Finch's Brasserie is a small elegant restaurant on the east side of Kirkwood Ave basking in the view of IU's sample gates. It was established in 2008 by Jeff Finch and his wife. The space is warm and inviting, and includes a gallery space upstairs.
As soon as you walk in the door you immediately realize that you are in an upscale establishment. The casual familiar fare so common to Kirkwood is not what you will find here. The lunch menu has wood fire oven pizzas ($9-$10.25), Rabbit Cacciatore ($10), and Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($12.50). The dinner menu highlights include everything from a Duck Wing Appetizer ($7) to Wood Roasted Half Amish Chicken ($24). The prices and ambiance are obviously designed for an upscale eating experience, while allowing for more modest choices.
I recently went to Finch's for my husband's going away lunch thrown by his boss. He has moved on to the exciting world of professional massage therapy, so the occasion was slightly bittersweet for his previous co-workers, but ultimately celebratory about this new accomplishment in his life.
When I walked into the main dining room I was impressed by the clean consistent decor. Several restaurants that try to be upscale end up creating an ambiance that is entirely too cluttered and concerned with impressing. There is a large wood oven and a little bit of exposed kitchen environment, which I personally think is a must in any gourmet eatery. People who care about their food enough to pay a premium price for it are tantalized by the sights and sounds of a working kitchen. Of course the real chaos happens behind closed doors, but the bit of open counter space provides just the right amount of tease.
The Maître d' was prompt and friendly and we were shown to our reservation with no wait whatsoever. Our waitress arrived shortly and took our drink orders. Unfortunately when she returned with our drinks she did not take our meal orders, and a substantial amount of time passed before someone finally flagged her down so we could put in our orders. This is a minor service point normally, but it is something of a pet peeve for me as I have waited tables and understand not only the stresses of a full dining room, but how to minimize those stresses. We were there for lunch, and when situated in the middle of the de facto business district that is everything in walking distance of university administrative buildings it is not only safe, but necessary to assume your patrons have no more than an hour for lunch. If when you check they indicate no urgency you can adjust your approach, but it always frustrates me when I have to flag a waitress to place my order on a lunch hour. Our waitress could have easily taken our orders when she brought our drinks to avoid loosing track of our table in her other duties, but in what I can only assume was an attempt to not seem intrusive given our lively conversation did not.
Thankfully once our orders were placed the wait on our food was very modest, and the quality was quite fantastic. I ordered the Rabbit Cacciatore. It was a modest portion of luscious papperdelle pasta smothered in a exceptionally well balanced cream tomato sauce. There were small wood roasted mushrooms that packed a great deal of flavor. The balance of sauce to noodle was just right, and the flavor of the ingredients was carefully crafted. The menu listed bacon as one of the ingredients, though for the life of me I wasn't aware of its presence, but I did not really mind as I felt the flavors that were present melded quite beautifully.
My one and only reservation about this dish was the lack of a real rabbit presence. There were a couple small pieces of rabbit buried deep in the dish under layers of tomato and cream. The mushrooms were ultimately more memorable than the meat. Cacciatore means hunter in Italian, and the traditional star of this dish is the meat itself. The uniquely gamey flavor of rabbit was completely missing from the dish because the tomato sauce was such a dominant (if excellent) player.
I am a huge proponent of playing with our conceptions of food. Taking a dish that has a strong traditional history and changing the expected. It is the backbone of new experience, which is a requirement for true enjoyment of food. While we may return to comfort food when we are tired, and lonely, and sad it is excitement and exploration that fuels true gastronomical experience. That said I am also of the opinion that the soul of a dish must be maintained. Change flavors, and cooking technique. A dessert risotto for example must still balance moisture and al dente rice, even if you experience it entirely unlike a savory risotto. Similarly cacciatore must be about the meat. It must be the Italian hunter preparing his catch on his long trek home, even if you play with the flavors of tomato and cream. The dish at Finch's was aromatic, and flavorful, and carefully balanced. Sadly it invoked more memories of Vodka alla Pasta than of the game that the dish was born from.
I tried some of the other fare on the table and it was without exception quite excellent. The highlight of my stolen food escapades were the french fries and truffle aiole that came with my husband's burger. The fries were dark and crisp in a way I have never seen at a restaurant before. The aiole was a delicate and affordable way to bring a decadent expensive flavor into an impressively approachable food. I would have preferred some meaningful garlic experience during its consumption, but I have harped on my issues with the spirit of foods enough already and the quality was exceptional.
Ultimately my experience at Finch's was excellent. The quality of the ingredients was unquestionable, and the technical skill of the chef was without a doubt among the best in Bloomington. The service was friendly, but unfortunately not as attentive as I would have liked, and the ambiance was warm and pleasant, while being polished enough to allow for a truly fine dining experience. The prices are reasonable for the experience and quality of food, but it is important to be aware of what you are purchasing. I heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for something a little different, and a little more elegant than they have found elsewhere in Bloomington, but I would also recommend a leisurely dinner experience as opposed to trying to fit Finch's into your lunch hour.
Ambiance: 4.5 of 5
Service: 3.5 of 5
Food Quality: 4.5 of 5
Flavor Quality: 4 of 5
Cost/Value: 4 of 5