When my chef friend Richard told me about a new "upscale biker bar" where they were attempting to produce "serious food," I have to admit to being somewhat intrigued. Located just a block or so west of Peterson's, almost in Fishers, in fact, the V-Twin CafÈ isn't the most obvious location for such a venture. But then again, where is?
Much as I would have liked to have visited this ambitious new establishment at the height of bike season, and soak up the sights, sounds, not to mention smells, of massed throngs of Harleys and their riders, my schedule forced me to visit on a cold, wet night in November. Outside in the parking lot, there wasn't a bike in sight. Instead, a dozen or so SUVs and a couple of sedans filled the spaces usually occupied by racier machines. But inside the modern concrete and steel building, the smell of engine oil and rubber was the first indication that this was not your average restaurant.
Situated upstairs on a large balcony overlooking the sales floor of a tidy showroom, V-Twin CafÈ occupies a unique setting. Fans of custom paint and cute little Italian scooters will have a field day here. The showroom is artfully arranged and, despite its obviously commercial purpose, serves as a stylishly retro backdrop for the restaurant above. Posters of European movie star types remind us that in some parts of the world, at least, Vespas are still considered pretty fashionable. All you need to do to carry off the illusion is to look like Jean-Paul Belmondo on a windy day and sport a girlfriend with a name like Bianca.
When it comes to design and atmosphere, V-Twin CafÈ is about as far as you can get from a traditional biker bar. The design is modern, clean and minimalist. There's lots of polished steel: Even the flatware gleams like burnished chrome. The place is spotlessly clean with not a hint of an oil slick in sight. The bar offers a fairly standard assortment of beers, but a substantial selection of martinis, an indication that this restaurant is setting its sights on a well-heeled clientele. On the evening of our visit, the majority of the customers seemed to consist of well-dressed business types: weekend road warriors with disposable income.
The food at V-Twin CafÈ is as ambitious as the martini list. There are so many great-sounding items that we weren't quite sure where to start. How about a monkfish and shrimp fahita for $14.95? Or a pulled pork sandwich with cheddar and onions on Texas toast for $7.95? My chef friend raves about the Milwaukee pork stew ($3.95 a cup or $7.95 a bowl); and I've heard some good things about the Daytona pizza, with tequila marinated chicken and papaya BBQ sauce.
Settling down with a menu and a couple of excellent beers from the Oaken Barrel Brewery in Greenwood, my friend and I attempted to come to a decision. After much pondering, we decided on the deep-fried, breaded frogs' legs and the seared yellowtail tuna appetizers. Frogs legs, as I'm sure everyone knows, taste just like chicken, and these were no exception, being well-prepared, tender and juicy. The tuna, although seared correctly, very thinly sliced and still a nice rare pink at the center, was all but overwhelmed by a sweet and sticky teriyaki kind of sauce that pretty well robbed the fish of its flavor. Oddly enough, I didn't mind that much, because I liked the sauce, but would have preferred it to have been served on the side. The presentation in this case was unfortunately a bit sloppy: Generally, one associates rare seared tuna with Japanese cuisine, which, to state the obvious, is rigorous about the way food looks on the plate. With a bit more attention to detail, this could be a very successful dish.
For the main course, we decided to stick to the specials advertised on the blackboard. The first, ostrich medallions ($9.95) served on a bed of wild and brown rice, was a calorie counter's dream. Ostrich is very lean, and prone to drying out, but the preparation was textbook. The half-inch or so thick fillet medallions were seared to a juicy medium-rare, and were moist and tender throughout. The rice, slightly sticky and wonderfully nutty, was quite excellent. The only problem with this dish was the sauce: a rather tangy, not to mention hot, Dijon mustard creation that was out of balance with the delicate flavor of the ostrich. A bit of cream or butter might have diluted the heat. Again, this was a very good concept, not quite seen through to fruition.
The second entrÈe was a single quail stuffed with leeks and mushrooms ($13.95), accompanied by a light but richly flavored reduction. This was a very successful dish, combining the sweetness of lightly-caramelized leeks with the savory, earthy character of the mushrooms and the delicate gaminess of the meat. There's something rather pathetic about the sight of a solitary quail in the middle of one's plate, and all throughout this course I was struck by images of a Ted Nugent-type, smeared with mud, chasing down this hapless little bird with a bow and arrow. But I ate it anyway - and it was good.
For dessert, my friend and I shared a vast confection that consisted of caramelized bananas with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. As an avowed banana nut, I loved this dish, and would have liked it even more if the caramel had been house-made (it had a rather generic, packaged taste) and the chocolate sauce of a better quality. This really isn't a complaint, just an observation. We ate every single last drop of this dessert, but would probably have enjoyed it even more had the ingredients been a little better.
V-Twin CafÈ is a restaurant of lofty and noble ambitions. Where else in this price range can you find such high quality entrÈes for under $15, let alone dishes made with ostrich or quail? I have to applaud the concept and, to an extent, the execution, but I would like to see a little more consistency in production, especially in the sauce department. With a touch more finesse and attention to detail in the kitchen, this establishment has a chance of becoming something of a destination for those in the know. A lot of what goes on here reminds me of the original Panache in Zionsville. It wouldn't take a miracle to elevate the standard considerably. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
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