Friday, April 13, 2007

Three Latest and Best

Tater Tots at King David Dogs: Hot, fresh, and right out of the fryer, these tater tots are the best pieces of crispy, deep fried potato I've had in a long time. (And trust me, I know from my crispy, deep fried potato.) Nothing could have tasted better on a recent rainy day downtown. Well, unless you count the chili dog with everything which was pretty darn good, too. (Next time, I want to try the State Fair dog -- the king of corn dogs!)

Dinner at Peterson's: Holy Waygu, Batman! Chef Karl Benko outdid himself once again with everything from the portabello "fries" to the chipotle house-cured salmon to the pork tenderloin with Capriole goat cheese sauce. Oooh, the corn leek risotto. Ahhh, the freshest crab cakes with perfect fritters. Ohhhh, the housemade limoncello. By the time we got to dessert, my eyes were glazed over -- chocolate semifreddo with cocoa nibs, candied pistacios, pistachio ice cream, and brandied apricots. I was oh, so full, but not too full to make room for samples of the hot-from-the-oven KOBE BEEF BRISKET!! Holy beef cheeks, it was good.

Chicken Salad Love Affair: I love chicken salad, but I don't eat it very often because I can almost never find a really great chicken salad to love. It's too dry, or too flavorless, or the chicken is over cooked. But if you're looking for chicken salad nirvana, look no further than Joe's Butcher Shop in Carmel. In a word? Perfect. In more than a word? Lots of mayo in a traditional mix of celery and green onion tops with just a touch of curry to keep you coming back for more over fresh, tender chicken and chopped pecans. I'm in love.

Two Minute Warning: I hadn't been to H2O Sushi under the new owners and while I was prepared for the crazy high prices ($4.75 for a bowl of edamame?), I wasn't prepared for the poorly made sushi. I had two huge issues. 1) The fish wasn't blow-my-mind fresh. Pieces were incredibly small, limp, and dull in color, and while the fish didn't smell or taste bad, much of it, well, didn't smell or taste at all. Note to chefs: When you serve sashimi, please don't cover it with sauce, let alone spicy chili sauce. The whole *point* of sashimi is to let the flavor of your fish come through. If your fish has no flavor, change it. If it's very delicate in flavor (like the fluke we had might have been), don't ruin it with a thick, heavy sauce.* You have so many other, more wonderful options. 2) The rice was not properly made. Making sushi rice is fairly time consuming and difficult, but it's the single most important thing a sushi chef does! First, the grains weren't cooked evenly or steamed through. While it wasn't crunchy or raw, we could see on the rolls that grains were seperated and broken. Secondly, the chef hadn't added any kind of vinegar mixture. Have you ever noticed how sushi rice has that wonderful slightly tangy taste? That's because sushi chefs mix a small amount of rice vinegar, sugar, and sometimes other ingredients like sake into the rice. This acidic mixture helps release additional starches (making it *extra* sticky and, yes, hard to work) and complements the flavor of the fish. Everything we had was missing that extra zing, but the rice was most noticeably bland under our scallop nigiri. A huge misstep to me that implied untrained or uncaring staff. I've always considered H2O the fun, push the edge, anti-Sakura sushi, but this was bland and boring, especially galling at their prices.
*Update: The waiter did remove the sashimi from our bill (although he didn't tell us. We noticed it today.


Shelly said...

ohh that is so dissapointing. Nothing worse than paying big coin for what you know could be so much better.

Shelly said...

One more favorite chicken salad on the planet is at Paradise Bakery....get it on the dark wheat...oh sweet heaven above! I know it's a Franchise but chef Gregory Casale develops the recipes and he is a genius. The greatest meal I have EVER had was at his restaurant in Phoenix.

LiveToEat said...

Sushi, by definition, is fermented rice. Modern sushi chefs take a speedy approach and just add rice vinegar. Sushi actually first came around when Japanese sailors would pack large amounts of rice for trips. The rice would ferment naturally. They found this fermented flavor appealing. Many of us think sushi is raw fish, but in reality it is the rice that goes along with other ingredients. If H2O isn't using vinegar, then they are not making sushi.

Anonymous said...

braingirl, where would you recommend going for sushi in Indy? I'm lookin for a place to take some friends coming from out of town. Thanks.

braingirl said...

Well, I used to recommend H2O :-) There's a lot of mediocre or just "OK" sushi in town but it's getting harder and harder to recommend really fresh, great sushi.

For traditional style, you can't go wrong with Sakura. However, they're often crowded with long waits. I like Ocean World, too, although some don't. It's the same people as Sakura.

The people I had dinner with at H2O really like Mikado downtown, too. I'm going to have to give it another try -- I haven't been there in a couple of years.

Or, you could go to L'explorateur and just have sashi and fresh fish from the raw bar, but it's not the traditional "sushi" you'd be looking for.

I've tried all the other major places and nothing really blew me away (and more than a few just simply blew.) But I hear there are some new places on the far far north side. Don't know if they're any good.

And I'm sure other folks will have ideas! Readers?

Anonymous said...

I always liked Wasabi on 82nd. I'd like to hear of your experiences with this restaurant, braingirl.

braingirl said...

Have only been to Wasabi once or twice and not recently. Don't recall being blown away. Haven't gone back.

peter said...

I can't imagine H2O would serve anything less than pristinely fresh fish. Eli (the chef/co-owner) seems to care deeply about the quality of the foods, so I'm very surprised to read this. The same goes for the rice. If you did not mention this to Eli, I hope you try H2O again sometime and tell him so he's aware of your feedback.

braingirl said...

I"m sure Eli is a great guy but it was clear to me that someone there doesn't have a passion for sushi. I'm the customer -- I shouldn't have to tell them how to run their restaurant, do their menu, or make their sushi. The rolls on the menu almost all had tuna, crab or shrimp. (Same as the old H2O for the most part but without a broad range of fish and any skill in making the maki.) You would think a chef, a sous chef, *someone* would have caught that the rice wasn't right. I can't imagine that was just a one time thing. Nothing was inventive. (Sure, I'm sure they could make anything with with anything but as a customer, I should have to ask. We had to order the scallop off the menu as it wasn't even on the board but we assumed they had fresh scallops since it was the dinner special. It was fantastically fresh but as nigiri was runied by the lack of acidity in the rice.) I mean, as it was they smeared chili sauce over the sashimi -- and that we mentioned. Again, I can't imagine these were all one-time problems.

And I completely understand what you're saying about pointing out their problems, but as a customer, I shouldn't have to point out bad food. They should be getting it right! It's the same way I feel about when people say, "Oh, get this and this but don't get that and that" on a restaurant's menu. You know, if you don't do a dish well, don't put it on the menu. Ironically, the speicals were all non-Asian and the desserts were fantastic (no surprise) but the sushi? No so hot.

Terry Kirts said...

On a non-sushi topic, tread lightly on that King David corn dog. I love their dogs--and those tater tots! But the dogs are so, umm, meaty, that it takes a lot of batter to cover them, and a pretty long fry time. It was okay, but it wasn't like my favorite blue and pink booth at the State Fair. 15 weeks and counting!

Gabe said...

As evidenced by her recent posting regarding H2O Sushi, braingirl demonstrates many of the worst traits of the blogosphere. Shadowed by semi-anonymity, her blog lends her the air of expertise without any proof of credentials. What, exactly makes her an expert in all things culinary? I am an employee of H2O, speaking on my own, and my views do not represent those of the restaurant. That said, I take issue with nearly everything braingirl criticised in her blog. Let's begin at the beginning (unlike Terry Kirts). Those "crazy high prices", have changed little in the last few years. Next, you lambaste the sushi chef for putting a line of sauce on your fluke sashimi. This occurred mere minutes after you scoffed at the idea of having a choice of how you would like your scallop nigiri prepared. You exclaimed something along the lines of "Well, the chef should know how to best prepare the fish." So which is it? Does the chef (who has worked at H2O for six years, including stints at Kona Jack's and Sakura) know what he's doing or do you? (Sidenote:Doesn't Neal Brown serve his hamachi sashimi with warm chili oil? I have no doubt that it's delicious.) Regarding the sushi rice, you're way off base. The aforementioned sushi chef has been making the rice, everyday, at H2O for years. He uses the same rice cooker, and the same recipe we've been using for years (a combination of vinegar, kombu, salt and sugar). It was painfully clear throughout the meal that you pined for the "glory days" when Neal was still at H2O, and I think you brought a lot of preconceptions and biases to the table. This same phenomenon happened when Eli and Nicole first purchased H2O, but the quality won back nearly all of the skeptics along with a ton of new regular guests. When asked by "anonymous" where to get good sushi in Indy, you cite Sakura and Ocean World, saying, "for traditional style, you can't go wrong..." We never claim to be traditional style, but I am certain that traditional style miso soup is not made from powdered dashi as it is at Sakura. Maybe you enjoy their limp iceberg lettuce salad with watery ginger dressing or abundance of frozen fish and fried rolls. Your ignorance was most painfully demonstrated when you questioned the care and/or training of the sushi chefs. Eric has been in high demand as a sushi chef in this town for eight years, and Angel has worked for Peter George, Greg Hardesty and now Eli. Having worked for both the current and former owners , I can assure you and your readers that quality and freshness are still of utmost importance at H2O. I am an advocate for the free exchange of ideas afforded by the blogosphere, but I also strongly believe in the responsibility that comes with maintaining a blog. You have no qualms about throwing criticism around at will (see your first week review of Harry and Izzy' claim to hesitate, but you do it anyway?), but who questions your opinions? Unfortunately, just calling yourself a foodie doesn't make it so.

braingirl said...

Dude, you can be righteously upset all you want about bloggers commenting on restaurants. (The New York times recently did a whole article on it.) And it's your right to disagree. But the food was just not good. I just spent two days judging soups for Dine mag and it doesn't take a CIA grad to point out the problems with that red pepper soup.

Sure, I might be longing for the glory days but it's because the sushi was really great! There were no creative sushi specials, (wither the oyster shooters?) and the fish list was the same it's been for the past two years. The fresh scallops weren't even on the fresh fish daily menu! We just guessed they might be available for nigiri since they were the special entree. They were the best fish we had.

I've eaten fresh scallop sushi in some of the best and top sushi bars in NY and SF and I've *never* seen it served as a "button". You gave us two options: Button or butterfly. I was willing to give the chef the benefit of the doubt in case, maybe, there was something I didn't know. When it was clear even you didn't know which was the more common or correct of these two prerparations, we opted for what we knew was safe -- butterfly.

re: Sashimi -- dude, get thee out to some other places (out of Indianapolis) and try good sashimi. Neal's hamachi carpacio isn't sashimi, plus it's hamachi which has a stronger flavor, and it's also served with sea salt and a drizzle of a very light, not too hot light chili oil -- all of which really compliment the taste of the fish. It's a completely different preparation than the sliced fluke sashimi which was sliced and drizzled with a fat squiggle of spicy chili mayo. Even scraping all that sauce off the fish, my mouth was still too on fire to taste anything!

Your loyalty is admirable and, hey, you're not the only person in the world complaining about the scourge of us bloggers giving them bad reviews, but it just wasn't a great meal. I wanted to like it but I didn't. Sorry. And other than traditional options, I think people who like good sushi are really stuck. I don't think *anyone* is doing really creative style sushi right now in town.

If the sushi was great, then it wouldn't have made a difference if I was "longing for the glory days". If it was the same, then I shouldn't have had to notice the difference.

Gabe said...

The factual errors just don't cease, do they? Re: the scallops, the options were butterflied or BULLET, not button. But, hey, why sweat the details when bashing. A bullet is a common preparation using the nori in a vertical cylinder with rice at the base (often used for uni nigiri or other roe, sometimes for diced scallops as well). Hence, why in all of your globetrotting sushi adventures, you've never seen a button. Further, you seem to want to have everything both ways. You decry the lack of "creative" sushi specials, while simultaneously saying we didn't know the "more common or correct..." of the preparations. When there are two common ways, which is correct? I appreciate the recommendation to try sashimi outside of Indy, and your assumption that I haven't couldn't be further from the truth. Also, the fish list has been the same for longer than two years, as those are the standards that we always have. As it turns out, it's tough to sell specialty fish (ie:toro, bluefin, mackerel, geoduck, even oysters) through the week. That's true anywhere. This is why we tend to have those on the weekend when we can. Finally, scourge is an apt description (your word, not mine).

Anonymous said...

I think if Neal Brown deep fried a turd you would eat it.

Anonymous said...

Leave my name out of this.

Neal Brown