On Saturday night, Salt and I got a babysitter and decided to try a new (for us) restaurant in Broad Ripple called L'Explorateur. My parents, who live in Indy, joined us for the evening. This was great because the odds of trying a wider variety of dishes with a couple of people who don't mind sharing increased greatly with them along...and my dad knows a thing or two about wine pairings which is helpful when trying out a new place and an unfamiliar wine list.
When you read reviews of the place, the overarching themes you pick up are "French-Asian influenced" "avant-garde" and "experimental" so we were excited to have an unusual experience something like you would expect from Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz or Wylie Dufresne...ok, so our expectations weren't quite that high, but somewhere along those lines. What you might also gather from the reviews is that L'Explorateur is widely inconsistent. One diner will have a fantastic experience filled with exciting and new flavors, while the next person will leave very disappointed with the poorly prepared food and bad service. Needless to say, we were very curious what we would get, in more than one sense.
We arrived for our 7:30 reservation and discovered that we really didn't need a reservation as half the restaurant was empty. Granted this place is off the beaten path a bit, but a half filled restaurant on a Saturday night is never a good sign. The décor and ambiance was great: cool and minimal, with white and pale green walls, dark brown ceilings, candles lighting the way and original art on display. They definitely showed some care in making the place look very high end.
The wait staff was courteous, but not entirely impressive when it came to answering our questions about the menu. We had looked online at their menu ahead of time and saw that they had a three course tasting menu with wine pairings. This sounded like a good idea when trying a new restaurant, but the menu was nothing more than what you could already get a la carte off the menu. That was a little disappointing. One nice thing about the wait staff - they are clearly very particular about assuring that your entire table is served at exactly the same time. As each course was served, four waiters circled our table with our plates and placed them in front of us in well choreographed synchronicity.
On to the food...
A single steamed muscle on a garlic rubbed crostini. It was simple and tasted good, but a little pedestrian for a place that is supposedly innovative.
Escargot Ravioli - both of the ladies had this dish. It tasted good but lacked a little in visual appeal.
Fresh oysters - my dad had this and was very happy with it saying the oysters were just the right size and texture.
Hamachi Carpacio - I had this dish which is served with fresh grated horseradish, crunchy roe and chili oil. By far, this was the most visually stunning dish served and the taste matched: very delicate fish with the zing of the horseradish and chili oil and the surprising pops of roe. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Goat and sausage cassoulet (pictured) - Salt had this for her main, though I'm not sure if she was able to enjoy it as much as she could have after burning her tongue on the piping hot stew. The waiter really should have given her a heads up on that.
Fresh pappardelle with a pork bolognese - Dad had this one. A solid and well done dish...but a curiously Italian dish for a French/Asian inspired restaurant.
Duck confit - my mother and I both had the duck. It was served with roasted beets and a stuffed jalapeno pepper. Again I was the fortunate one to have the most visually appealing dish. And the taste was good, but not the best duck confit I've ever had.
Chocolate cup cake with caramel sauce
Blueberry tart with porter ice cream
Banana pot de creme
All the desserts were lovely. However, except for the porter ice cream, nothing was too far outside of the norm.
Brown sugar and jalapeno popsicle - Made on the anti-griddle, we finally got something that could be considered avant-garde, though the verdict is still out on whether or not the popsicle was successful. I liked it, but Salt was not so sure.
So the real question when you go to a restaurant for the first time is "will you be going back?" I think now that we know what to expect (read: not very avant-garde) and with a meal that was enjoyable, we may be enticed back...particularly when the weather gets warmer and they open up their outdoor seating area. But with a half filled restaurant on the weekend, I'm curious to know if they'll be open long enough for us to do that.