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Indiana Trip Report - once at XXX, twice at Restaurant Tallent

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Indiana Trip Report - once at XXX, twice at Restaurant Tallent

Tha Groovin' Gourmet | Jul 26, 2005 07:42 PM

Just returned from the music industry trade show in Indy and wanted to report back on 3 fine Midwest meals. I flew into Chicago to hang with a buddy (meal review on the Chicago board after I finish this up) and then drove to Merrillville to spend the night.

About 10:30 the next morning I got to West Lafayette and headed straight for the XXX Drive-In. A chowhound place if there ever was one. Great burgers made from house-ground sirloin...I had a double cheeseburger with grilled onions, tomato, pickle and miracle whip. It was excellent, as was the house-brewed XXX Root Beer. Fries were done extra crisp as ordered. Open 24 hours, so anytime you're in the area and need a 'hound fix this would more than fill the bill...a great spot.

As good as XXX was, I was really looking forward to my 2 dinners at Bloomington's Restaurant Tallent. Would it be as good as I remembered from last November? (search the board for my review of that visit). Would my dining companions think I was nuts for taking them to dinner involving almost 2 hours round-trip driving?

Fortunately the answers were the desired "yes" and "no". Tallent is right up there with my all-time favorite, Salt Lake City's dearly departed Globe Cafe (check out my multitudinous reviews on the Southwest Board). A dedicated member of the slow-food movement, David Tallent, his wife and his brother throw down some serious, seasonal/regional fare in a comfortable, quirkily decorated space.

The first night we were 50 minutes late for our 9PM rezzie, having been given lousy directions by the parking lot attendant (how can you know what "the last light" is on a street in a city you've never been before?) We called ahead to let them know we were running late, and arrived 10 minutes before closing time, with a handful of parties finishing up their meals. No problem whatsoever.

We were escorted upstairs to a 4-top and the waitress delivered the menus and took our beverage orders. She recited some lovely sounding specials and we proceeded to make our decisions.

We both went for the corn soup with shiitakes, bacon and truffle oil, garnished with a sprinkling of chopped chives. INTENSE corn flavor to the broth...not a speck of solid corn anywhere in the dish. The mushrooms and truffle oil provided a nice, earthy contrast, with the salty bacon effectively balancing the supersweet, concentrated corn-ness. Awesome start.

We ended up sharing the second course...a beautiful melon salad with sheep's milk feta, mint and tarragon. The presentation was gorgeous with cantaloupe, watermelon and the cheese cut into identically sized cubes, arranged on the plate like a checkerboard. The torn tarragon and mint leaves were strewn about the dish, the whole thing drizzled with -8, a local balsamic. Most excellent!

For my entrée I chose one of the specials, home-made farfalle with veal, shiitakes and caramelized pearl onions in an herb broth. Totally outstanding, as was my dining companion's Poe Farms Lamb Loin, served with Faro Taboulleh, Piperade, Eggplant and a Lime Tomato Vinaigrette. It looked like it was cooked a bit rarer than ordered, but this is a chef that obviously knows what he is doing with his ingredients.

For dessert I chose the deceptively named Cake And Ice Cream...unlike anything I've ever had before. The cake was blueberry-sage pound cake, done in an individual mold, with a couple of basil leaves baked into and adorning the top of the cake. The combination of herbs and berries was exquisite, but nothing like the Sweet Corn ice cream adorning it...that earned the liemeonmybackandstickafunnelinmymouth award. An amazing dish...one that I will remember for quite some time.

As impressive as was the food, the service was the equal...we closed down the place and didn't get out of there until some 2 hours after closing, with chef David out of his whites and going over the day's books at one of the downstairs tables. At no time did we feel rushed in anyway...the service was just as patient and professional as if we had arrived for the first table of the evening. VERY impressive indeed.

Next night I was right on time having figured out the drive the previous night. My bud Mark's palate is not quite as evolved as my friend Mike from the night before, but by the end of the evening he was converted to a Chowhound with honors.

I went with the corn soup again, and made Mark get one as well. The intensity was a bit much for him, but I dug through mine with reckless abandon, going through a half basket of their narrow baguette slices to mop up that golden corn broth.

All the specials save one had been on the board the night before, so I advised against going with any of those. The one remaining special was a filet that proved to be the dish of the evening...more about that later.

I chose a middle course again...the dungeness crab salad. The presentation was lovely and inventive...the salad molded and served between two perfectly fried green tomato discs, looking like a summery ice cream sandwich. Everything was delicious...only complaint is the crab salad contained green bell pepper (and red and yellow), inarguably the nastiest vegetable in the history of the universe.

The dice was too fine to attempt to pick out the perpetrators, so I attacked the dish with reckless abandon. Fortunately the peppers barely intruded on the wonderfully delicate flavor of the crab, and didn't appear to cause too much gastrointestinal havoc later that night. The dish gets a thumbs up...if I'm at Tallent again with something similar on the menu I'll know to ask in advance.

My second night's entrée was the scallops that I had eyed before hearing about the specials the previous evening. Absolutely deelish dish...the scallops were plump and plentiful, nice and caramelized on the top, perfectly cooked to succulence as they should be. They were served with KILLER Pommes Anna...nice and crusty on the top, creamy and potatoey underneath. Along with the potatoes there was a yummy fresh corn succotash and chanterelles, the entire dish bathed in a Summer Truffle sauce. Exquisite.

But the highlight of both meals was the special filet that Mark ordered. An absolutely gorgeous steak...second only to the Argentinian beef I enjoyed in Buenos Aires. Mark, a self-declared RED MEAT man, said it was the best steak he had ever eaten. As if the steak weren't enough, the accoutrements took the dish several levels higher. The steak was cooked a perfect medium rare as ordered, and was placed on a bed of foie gras mashers which were the most decadently rich potatoes I had ever tasted. The plate was rounded out with chanterelles in a port wine and blue cheese sauce. ASTOUNDINGLY GOOD!

For dessert we split the Cherry Pie For 2 with home-made Amaretto Ice Cream. YOWZAH! The lattice-style pie crust was tender and the filling was totally home-made with wonderfully sweet and tart cherries. The ice cream was a nice rich contrast and the amaretto flavor was in excellent balance. A very well-conceived and executed ending to a meal my bud will never forget. And it's up there in my list as well.

To sum it up...Restaurant Tallent is arguably one of the top restaurants in the country, worth a couple hours of drive time for those that seek out the best in regional/seasonal New American cooking. Service is top-notch, as are the chef's skills and the quality of the ingredients put into play. I'm already thinking about how to get back with the missus...she missed our dinner in November as she wasn't feeling well. This is one restaurant I must share with her, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

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