The crabcake was an inauspicious start. Ensconced as we were in the dark-paneled Fireplace Room of Dunaway’s Palazzo Ossigeno, with gentle flames licking the intricately carved hearth and the candelabra twinkling, we were looking for some evidence that this shrine to Indy’s industrial past—which made a splash when former St. Elmo co-owner Jeff Dunaway opened the sleek eatery in 1998—still had some culinary chops. The appetizer did little to restore our faith: a flat puck of over-mixed crab, its too-smooth exterior wearing an insipid remoulade. At $13, it almost seemed a crime.
Then the salads arrived, and we sat up and took notice. A classic wedge came bathed in a refreshing, lighter-than-expected bleu-cheese dressing. The goat-cheese salad was showered in tiny cubes of Cabernet-poached beets and tossed in a bracing sherry vinaigrette. Here, finally, were signs that Christopher Bator, Dunaway’s latest in a line of chefs, might have the palate and savvy to bring back some of the glory of the early Dunaway’s, when the food more closely matched the impressive decor.
A former private chef to golf legend Tiger Woods and recently incarcerated playboy investor Tim Durham, Bator was a bold choice to rekindle the interest of crowds beyond game-day fans and corporate party planners, the restaurant’s bread and butter. While he says he has plans to bring local produce and in-house charcuterie to the staid chophouse menu, he has so far mostly refined the status quo. Entrees are especially improved under his watch. A brined pork chop has an almost airy quality to it, juicy and well-seasoned with hearty polenta cakes and sauteed apples as tasty complements. A bone-in Kansas City strip is noticeably beefy and generous, with crisp, golden fingerling potatoes providing a welcome alternative to mashed spuds or fries. Deeply seared scallops retain a lush opaque center, and the accompanying lemon beurre blanc, while rich, marries wilted spinach and tender asparagus well with bits of pancetta.
Bator is also working the pastry station now, upgrading such playful interpretations as banana “pie,” an upright pastry cuff filled with a light pistachio cream and topped with sweet bruleed bananas. The night we ordered it, our amiable waiter and self-appointed house mixologist Jared stole around the archway from the bar brandishing a cocktail shaker. In it, he mixed for us ice-cold shots of a housemade banana liquor with such a lovely natural sweetness to it, we toasted to the old days and told ourselves we would be back for more.
Dunaway’s Palazzo Ossigeno
351 S. East St., 638-7663, dunaways.com
HOURS Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m.
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the March 2013 issue.