Estilo brings life - and lamb - to familiar location

In the restaurant business, opening nights can inspire an aura nothing short of magical. Or they can be a little volatile. Will the word get out? Will anyone show up? Will the dishes turn out right - and make the right impression? Will an overzealous restaurant critic show up trying to scoop the other reviewers in town? Estilo offers some classic Mediterranean standards.

The stakes are even higher if that restaurant is taking over where a well-known culinary institution left off. Diners will surely remember the feats of the former tenants. Comparisons are inevitable. Even if the new place is good, some will undoubtedly lament the loss of what they remembered and came to love through the years.

Such was the case on opening night at Estilo Bar and Restaurant, the new upscale southern European eatery on the Northside, this past March 22. Estilo has set up shop in the old home of legendary culinary duo Something Different and Snax. Given what these restaurants and their talented lineage of chefs meant to Indianapolis - the innovative flavor combinations, the architectural presentations - choosing these hallowed grounds for a restaurant is a risk. It's a bit like the Toledo Mud Hens taking over Yankee Stadium.

I was that eager restaurant critic. I couldn't help myself. When I saw the invitations on the tables at the Bosphorus, where Estilo owner and general manager Tayfun Isik was once a partner, I knew something exciting was brewing. This had the potential for being a big story - and a great meal - loaded with nostalgia.

Given the unavoidable caprice of opening nights, things were going comparatively well. A glass of zinfandel I ordered turned up as white zinfandel, but the waiter quickly brought a new glass of red. Diners at another table noted the preponderance of cheese on a salad. But a good number of people had found the place, and the spirit was lively and gregarious. Very little had changed since Something Different and Snax closed suddenly last year, to the horror of local foodies. The same high-backed chairs and light-wood pillars lent an elegant, soothing atmosphere to the meal.

The dinner offerings at Estilo, prepared by Executive Chef Michel Russo, emphasize a few classic Mediterranean standards - along with a bias for seafood, lamb and veal. Dishes include a lot of rice-based favorites such as paella and risotto. Among a brief list of tapas offerings, we went for the most daring with the Ciger ($8.95), a carnivore's delight of fried veal's liver in a light sauce. This is something only liver lovers should order, but the texture and the caramelized crust on tender pieces of liver were expert. The sauce was a little flat, however, and only after we requested a couple of lemon wedges to squeeze over the top did this dish really come alive.

A seafood soup, on the other hand ($6.95), needed no embellishment. Chockfull of clams, tender calamari, mussels and bay scallops in a well-seasoned tomato broth, this was a soup you could make a whole meal on, and we sopped it up with the hunks of foccacia from a basket the waiter had brought. Only some thin noodles seemed unnecessary in the soup, though not a distraction. We'd definitely be back for this one.

For entrees, we couldn't really avoid lamb, as it was featured heavily in the first three entrees on the menu. While a meaty lamb shank ($23.95) was very tender and easily came off the bone, the wine sauce was a little sweet, and the dish could have been seasoned a bit more aggressively. Accompanying risotto was also quite mushy and overcooked, evidence that it may have been made long before we arrived. But a mélange of carrots, zucchini and roasted potatoes were nicely charred and made for a good textural contrast.

The same overcooked and surprisingly dry rice plagued the paella marinare ($17.95). Here, too, the same seafood as in the soup - mussels, shrimp, scallops and clams - seemed not as fresh or as well-prepared. At least one clam hadn't opened.

A dessert tray offered a trio of all-too-common desserts: cheesecake, tiramisu and baklava. But this may have been strategic. They'd have plenty of time to innovate after they'd proven what they could do with tradition. Unfortunately, the tiramisu, while creamy, was a little dry, and didn't pack any sort of strong flavor of espresso or the liqueurs common in this ubiquitous finisher.

The beauty about being with a restaurant from the beginning is that you can grow with it and watch it, hopefully, improve with time. Already Estilo has added a bar menu, and the restaurant is now open for lunch, serving sandwiches, salads and dishes from Isik's native Turkey. So, there's a lot of promise at this landmark location - and a soup we will not soon forget.


4939 E. 82nd st., suite 100


Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.;

5 to 10 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 5 to 11 p.m.

Saturday: 5 to 11 p.m.

Sunday: 5 to 9 p.m.

Food : 3.5

Atmosphere : 4

Service : 3.5