Thursday, April 19, 2007

Harry and Izzy's: First Impressions

Lots of buzz around town about Harry and Izzy's, the long awaited new restaurant downtown from the people who have brought you St. Elmo's. We popped in last night for a light and late supper, and while I don't think it's fair to judge any restaurant on performance or food during their first week of opening (OK, maybe food), I did have some first impressions.

I like the space! When we walked in the revolving door, my first impression was that the open, two-story room reminded me a bit of Oceanaire. It's open, woody, airy, but I have to say, as I walked further inside, it reminded me more of a Champ's. Maybe it will be a Champ's for grown-ups. There is a lot of bar space promising many a good after work happy hour and the dark wood gives the room a richness while the old Indianapolis photos, sports scoreboards, and open kitchen pass give it a more casual feel. Downstairs is dominated by the massive round bar. However, I thought the panels above the bar showing 1920s scenes give the room a dated look already. Tables and booths upstairs are quieter and still give a sense of privacy as they're set back from the openess of the room. And, of course, the elegance of the evening is a little shattered when they hand you an electronic vibrating coaster that buzzes when your table is ready. (Ours didn't work and they had to send out a hostess expedition.)

The staff looks like it's half composed of venerable downtown waiters -- many of whom we recognized -- and new folks. The difference is most noticeable as the new folks are a bit slower and confuse drink orders more often. As we looked around the room, we found ourselves playing a game where we kept trying to identify which restaurant a waiter had come from previously. As it was last night, our waiter -- clearly a pro -- joked with us and effortlessly refilled our glasses (with James Bond martinis and their signature Indianapolis which is a pumped up and very decent cosmo.) Everything seemed pretty smooth from a service perspective and we felt we were in a place that could have been up and running for months.

The food was another story. I'm very hesitant to pass judgement on any restaurant that's been open three days, but the kitchen needs training -- training as in Dave Foegley standing over each station and tasting dishes as they go out the door. Chefs! Taste your food! Everything was underspiced. It was as if the salt and pepper shipment didn't make opening day. Soup? Needed salt. The fried trout? No spice at all to the breading and needed salt. Corn salsa? Tasty but not big enough and, you guessed it, needed salt. Hey chefs, they put the salt and pepper box in your mise for a reason. Use it! Where did the spice go? Well, I'd argue almost all of it ended up in the spicy meatballs in the form of red pepper -- too hot to eat and the sauce had no flavor base to hold all that heat! A thoroughly unpleasant dish. A beet salad was fine and the flatbread pizzas have potential but our Tuscan model was so loaded with toppings (including soggy tomatos and canned artichoke hearts) that it was soggy within seconds of hitting our table. The potato pancakes were, as the chef at our table said "the only successful dish".

My only quibble with the service was the slight bit of attitude when we commented on the meatballs. When *everyone* at the table pronounces them inedible, you have a problem. However, here's where the signature St. Elmo's attitude comes in. You don't like it? You shouldn't have ordered it. Not that I go around demanding items be removed from my bill, but there are some situations where consideration should be given when a dish is wrong versus when the diner just doesn't like it. This dish was wrong.

Nothing was special but other than the meatballs, nothing made my "never try again" list. I've heard good things about the veal chop, reports are the steaks are OK once they work out some overcooking kinks, and I'm looking forward to trying the sandwiches (including the prime rib) and salads. Harry and Izzy's will make a fine lunch spot and there were a few bargains on the menu as well. (I may try the $12 club sandwich for lunch today!) Ultimately, whether it makes your list of regular stops or not will depend on your taste. For me, it's unlikely to unseat Ruth's Chris or Mo's for cocktailing, but is still a much needed independent addition to downtown. They'll work out kinks on food and service, I hope, although I realize they may never work out all the kinks with the food. They may just settle into a successful level of mediocrity. As someone at our table noted last night, "this place will be successful on overflow from St. Elmo's alone." Considering they've only been open for three days, I think our evening went pretty well.


Jim said...

Quality food at Harry and Izzy's would be very welcome in my opinion, particularly because I think that St. Elmo's is the most overrated restaurant in the city with (as you pointed out) servers with too much attitude. It would be nice to see the food match up with the hype.

CorrND said...

I agree that St. Elmo's is very overrated. I've only been once because I was so unimpressed with their restaurant week offering -- which was their filet, for god's sake! Their shrimp cocktail is amazing, but other than that everything is better at Ruth's Chris and even a little cheaper.

Still, I'm curious to try Harry and Izzy's, especially for the lower end on the menu.

I was also just looking at the menus for both restaurants and noticed that St. Elmo's just jacked up the price on their shrimp cocktail to $14.95. I know because I looked at Harry and Izzy's menu in advance of their opening and was surprised to see that the same St. Elmo's shrimp cocktail was $2 more expensive. I assumed they were providing more in the Harry and Izzy's version but apparently they just decided to hit everybody a little harder for their most popular item.

Anonymous said...

The price of the shrimp cocktail was raised because they changed to a larger, higher quality, more expensive shrimp.

Anonymous said...

the shrimp cocktail sucks, big or small, same as the restaurant

Frank said...

I think I will take the restaurant booths over the food!

Anonymous said...

1) I have eaten at Elmos numerous times. Some great experiences, some not so great. Never any attitude when I complained, only quick resolution to the problem. 2) If you don't like to review restaurants in the first 30 days....don't. Obviously you couldn't resist.