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Restaurant Reviews --> An Evening at Bluebeard

An Evening at Bluebeard
“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

By L. Mark Finch

Wine Guy, Mark Finch paid a visit to Indy's hottest new restaurant last month, here is his report...

Wine reps spend a lot of time in restaurants and become maybe just a little jaded by it, so when all of them start raving about the same place it makes me think that my wife, Katz, I and I should try it.

Such was the case with Bluebeard, an eclectic downtown restaurant named after a Kurt Vonnegut novel, located just northwest of Fountain Square at 653 Virginia Avenue. The decor in the room where we were seated is library-meets-bar, with hardback books and antique typewriters populating the shelves. The tables are all handmade from irregularly-shaped pieces of trees, some which encourage asymmetrical seating arrangements.

Our friendly and attentive server, Tony, took our drink order then came back to explain the menu. It changes frequently, but always includes snacks, charcuterie, cheeses, vegetables, soups and sides, and small, medium and large plates. This makes it easy to tailor your dining experience to your own preferences, and also to try a variety of things.

Since Bluebeard has its own bakery, Amelia’s, right next door, we felt compelled to order a small bread plate, which consists of grilled fresh breads with three spreads: whipped lardo, anchovy butter and roasted garlic oil. The oysters on the half shell topped with a ramp mignonette sounded intriguing too, so we ordered four of those.

If the aim of having a bargain-priced bread plate is to motivate diners to pick up a few loaves on the way out, it almost worked — it’s really good. We did finish every piece, and enjoyed all the spreads. (Lest you be crinkling your nose in distaste, the anchovy butter was not terribly salty or fishy, and the lardo was much more light and delicate than you’d think bacon fat could be. The roasted garlic was mixed with just enough oil to make it spreadable, and was delicious.)

Our oysters were attractively presented on a white rectangular plate, with each oyster perched on a bed of whipped egg whites. Tony cautioned us not to eat the egg whites because they were heavily salted. But as our method of consuming the oysters was to pick them up and slurp them directly off the shells we got a little of the egg white on our lower lips anyway, and that was just enough to add a delightful accent of flavor and texture. The oysters themselves were excellent, and had we not had a few more plates coming would have ordered more.

At exactly the right moment our salads arrived: Mine a Caesar with duck confit (duck, escarole, radicchio, carrots, celery, fennel, olives, boiled egg, croutons), and a beet salad for Katz (beets, tabouleh, cucumber, feta, grape tomatoes, greens and a lemon-egg dressing, though she had them hold the feta). We dug in enthusiastically, and even with the half-sized portions we had plenty to share. In fact, I can’t imagine ordering the large size unless one intends to make a meal of it or share it with several friends.

Then came our main attractions: A grilled baby octopus, salmon tartare and roasted salmon on a bed of fiddlehead ferns. While one might expect a foot-long octopus to be rubbery, it wasn’t — instead, it was tender with a delicate flavor, nicely complimented by its accompanying confit. The salmon tartare and roasted salmon were very different from each other, the former creamy and fresh, the latter smoky and richly flavored. We polished off every morsel and left no room for dessert, even though the whispered suggestion from the hostess sounded very tempting.

Bluebeard’s beverage selection is just as eclectic as its menu, and very well done. It’s apparent from a glance at the wine list that a lot of thought and tasting went into developing it. You certainly won’t find any of their selections at a supermarket, though Grapevine Cottage customers will spot some familiar names. Prices are quite reasonable, too — the Stage Left Breadwinner, which sold at Grapevine Cottage for $19.99, can be had for $9 a glass, $17 for a quartino or $33 for a bottle. The Tikal Amorio Malbec, $31 at Grapevine Cottage, is $56 at Bluebeard — well below the twice-retail markup that is more normal in restaurants.

Craft beer lovers should be happy too, as several local brews are on tap and many more from around the country (and world) are available in bottles. And the cocktail menu shows the same kind of effort that goes into developing the food menus, with artisanal liquors, fresh and locally-sourced ingredients and imaginative drinks. There are three different gin and tonics offered, for example — semi-sweet, semi-dry and dry. And when was the last time you had an Absinthe Slushy?

Our wine reps were right: This is a great place. It’s an environment that’s easy to get comfortable in, and the staff is friendly, professional, and somehow always there at exactly the right time without hovering. Everything that came across our table was absolutely first-rate, and we were both a little euphoric after we paid our check (presented in a hardcover book, by the way) and walked out into the evening.

So, the bottom line: About $136 after tax and before tip, not including the $10 we spent to buy a round of beer for the kitchen (as suggested on the drink menu). That’s not inexpensive for a party of two, but, considering how much we enjoyed it, worth every penny. (I’m sure we could have gotten out of there for under $100, but we wanted to try as many things as we could.) Be aware that Bluebeard doesn’t take reservations, and plan accordingly. We walked right in at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, but by 7 p.m. there was a wait.

Bluebeard is also open for lunch during the week (sandwiches run from $8 to to $14, and many of the regular menu items are available) and an abbreviated “bar food” selection is offered on Sundays. Given the Vonnegut-inspired theme, maybe someday they’ll offer a Breakfast of Champions.

Bluebeard

653 Virginia Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46203
(317) 686-1580