This past Wednesday night was Amy’s turn for a birthday dinner, and I was a little bit surprised to find a note on our message board that morning when I woke up that said, “45˚ for dinner.” She had been looking at some of the same places I had considered a couple of weeks ago, except that she substituted R Bistro for Bluebeard. I had a feeling that she was leaning toward Mass Ave, because she also wanted to pop in at Global Gifts to do some Christmas shopping for her mom. I mentioned Forty Five˚ mostly as a lark, because they feature sushi prominently on their menu—but they also have other things on the menu, including the ever-popular small plates and entrée salads. I got Amy to try sushi one time, from Oishi Sushi, and she didn’t care for it.
Forty Five˚ is on the southwest corner of Mass and College, in the space that was, once upon a time, occupied by the first incarnation of the Abbey Coffeehouse. They work their theme of angles to an almost dizzying degree inside, and the contoured white plastic chairs and black leather booths are strategically placed throughout on multiple levels—making the place feel sort of like it was designed by someone who had spent a lot of time at that burger shop from Saved by the Bell; and then the soft electronica music coming from the sound system gave me the impression that they were trying to appeal to the people who like going to the new version of Nicky Blaine’s, in the basement of the Guaranty building (and a far cry from the swanky coolness of its original location, across the street in the basement of the King Cole building).
Even with a Pacers game starting within a couple of hours, there was almost no one else in the restaurant when we arrived. Our server did not precisely rush us to put in our orders, but I got the feeling that we were taking too long to make up our minds. (And it surely must have disappointed him that all we ordered to drink, apart from water, was one glass of wine.) When Amy asked if he had any recommendations, he parroted the company line about everything being great. The first thing he recommended—and which he called “phenomenal”—was the fliet mignon. Would you believe that the filet mignon is the most expensive item on the menu? Yeah, I know. Shocking that the first thing he recommended was the most expensive thing we could have ordered.
I was set on a sushi roll, and Amy decided that she wanted crab cakes, which live on the “small plates” menu. Actual small plates are different than appetizers, but Forty Five˚ has not gotten that memo. Amy’s 45˚ salad came out first—and surprised her, since the menu did not indicate anything about her meal including a salad. Oddly, though, this surprise item was one of the highlights of the meal. It was a fairly simple affair of field greens, feta cheese, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, Mandarin oranges, and balsamic dressing. The balsamic dressing was extremely bright and fruity, and worked very well with the earthy field greens and tangy feta cheese. The toasted almonds were an especially nice touch, in terms of both texture and flavor—though I’m a sucker for almonds, and this would perhaps not appeal to everyone.
And then it was a strangely long time between Amy’s small salad and the arrival of the crab cakes and my spicy scallop sushi roll. The sushi was also a highlight—for me, anyway—with more fish in the middle of the roll than just about any other place I’ve tried. I had the choice of regular or reduced-sodium soy sauce at the table, and that was a nice touch, since soy sauce, while a necessary part of the sushi-eating experience, can also overpower the other flavors if you’re not careful. The reduced-sodium variety did not have that problem. The crab cakes were more problematic—almost all filler, practically no flavor, and served atop, surrounded by, and under various sauces. I thought that there was something vaguely familiar about the flavor, but it was four or five bites before I placed it—the crab cakes tasted the way garbage trucks smell. (That sounds more repulsive than it actually was.)
Our entrées came out almost on top of the crab cakes and sushi. That, combined with the long wait between salad and appetizers, indicated some timing issues in the kitchen—which is concerning, given the relative dearth of diners. Amy had vacillated over Tiger Shrimp Stiry-Fry, with coconut-curry sauce, fried rice noodles, and stir-fried vegetables; and Pesto Pasta, with sun-dried tomato pesto crème, fresh basil, asparagus, and feta cheese. It being her birthday and all, I offered to get the one she didn’t pick, and then to let her trade if they came out and she wound up liking mine better. Turned out, though, that the joke was on us—neither entrée was very good at all. They sounded like interesting combinations, but this gives me a chance to remind myself, once again, to never order pasta at a non-Italian restaurant.
It was hard to tell based on the texture of the noodles in Amy’s dish whether they had been made from fried rice or whether they were rice noodles that had been fried. Either way, they were gummy and overcooked, which is, I’m sorry to say, how you often find rice noodles around here. The coconut and the curry in the sauce seemed to be engaged in some kind of contest to see which could be less obtrusive—with the end result being that I could barely taste either of them, particularly the curry. I suspect the kitchen feels compelled to cater to the unimaginative and bland palates of Ordinary Americans. The ingredients in my Pesto Pasta were similarly flavorless, and by the time I got around to digging into it—I had to finish the sushi and my share of the crab cakes first—the sauce had congealed into a separated, goopy substance that might have been suitable for masonry work.
Except for the sushi, I can’t really recommend Forty Five˚ for anything. For a place that’s clearly going for that hip, ultralounge vibe, they’ve picked an odd place to set up shop. Maybe the rent on Meridian Street, between the Circle and the railroad tracks, where these ultralounge places seem to thrive, was too steep? Oh, and don’t go in your Pacers or Colts gear. They have a policy on “attire,” to ensure an “atmosphere that is agreeable to all our clients.”
765 Massachusettts Avenue