There’s something primitively pleasing about food prepared over an open flame. Fire cooks in a way that ovens and stovetops simply cannot. Our tastesbuds can't hold back from the combination of that crispy outer shell that gives way to a soft, warm center, mixed with the signature smoky flavor, and even the charred look of fire-roasted food. Simply watching the flame cook our food is appealing.
There are an array of food preparation techniques that utilize open flames and one of the most commonly used is flambé. Flambé, in which a small cup of alcohol is poured over a dish before igniting, is as much an artistic presentation as it is a way of creating unique and delicious dishes. As humans, our attraction to flame-cooked food is universal, from Mediterranean, to Japanese, to Italian and even French cuisine. While the procedure doesn’t sound inherently difficult (alcohol and fire always mix well together, right?), few restaurants in Indianapolis have perfected the art.
1. Saganaki from Santorini Greek Kitchen
Saganaki (colloquially known as flaming cheese) is a traditional Greek dish in which goat or sheep cheese is fried in a wide pan, creating a brittle surface with a gooey center, ideal for spreading on pita bread or crackers. At Santorini, the servers take it one step further by flambéing the dish tableside after frying (an addition started at The Parthenon in Chicago). The burst of flames produced by the Saganaki is particularly large due to the fact that it is prepared with 80 proof alcohol; burn marks are sporadically seen on the shorter ceiling at Greek Islands on Meridian Street. Wherever you order it, you won’t find another appetizer as enthusiastically prepared in Indy. Opa!
Santorini Greek Kitchen
1417 Prospect St.; santorini-greek-kitchen.com; 317-917-1117
2. Kiss of Fire at Wasabi on 82nd
Wasabi on 82nd features a wide variety of maki rolls, but perhaps the most visually appealing (and taste bud appealing, too!) is the Kiss of Fire, made of rice, cream cheese, asparagus tempura, shrimp, eel and smoked salmon, rolled together within seaweed. The roll is flambéed to sear the seafood, adding zest and smokiness to the salmon in particular. Although Indianapolis is chock-full of creative sushi, the Kiss of Fire is unique, not in how it is raw, but in how masterfully it is flamed.
Wasabi on 82nd
5025 E. 82nd St. #800; wasabion82nd.com; 317-594-1188
3. Bananas Foster from Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano
Of course, no flambé piece would be complete without a touch of Bananas Foster. And while Bananas Foster isn’t inherently Italian, Matteo’s puts a twist on this traditional dessert by adding a combination of Triple Sec, banana liquor and Bacardi; this seeps into the bananas and creamy vanilla ice cream to create a truly unique dish. Topped with cinnamon, the dessert is both light and succulent.
Matteo's Ristorante Italiano
40 N. 9th St., Noblesville; matteosindy.com; 317-774-9771
4. Hibachi from Tomo Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar
If you’re looking for a big flame and exciting atmosphere throughout the entire meal, hibachi is the way to go. Food presentation is key, with the entire dish cooked right before the customer’s eyes. The chefs at Tomo utilize a clear oil to fuel the flame. Watch as your hibachi chef masterfully creates a smoking onion volcano to add to your favorite dish of prime steak or seafood that won’t rip your wallet to shreds.
7411 N. Keystone Ave. #A; tomo123.com; 317-254-8666
5. Learn to flambé with classes at the Alliance Française d'Indianapolis
Looking to terrify (woops … impress) your friends with a newfound command of big flames? Leave the teaching to the professionals and check out the French cooking classes taught at the Alliance Francaise d’Indianapolis, which often feature a section on the art of flambé. Before you get to be a pyromancer, make sure to dust off those old college French books. The classes are taught completely in the native tongue. If you've taken the opportunity to learn French you can take the cooking class in conjunction with one of their adult French language classes. Immerse yourself entirely in the cheese and wine culture. Flambé away!
Alliance Française d'Indianapolis
4330 N. Michigan Rd.; afindianapolis.org; 317-645-1447