A self-identified nerd, I’d be remiss in my responsibilities and certainly lose much of my geek street cred if I didn’t attend GenCon on an annual basis, so last week (courtesy of my friends at Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast, who brought me in as a “special guest”) I took in the four days of GenCon. While most of the weekend was spent special-guesting, I did have time for some decent meals. Of course, there was also the horrible convention center food, and the not-terrible grilled cheese sandwich at the sports pub, but we’ll talk about the good stuff.
WEDNESDAY: Barcelona Tapas
We had an industry-insider thing that ran until 10pm, and Barcelona was the only place that was willing to seat 10 of us so late. Kudos to them for keeping the kitchen open so late for us.
We ordered a pile of plates, as one does. All of it was decent, although there was one bite of Solomillo con Cabrales (tenderloin with bleu cheese and spinach) that wasn’t quite so tender. Of particular note were Atún Con Pimienta (pepper crusted tuna in Rioja sauce) and Brécol Rioja (sautéed broccolini with sundried tomatoes and garlic). We were going to pass on dessert until the one-person-wants-it-turns-seven-pieces-of-cake cascade. I’m not too much on the sweets, but the Tres Leches was as good as I’ve had it.
Thanks especially to our server, who I know wanted to go home about the time we showed up and bravely stayed the extra hour and a half.
THURSDAY: Harry & Izzy’s
In what has become a GenCon tradition now, my friends Brian and Scott and I go to Harry & Izzy’s on Thursday to talk movies and baseball and eat the world’s spiciest shrimp cocktail and the St. Elmo’s Prime Rib Sandwich. It is indeed one of the finest sandwiches I’ve ever had.
There was an attractive Penner-Ash Pinot on the wine list, but it turns out they didn’t have any left. We went for 2006 J. Vidal-Fleury Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which was acceptable. It was obviously quite young, but drinking it in its youth didn’t seem too much of a sin.
FRIDAY: St. Elmo’s Steakhouse
A white-tablecloth steakhouse right next door to (and owned by the same folks as) Harry & Izzy’s, I had been looking forward to St. Elmo’s for a few weeks for a nice cut of meat and a decent bottle of wine. I got half of what I wanted.
One of the folks I dined with was on an expense account and picking up the check, so as I opened the wine menu, I asked “what’s our wine budget?” He said “About $70,” and I closed the menu (70 bucks isn’t going to get you much in steakhouseland). The other friend said, “Yeah, that won’t do.” We worked out something between us, and ended up with a really nice bottle of 2004 Domaine Du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. Again, a little young, but exuberant in that youth, the barnyard aromas rocketing out of the glass, leading to the rich Rhone fruits. I would look forward to laying down a bottle and picking it back up around 2022.
The steak was a minor disappointment. It was exactly the cut I was looking for: bone-in rib-eye. The problem was two-fold, the first part one that I know lots of us get into in steak houses: the meat wasn’t cooked just right—but it was close enough to not want to send it back. I ordered it medium rare, it came out as kind of a rare-push. My concern with sending it back (which I don’t mind doing anywhere) would be getting it overdone. Since I’m content to eat rare steak, it was good enough. I simply thought the EV on sending it back was pretty low. The quality of the meat was acceptable, but nothing extraordinary.
The second part was that it was slightly over-spiced. It had a nice crust of secret St. Elmo spices, but I found it just a little too much. I’m a believer that a good piece of beef will speak for itself and needs only the lightest of seasoning. Again, not enough to make the fuss of sending it back, but the two elements combined leant a mediocrity to the experience.
Fortunately, the feeling of “meh” was chased away by a second bottle of the Pegau and a 20-year-old Tawny.
SATURDAY: Weber Grill Restaurant
Another spot that we hit with some regularity in Indy, this was once again a hit. The chili of the day was white bean and green chile with smoked pork. It fired on all cylinders, though I wouldn’t have been sad had it had an even greater kick to it. The meal was the 3-way combo of beef brisket, ribs, and pulled pork, which I think 3 of the 4 of us all got.
The wine list was pretty pedestrian, so we decided to drink cocktails. I drank Belvedere and cranberry, straight up, and it made me think about the art of shaking a cocktail, even a simple one. I know the ‘stirred, not shaken’ crowd likes to talk about shaking bruising the aromatics, but a simple booze-and-juice cocktail (the same would have applied if this had the added elements for a Cosmo) deserves a pretty rigorous shake in order to get the temperature of the drink to that nicely crisp point where it’s cold but not so cold as to not be able to taste the elements.
The other thing that struck me about the place was as we were waiting for our table (which we got within five minutes of our reservation time—reasonably good on busy Saturday night), we saw at least a dozen folks who came up to the hostess stand looking for a table and were shocked at the hour wait. Especially in a downtown area, and especially one with 30,000+ people in town for a convention, how can you not make a reservation on Saturday night at 8pm? How have people—who live a great deal of their lives online—not be aware of the facility of things like Open Table? If I were to leave GenCon attendees with one tip for eating in the Indy restaurants, it’s “make your reservations a week out.”
The Best Four Days in Gaming might not be the Best Four Days in Eating, but there are certainly enough discoveries to be made.