“Fine Dining” at 120 West Market Fresh Grill

"Fine Dining" at 120 West Market Fresh GrillOn the corner of Market and Illinois in downtown Indianapolis, you will find the Hilton Indianapolis Inn & Suites. This incredibly nice hotel offers luxury rooms and suites as well as a couple top-notch restaurants. On one side you have McCormick & Schmick’s, one of my favorite restaurants in Indianapolis. On the other side, sharing the same entryway, you have 120 West Market Fresh Grill.

On Friday, July 9th, 2010, some friends of mine were performing at the Hilton. If you have not heard of this show, you must check it out. It’s called the Mind Tripping Show, and will run every Friday and Saturday for the next six weeks. They are doing two shows a night, so make sure you get your tickets soon. Each show is limited to only forty people, and the first couple of shows are already sold out.

When you buy your tickets for Mind Tripping, make sure you take advantage of the discount offered at 120 West. If you come in before or after the show, you can buy one entrée, and get one free with your ticket. The first show starts at 6:30, so you could save your appetite for after the entertainment. Or if you are like us, and attend the 8:00 show, you can come in around 6:30 and enjoy a nice meal before the presentation.

We had dinner reservations at 6:30 on Friday and actually got there a few minutes late. It took forever to find parking. I had actually called the Hilton on my way downtown to see if they validated parking for guests, but alas, they did not. That surprised me, actually. We were having dinner in one of their restaurants, and taking in a show in one of their conference rooms, yet they did not seem to want to validate parking. We found a space on the street for free, but I was just surprised that a hotel, especially one as nice as the Hilton, would not validate parking.

When we walked in, I took a glance at my watch to see just how late we were. Our reservations were slated for 6:30, and we arrived just before 7:00. However, when looking around the restaurant, I knew that it wouldn’t be an issue. The restaurant was huge, with tables everywhere.  The far-right side gave you a nice view of the streets outside. The other side gave you a view of the open-air kitchen and a huge Indiana collage hanging on the way. The mural was quite interesting, featuring imagery of cows, canned vegetables, cherry pie, and more. Based on the menu, featuring a lot of items from Indiana and Indiana-grown vegetables, it makes sense.

Once seated, our server was quick to greet us. He quickly poured us a glass of water, introduced himself, and asked us if we would like anything else to drink. Seeing as how I had just sat down, and hadn’t even been given the chance to look at the wine list, I decided on a diet soda. They did offer free refills, which is nice considering that McCormick & Schmick’s, right across the hall, does not. Sheryl ended up getting a glass of red wine to go with her filet, but I stuck with soda.

Sheryl and I had already looked at the menu online before we left. Note that 120 West does not have a website of their own, but rather a page or two on the Hilton website. It was still easy to find, thanks to the power of Google, but I was a tad bit surprised they didn’t have a site of their own. When we read the menu, we both decided that we would select the filet. It was the most expensive item on the menu, but hey, it was buy one get one free after all.

I am getting ahead of myself. The server eventually came back with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. Sheryl went first and ordered her filet medium. I ordered mine medium rare, and that was that. They did not give us an option of sides, nor did they offer us a salad or a cup of soup. You would think that a meal costing over $30 would come with some options. But no, the steak was served with a side of petite vegetables and scalloped mashed potatoes.

The steak also had a bleu cheese crust on top, which made it even more enjoyable. It was not too much bleu cheese, rather a perfect portion to allow a taste in every bite of the steak. Speaking of the steak, I had the chance to taste two of them. I understand that things like this happen, that the kitchen gets busy, the grill is a bit too hot, what have you. But when my steak came out, I took one bite and had to send it back.

Sheryl’s steak was overdone as well. She had ordered her steak medium, but it came out medium well, almost well done. Mine, on the other hand, I had ordered medium rare. Now, on their menu it says medium rare is, “warm red center.” My steak was hot, and practically brown all the way through. I apologized to the server, not wanting to be “that guy”, and he extremely understood. He immediately grabbed the plate and said that they would get a new one on the grill.

This brings me to my next point. We were sitting in the dining room, and I get it that they were slow, and that the open air kitchen plays into this, but I could hear everything that was being said in that kitchen. Even when our server took the steak back to the kitchen, I heard him basically explaining what I had told him about how I wanted the steak prepared. That, and the fact that every time an order was up, someone would ring a bell and yell, “Order up.” The first few times it was okay, but after about seven or eight rings of that bell, I began to get irritated.

120 West is known for having great food and a unique atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but if I am spending $100 on dinner, I don’t want to be watching ESPN and to hear the Backstreet Boys playing on the radio. I heard, while trying to enjoy my dinner, Thriving Ivory, the Backstreet Boys, Mat Kearney, The Script, and a handful of other popular songs on the radio. The selection in music definitely needs a change.

The lighting was an issue as well. I get that it was still light outside, and the entire back half of the restaurant was filled with huge picture windows, but the lighting in the restaurant seemed to be turned all the way up. If you go to a place like Peterson’s Restaurant, St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, or other fine dining establishment, it is usually dark and romantic inside. Sometimes you can’t even see your food. But that is just their attempt at setting the mood. But with the pop music blaring in the background, bells ringing in the kitchen, and sunshine pouring in through the windows, there wasn’t much of a mood being created here.

When my second steak finally arrived at the table, Sheryl was done eating. I had been picking on the rolls that were left on the table from before, but all I wanted was a big hunk of meat. Speaking of the rolls, I want some more. In the basket were four rolls, two were just typical yeast rolls, but the other two were pretzel rolls. These rolls, similar to what they serve at Weber Grill Restaurant , were delicious. The salt was dusted perfectly on top, and the flavor was intense. The rolls were served warm, not hot, and the butter was practically frozen. It wasn’t anything special either, the butter. It was just some plain Jane butter. But with the rolls being near room temperature, and the butter being frozen, it was nearly impossible to spread.

Anyway, back to the steak. When the new steak arrived, I was ready to dig in. the server asked for me to cut into this time before he left, making sure the steak was prepared the way I liked. The steak, mixed with the potatoes and the petite vegetables, was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. The steak was tender, tasted fresh, and was prepared exactly how I had asked. It was a cool, tender and juicy center, and the bleu cheese was perfect. I was a happy man by the time I was finished.

During our meal, the stars of Mind Tripping Show came walking in. it was actually the first time I had met them. I have been chatting with them on Twitter and Facebook for months, but this was the first chance I had to meet them. They travel all the time, touring from one coast to the next and even in Europe and Asia. But we took some time to chat, and shared a few laughs before he graciously allowed us to finish our dinner.

By the time we were done with dinner, I was so full that all I wanted to do was relax. But it was time to head up to the show. Our server, who was great by the way, came back and dropped off the check. I judge a server by the number of times he or she has to fill my water glass. The glass was never empty. He earned his tip, that’s for sure.

I don’t want you to think that we had a bad time at 120 West Market Fresh Grill. We didn’t. The food was incredible, the price points are competitive, and the atmosphere was decent. I just think there are a lot of things they could do to make the experience better. Tone down the music, and play something more fitting. Figure out how to control the lighting, and take ESPN off the television in the bar. And heat up your butter, for God’s sake! If they could just improve on these few small details, they would have a lot of more business in my opinion.

I did, before the night was over, get the chance to chat with the head chef. He explained the current menu to me, and talked about how hard it is to keep the Indiana theme going all year round. Due to that, and various other reasons, 120 West will be rolling out a new menu next month. He stated that the portion sizes would be smaller, the pricing would decrease (I blame the economy on that), and they were going to try to add a new line of dishes to appeal to a wider audience. So if you get a chance, make sure you head down there after the first of August to try the new menu. I know I will.