Hotel restaurants have always had
a credibility issue: many travelers don't like to eat in them because to do so
carries the appearance of desperation. All too often quality is compromised by
the need to provide three meals a day in addition to room service, and ingredients
are often sourced at the national level, rather than on a local basis. Although
Indianapolis has its share of decent hotel restaurants downtown, Grille 39 is
the first I can recall this far from the center of things which deserves to
become an attraction for local diners.
On a recent visit at 8:30 on a
Saturday evening, we were somewhat dismayed to find that, not only were we the
only customers in the entire place, but that the tables had already been set
for breakfast service. Dreading a lackluster dinner from a second-string
kitchen crew, we were therefore pleasantly surprised when the entire experience
considerably surpassed our expectations. Not only did the food come out
promptly, hot and impeccably plated, the ingredients were also fresh-tasting
and of high quality.
Chef Philip Kromer
has arranged his dinner menu in a clear and logical fashion, omitting
superfluous flourishes and keeping the number of choices to a manageable few.
Meats are grilled on an 1800-degree infra-red broiler, ensuring a wonderful
sear and a juicy interior to the steaks. Seafood is either grilled, sautéed or
baked. In addition to meat and fish, there's a good selection of
sandwiches and salads as well as a couple of soups of the day.
Particularly appealing is the selection
of vegetables, embellishments and sauces, effectively allowing the diner to
indulge in any number of variations around the protein. With my impeccable
sautéed diver scallops ($27), I chose a garlicky aioli with asparagus and a
perfectly al dente parmesan risotto. We also enjoyed a superbly flavorful filet
steak ($37), with a classically-prepared béarnaise sauce, and the grilled
chicken ($24), perfectly scented with sage, and juicily tender but still firm.
This latter had all the hallmarks of a free range bird, but I wasn't able to
Perhaps the standout main course
was my wife's delicately sauced lobster spaghetti ($28), which featured a light
and richly-flavored alfredo
sauce laced with large chunks of obviously real lobster and a touch of
basil. This was served in such a generous portion that she was barely able
to make a dent in it.
Equally impressive were the
appetizers, including a loose and profoundly meaty crab cake ($14.75), artfully
served with a dash of key lime mustard sauce. Garnished with julienne
vegetables on a plate resembling an artist's palette (complete with thumb
hole), this was a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. A trio of
pulled pork sliders ($11.50), served on brioche buns,
possessed an agreeably vinegary tang and a melting texture. More ordinary,
but nonetheless tasty for that, was a handful of barbecued shrimp
($14.75.) Advertised as "wicked," these weren't as fiercely spicy as we
had expected; a good thing, perhaps.
The only mild disappointment of
the evening was the choice of breads, which included a sweet cinnamon toast
that might better have been kept for breakfast.