"Indy Restaurant “Week” offers many tasty excuses to head out and eat

1. It gets you into those restaurants you thought you couldn’t afford.

St. Elmo Steakhouse. Shula’s. Mikado. Maybe you were saving them for a milestone dinner. Maybe you thought they kept a list at the front — and that your name wasn’t on it. Well, relax, folks! Restaurants of this caliber and elegance really are offering dinners of three (sometimes four!) courses for $30. In New York, restaurateurs at the most exclusive four-stars notoriously loathe the week, sending out afterthought dishes to duped diners. Not so in Indy. Take The Oceanaire Seafood Room, for instance. Dinner at this top seafood draw can be dear, though it’s worth every cent. But during Devour Downtown, you can start with gorgeous local greens with crispy shallots, lightly sweet dehydrated strawberry “chips” and big hunks of goat cheese in a restrained white balsamic vinaigrette. Among entrée choices, dense yet delicate wild Alaskan salmon cakes with a cooling cucumber-yogurt sauce are sublime. A rich, brothy cioppino buoyed with clams, mussels, shrimp, mahi mahi and halibut is an ocean’s worth of seafood in a bowl crowned with crusty bread. Ultra light watermelon ice perhaps spiked with melon liqueur and a dainty chiffonade of mint caps a meal that’s a clear bargain even if you don’t do the math. Even if you add a suggested bottle of Chateau Bonnet white Bordeaux with a smooth mineral finish, you’d practically come out ahead.

2. It gets you back to a restaurant you’ve already visited.

How many times have you followed the buzz into a restaurant only to forget to go back? Need an excuse to go again? Has Scholar’s Inn on Massachusetts Avenue really been open half a decade? Its colorfully funky décor, fruity martinis and creative take on American cuisine have been satisfying locals and visitors alike long enough to make it an institution. Devour Downtown offers the perfect opportunity to see what the place is up to. And it’s up to some good things. Highlights of their 2007 menu include a fresh and piquant gazpacho with a fiery dollop of jalapeño sour cream and a wedge salad well dressed and practically hidden under a shower of excellent bleu cheese. How about a very respectable tender petit filet with a quartet of garnish options, including horseradish sauce, luscious garlic butter or yet more crumbled bleu cheese? It’s perfect with a suggested Orogeny pinot noir (go next Monday for a half-price bottle). A peach kuchen for dessert is a surprisingly light, cinnamon-dusted custard with a pastry crust and a titanic scoop of ice cream. Other places to revisit should include the recently reimagined Chancellor’s at University Place Hotel and the Omni’s Hot Tuna, now featuring the considerable talents of Chef Dan Noble.

3. You get to see what’s new.

BadaBoomz just opened last Tuesday. Will beer head Mike DeWeese’s independent adventure exceed what he was doing at Buffalo Wild Wings a few months ago? Will the new Capital Grille at the Conrad compete with downtown’s other chophouses? Probably no recent opening was anticipated more than Harry & Izzy’s, St. Elmo’s homage to the founders of the legendary eatery. A bit more casual, though no less classy, the airy new space in Circle Centre Mall is already drawing loyal crowds. For Restaurant Week, you can get a good sense of what it offers: decidedly crabby crab cakes and a giant kitchen sink “garbage” salad for starters; fresh fish and a big bold New York strip of the sort you’d expect from the St. Elmo folks, bathed in an orange-brandy butter sauce; an equally big ice cream and caramel-topped brownie for dessert. Just $30, and you get to say, “I’ve been there.”

4. Oh, the surprises lurking in downtown eateries.

Part of the fun of such an event is knowing that even before you walk into any of the 34 participating restaurants, someone has been thinking ahead about how to make your meal just a little more special. Real people — kind, creative people — have put together a menu just for you. One of those people is Chef Tyler Herald at 6, who continues to makes some of Indy’s most interesting cocktail food with local fields in mind. To honor Hoosier farmsteads, he’s put together a very clever beet “4-way,” which includes a stack of sweet, shaved, raw beets mortared with mint-flecked goat cheese, roasted red beets tossed in a sage vinaigrette, a golden puree of sweet vanilla-scented chioggia beets and, most unexpected, tender smoked beet greens. You’ll be swooning by the time you get to the walleye or the hanger steak.

5. It goes two weeks this year.

Eat up — then eat some more!

WHAT: Devour Downtown: Downtown Indy Restaurant Week, featuring multicourse meals for $30 (drinks and gratuity not included)

WHERE: 34 downtown restaurants

WHEN: Through July 22

INFO: www.indyrestaurantweek.com



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