Sunday, June 04, 2006

L'explorateur and Chef Neal Brown

"Braingirl!" Neal Brown, now helming his new restaurant, L'explorateur, is enjoying the sun Saturday afternoon outside his new location as I pull up -- and I'm obviously busted. I thought I'd swing by and say "hello" partly because I haven't seen Neal in months and partly because so many of you have been pinging my blog with searches for "Chef Neal Brown". I'd been meaning to stop in for a chat. Many of you will remember Neal as Greg Hardesty's right hand man at H2O Sushi for many years before moving to Brugge Brasserie as executive chef. He left Brugge several months ago to open L'explorateur, his first restaurant on his own.

Neal's new venture is in "stealth mode", otherwise known as a soft launch. Open for dinner for the past three weeks, he says business has been good with a few nights of heavy reservations. With no sign out front, it's unclear if he quite wants to be discovered by the masses yet. Neal has always done a great job of cooking for good friends and people who love his food. Over the years he's built a strong following of regulars. "We're just kind of here. We figure if people know us, they'll find us." Of course, located in Tony Hanslit's old Tavola Di Tosa location tucked back in the heart of north Broad Ripple, people will have to know where they're going, even if if they're looking for him.

The menu is just what he's promised in the months of pre-press and planning -- eclectic, innovative, and fun. He does what he knows best -- updated French, seafood with a slightly Asian feel, and meats with lots of local, seasonal vegetables and herbs. But what I like most about Neal's menu? It's obvious he's having fun. For dinner, he says his most popular dishes have been the liver, fava beans and a nice Chianti and All Skate! Noblesville style. I'm dying to try the beet poached duck, cauliflower veloute, and horseradish re-duck-tion.

The bar room (a great room if you remember the location even with new colors and accessories) features a raw bar along with a robust menu of seafood starters. Enjoy hamachi carpaccio with horseradish, Indiana corn sprouts and warm chili oil; seared yellowfin tuna salad with tamari, ginger and sel da mare; or chilled asparagus, rocket, lemon basil sprouts and dragon's teeth.

While there are a few parts of the menu that are a little indecipherable (I usually like to know a little more about what I'm eating), one has to imagine that the service steps in to help. Oysters are available by flights or a la carte, and he has a solid wine list by the glass. Be ready for a menu change -- his summer menu kicks in this Tuesday. But do stop in and give him a try. Or two or more. The best option on the menu? The three-course tasting menu paired with wine for $65 a person. It's what I plan to have when we pop in for dinner next week. Maybe after an oyster or six. Or some of that yellowtail.

Open dinner only; Tuesday through Saturday
6523 Ferguson Street
(317) 726-6906
Call for reservations

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