Mikado continues to define fine dining in Indianapolis

Terry Kirts

The bento box ($29) You may be appalled to know that, even though they’ve just released their guide to dining in New York, France’s famed Michelin reviewers won’t be visiting Indianapolis to rate our restaurants anytime soon. We will have no gloating restaurateurs, beaming over their three stars, Michelin’s highest ranking. Nor will embittered one-star chefs offer excuses or discount the whole enterprise of culinary criticism for its bias and whims. We have no Vongerichten or Batali to cast sidelong glances at each other from across town. For the most part, we’re just fine with this. The relative obscurity of Indy’s food scene, at least among the ranks of international tastemakers, means that we can always get into our favorite places without fighting the star-struck throngs. We can wow out-of-towners with local gems, showing them that, yes, there is not only passable but great food here, nowhere near a coast. Most of all, we’re able to retain an edge because we’re always being discovered anew. As a critic, though, it often makes me feel like I’m throwing compliments to the wind or chopping down lesser restaurants in a forest where no one will hear them crashing. If I dole out five stars to a restaurant I feel has consistently provided a model for what food can be in the heartland, it won’t ripple any farther than the regulars who know this already or the detractors who will, hopefully, give it a second chance. Somehow, though, I keep cheering for my favorite places. Superior restaurants tend to engender factions. Ask around, and some will say Mikado is too expensive, too fussy when you can get good Japanese food elsewhere. Indeed, there is cheaper sushi in more casual settings all over this city. Some might say that its fusion approach in many of its dishes means it’s not the most authentic Japanese cuisine around. In truth, the Japanese member of our party on a recent visit listed a different restaurant as being most like what her mother would have cooked. But taken purely for its elegance and quality, its attention to detail and the flavor in individual dishes, Mikado exceeds in so many ways, not just among Asian restaurants, but among the city’s very best eateries. Take a simple salad, albeit $9, of almost nothing but baby greens. When was the last time that you got excited about a green salad? Here, the greens are so pristine, so flavorful on their own, that with a perfectly balanced peanut dressing and super fresh slices of strawberry and mango they make you lament every house salad you’ve ever suffered through. Sushi is consistently excellent here. Sashimi is day-boat fresh, but rolls are especially creative. A house favorite is the sun roll ($9.50), something you won’t get many places. Crabstick, tuna and salmon are rolled in rice with smelt roe and spicy mayonnaise then dipped in tempura flour, fried and wrapped in soy paper. Contrasting textures explode in your mouth. Asparagus tempura rolls ($6.50) have a wonderful crunch to them in perfectly chewy, glistening rice. An intriguing ankimo sushi ($7.50) offers a pâté of monkfish liver as rich as foie gras with spicy daikon puree and a sweet bit of ponzu. With entrées, the Mikado kitchen demonstrates its ability to treat ingredients with respect. Curry prawns ($26) are meaty whoppers of the sea deep-fried and served with a slightly sweet curry sauce that doesn’t overpower the prawns. Diver scallops ($32) are equally generous, pan-seared with a more piquant sauce with plenty of ginger. A stunning dish of sautéed seafood ($38) includes everything from salmon and sea bass to scallops and tiger prawns with potatoes and asparagus in a delicate sauce with a hint of sake. Lamb chops ($37) are some of the thickest and most tender you’ll eat, just slightly pink and served with cilantro and chili sauces, rice and a mound of pureed sweet potatoes. Not to mention the giant tonkatsu cutlet ($18) or the outsize bento box ($29). After a 2003 fire closed the place temporarily, legendary restaurateur Juping Chi rebuilt her flagship restaurant last year as an even more sophisticated space emblematic of her long career. A symbol in the floor by the sushi bar indicates “safe house,” suggesting what Chi wants her renovated place to be. The airy, open atmosphere with two private tatami rooms and plenty of walled-off seating is largely the same but with more romantic red touches on soothing light woods. Attentive, unfailingly accommodating service makes eating here a dream, especially if you get Agnes to navigate your evening. Jazz standards play liltingly, making conversation easy, and cocktails from the bar are all expert, especially the less-than-traditional saketini ($8.50). As dry as any martini in town with a whiff of vodka and a cool cucumber garnish, it will lift you to another psychic plane in just a few sips. But it’s the food here that will really send you to the stars. Mikado 148 S. Illinois St. 972-4180 HOURS: Monday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Saturday: noon-11:30 p.m. Sunday: 4 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Food : 5 Stars Atmosphere : 5 Stars Service : 5 Stars

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