Eat Up Downtown: Indochine
Eat Up Downtown’s purpose is clear — draw Jacksonville’s citizenry away from their favorite outlying restaurants and into downtown. Some of the most highly regarded establishments in the city trot out their three course prix fixe menus once a year for the low, low price of $25. Galloping hordes of diners (in theory) pour into their chairs, sample the fare and establish a relationship that will last the whole year through. So, what happened at Indochine?
Indochine stormed onto the scene last year to become one of the most buzzed about restaurants in Jacksonville. Modern Thai dishes coupled with a hip and beautiful downtown location made for many the breathless thumbs up on various restaurant rating sites. The 93% positive rating on Urbanspoon alone tells the casual observer that it’s a place to be reckoned with. I had never been to Indochine, so in the spirit of Eat Up Downtown, I gathered up my usual posse and climbed the stairs above the Burrito Gallery to explore the Far East.
The ambiance is very pleasant. Modern art and tasteful furnishings combine with a candlelight vibe to provide an oasis from the bustle of the street. It turns out that was a much needed oasis, considering the JSO officer that approached one of my companions with a flyer instructing her how to stay safe downtown. This would have been a lovely gesture, had it not been full of silliness like “how to create a soothing atmosphere inside your car.” Also, it didn’t sit well that the officer said, “Things are bad down here. Real bad.” Sure, downtown seems to have turned into the OK Corral recently, but it’s not so hot for PR.
Dear JSO – Not helping. Love, Downtown Merchants.
As we were told about our menu options our waitress mistakenly listed scallops, which were not on the printed menu. We asked her, she asked the manager. The manager looked at the computer and said no. We were fine with that, but then the manager came across the room and nodded his head and said something that sounded positive, so we asked again. Big mistake. Our waitress was less than pleased with us for the rest of the evening even though we were polite and did not insist on anything not on the menu. In fact, we told her we didn’t want to cause any trouble. Her smile had, alas, disappeared. (Along with our water refill bottle for 20 minutes.)
We all chose the same appetizer sampler plate, which included a fried roll, a spring (which was actually what I consider a summer) roll, calamari and crab Rangoon. Oddly, I had a different dipping sauce than my other two dining partners, yet there was no comment given as to why. The summer roll had so much basil in it I felt like I was chewing grass clippings. The fried items were so thick and hard-fried that I actually skipped the top of the Rangoon in fear of losing tooth enamel. The squirty orange sickly sweet goo that came out of the bottom showed no signs of ever having met with crab, but who could tell over the sweetness? The calamari was honestly the only decent thing on the plate and even chains like Roy’s still blow that out of the water.
I ordered my standard first-Thai-date entree, shrimp phad thai – spice level 1. I like spice, but it’s my canary in a coal mine with Thai places, like cheese pizza at a pizza joint or a spicy tuna roll at a new sushi bar. I might as well have ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was shockingly sweet, absolutely without seasoning and so greasy I could taste very little other than oil.
You may be saying, “But wait, Jodi! What the hell? Finding a shrimp in that photo is like finding Waldo! Didn’t you say you ordered SHRIMP Phad Thai? ” Why yes! Yes I did. In this giant plate of phad thai, I got FOUR shrimp which were so undercooked and rubbery that they were still transparent, as you can clearly see in the photograph below.
Finally, we had dessert. We were going to each try one of the three offered desserts, but the warm chocolate lava cake was sold out. We were there on the second night of “Eat Up” with a 7 p.m. reservation. It’s awfully poor planning not to know the chocolate might be popular. It’s even worse planning not to warn diners when a menu item is sold out BEFORE they order. That’s something you might want to mention when you hand around the menus, no?
We ended up with two mango sticky rice dishes and one coconut crème brûlée. As they came out, we noticed something odd… my sticky rice was NOT the same as Cari’s sticky rice. Can you spot the difference?
Cari’s Mango Purple Sticky Rice
Jodi’s Mango Purple Sticky Rice
That’s right – hers is topped with a mango, as advertised. Mine is topped with some sort of odd flan-like custardesque substance. I would be more descriptive, but the only discernible flavor there was sugar. Yet, our server placed these two dishes in front of us without comment. It may be helpful here for me to explain my philosophy about reviewing restaurants. I take service as it is given. I do not send back food and I do not complain unless I feel that a dish is unsafe, in which case I send it back as courteously as possible. We did not ask for, nor did we receive, any explanation for two people at the same table ordering the same dish and receiving two different dishes. Consistency and communication are obviously not strong suits at Indochine.
I was extremely dissatisfied with my Indochine experience. We’ve all come to expect hulking wrecks like the Wine Cellar to put out substandard prix fixe menus for Eat Up. But, this young, buzzy hot spot should be beating folks away at the door and knocking my socks off. Yet, there we were at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday and there were only three other tables filled. Maybe it’s more of a lunch place, but any Eat Up Downtown review must ask – does this experience bring in more dinner customers to downtown?
In my case, I won’t be back. The cost savings for Eat Up was very small. My entree would have been $15. Apps are around $6-7. Desserts aren’t listed on the menu, but even if they are $6-8 too, my total savings was about $3-$5. Therefore, this meal should have been comparable to ordering from the standard menu. If this is what they serve to bring folks in for the rest of the year, I’m not interested.
Every restaurant considering participating in Eat Up Downtown should seriously consider their capabilities. If you can’t deliver service and quality that properly represents your menu at the $25 price point, you are not doing your restaurant any favors by bringing in new customers only to give them poor service and bad food.
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all images copyright © 2011 by jodi a. kasten • all rights reserved