Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Reviews --> Circle City Bar & Grille

Circle City Bar & Grille
Great Food & Wine Where You Least Expect It!

3500 W. Maryland St., inside the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown

There is something very interesting going on at the new downtown Marriott. In my former life I spent a lot of time on the road and learned very quickly, and for good reason, to follow a grand American tradition... avoid hotel food at all cost! Eddie Adair, the general manager of the Circle City Grill in the Marriott, happens to be a member of our wine club. He has been running a feature at the restaurant called "Wine Wednesday." And, after dodging a number of invitations, we finally decided to see what it was all about. We approached the evening with some trepidation, knowing that not only is it a large hotel, it's (shudder) a convention hotel. Now, having conducted seminars for a trade association on and off for a number of years, I know the convention hotel territory. I have eaten rubber steaks and mystery chicken from Anaheim to New Orleans and each one accompanied by the best $50 bottle of $15 wine I could find on their indifferently chosen wine lists. Harboring that ingrained expectation, we arrived at about 6:30 to a lobby filled with lots of very large guys, all in town for the big NFL Combine. Dodging Bill Parcells and his entourage while muttering "convention hotel," we made our way to the lounge where Eddie's "Wine Wednesday" tasting was in progress.

The surprise began there... A jazz trio was playing while a Carroll company representative poured from behind a table in the center of the lounge. This week's selections included five Argentinean wines, including the outstanding Catena Cabernet, Chardonnay and Malbac that all garnered Wine Spectator 90 point scores. That was a good start - wines that we would be proud to pour at a tasting. Eddie and his staff are serious and knowledgeable about wine. These tastings have been designed to bring local folks into his restaurant, a destination they might not ordinarily think about.

That knowledge extends to the extensive wine list that, while a little "Old World" impaired, is very, very impressive. I knew that Eddie likes to chase high end California reds for his list, but the 98 wines on the regular list, not to mention the 20 wines on the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" wine list supplement, represent some of the best current vintages available from California, the Northwest and Australia. The markup on the wines, while there are not a lot of bargains, seems very fair, with only a few wines exceeding my standard of "twice retail." There are too many winners on the list to mention, here are just a few:

The 1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet (Wine Spectator 93 point Top 100) that I sold for $45 and ran out of in December is available for $85!

The Clos Pegase 1999 Cabernet at $62 (WS 90 - $33 at GVC)

Or a serious value! The 1999 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepage 1999 at $125 (WS 95, #2 in the Top 100 - $75 at GVC)

Don't get me wrong. You still have to be careful, as this list still contains the some of the high profile, over priced wines you expect on a high end list. You just have to avoid the "wines for people who don't know any better" like the $104 Far Niente Chardonnay or the Opus One at $195. Overall, this list is a diamond mine if you know what you're looking for. And, if your not in the mood to mine diamonds, it also contains a number of nice wines under $50 like the 1999 Ravenswood Sonoma Zinfandel at $38 or the Chateau St. Jean 2000 Chardonnay at $26.

The wine list speaks for itself. However, Eddie insisted on buying dinner and plying us with wines from the "don't ask" list, so I do have to qualify our review by letting you know we were enticed. So, we will hope that service received by the other patrons was as good as what we received while we sat with not only the Restaurant Manager but the Hotel's General Manager who joined us for dinner.

The dinner menu shows a lot of creativity and surprising restraint on pricing, with 8 appetizers in the $8 to $11 range, 3 soups at $5, 4 salads at $5 to $9 and 12 entrees priced from $13 to $28. I began with the Petite Lobster Tail Tempura, lobster meat that had been formed using parts of the tail into small shrimp shaped pieces battered and fried and served with sesame rice noodles and a cucumber slaw. It was crisp, light and delicious enough that I almost resented trading one for one of Linda's Capriole Fried Ravioli. The excellent, goat cheese filled, slightly crunchy raviolis were served with crispy fried leaks, shitake mushrooms and bits of sun dried tomato. A surprisingly light roasted corn and wild rice soup with hints of bacon appeared next and disappeared about as quickly as it came. Linda sampled the Maytag blue cheese and iceberg wedge, served with grilled pear and walnuts and a tomato based dressing with more good results.

Eddie started with an "Oh, Wow" bottle of 2000 Pride Merlot that exhibited loads of dark chocolate and blackberries (unfortunately we are sold out at GVC) that is very reminiscent of the 1999 Flora Springs Windfall Merlot. With the entrees he moved on to two Nickel and Nickel vineyard designate Cabernets that were also excellent, in a very pricey kind of way... Anyway, they worked very well with the breast of duck I choose. The Maple Leaf Farms duck had been prepared in a traditional French fashion, medium rare and sliced into tiny medallions. The duck was served with a light maple and pear glaze, with pecans and berries over garlic mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. It was only rivaled by the rack of lamb that Linda choose. It was darkly crusted on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside and served with a rosemary calamata tapenade and roasted vegetables. And, the best part, it was a very large serving that left some for me.

I have to say that this was as good as the food I have had in most of Indianapolis' toneist restaurants and the wine list has to be in the top 4 or 5 in town. Two minor drawbacks to the experience were perhaps that the large dining room, with it's very high ceiling, lacks the intimacy you expect in a fine dining experience. And the lounge where the tasting is held permits smoking... Oh well, you can't have jazz musicians without smoke. So if you go, stay well back from the band.

Since our visit was a little less than anonymous, it was nice to receive confirmation of our good opinion. On Friday "Wine Guy" Ron Bell and his wine Kathy gave them a try. Having lived in Europe, Ron and Kathy are tough graders. They had the same feeling about the ambiance as Linda and I. And, aside from an unmemorable shrimp cocktail, they reported, excellent service, a very good meal, a great bottle of the 1999 Clos Pegase Cabernet and gave Circle City Grill 8 out of 10 on the Bell scale.

So, if you're interested in a wine tasting and dinner downtown, go to their website, click on upcoming events and ask to be put on their email list. They send a weekly notice that will tell you what they are tasting and who's providing the music.

Circle City Bar & Grille
3500 W. Maryland St.,
Indianapolis, IN