This year, be a little easier on yourself ... eat more

Terry Kirts

By their nature, resolutions for the new year tend to be punitive and dour: I will eat less, I will go to the gym more often. Perhaps our nation's Puritan ancestry has made us an innately self-depriving people. Even if we never follow through on our plans for ameliorating ourselves both in our own eyes and those of the world, we feel better knowing we've thought about it. Unlike our European contemporaries, we rarely plan to treat ourselves better, to give ourselves more time to do the things we enjoy the most.

Fortunately, one of the great benefits of being a restaurant critic is that the job doesn't allow for the typical resolutions of purge and deny. Sure, I want to wring a few more calories out of this aging body with more minutes on the treadmill. But when you've got some 50-odd restaurants to review in a given year, you just can't put yourself on a rice cake and bottled water diet and expect it to last for more than a week.

But we critics aren't the only ones who benefit from such a regimen. You, too, can enjoy the fruits of this ever widening culinary metropolis and actually feel better about yourself in the process. So, I want you to raise your right hand - heck, don't stop there, raise them both, you'll be needing them to help you eat - and swear that you'll commit yourself to at least some of the following gustatory enterprises in the new year. The treadmill may only get you through to February. This city's restaurants will serve you all the way to December.

This year, I promise to eat at more independents

Frankly, I've yet to understand the appeal of a restaurant whose menu is determined in a board room on one of the coasts, where ingredients are trucked in from who-knows-where and that follows a strict script all the way to your table. You may think that the local restaurants in this city are strange, expensive, inconsistent or not located in your neighborhood. It's true. You won't get lobster waffles, a veggie potpie with puff pastry or a lamb Reuben at your local strip-mall chain. But is $11.75 really all that much in the long run for a whimsical dish of waffles flavored with garlic and basil with real lobster in a mustard cream? Is $10.95 that much for one of the homiest vegetarian lunches in town? And even $10 for that Reuben, maybe one of the few made with lamb in the world?

Tell yourself you'll start with lunch at Oakleys Bistro, R Bistro or 14 West, the sources for these three tasty innovations. Or maybe split some appetizers with friends and have a cocktail or a glass of wine.

This past year, Indy diners were saved from some tragic possibilities with the opening of 14 West in the Malibu on Maryland location, as well as the renewal of a Fountain Square institution, The 936. Faten Munger brought back her dancers and her comforting Egyptian food at Luxor. 120 West Market radicalized hotel dining with an entirely slow food approach. So, we've got a lot to be thankful for in the form of some daring restaurateurs who were confident that enough diners would support their crazy culinary ideas and help put us on the gastronomic map. Some of them even put their restaurants on some pretty easy-to-find streets like West 86th, Massachusetts Avenue and Maryland Street. You owe it to them to thank them with your patronage.

This year, I will drink more with my meals

OK, teetotalers, don't report me to the local authorities. Don't write angry letters telling me about the dangers of alcohol or how it dulls the senses. The simple fact is that when you've got so many great places around town offering expert cocktails and marathon wine lists, you just can't deny the alchemical magic that comes from pairing food and drink. More than ever, wine is the choice at steakhouses like Eddie Merlot's or Fleming's with its impressive list of 100 wines by the glass and an internationally famous director of wine, as well as dozens of restaurants around town like Circle City Bar & Grille, Dunaway's and St. Elmo Steakhouse, where special wine dinners are the rage. Wine lovers can also get their fix at D'Vine Wine Bar, where appetizers paired with "flights" of wine hit the spot, and Deano's Vino wine bar in Fountain Square, where live music accompanies your vintage and upscale snacks.

If wine isn't your thing, you can get some great food at any number of ultra-lounges from 6 to Subterra to Blu Martini. So, eat up - and drink up. Just make sure to balance the two - and keep a level head.

This year, I will encounter a new culture through its food

You're afraid to fly. You don't get more than two days vacation in a row. You take really bad passport pictures. Whatever your excuse, you haven't traveled outside of the country's borders as much as you should. But now you can stay in Indianapolis and travel the world for less than the cost of a tank of gas. Last year, the gastronomic diversity of this city grew and grew with new international eateries and places that aren't just Mexican or Chinese. From the Guatemalan dishes at Los Llanos to the carb-friendly classics at Los Seviches and Macchu Picchu to the new home of Caribbean food at Da Blue Lagoon on College, this city continues to throw us pan-cultural curveballs in the form of curious culinary outposts. The last 12 months also saw the opening of Viet Bistro, Mediterranean Grill, MacCool's Irish Pub, Brugge Brasserie, just to name a few. So there's no excuse not to set sail on the seas of Indy eateries. Need a travel agent? Let be your guide.

This year, I will find a new place to buy groceries

Definitely some of the most crushing news of the past year for local shoppers was that Marsh Supermarkets is considering a sale to a larger, perhaps national, grocery store chain. The people of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, as well as gourmets citywide, knew what news was coming next: The dormant Atlas Supermarket property on College Avenue, on which Marsh had planned to open a "fresh market" concept store, will likely never be home to a corner grocery again. Those of us who remember the eclectic variety of items that lined the shelves of this cheery old-school food emporium may feel that this void may never be properly filled. But with the opening of Saraga, one of the largest, most diverse international markets of its kind in the Midwest, we're reminded that this city has a wealth of ethnic grocery stores featuring everything from Russian caviar and beers to Indian spices to halal meats; farm markets (even some that go all year); chicly cozy gourmet shops such as Corner Gourmet, Frasier's and Taste; one of the most comprehensive spice stores in the form of Penzeys, and many others that, while not having it all in one place, make finding what we need for our kitchens an encounter with all the delicious riches Indianapolis has to offer. Resolve to find some this year.


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