The first thing you think when you walk through the doors of the revamped Scholars Inn, with its young, attractive front-of-house staff and the monitors of effervescent colors swirled against black: This isn’t Indy.
Take a look at the minimalist new moniker — “SI,” with the scrawled “s” exaggerated to look like the curve of a woman, according to owner Lyle Feigenbaum. The trademark looks like Vegas. Feigenbaum says he wanted the place to have the feel of Sin City.
He succeeds, within the context of about 1,840 miles away. On Thursday, half-price martini night (it still exists), good looking locals of all ages leisured around the downstairs bar/lounge. The space is dim and done in warm hues, with a few curtains around seating areas to break up the room and offer privacy. Glowing, rectangular seating is laid on the floor to add modernity, architecture, and light.
Twelve new martini concoctions have been dreamed for this reopening. I had the Whilom Grove, so named, my bartender said, because the manager is a literary buff. The blend of Hendrick’s Gin, cointreau and fresh cucumber-mint puree was good, but an acquired taste. Vegetal. It came in a stemless glass with angular, reaching edges. The Jade Garden martini, which features flavors of honey vodka and green tea liqueur, tastes like honey. It comes in a small, rounded cup. Such attention to detail permeates the venue.
Feigenbaum scaled back seating to offer dining patrons a more lavish setting. The downstairs area accommodates diners via some upscale booths with high, tapestried backs. A white curtain can blanket those wishing for anonymity (Pacers or Colts players, perhaps). There’s open seating for parties and dining, too.
I’ve been told the winding staircase hasn’t changed much (nor has the outside façade, for that matter). It didn’t need to, as it still blends well with the warm, rich colors and savvy architecture upstairs.
The crowning jewel of the second level is the community table in the extra dining space upstairs. Made of the same see-through hard plastic as the light-infused seats at the bar, the table is hooked up to a light switch that changes hue. Neon yellows, greens, and purples run their courses while diners enjoy theirs. Patrons can even control the light, if they’re sitting on the right side of the table. Nowhere else in Indy can you enjoy the ecstasy of exquisite food against a psychedelic backdrop without taking, well, ecstasy.
In fact, when I tasted the escargot fondant ($13), with its layers of mellow chestnut basil pesto and bright, sweet, tangy cherry tomatoes in red and yellow, I made some inappropriate “ohs.” That will happen — new executive chef Jake Brenchley was brought on, Feigenbaum says, to create sex on a plate.
Brenchley is a French-trained chef who graduated from the Cordon Bleu academy. Formerly of Scholars Inn in Bloomington, the chef features bright, bold flavors that even sing when paired, tripled, etc. with others. And the savory-sweet touch of some South African fruits and vegetables (try the perfectly cooked seared scallops [$12] with a blood orange reduction to illustrate). And the neat presentation of fine Asian cuisine. Brenchley has also redone the menu for the ever-popular brunch, which could only increase its popularity.
The food may be a bit salty for the tastes of some. Not for mine.
My knowledgeable and confident waiter recommended the seared duck breast ($26) as an entrée. I told him I usually don’t do well with duck, as too many good chefs have left it tasting half-alive on my plate. And gamey duck does not go down like raw sushi.
But the waiter was steadfast. So I ordered it. And I’m glad. Now I know what duck should taste like. And I shall always have it covered in its own fat, as in this confit. The dish came with a red rice oyster mushroom risotto that was just moist and firm enough. Perfectly cooked long green beans politely cut the sweetness of accompanying rosemary pear compote.
SI is the first place I would take visiting girlfriends in from out of town. For the feel, the food — and, of course, the sex (on a plate).
SI Restaurant and Lounge
725 Mass Ave
Dinner: Daily, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Lounge: Daily until 3 a.m.
Brunch: Sunday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Food: Five stars
Atmosphere: Five stars
Service: Five stars