Friday, November 21, 2008

Amici's Italian Restaurant

Amy offered to take me out for dinner for me birthday, and she also managed to arrange for her brother to watch Jackson so we could go out and actually enjoy our meal - so I set myself at work this afternoon to trying to come up with an interesting place to go. However...I had way more to do this particular Thursday afternoon than usual - and even ordinary Thursdays are busy for me, regardless of whether we are busy customer-wise or not - so I only spent about five minutes perusing restaurant listings online.

My first thought was Zing, a new small plates restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Payton’s Place on the northeast corner of Indiana Avenue and West Street; but because it’s relatively new and has been very well reviewed across the board, I was reluctant to try it for dinner at what would wind up being the peak dinner hour by the time I got home from work and we got downtown to the restaurant. The menu is a tapas-influenced mix of small plates and fusion cuisine and sounds awfully interesting - try wrapping your head around roasted beet salad with jicama, feta, green onion, and sherry vinaigrette - but strikes me as the kind of place I want to have a go at for the first time during an unassuming lunch hour on Sunday.

But I of the first places that came up in my online perusing was Amici’s, an indie Italian place in an old house on New York Street in Lockerbie Square - one of those places I have walked or driven past times without number and pointed to remarking, “We should try that sometime.”

Carpe diem. We rolled downtown and were just turning into the alley leading to their parking lot when I realized I had forgotten to bring my camera - so you’re going to have to use your imagination on this one, Steve! It probably would not have mattered if I had brought the camera, though, because the inside is dimly lit (this is not a bad thing, but it is no boon to photography, especially for amateur hacks like myself) and we were seated at a window table right below the bright red neon sign that indicated to the public at large that the establishment was open for business. Any pictures I had taken would have served only to make it appear as though we were dining in a darkroom.

There were a total of four other diners in the restaurant when we arrived, two of whom were nearly finished, so the service was quick and attentive and friendly, though not to the point of doting, which can be a problem when the ratio of customers to servers isn’t high enough. There was a small loaf of hot, homemade bread studded with sesame seeds to start, which was just to the right of crusty but nonetheless very hot and delicious. Often bread is brought to you warm, or perhaps room temperature - but it’s sort of rare that it’s brought to you when it’s actually hot. I thought that this probably portended good things.

Amy ordered chicken gorgonzola, a chicken breast baked with gorgonzola cheese on top and served with grilled vegetables and a side of linguine with marinara sauce, which turned out to be more than she could finish after the loaf of bread and the salad - mixed greens dotted with an olive, cherry tomato, and piquant pepper and dressed in a very light, homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The chicken was very tender and wonderfully seasoned, and the gorgonzola on top was rich and very sharp. The pasta was perfectly al dente, paired with a richly-flavored marinara sauce.

I had seafood penne, shrimp and scallops in a pink caper cream sauce with penne pasta, and this wound up being a really perfectly cooked meal, even if the briny, aromatic capers don’t quite work with seafood and cream sauce. (That might just be me - I’m not all that big on capers, but gave it a shot.) Even beneath the capers and the cream sauce, the shrimp tasted of the sea, firm and delicious. Even the scallops - medium-sized, but tasting more like (smaller) sweet bay scallops than the somewhat saltier (and much larger) sea scallops - were properly cooked. Too often, I think, scallops get short shrift under the broiler or on the grill, which makes them gummy and tends to keep the flavor from coming all the way through - not so at Amici’s.

The penne was also properly cooked, al dente, as was Amy’s linguine. If you must be forced to sup at one of those idiotic chain Italian places, you should avoid the pastas that are difficult to cook properly - like penne, and the even-harder-to-get-right farfalle - because they will almost always be overcooked. The true mark of an excellent Italian restaurant is how well they cook their pasta.

The only downside was that dessert - listed on the menu as either pastries or homemade ice cream (which, yes, is gelato) - did not include cannoli. Our server mentioned when I asked about it that she had been told that cannoli was not cost-effective to serve, but that people asked for it all the time. Ah, well. ‘Twas a minor quibble. Iaria’s is still the gold standard by which Italian restaurants in Indianapolis must be measured, but Amici’s is a viable option - and the view across New York Street of the historic houses in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood is certainly appealing. I imagine that dinner on the patio, some warm Sunday evening as the sun is starting to go down, would be at least as enjoyable - and perhaps more so - than eating on the roof or balcony at any of a number of better known eateries closer to the heart of downtown.

1 comment:

Godfather Weilhammer said...

Forgot the camera....hahahahaha. Guess I'll just have to imagine your little hands fidgeting at the edge of the table as the feast is put down in front of you with you all but powerless to share the visual experience with us.

Hey Amici, loved ya in Cocoon. (Yes, John, I realize they're spelled differently.)