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INtake Weekly - August 2006

R Bistro still living up to the hype

A one of Indianapolis' handful of independent fine-dining restaurants, R Bistro and it's chef/owner, Regina Mehallick, seem almost constantly to appear in one or another publication. Here's Mehallick showing you how to cook wild Alaskan salmon; there she is discussing pink lady apples.

I knew her by sight before I'd ever stepped into her restaurant, and that worried me a little. So much hype for one chef - could her cuisine live up to it's reputation? I'll spare you the suspense. The meal at R Bistro showed us exactly why her mug is ubiquitous in cooking segments and articles about local dining.

Changing menu, steady service

R Bistro is an embrace of a restaurant. It's much longer than it is wide, with a crook in the middle that sends the dining room off from the storefront at an angle. Brick walls make it warm; a restrained hand ensured that the food would shine in the understated atmosphere.

Mehallick's menu changes every week ("There's just too many dishes for me to keep running the same thing," she said.) and that enables the chef to make use of seasonal produce. Yoou'll always find five appetizers, entrees (one vegetarian) and desserts on the R Bistro menu; whether you find berries or root vegetables depends on when you show up.

Despite their short acquaintance with each menu, servers are more at east with the dishes they're serving than most of their peers who sell set-in-stone menus. Ours could tell us the vinegar that was in our salad and how the pork tenderloin was prepared.

The menu provides further detail, listing the names of the producers who grew the cantaloupe and collected the eggs that went into the meal.

For a menu so succinct, R Bistro's line-up is surprisingly troubling. Should I try the grilled chicken breast with walermelon-hicama salad and watermelon soup or the seared scallops with yellow gazpacho?

Food worth a return trip

We started with mussels ($9.25) in broth golden from saffron and punched up with basil, mint and Pernod. The combination wal delectable.

A grilled nectarine and local leaf salad ($8.75) came dressed in a Sherry vinaigrette that had the influence of lavender. Toasted hazelnuts topped off of a wholly memorable concoction.

Me entree was a grilled pork tenderloin ($21.95) served with a fig and ginger sauce and a carrot slaw. The pork was superbly tender, and the fig sauce had a great balance of ginger and sweetness; the excellent slaw beside it included green cabbage, spinach and a sesame dressing. The plate also offered a couple overfried cornmeal hushpuppies that were hard on the teeth but still kind to the tongue with cayenne, garlic and onion flavors.

An Audouille and beef burger ($19.95) for my other was served open-faced, topped with sweet caramelized onions and spicy mayo. The burger was spicy, and the cabbage slaw that came with it was a perfect contrast.

Dessert was homemade Bing cherry and chocolate ice cream )$5.50) and a spiced blueberry grunt ($5.95) - a kind of cobbler of berries topped by a biscuity layer that was thick enough to overpower the fruit. No complaints about the ice cream, which was vanilla with chunks of cherry and chocolate.

Given the number of exclamations we unfurled over the food, the bill was a shock: Less than $100 (with wine!) for such a sensuous experience is quite a gift. When she delivered the bill, our waitress invited us back to see what Regina whips up next week "and the week after that, and the next one..."

The prospect doesn't seem like the joke that she made it.