You want to push my ADD into overdrive and paralyze me with decision anxiety, go ahead and hand me a mile-long, 100-item menu (looking at you, Yard House). If you want your new wait staff to look bedraggled by 9 p.m., get a place with a huge footprint. Or, if you are as wise as the owners of Fletcher Place's new place Nourish, you would run in the opposite direction with a small location and a focused menu, and your guests will be grateful for both.
There is something refreshing about a new restaurant that starts everything small. On south East street, the restaurant is set up in what would unfairly be called a "strip mall," though it certainly doesn't feel like that. They put in a sexy, backlit bar scattered with the silhouettes of tree branches, and simple, clean-looking table tops with minimal accoutrement. The windows face the lovely Lilly Campus.
Similarly, the menu is short and focused with a handful of options for small plates, salads and large plates, respectively. You can tell a lot about a chef's experience based on what kind of menu they put out and the seasoning balance in the dishes themselves.
For example, coating something in bacon and ranch flavor-blasting doesn't really do anything but remind your patrons that you're a white-sunglasses-and-flames-shirt-sporting douchebag, not the Mayor of Flavortown you wanted to be. On the flipside, putting a handful of thoughtfully-created dishes that are balanced and well-seasoned is how you let the world know they can take you seriously as a real chef.
That's why I dig Eli Laidlaw's menu here so much. Not because it's perfect, but because it's indicative that the restaurant is going to have a distinctive feel through the food. That's the kind of creative risk I believe should be rewarded.
The "Nourish" name invokes the chef's passion for using organic ingredients in symphony to make great food. Our small plate of lentil croquettes, while well-spiced and dressed with crisp microgreens, harissa and crema, reminded me of how much I enjoy the taste of well-prepared lentils. With the large plate, it was a good reminder of how heavenly a piece of fish could be (walleye in this case), when it is seasoned and cooked perfectly. Laidlaw's ramen noodles had the most incredible chewy texture in a complex, bright broth. The chicken dish made chicken interesting again.
In all honesty, we didn't have a stinker all night, save for maybe the slightly weird plating of the lemon-mezcal dessert that looked like someone had dropped it, stepped on it, and sent it to the table anyway. But honestly, it all ends up in a slurry in the gut anyway, and it wasn't weird enough to distract from how delicious the bright lemon with the smokey mezcal was.
They also had run out of quite a bit of food for an opening Friday, but that's not a terribly unusual hiccup in the world of new restaurants. The staff is well-trained on the food and drinks, but being out of steak on a Friday at 8 falls squarely in the Fail Zone, even though they saved the day with an outstanding piece of fish.
Subtle flavor has usually been the name of Laidlaw's game. I recall a particularly incredible piece of pork he prepared for a Chefs Night Off dinner that involved barrel-aged brine and a lot of time spent
in the sous vide machine. That kind of preparation takes a lot of thought and planning, a lot of seeing the end at the beginning. You will most likely find something on the menu that will strike your unusual fancy, and you'll get a heaping dose of farm-fresh produce on every plate.
That was my favorite part of the night: We ate a lot of food, but no one left feeling like we were going to die in a Monty Python-esque demise. In keeping flavors that are faithful to the ingredients, the food comes out exactly as the name of the restaurant suggests: Clean, thoughtful, and nourishing.
We'll post a full review once the restaurant gets fully on its feet, but until then, we can heartily recommend a visit to the new Fletcher Place location.
Where: 931 S. East St.
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Closed Sunday
More info: 737-1699, thenourishindy.com