copper highlights, down to the binders for the restaurant menus. Twin wine racks loft bottles almost to the restaurant’s ceiling. In the middle of the dining room, a long communal table set with barstools glows under the light of miniature hanging lamps. Even next door at the old sports bar, now revamped as “Our Den,” Lucite tabletops glow orange, and mesmerizing sports-themed murals almost seem to move. Most exciting is that one more restaurant has realized the potential of Indiana ingredients and has integrated them into their offerings in a manner not overly provincial or parodic. One case in point is Indianapolis’ own Hurst’s 15-bean soup ($6), famous in plastic bags at local grocery stores but here an elegant potage. It arrived in such a fashion-forward, offset alabaster bowl that the soup, at least for a few bites, threatened to tidal wave onto the table. A cornbread stick had taken a dive. But with a rich base flavored with ham hock and the perfume of thyme, this was anything but rustic food. “The stack” salad ($7.25) wore its presentation much more gracefully. A sliced, mozzarella stuffed, then reassembled tomato, presumably not grown in Indiana, posed at the far end of a sleek rectangular plate with dramatic streaks of basil oil and thick, aged balsamic vinegar. While the “vine-ripened” tomato was a tad pale, it was sweet and paired nicely with micro-greens and its colorful dressings. We wondered what this salad would be like with a Hoosier beefsteak come August. “CR” chips ($7), however, fretted in the oven so long, we almost missed them before our meal. While our waitress said we could have half blue cheese and half asiago, our otherwise doting host came by to say this wasn’t allowed. Eventually, a bowl of thick-cut, super crunchy potato chips arrived wearing hardly enough cheese to notice. Warm rolls with a cloverleaf dish of olive oil and apple butter provided nice touches, and a well-edited wine list included an excellent Las Terrazas malbec ($8). Entrées included both Maple Leaf Farms duck and a grilled tenderloin with brandied apples, but we went for the beef tenderloin ($21) instead. Perfectly seared and medium rare with an accentuating dollop of bleu cheese rather than a flood, this arrived with a subtle port syrup and a simple mirepoix of chopped aromatic vegetables. A maple and brown sugar “barbecued” salmon ($16) threatened to be overly sweet, but its coating was more a slightly spicy crust that added a ton of flavor. While the fish was a tad oily, it flaked nicely, and a “hash” of diced butternut squash and pear, as well as a buttery sauce, made this a well-balanced autumnal dish. Grilled asparagus added a touch of spring. More evidence of Oliver’s flair for elevating comfort food on tasty vegetable bases came with the buttermilk chicken ($15). A modest but golden-brown and well-trimmed breast of chicken sat atop a “relish” of corn with plenty of smoky bacon. It was the kind of dish your mother would have made if she had gone to culinary school. Thankfully, this approach to nouveau Hoosier food so assured us of the kitchen’s skills that at meal’s end we made short work of the baked Alaska — whether it had been baked or not. Chancellor’s 850 W. Michigan St. 317-231-5221 lunch Monday-Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. dinner Monday-Friday: 5:30-9 p.m. Food : 4 Stars Atmosphere : 4 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars

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