Old and New Favorites 

Indy food writers on the dishes they go back for again and again

Everyone has an old standby -- a favorite restaurant dish worth going back for, over and over.

It's the dish you order after studying the menu for the 49th time, the one with no objectionable qualities. It's the dish your tastebuds urge you to stick with when you're on the verge of being adventurous.

We asked our food writers to describe their old standbys, and to identify a new dish that just might become an old standby.

Here's what they had to say.

MB Partlow:

Old standby: I've been eating at Saigon Springs for 10 years now, and not too much has changed. But despite the fact that I love the pho (Vietnamese soup), the curried squid and the duck on crispy noodles, I rarely get past the bun bowls. The bottom of the bowl is filled with excruciatingly fresh cilantro, mint, bean sprouts and shredded lettuce. The next thick layer is wiry-thin rice noodles. The topping always includes chopped peanuts and green onions, and I prefer my bun with sliced skinny, crispy Vietnamese eggroll, garlicky grilled shrimp, and thin strips of grilled pork. I want one now. (Saigon Springs, 3408 N. Academy, 597-1175)

New standout: The one item I've been repeatedly drawn back to lately is the grilled veggie burrito at Salsa Brava. While it hardly sounds like a show-stopping item, I'm in love with the fact that it's done absolutely right. The veggies are perfectly grilled, with loads of flavor, so there's no crunching into a log of undercooked squash, while simultaneously there's no vegetable cooked soft beyond recognition. Someone in the kitchen is definitely paying attention. I like mine topped with the hot green chili, and I'm also rather fond of the side dish of refried black beans, purplish, earthy and out of the ordinary. (Salsa Brava, 802 Village Center Drive, 266-9244)

Nancy Harley:

Old standby: For some folks a movie and dinner might involve a multiplex for sensory overload and a chain restaurant for a burger. For me it's always been Kimball's Twin Peak and Il Vicino, the little pizza joint around the corner. About the only thing that changes with an evening like that is the film. My choice at Il Vicino is almost always the same: the Angeli pizza. It's a pizza of extreme flavors. There's not just mozzarella cheese, but gorgonzola; the marinara has a deeply balsamic undertone; where other pizzas use milder mushrooms, the Angeli offers portobello. For texture there are chicken and artichoke hearts. Each bite is a little explosion of something surprising. Each time I get it I'm reminded again of how good it is. (Il Vicino, 11 S. Tejon St.,475-9224)

New standout: None at this time. Picky, picky, picky.

Suzanne Becker:

Old standby: My one tried and true dish is the eggplant tofu at Wild Ginger. To fully appreciate the dish, you must like eggplant, (though they have been known to substitute other vegetables). Sauteed eggplant and loads of garlic mingle with red chili peppers, sweet basil and organic tofu. Together, they create a vibrantly flavorful dish. The secret lies within the sauce, and the ability to cook eggplant and tofu to a sauted perfection. (Wild Ginger Thai, 3020 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025)

New standout: Recently, I had dinner at Fratelli's, an intimate downtown Italian eatery. I dined early and ordered from the Chianti Sunset menu, which features a choice of specials Monday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.. The Pollo Alla Picatta -- a chicken breast marinated in Pinot Grigio wine, lemon and capers -- was cooked to perfection, moist and tender, the wine flavor present but not overpowering. That dish will definitely see this face again. (Fratelli Ristorante Italiano, 124 N. Nevada Ave., 575-9571)

Kathryn Eastburn:

Old standby: When she sees me coming, the waitress at La Creperie might as well put in an order for the chicken croquettes with dill cream sauce, served with the vegetable of the day -- usually crisp, thin green beans -- and a pile of chewy whole grain rice. The dense croquettes are pan-fried to a golden brown, then smothered in the delicate sauce. This dish is all comfort: not too filling but substantial, simple but sophisticated. I usually forego the salad and have a cup of deep orange carrot soup, topped with a dollop of crme frache. An intense shot of Vitamin D.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my every-Monday-night old standby, steak night at The Ritz. A thick, tender 8-ounce filet, cooked medium rare, served with sauted veggies and a Ritz baker -- the skin rubbed with oil, coarse salt and pepper -- all for $12. You can't beat it. (La Creperie, 204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984; The Ritz Grill, 15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484)

New standout: Partially out of fear of the above-mentioned chicken croquettes disappearing from La Creperie's menu, I have begun experimenting with the newest dish on their menu -- lamb risotto. This is a steaming plate of soft rice cooked in herbed broth, flecked with pieces of tender roast lamb and chunks of tomato, flavored with slightly pungent goat cheese. Were there peas? I can't remember. Guess I'll have to go back and try it again ... and again.


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