Devour Downtown Winterfest: 35 distinguished restaurants, three courses for $30, (almost) two weeks (Jan. 21-Feb. 2). There’s more to the technical exposition of this now 3-year-old event. I’ve heard the Devour Downtown idea originated with The Oceanaire Seafood Room’s former general manager, Richard Edwards, and Chef Ryan Nelson. Most important: For patrons, this is a chance to get a reasonably priced meal at an upscale restaurant. For the participating restaurants, it’s a way to recruit visiting patrons for special occasions during their slow times. Everyone has a birthday or anniversary.
I attended a Devour Downtown preview at Greek Islands, R Bistro and Agio’s last week that gave more than a taste of the food; it showed how these restaurants — many that have entrées regularly priced around the $20 mark and above — negotiate their three-course menus for $30.
Some restaurants have more of a fixed menu than others. R Bistro has a set menu of French feta salad with pears, pomegranates and arugula; sauerbraten of beef with root vegetables for the main course; and an apple and cranberry crisp for dessert. The mild French feta contrasted artfully with the red-ripe pears in the first course salad, and the sauerbraten also promises to be otherworldly (it wasn’t yet available for our tasting, but the beef will marinade in a mixture including peppercorns, cloves, red wine and bay leaf). If this is cheap, Chef Regina Mehallick masters shabby chic.
Agio’s also gives it to you straight — a Portobello mushroom with mozzarella, greens and tomato balsamic salsa to begin, an entrée of chicken and shrimp fettuccini in a creamy saffron sauce and strawberry cream cake with Grand Marnier sauce for dessert. No substitutions. Too bad, because the Portobello mushroom had something — Chipotle in the salsa? Another smoky culprit? — that introduced discord into an otherwise de rigueur dish. I can recommend the main chicken and shrimp dish with fettuccini in a saffron cream sauce with artichokes, tomato and black olives. The artichokes tasted canned, but the sweet shrimp and perfect, al dente fettuccini more than made up for it.
Greek Islands, the family-owned restaurant on South Meridian, shows that culture’s love for food with a very generous Winterfest menu. Here you actually get four courses, and choices within each category. For a crash course in excellent Greek food, get the combination platter as your main entrée: moussaka, pasticchio, gyro meat, spanakotiropita, tiropita, dolmades, rice pilaf, Olympian beans and Greek potatoes. And though the restaurant is plugging its new florinis — roasted red pepper with feta — on the appetizer section, the “flaming” saganaki cheese shouldn’t be passed.
One last menu I’ve had the pleasure of previewing (and actually, you can preview most menus at the Devour Downtown official Web site: www.indyrestaurantweek.com/winterfest/#profile) is at The Oceanaire. The fresh seafood — much of it flown in daily — is always tasty (and a bit pricey). If you’ve never tried the signature crab cakes, do it now. They’re an option on the prix fixe menu, which gives you more choices than many others.
That’s another great perk: Many restaurants, aware they’re attracting some newcomers, are including their signature dishes on their menus. St. Elmo’s has a scaled down version of their shrimp cocktail (usually almost $15) on the special menu.
Devour Downtown Winterfest
Jan. 21-Feb. 2