Cultures come together to serve up delicious fun at Indigo Grill
Photos and Story By Kelley Carlson
With the rare distinction of being a non-Italian restaurant in a district known for its pizzas and pastas, Indigo Grill (a member of the Cohn Restaurant Group), stands apart from its neighbors in Little Italy, San Diego.
Its décor and menu range from one extreme – the warm and culturally diverse state of Oaxaca, Mexico – to the other — the icy wilderness of Alaska. But together, the elements create a casual fine dining setting that’s playful and welcoming, a reflection of partner/Executive Chef Deborah Scott’s personality.
It’s immediately obvious to passers-by, who look up to see the Indigo Grill sign with letters that “dance” like flames. Inside, the restaurant is divided into regions.
To the left is the “south,” where woven walls in golden hues feature tribal masks, copper lights dangle from chains, and cultural artifacts such as skeletons accent the room. Moving in the opposite direction, the space gently curves and the décor begins its transition.
The bar combines rich browns with cool, slate gray; a giant, partially faux coniferous tree — typically found in the cooler northern climates — greets guests at the entrance. Chairs with native symbols representing various tribes, surround a community table. It’s separated from the “north” dining area by a sheet of “ice” and a totem pole. A salmon run is painted above the nearby ceviche bar. Common throughout all areas is a wood floor with a rustic, earthy tone, along with the sounds of authentic Peruvian, Hispanic and European melodies.
It’s the ceviche bar where Scott recommends guests, especially first-timers, sit. “There’s a lot of interaction and it’s fun to watch (the behind-the-scenes activity),” she said. “You get a good feeling of what’s going on, and you get to watch all the food go by.”
Patrons also get the aromatic whiff of salmon as it’s baked in the wood-fired stone oven. Those who prefer to dine outside may sit on the fully heated and enclosed patio, which features adjustable screens and views of Little Italy’s tree-lined streets.
Not only does the restaurant décor contain an artistic flair, but the dishes are also visual masterpieces. It’s common for a guest to stop a server and ask to take a photo of a brilliantly colorful creation or a chocolate garnish designed to look like a dragon or serpent.
“We have an amazing staff, a lot of real artists,” Scott said. The offerings mimic the décor and everything is made in-house with the exception of tortillas and pasta noodles.
Perhaps the most popular item is one of the starters, the Pipian Crusted Brie, a soft cheese that is enveloped in a nutty, earthy-flavored crust. It’s served with sweet-yet-spicy jalapeño jelly, honey-roasted garlic, grilled nopales, mole negro and scallion flatbread.
A soup that has been featured in multiple publications is the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, an autumnal-colored concoction that incorporates cilantro pesto, roasted corn, beet puree, pepitas and creme fraiche.
Scott’s favorite entree is the Jalapeño Cilantro Pappardelle, containing thick noodles, prawns, red bell peppers, chile butter, rajas and bits of roasted pineapple that counteract the spiciness with sweetness. Other chef recommendations include the Pecan-Crusted Rainbow Trout, Pork Porterhouse and Pipian-Rojo Chicken Breast.
Some of the drinks also have a kick to them, such as Indigo Grill’s signature Oaxaca Fire — a blend of tequila, triple sec, Thai chiles, lime and s&s, with salt and cayenne pepper around the rim.
Yet as expected, the desserts are primarily sweet, including the Chocolate Caueta Vulcan, which has a warm liquid chocolate center and is topped with caramel ice cream.
The children’s fare is a bit less exotic, with basics such as a quesadilla, cheese ravioli, French fries and chicken fingers.
Address: 1536 India St., San Diego
Phone: (619) 234-6802
The Vibe: Relaxed, casual
Signature Dishes: Pipian Crusted Brie, Oven Roasted Mussels & Clams, Alderwood Plank Salmon, Jalapeño Cilantro Pappardelle, Flat Iron Chimichurri
Open Since: 2001
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: 5-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
On The Menu Recipe
Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.
This week: Indigo Grill’s Jalapeño Pappardelle
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