iNDO is a food journey, an adventure into food territory, which, like all good adventures, contains moments of nervousness, exploration, pitfalls, and gratification. Nick Bognar’s restaurant, featuring Southeast Asian cuisine, brings more diversity to a block in Botanical Heights that has a solid claim to the best corner for good food in St. Louis, with OLIO, ELAIA, La Patisserie Chouquette, Union Loafers, and Nixta all within eyesight.
The vibe of the space is almost industrial, with cool-temperature lighting, high ceilings, and brick walls. Almost everything seemed designed to draw your attention away from the restaurant interior, and focus your attention on the plate in front of you, which is smart, because the dishes at iNDO are not only exuberant in flavor and taste, but each one is as beautiful as the next. Most of the dishes that really worked, but there were one or two that had too much going on to really appreciate the artistry, and could have benefited from a little editing.
My favorite things:
- Japanese Pumpkin: I was anticipating something more traditionally squash-like in texture, but what was served was mind-boggling silky, with a rich creaminess. Maybe braising it in sake does that to the pumpkin? I don’t know, but I loved it. The toasted pistachios added a little nuttiness and texture to the dish without clogging up the bright, green curry.
- Isaan Hamachi: No culture treats fish with as much respect as Asian cultures do, and this dish was a wonderful representation of that tradition. Clear, crisp citrus flavors with the right amount of heat from chili oil played well with the thin, cool, sliced hamachi.
- Short Rib Curry: Who doesn’t love meat that has been simmered until it falls apart, in a large bowl with some wonderful red curry, served with roti flatbread and yogurt sauce? Make sure to ask for extra roti bread right off the bat though, you will need it.
My least favorite things:
- Shrimp Toast: This dish came highly recommended by many reviewers, including a few Chew In the Lou members, and it wasn’t really bad. Not great. Just good. I didn’t get much shrimp flavor, it had just a deep-fried food taste, and was also over garnished, leaving me at first wondering if the shrimp were ON the toast, or IN the toast as described by our waiter.
- Cabbage Salad: Maybe my expectations were too high, but this salad, as bountiful and beautiful as it looked, was too heavy on the heat (raw peppers in the salad mix maybe?), but it overpowered the coolness of the rest of the ingredients instead of balancing. In all honestly, it seemed a lot like the slaw that I order frequently from Crazy Bowls and Wraps, just kicked up a notch. And not in the way I would have liked.
- Dessert: Remember the comment above about editing a dish? This is where it really could have helped. Coconut custard, honeydew, lychee boba and melon shaved ice. The shaved ice pretty much ruined this dish for me. It arrived looking all nice and fluffy, with perfect balls of melon and boba looking like they had just come in from a snowy winter’s evening. But the snow quickly melted and created an odd puddle of custard chunks and water in the bowl. I respect the attempt at going for something cool and refreshing at the end of a meal with lots of spice and umami, but it left me wishing my custard wasn’t waterlogged.
I’d visit again to try:
- Crab Donabe Rice: They ask for 30 minutes to prepare this dish, and we appreciated the waiter alerting us to that early in the meal in case we were eyeing that for later. The table next to us ordered it, and the aroma really piqued my interest.
- Sashimi: The menu featured a few different selections of sashimi. If the hamachi was any indication of how fresh fish is treated, I’m hopeful the sashimi is much the same.
What others with me said:
“I was doing dry January,* so I stuck to ordering a nonalcoholic cocktail at the start of dinner, and it was divine. I want to come back to try out the full cocktail menu next time.” -Jessica, Wife
Know before you go:
- Like any good adventure, ask for directions. Unless you grew up eating Asian cuisine, there might be some things on the menu that you are unfamiliar with. Do ask your server for recommendations or descriptions of things before ordering. Additionally, be upfront with your server about any preferences for spiciness or flavors, as many of the dishes can be unexpectedly full of heat.
Sometimes when we go out to eat, we aren’t looking for an adventure. Sometimes we just really want to go to that local place we love, with that pizza you have had 50 times before, but you love every time. Sometimes though, you want a meal that, from start to finish, is going to keep you guessing. Keep you wondering if what you taste next will be your new favorite dish of all time, or something that you wish was just a little different. iNDO delivers that sort of food adventure, and it begs you to choose your own course.
*Her dry January lasted only nine days.