Birthdays are a great excuse to go try a new restaurant. So two of my cohorts in crime and I decided to celebrate mine a day early. Off we went to the Indigo Grill for lunch today. I understand that this place is packed in the evenings and reservations are pretty much a requirement. Lunch, however, posed no problem. We arrived shortly after 11:30 AM to find plenty of seating. They did not reach full capacity during the time we were there, but business was brisk.
The room is very attractively decorated with lots of visual appeal, and the large windows along India St. open up to the street scene. The interior has an eclectic look to it and sports everything from a huge tree at the hostess station to folkloric masks and pre-columbian artwork to metal and glass installations. An odd combination to be sure, but like so much of the food, it works.
Having eaten at Kemo Sabe, the sister restaurant to Indigo Grill, we all decided the best way to attack the menu was to order multiple dishes and share. This turned out to be an ideal choice, and there was no surcharge for sharing plates. Definitely gives you the chance to try more of the menu. Prices range from $6.50 - $13.00.
We started with the Pumpkin & Sesame Crusted Brie on a fresh corn tortilla with mole negro, honey roasted garlic and grana/scallion flat bread with serrano jelly. Even if the pumpkin part of it seemed to be missing, it was still a hit. There were actually 2 tortillas, one of which had been branded with "Indigo Grill". The mole negro was stunning, wonderful depth of color and flavor and it paired exceeding well with the cheese as did the honey roasted garlic. A few grilled pieces of nopales garnished the plate, were not slimy and had picked up a nice smokey taste from the grill. The flatbread was good although it toughened up pretty quickly as it cooled. And the serrano jelly - actually more like a sweet/hot dipping sauce, it's fairly thin - is addictive and not cloyingly sweet. There are a lot of flavors, textures and colors going on in this dish, with lots of opportunities to miss the culinary mark. For whatever reason, it works. This is a very generous appetizer. It will serve 2 hungry people generously or 3 people who are deliberately leaving room for the rest of the meal.
We followed the brie with Oven Roasted Clams & Mussels with garlic chips, pasilla chiles and chipotle-anchovy mojo; Chicken & Beef Enchilada with pipian rojo, mole verde, served with a micro-green salad, with spicy black beans and onions pickled in the style of the Yucatan, and our final dish was a Nut-Crusted Buffalo Burger with a cojita stuffed New Mexican chile, roasted red onion, smoking black beans and avocado salsa.
The clams and mussels was another winner. It comes in a clever, hinged, copper sphere that allows you to keep the lid closed to keep the clams and mussels warm, or to leave it open and use it as a receptacle for the shells. Both the clams and the mussels were on the small side, which was fine, there were probably at least a dozen mussels and probably 7 or 8 clams. I thought the mussels had better flavor than the clams - sweet and tender. The clams were much stronger with an underlying "fishy" taste, and a small amount of grit. My dining companions disagreed about the clams, but did agree the mussels were tastier. The dish comes with lots of luscious broth and flatbread with which to get every last drop. Actually, my friends used a soup spoon to get the last of the broth, it was that good.
The Nut-Crusted Buffalo Burger was less successful. It wasn't bad, it simply paled in comparison to the other things we tried. And if it was nut-crusted we couldn't tell. Buffalo is a lean, mild meat and that was apparent; it was a tad dry and didn't pack much of a flavor punch. The rest of the plate, though, did. The avocado salsa was more sauce-like than salsa, but very tasty with quite a bit of heat. The beans, too, were very spicy, drizzled with crema and dotted with cotija, and very good. The stuffed New Mexican chile looked suspiciously like an Anaheim chile that was roasted but not peeled. It provided a straight forward chile flavor, but not a lot of heat, making it the perfect foil to the other highly spiced items on the plate. The dish was garnished with half a grilled plantain.
The enchiladas were fabulous. The chicken enchilada came topped with the mole verde. The beef with the pipian rojo. Both enchiladas were generously stuffed with meat and napped in sauce. And unlike most enchiladas these days, they were not drowning under a blanket of sauce and yellow cheese. I would, however, have liked a little more of each sauce since both were such good renditions of the Mexican original, and with as much meat as each enchilada contained a little more sauce would have been nice. I am a big fan of onions pickled in the style of the Yucatan, and I was not disappointed in these. They were mild, oniony, and the perfect compliment to everything on the plate, from the enchiladas to the beans (same as on the buffalo burger) to the little salad of micro-greens.
By the time we had worked our way through all this food - and portions *are* generous - it was clear to our waiter that we were having a great time and really appreciative of the food. He convinced us to let him bring an order of what he considered to be the best dessert in the house to share (we were not a hard up-sell at this point). He wouldn't tell us which one since he wanted it to be a surprise. What he brought were the Plantain Cheescake Flautas with pinenut and pecan crust, firwater dipping sauce and pineapple salsa. It was the one dessert on the menu all 3 of us had agreed sounded the least appealing. Boy were we wrong!!! It was light, sweet, crunchy, a little salty from the dipping sauce and a satisfying way to end a great meal. The cheesecake filling didn't taste much like plantain, but it didn't really matter, whatever was inside the flautas worked perfectly with the crispy shell. In addition to the pineapple salsa (so-so) there were also 2 sauces, one a thin caramel which was swirled with the 2nd sauce a creme anglaise.
Most of the food we tried was highly seasoned and/or fairly spicy, however, it was not so hot that it seared off the taste buds. Rather our mouths acquired a pleasant buzz through the course of the meal that never became overpowering.
The other thing that is very apparent here is that some time has been spent training the wait and front of the house staff. All were exceedingly friendly, knowledgable about what was in each dish, and helpful about making sure you didn't order too much food or something you wouldn't like. Service was attentive, smooth and efficient. Beverage glasses were refilled with a minimum of interruption and plates and serving dishes cleared just as quietly, quickly and unobtrusively.
For 2 apps, 2 entrees, dessert, 1 iced tea, 1 diet Coke, an Espresso and 2 Cappucinos the total bill including tax and a generous tip came to $88. That's certainly more than we had expected to spend when we walked in, but we were pretty happy campers when we walked out and really felt that the meal had been a good value for the price.
1536 India St. (Between Beech & Cedar)
San Diego, CA 92101