Saturday, January 25, 2014

Devour Downtown: McCormick & Schmick's

From January 20, 2014 to February 2, 2014, almost 70 Indianapolis restaurants are offering discounted tasting menus as part of Devour Downtown.  I'm a huge fan of this concept because the discounted menus entice people who haven't experienced Indianapolis gems like St. Elmo's and Mesh to try somewhere new (and hopefully local!)  Moving to Indianapolis about one year ago has burgeoned my appreciation for non-chain restaurants.  Devour Downtown is a nice mixture of chain and local establishments at varying price points.  The least expensive option is a two for $15 deal at Fresco Italian Sandwich Shoppe.  The most expensive options are $38 per person at Dunaway's and Fogo de Chao.

Thursday night, my fiance and I decided to eat dinner out to celebrate his birthday this week.  He challenged me to pick the Devour Downtown menu he'd like best.  I decided to forgo some of the predictable favorites like St. Elmo's because the beef option was a filet.  While a filet is a likable lean cut of meat, when we eat out, we're looking for an indulgent, marbled cut like a ribeye or New York strip.  As much as I prefer local eateries, I picked McCormick & Schmick's based on the totality of the menu.

The McCormick & Schmick's Devour Downtown menu offers bang for your buck (if you choose expensive selections) and a lot of choices.  I saw options that are Greg's favorites, like lobster tail and chocolate lava cake.  Much of the Devour menu is similar to options on the regular dinner menu.  Granted, the Devour Downtown offerings are often slightly smaller than regular menu options, but assuming you selected the most expensive  option from the appetizer, entree, and dessert options, the regular menu prices would add up to about $60.97 ($12.99 for calamari, $39.99 for steak medallions and lobster tail, and $7.99 for the molten chocolate cake).  Given that the Devour Downtown menu price is $35, that's a savings of about $25.97.  If you picked the least expensive options (soup for about $5.99, snapper for about $19.99, and creme brulee for $6.99), your total would be about $32.97, which comes in under the Devour Downtown price of $35, and Devour Downtown might not be a savings at all.

The Devour Downtown menu at McCormick & Schmick's with my notes comparing pricing to regular menu options.  The math isn't exact since many Devour Downtown menu items aren't on the regular menu, but the value is obvious if you're ordering the more expensive options.  If you choose the most expensive item from each course, Devour Downtown offers a 43% discount from the approximate regular menu price.

The experience was pleasant, if not predictable.  I had the calamari appetizer.  I was pleased to find both rings and tentacles in the mix, as well as lightly battered pieces of carrots and peppers.  The lemon aioli was very mayonnaise-y, but mixed with the side of cocktail sauce, made a nice piquant sauce.  All of the pieces had a springy and crispy texture.

Well prepared calamari from McCormick & Schmick's.  The combination of rings and tentacles added authenticity, the addition of fried carrot and pepper slices provided variety in each bite.

Greg selected the blue crab and roasted corn chowder.  He shared a taste.  I didn't have any crab meat in my bite, but the small sweet corn niblets were tender, unlike the overly soft vegetables that often show up in chowders.  It was well seasoned and the base was smooth and creamy.  It was much more of a creamy soup than a chunky chowder.

The restaurant was still bustling (surprisingly) at our 8:30 p.m. reservation time.  The wait to entrees was a little long, but I sipped a glass of Penfolds Shiraz ($9) contently.  Standard wine markup is about three times retail price.  The bottle should retail for about $13, so if you're assuming four to six pours per bottle (hoping for a generous barkeep who offers a taste first!), the price is in line but to the high end of three times markup.  Depending on the size of the pour, the three times markup price per glass should range from about $6.50 to $9.75. 

We both ordered the steak medallions and lobster tail entree.  Greg talked me out of the shrimp trilogy with the argument that I should splurge on surf and turf indulgence.  The presentation was workmanlike.  The dish components were spread out across the plate, and a grilled tomato offered some color and freshness.  There was adequate white space on the plate.  Crowded plates are one of my pet peeves, so I was pleased to see all the food on an amply-sized plate.  The steak medallions were thin slices of what appeared to be tenderloin, based on the grain and flavor.  The medallions were simply seasoned and juicy, cooked perfectly to my requested medium rare.  The lobster tail was a nice size for the price of the dinner, broiled, and served with a side of butter.  The lobster was broiled slightly too long and the edges were overdone but edible.  The roasted potatoes were an adequate side.  I would have preferred them to be crispier, but I also order hash browns well done.  I enjoyed the grilled roma tomato on the side--it was the lightness the plate needed since bites of butter, steak, and potatoes were heavy. 

Nothing artful or unpredictable: a nicely executed steak  medallion and lobster tail entree for a steal of a price at McCormick & Schmicks during Devour Downtown.

Dessert was the only disappointment.  The kitchen was out of the mango creme brulee.  Mango is one of my favorite flavors.  Coupled with the fact that I'm allergic to cocoa, dessert options were looking bleak given that restaurants who participate in Devour Downtown do not permit substitutions from the Devour menus.  After explaining my cocoa allergy to the server, she came back with news that the kitchen had one vanilla bean creme brulee left from the ordinary dinner menu.  Greg had the chocolate molten cake with vanilla ice cream and I had the kitchen's last remaining vanilla creme brulee.

The vanilla creme brulee was very successful.  It was a perfect texture, not overcooked and not a lump of eggy-ness to be found.  The dish was covered in the telltale black specks of vanilla bean, a reminder of the authentic vanilla flavor.  Its only downside was that it wasn't mango.  Perhaps McCormick & Schmick's should be cranking out creme brulees for the weekend services given that they were on short supply Thursday.

McCormick & Schmick's vanilla bean creme brulee.  One of the better creme brulees I've enjoyed in recent history.  The ramekin was dotted with black specks of vanilla bean, even though I tried to eat every last bit.  The disappointment was that it wasn't mango.  Part of choosing McCormick & Schmick's for dinner was to try mango creme brulee for the first time.

The total for two Devour Downtown offerings, a glass of Penfolds Shiraz, and two Arnold Palmers was $91.33.  We added a respectable tip to the amiable server who did what she could to fix the dessert issue.

Overall review of McCormick & Schmick's Devour Downtown offering: Mostly positive.  The lack of mango creme brulee was sad.  The value is excellent if you order the expensive options.  Compare your selections to the regular menu if you aren't selecting higher priced items to determine whether the $35 price tag is worth it.  The decor and ambiance are pleasant inside, but nothing you haven't seen at a nice chain restaurant.  The wait staff is very pleasant and eager to please.  The calamari appetizer was standout, and the steak medallions and lobster are predictable but pleasing so long as the lobster isn't over broiled.  All the dishes were presented in a simple manner on well-sized plates.

Insider tip: If you aren't interested in Devour Downtown, or the dinner menu is out of your budget for an ordinary weeknight, check out happy hour Monday through Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the bar area.  For $3.99 you can score a burger and fries or sliders.  Also, keep an eye on Foursquare.  The Indianapolis McCormick & Schmick's used to offer buy one, get one free entrees to the Foursquare mayor.  This special isn't available right now, but maybe the restaurant will re-join the ranks of Foursquare specials in the future.

McCormick & Schmick's on Urbanspoon

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