Sunday, January 20, 2008

Devour Downtown WinterFest Preview

Last week, a few of us did a pre-Devour Downtown tour to check out the prix fixe $30 three-course menus a few local chefs will serve starting January 21. A few dishes were impressive, a couple were disappointing, and many we know will be fantastic. Based on what we've tasted so far, what the chefs have to say, and who we know will deliver, here are a few of my recommendations for restaurant week:

Greek Islands: This South Meridian family owned restaurant (just south of Shapiro's) has long been a favorite among locals who know Greek food. And if you're wondering what $30 a person will get you in a restaurant where regular prices aren't that high, we got your answer: A feast! Not only was everything here wonderful -- from the saganaki (flaming cheese) and florinis (feta stuffed roasted red peppers with olives) to the housemade baklava and galactobouriko (custard with phyllo crust), but it was also plentiful. The Devour Downtown menu includes the lemony orzo soup (avgolemono) or salad, salmon and vegetables smothered in a creamy dill sauce, and dessert. Plus, this restaurant also features the most extensive list of Greek wines I've ever seen. Opa!

R Bistro: We stopped in for a chat with Chef Regina Mehallick tasting a delicious arugula salad with creamy French feta, pears, and pomegranate and a near-perfect apple cranberry crisp in cream as a preview to her menu this week. (She opens on Weds.) But the real star of the show will be the sauerbraten -- which is probably marinating as you read this. Working with Clause Muth to get the cut of beef shoulder just right, she's put together a traditional combination of juniper berry and cloves and will serve the finished product with spaetzle and root vegetables. (Her coq au vin last winter for this menu was lucscious, so I know she can pull it off.) If you like R Bistro and want to try a similar style of fine dining for Devour Downtown, don't forget Elements just a few blocks away. Chef Greg Hardesty typically does a lovely menu and it's a great way to enjoy a fine meal with good wine and not break the bank.

A Few Others Place of Note:

** Best Deal -- Ruth's Chris: We didn't preview this one, but I know from past years, Ruth's Chris has one of the best value Devour Downtown menus going. It's typically a salad or soup, a small filet, and dessert -- a *steal* for $30 a person.

** Best Night Out -- The Oceanaire: Several lower-key food loving friends have told me their choice for restaurant week is The Oceanaire. (A few even have big nights out planned.) The $30 menu looks delicious. (I've seen it around here somewhere, but don't recall what's on it particularly, but just that it looked good.) And for $30 a person, you can even still afford a dozen oysters to share.

** On My Personal "To Try" List: 14 West, Capitol Grille

** Don't Overlook: SheBi Street Cafe and Bistro in Fountain Square (always a well-executed treat), Elbow Room (another possible feast), and 6 Restaurant and Lounge (Chef Tyler Herald does great food).

Check out the Devour Downtown Winterfest website for the full list of participating restaurants. Check websites or for reservations. Devour Downtown runs through Feb 2, 2008. And check in here and tell us what you've had so far and what you think!

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