Restaurant Reviews --> Recess
Time for Recess
It's what's for dinner
There has been a lot of buzz and plenty of positive ink in all the local publications about chef Greg Hardesty's new restaurant, Recess... so Linda and I decided it was time for us to weigh in. I have to admit I was a little put off at first by the stark, minimalist space filled with hard, echo-prone surfaces....not to mention the chairs that I am convinced are the very same plastic chairs I once sat in during a 4th grade parent-teacher conference. And, the contrast of seeing Greg with no chef's apron behind the carryout counter joking with his staff after watching chef Dave Tallent slaving in the kitchen all evening during our recent visit to Restaurant Tallent didn't exactly inspire confidence. Luckily, the food and service won us over almost immediately.
But, first the concept, which is "it's what's for dinner." Every day Greg posts the evening menu online...it could be a four-course menu, a seven-course tasting menu or even a taco fiesta. It's whatever Greg wants to cook. You may get a choice of a meat, or fish entrée but not much else... like I said, it's what's for dinner. Radical concept? Not really...just a little daring for Indianapolis and not for the picky eater.
Actually, it's a very old restaurant concept. I once traveled for 10 days in rural southwestern France, ate like a king, and can't ever remember seeing a menu. And it seems to be working, at least based on the crowd we saw on a Tuesday night. Everything, including the staff and patrons had a young, trendy, urban vibe, but just as we were looking around to confirm that we were perhaps the only ones over 40 in the place, a foursome of octogenarians walked in, confirming that Meridian Kessler is indeed embracing the restaurant.
Our very young, decidedly hipsterish, waiter also failed to inspire confidence. (Lesson to self - don't be an old fart! Try not to judge young guys by their tattoos or scraggly goatees). He almost immediately proved himself with his knowledge of the wine list. We ordered a bottle of Ray Coursen's Elyse C'est Si Bon, a Rhône-style red, and inquired about the blend. When he returned with the wine he gave us the precise percentages of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Counoise and Viognier, knowledge obliviously gleaned by a quick Google search. And the rest of the evening was as professional and attentive as that piece of "above and beyond" wine service. The wine prices were also a pleasant surprise, with many wines priced well below the usual exorbitant two to three times retail margins taken by most Indianapolis restaurants. For example, the Orin Swift Prisoner that we sell for $36 was priced at only $48. And the entire rather eclectic but well-chosen list featured similar values.
The interesting thing about this concept is that it can force you outside your comfort zone. Of the four courses offered that evening for $50, there were three I would probably never have ordered off a menu but thoroughly enjoyed when not given the choice. The dinner began with a tomato "salad soup" that combined olives, fennel, basil, pine nuts and finely torn batavia leaf lettuce in the juice from the diced tomatoes dusted with finely grated parmesan. Trust me, simplicity never tasted so good... Linda, a avid fresh tomato fan, declared it one the best salads (or was it a soup?) she had ever encountered.
The second course was Alaskan halibut with a kimchi stew... fresh Napa cabbage and pickled carrots and cucumbers. Again, perfectly prepared with the pickled vegetables and slightly spicy kimchi really brightening up the dish. Again, not something I would have ordered, but delicious!
The third course offered a choice a veal tenderloin or a Fishers Farm beef striploin served with French horn mushrooms, pea tendrils, cauliflower and broccoli with a red wine coulis. We both choose the veal and were very pleased with the preparation and accompaniments. The veal was a tender, perfect medium rare and the coulis matched well. We had thought hard about trying the four wine pairing flight that was offered with the menu but when the veal came, the lovely Elyse Rhône Ranger justified our choice. Finally the dessert, "Sam's chocolate espresso birthday cake" was as rich as it sounds, overkill actually, but very tasty.
Bottom line: a great use of only the freshest ingredients, some interesting and unusual combinations and flawless execution. However, you have to ask yourself, if an expert chef only has four dishes to prepare each evening, will people expect near perfection in their execution and presentation? I think so... I know that I am going to be more forgiving of a dish that is slightly under- or overcooked or disappointingly presented in a busy restaurant with a full-range menu. So Greg may have created a bit of two-edged sword... he needs to be "spot on" every evening. However, if he can continue to make this work the way it was the night we were there, he is going to be the envy of every chef in town.
4907 North College Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204
July 14, 2010