It didn't take long. No sooner did the Scholar's Inn restaurant on Mass Ave decide to call it quits, than the Avon-based Cunningham Restaurant Group, a burgeoning regional outfit with eight iterations between here and Cincinnati, including CafÃ�'Â© 251, Charbonos and Stone Creek, snatched up the site and began a makeover.
The result, Mesh On Mass, is salutary. Open just over three weeks now, the first thing that impresses about Mesh is what they've done to the place. The SI folks poured magnum amounts of cash into at least two incarnations at this double-decker space. By the end, it looked like an explosion in a Chinese toy factory, colorful and incoherent.
Mesh's owners have toned things down, opting for comfortably understated swank. They use dark tones accented with gold variations to strike a handsome balance between intimacy and spaciousness.
They've also put together a menu that manages to be diverse enough to please an array of tastes and appetites while maintaining a certain focus based on a fusion of culinary styles.
We started with a Mesh Salad ($6), a generous combination of lettuces combined with hearts of palm and watercress, dressed with a sweet, tart and slightly creamy Tarragon Mustard Vinaigrette. It's one thing for a salad to be fresh (this was); another for it to actually be refreshing. The Mesh Salad attained this upper reach effortlessly.
We complemented the salad with a cup of Lobster Bisque ($4). This elegant serving was compromised slightly by the addition of a cellophane sack of commercially packaged oyster crackers, but never mind. The soup itself was dense and rich, with a welcome curry-like tilt that saved it from being on the bland side.
More restaurants are, slowly but surely, beginning to acknowledge their vegetarian customers with entrees that are more than after-thoughts. No one locally, to my knowledge, is doing this better than Mesh. Their Tofu entrÃ�'Â©e ($16) gets immediate credit as one of the best veggie offerings you'll find at a serious restaurant in Indianapolis. A pair of marinated and grilled tofu fillets are at the center of a presentation including mushroom strudel, marinated asparagus, arugula and crispy tobacco onion strings drizzled with a tomato beurre blanc. The flavor spectrum here is pretty amazing, ranging from a hint of citrus in the beurre blanc to the brown sugar foundation of the teriyaki sauce used to enliven the mushroom side. The textures are also pleasingly harmonious.
The Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($23) were also a treat. These were large, meaty cakes served atop a bed of arugula with beet-red tomato chutney and a lemon caper aioli. The tomato chutney was an inspired touch, adding zest to this very rich dish.
It's worth mentioning that both these entrees deployed their nuanced sauces in order to enhance the flavors of their main ingredients, a sign of real thoughtfulness in the kitchen. Too often, one finds that sauces elbow their way into the limelight, often because what's underneath is less than compelling. Not here.
We were too full to do more than contemplate Mesh's tempting line-up of desserts. It didn't help, though, that our server, who seemed hellbent on getting us out of the place in less than a half hour, saw fit to stand over us and recite the sweets specials while we were still eating our entrees. Some staff training is in definitely in order.
But then it's still early days at Mesh. Based on what was on our plates, the future looks bright.
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