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Thursday, May 6, 2004 07:56 pm

A new blue

art1036
Indigo Grill’s Atlantic Salmon (foreground) with Shrimp & Gouda and Steak Shiitake pizzas
Photo by Nick Steinkamp

Indigo Grill is a spinoff of the city's popular west-siderestaurant Indigo, but it has a face all its own. There are signs that the two restaurants are related -- extensive wine lists, creative menus, and large paintings of blue dogs dotting the walls of both establishments -- but several differences are evident as well.

The new restaurant is nearly an extension of the Capitol. With its close proximity to the dome, the large old brick building that once housed Bauer's restaurant and, more recently, Remy's Steakhouse has always been a magnet for state-government employees and legislators. That hasn't changed. Lobbyists stand outside the restaurant, working their cell phones, and some of the state's top officials are frequently seen dining with friends and colleagues.

The restaurant's interior, featuring brick and oak-paneled walls and stained glass, remains rich in character. Whereas the new location is modern and metropolitan in tone, the vintage feel of this building and its rich history bring a more intimate atmosphere to its dining rooms.

In addition to seasonal items, Indigo Grill offers favorites such as steak, lobster, and fish, but the traditional fare gets a Southwestern spin with the liberal use of garlic, chile, and jalapeño. The pork chop, for instance, is rubbed in chile and garlic, then broiled and served over garlic mashed potatoes with a zesty tomato-garlic broth. The shrimp salad is tossed in a zesty chile aioli and served stuffed in a blanched red pepper.

Appetizers, soup, pizza, and à la carte items can be ordered to start a meal. Some of these items -- for instance, the pasta and meatballs, shrimp salad, gumbo, crab cakes, or calamari pizza -- could be ordered as a meal to satisfy a lighter appetite or as late-night snack.

My husband and I wanted to try the crab cakes and the satay duo, a sampling of sesame pork and fennel-seared beef with sauce diablo and veggie chips. Both items were sold out, so we settled on a Margarita pizza and Caesar salad at the suggestion of our waitress.

The salad was crisp, made with romaine lettuce and sprinkled with garlic crostini. Gorgonzola cheese and candied walnuts boosted the flavor of the creamy dressing. The pizza, however, was disappointing: The flavor of the red pepper, cheese, and chunks of chicken atop a crispy, thin crust was pleasing, but after waiting about 25 minutes for our appetizers to arrive, we were disappointed to find that the pizza was lukewarm. I would have asked the waitress to reheat the pizza, but she never asked how we liked it, so I didn't get the chance. Other pizza-topping choices include shrimp and Gouda cheese, calamari and duck, and Asiago cheese.

For dinner, I ordered the Indigo cut, a top sirloin that was marinated in balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, then wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and charbroiled. The steak was cooked just as I ordered it. The richness of the marinade came through nicely, and the bacon lent the meat extra flavor. The steak was served with a thick block of macaroni sauced with five cheeses. The dish was flavorful and rich but should have been served hotter -- the cheese on top was congealed rather than melted.

My husband ordered the mahi-mahi. The pan-roasted fillet was served over roasted corn and shallot rice with a sweet-corn jus and fresh radish-lime-cilantro salad. The fish was flaky and tender but a bit bland. Our entrées each came with a house salad, which comprised a nice plate of mixed greens and house dressing. Other entrées include the Cowboy cut, a 24-oz. seared ribeye served with jalapeño-and-sage-roasted mushrooms and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes; and a lamb trio, which comprised imported chops, seared medallions, and ribs broiled under honey-peppercorn barbecue sauce, pommes frites, and toasted-cumin-and-tomato bouillon. New York strip steak, Canadian lobster, yellowfin tuna, pork chops, penne pasta with vegetables, and roasted portobello mushrooms and salmon are other offerings. Custom-cut steaks and chops are also available.

Indigo has earned its reputation as one of the city's best restaurants. I expected the same here, but Indigo Grill isn't quite at the level of its sister restaurant -- at least not yet. I'll give it another try, maybe when the Legislature isn't in town.

Indigo Grill is located at 620 S. First St.; phone: 217-744-3333. Open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu. (5-11 p.m. during the legislative session) and 5-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. The bar is open until 1 a.m.

Farmers markets 

Two farmers' markets will return this month, giving area residents a chance to buy locally grown fresh produce and other items in an open-air atmosphere.

The Old Capitol Farmers Market, presented by St. John's Hospital, returns to downtown Springfield on May 19. Previews will be held 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 8, and Wednesday, May 12. Fresh flowers, plants, pecans, herbs, and other early-season items will be available those days on the south side of the Old State Capitol Plaza.

The regular market will offer a variety of homegrown produce ranging from tomatoes to turnips, as well as crafts, baked goods, organic produce and meat, and fresh flowers. It will operate 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through October. The market is located on Adams Street between Fifth and Third streets.

For more information, call 217-544-1723 or visit www.downtownspringfield.org.

The Chatham Farmers Market will be in operation 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursdays from May 27 through October on the village square, one block south of the intersection of Route 4 and Walnut Street. This market, now in its second year, is sponsored by the Daily Bread program.  

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