For a lot of people, the closing of H20 Sushi meant the end of really great raw fish in Indianapolis. There are a handful of places where you can get decent raw oysters, and a smaller handful of restaurants serving truly outstanding raw fish. But Greg Hardesty is about to change all that with another reinvention of his restaurant, and he's bringing a raw bar right to the heart of SoBro.
It does, of course, mean curtains for Room Four, the casual burgers-and-tacos sidekick version of Recess. These days though, the city is up to its eyeballs in restaurants serving "dress-up classics with a twist," and if you want a great burger on College Avenue, the average person is much more likely to hit up Twenty Tap for the price. When I asked him about it, Hardesty admitted that the old crowd had seemingly "forgotten" about the 49th and College restaurant, but that you still couldn't get a really good oyster anywhere in town.
Personally, I'm so excited about having a raw bar less than ten minutes from my house, but I'm terrified about the impending financial damage. You can thank the blow-out success of Recess's limited run of omakase dinners (the chef-centric style of sushi service that's beautifully portrayed in Jiro Dreams of Sushi) for pushing Hardesty back to his roots.
Recess, too, has undergone some minor tweaks to its service. You can still get the classic prix fixe menu that made Hardesty famous, and you can now choose from a freeform a la carte menu. The restaurant does a monthly wine dinner, like the magnum dinner I attended on Thursday, which had only a seat limit and no set start or ending time. Service was nothing less than excellent, and the restaurant had the most relaxed vibe I've ever felt (aside from the Chefs Night Off x Recess dinner). Hardesty has plans to switch up the interior, soften it up and turn the front foyer into more of an open kitchen style bar.
It's like watching the chef switch from a pair of hard-soled work clogs into a pair of stylish but broken-in leather loafers. As a restaurant, Recess is keeping the fine-dining food and unbuttoning the top button on its crisp suit. Hardesty is never going to compromise on the quality of his food, but he has found a new way to serve both new and old customers what they want.
Thursday's dinner was easily one of the highlights of my 2015 dining experiences, with expectedly perfect service to go with one of my top three meals of 2015. Dry bubbles to cut through the rich, fatty foie gras, Amarone-infused reds to elbow-drop onto rich beef, and the angels sang and the birds chirped and all that. And that part of the Recess model isn't going to change. You'll still be able to have the best fine dining experience in the city right at the spot where it all began.
But mourners of H20 and lovers of raw proteins should rejoice. Hardesty's raw reinvention will no doubt raise the bar higher for the entire dining scene, just like he did five years ago when Recess first opened.
New Look: Recess Raw Bar
Where: 4907 N. College Ave.
Info: recessindy.com, 925-7529