Monday, May 08, 2006

And Speaking of Foie Gras...Vitesse

I've been trying to figure out how to put this delicately, but so far, the food at the Conrad isn't blowing me away. Aside from reports of everything from peeling wallpaper in a room to weak concierge service, I was looking for something really great about this new place. Not just merely, OK or "up to par" but I wanted what they'd promised -- that the restaurants, the decor, and even chef Jonathan Wright would knock my socks off!

Imagine my surprise that my socks are still firmly wrapped around my manicured toes.

First stop? Vitesse, the bar/lounge area. My first impressions are that the place is comfy with leather chairs and a spacious bar area. But with no one to tell us where to sit (on a bustling weeknight the place is practically empty), we sort of stand there awkwardly for a minute. More than half the tables are set up with place settings which usually leads me to believe that we should be seated by a hostess. One who has been standing there for a while finally lets us know -- after we ask -- that it's fine to sit anywhere. There's some ensuing awkwardness over whether we want to eat or just have cocktails and we finally have menus in our hands.

I'd tell you exactly what we had to eat, but the menu for Vitesse isn't online. There's only a brief description of the bar along with hours on the decidedly not 5-star web site for the Conrad. The menu featured about 10 tapas-style dishes as well as 53 or so wines by the glass. We skipped the $150 an ounce caviar. My friend expressed disappointment at the menu ("But we want to *eat*.") And after some discussion (everything comes with discussion at the Conrad), the server let us know we could probably order from the main menu, which I took to mean the menu for Restaurant Du Soleil.

We ordered three dishes all at "$7 a plate" as the menu states but with notations such as +2, +4 listed next to most of the dishes. Why make it so complicated? Why not just tell me what it costs? After digging around in the wine list, I finally found a couple of South American reds that weren't crazily overpriced. I must not be the only onoephile mining that list looking for what the mark-ups missed since they were out of the one I ordered.

The food was, well, just OK. The scallops in the tuna/scallop tartare were gummy which put me off after a few bites (and the tuna was *really* fatty which was just, too, I don't know, rich, I think, for a tartare.) And the deconstructed tomato mozzarella salad was fine but hard to share. (No one wants to drink the glass of gazpacho after someone else.) The best dish by far was the foie gras, which was actually a terrine of foie gras, I believe, and excellent. Served with a dense ginger bread and a jam, it was a perfect blend of buttery, salty, goodness. But a restaurant can not make it on foie gras alone. My dining companion asked for "crusty bread" at some point, thinking the server could just bring us regular bread. After some delay and at least one re-ask, we were given toasted slices of french bread (what some places use for toast points) that I hope were snagged from another appetizer mise and not sliced and toasted especially for us. It was, um, not what we meant.

The Conrad has a long way to go before hitting five-star status. Aside from the mixed reviews (and I'm being generous when I say "mixed") of people staying in the hotel, the general layout and decor, the public floors, and the restaurants, just aren't there yet. It's certainly a nice edition to Indy's downtown scene, but frankly, doesn't bump the Westin in terms of service and doesn't even come close to overall quality of The Canterbury. I'm going to reserve judgment in this space until I've really given Soleil a chance, but so far, they're not putting knots in my stockings. After the buildup, I'm not surprised.

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