Grille 39: Surprisingly good hotel food

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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

verify this.

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.

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