So, Thursday night. Work dinner. Pacers playoffs are in town. My boss wants steak. Everyone's looking to me for the restaurant choice because I write about these things. St. Elmo's is out. (Pacers, remember?) We've all been to Sullivan's and Ruth's Chris a few too many times. A colleague at work who's been around the steak block a couple of times recommended Eddie Merlots. It's on that burgeoning 96th Street stretch between Keystone and Allisonville Roads (not too far from work), and they could actually seat us at a reasonable hour (not 4:30 or 10:30) so Eddie Merlots it was.
My initial impressions of this place were mixed, but the things that drive me batty might not bother you at all. First, EMs sits off by itself in a car-less sea of parking lot, yet they offer free valet parking. This feature seems to be hot at upscale Northside restaurants but it's a mystery to me. I don't have a problem parking my car and walking the extra 20 feet to the front door. Valets just seem silly here.
We were considerably and purposefully early for our reservation, so we scoped out the bar/lounge. The long bar runs along one wall, with dinner seating for smokers against the other. There's limited lounge seating. On this Thursday night, it was an over-40 crowd, and the bar was full. We squeezed in next to the wait station, where we were immediately engaged by the bartender and one of the waiters. They were friendly, jokey and prompt, and made a great first impression of the place. When we grabbed the lounge couches, the bar waitress was equally accommodating. And when we went to grab out table precisely at 7:30, the (comely) hostesses were at the ready. It was right about then things ground to a halt.
Before I regale you with food details, let me just point out that our party of 5 did not leave our table until 10:45. We were the last patrons in the restaurant. I'm all for a leisurely dinner, but this was patience-trying. Our server paced everything well — everything, that is, except for an hour-long and inexplicable wait between receiving our appetizers and placing our order for (again, that's ordering, not receiving) our entrees.
Jen and colleagues wait for dinner at Eddie Merlots
That said, the food and wine were very good. We started with a 2000 Grgich Hills Zinfandel and moved onto an even better Cakebread Cabernet. Wine prices are steakhouse-steep.
For an appetizer, we shared a sizable Neptune seafood sampler, which featured enormous oysters on the half shell, halved lobster tail, and other cold delicacies served with several sauces. I would have liked some drawn butter for the lobster, but the shellfish in general was fresh, tender and sweet.
Dinner was an 8-ounce filet. I asked for a cracked peppercorn coating, but didn't get it. The server had asked if I wanted a bearnaise sauce, and I said yes, thinking that it came in addition to the cracked peppercorns, but she must have misheard me (not a surprise. The place is loud. More on that in a minute.) I ordered the steak medium rare, and would have pegged it closer to rare. Better to err on the side of underdone, but by the time the steak came out there was no way I was sending that thing back, short of it mooing at me. The filet was ridiculous-thick and tender, and the sauce was a rich but not overpowering accompaniment. Sides are a la carte here, and we picked up some garlic mashed potatoes (addictive) mushrooms (can't mess those up) and some asparagus, which was cooked appropriately but a too thick stalked.
Despite the late hour we managed to stuff in dessert. My colleagues went with the highly recommended carrot cake, which by the complete silence at table I would say was excellent. Rob got a chocolate layer cake, which he loved but tasted more like sugar than chocolate to me. I went big and got the bananas foster, which they make a serve, flaming, at tableside. It was most definitely good, but not great. The caramel sauce could have cooked down a little more, the bananas could have been a little more tart, and the ice cream a little richer. Still, bananas foster is bananas foster, and I ate all of it.
Decor, as Brad put it, looks like "Las Vegas ate Miami and puked it up here." Marble floors, giant paintings, big windows, high ceilings, and faux columns assure that the place will be unromantically loud. While not recommended for intimate encounters, the hubbub did add a festive air. The crowd is definitely expense account, Euro-party, and/or older Carmelites.
3645 E 96TH St
Indianapolis, IN 46240-1427
Cross Street: Enterprise Dr
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