Monday, June 05, 2006

Holding Back...In a Good Way: Dinner at Elements

"It takes courage to hold back."

So says chef Greg Hardesty, (in a statement that could be taken in more ways than one.) But Greg means it specifically about the elegant simplicity of his food. I'll be honest, it's not always been to my liking. I like big when it comes to food and wine. I tend to prefer bold flavors all elbowing each other out of the way -- and coming together in unexpected combinations. I like huge meats and giant sauces. I like gigantic food wines and ambitious pairings.

Big is not what you get in the food at Elements in spice, flavor, or portions. Hardesty holds back, and instead of big, you get something else entirely -- food that's balanced, elegant, and fresh. Flavors speak simply, letting the fresh produce and meat speak for itself. And the flavors come together so well that even the most delicate of wines -- wines that would be dismissed as boring or flat anywhere else -- can shine. Case in point, the seared tuna crudo on arugula with radishes and picked onions. The dressing for this "salad"? Simple olive oil, salt, and pepper. And with the punch of the fresh arugula and the tang of the onion, the radishes were the star of the show with the tuna providing a solid stage.

Another shining star on Hardesty's current menu? The scallop in a light smoky sauce with ginger, jasmine rice and thin jalepeno slices so fresh and crunchy you won't even recognize them as the standard overused, overcooked peppers. A knockout. Once again, elegant simplicity.

And the star for my meal? The chicken and noodles (currently on the appetizer menu.) A half portion of chicken breast sits on top of a perfect bed of housemade noodles along with spring peas and a light sauce so good I sopped every drop of it up with a roll. If I could learn to cook chicken like that, I'd eat chicken for every meal -- amazingly moist with a perfectly crispy skin. (Jonathan Wright's kitchen could learn a thing or two about cooking chicken from Hardesty's crew.)

And lastly? Dessert. I've always liked the desserts and corresponding wine list at Elements but tonight's choice was perfect -- a pot du creme of chocolate with unsweetened whipped cream and the freshest raspberries I've had all year.

With time and low turnover, service has improved (although half the time I usually eat at the bar so I'm not always a fair judge) and the servers seem knowlegable about what they're selling. I'm especially fond of the champagne by the glass. While it's taken me a little longer to come around, it seems like Elements may be hitting their stride (although fans would argue Hardesty's been running this well for a while.) All in all, an excellent summer meal different in style from other chefs in Indy but no less excellent. You just have to remember Greg's motto -- have courage, hold back, and enjoy.

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