I raised my glass of wine to Matt’s glass of water for a toast: “And so your culinary education by me ends here,” I said. He said, “Yeah,” and we clinked glasses. My young dining companion is no longer young, and he’s no longer my dining companion.
It was the night before invocation for freshmen at IU-Bloomington, and our final night breaking bread together for awhile, Matt and me, so we went to Restaurant Tallent, owned and managed by talented Chef David Tallent and his wife, GM Kristen Tallent. They have set themselves up a wonderful little operation, just west of the university, and it deserves to be recognized.
In 2015, it was a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Restaurant – Great Lakes (this includes Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois) Note that this category includes not only Bloomington, IN (2010 population: 80,405), but also Chicago, IL (2010 metro population: 9,522,434 making it over 100-times more populated than Bloomington). Chicago is one of the three greatest restaurant areas in the US along with New York, NY and San Francisco, CA, which makes it exceedingly tough on remote places like Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington – just to make the semifinals is a victory in this setup, and they did.
We were on time for our 6:30 Tuesday-night reservation (Matt was a few minutes before me, and seated), and were both very hungry after a long day of driving. Our server, Sean, was outstanding the entire evening, having an encyclopedic recall of the menu, and knowing the wine list very well (I heard him describe several of the wines, and he described them exactly (he had no idea I knew wines)). They had two types of Sauvignon Blanc, for example, and he described both bottles perfectly. Sean was a low-brass player at IU’s Jacobs Music School, and turned out to be one of Matt’s very first inspirations during his days at college – it’s funny how you meet seemingly random people whose subtle influence or simple vote of confidence can provide a jolt of confidence and self-assurance, and so it was with Sean and Matt.
Chef Tallent was there, working away in what appeared to be a pretty tight kitchen in what was undoubtedly to be a full house on this particular evening (“Move-In Day” was tomorrow), and he rose to the occasion quite handily, putting out Beard-quality food in a small, casual atmosphere having a good wine program. I knew early on we made the right pick for what was to be my sendoff dinner for Matt. Yes, I was sad, but it was inevitable, and the quality of this restaurant eased the pain.
Knowing I’d have a 30-minute drive back to my hotel, I ordered a bottle of Old Coach Road Sauvignon Blanc ($42) made by Seifried family winegrowers in Nelson, New Zealand, and it was a good call – medium-bodied and grassy, and working well throughout the entire meal, with half a bottle remaining to enjoy back at the hotel while Matt continued onward to the music practice rooms to get a feel for college life – his eagerness to begin practicing made me smile, as it reflects his intense drive at becoming a good musician – I have no doubt he’ll get there with the passage of time, given his tenacity and ability as a team player (he’s already well on the way). He’s “at that age” where he doesn’t want me to say this, but I’m so proud of him. Matt, if you ever stumble across this: I’m proud of you, I hope that doesn’t embarrass you, and I’m not ashamed to say it, over and over again.
For starters, Matt got the BLT Risotto ($14) which I could take as a subtle clue that he was starving, and I got the Crudo of the Day ($17) which was yellowfin tuna. I knew from both these starters (plus an amuse-bouche) that we had picked the right restaurant. We both got a basket of what was either house-made or locally baked bread with a tub of really good butter, and knowing how hungry he was, I took one piece, and let him have the others.
We both got the same mains: Gunthrop Farms Duck ($28) with Zucchini Bread Spaetzle (“little sparrow”), Fried Squash, and Foie Gras and Cane Syrup Vinaigrette. Assuming the foie gras was part of the sauce, it was lost except possibly as an expensive thickening agent, but other than that, this was a very well-prepared, well-seasoned duck, and our second straight meal of the bird – we had gotten Peking Duck at Full Kee a few days before, and Matt had fallen in love with it (I could tell from his questions about it a few days afterwards). This may have been the first time I’ve ever come across Zucchini Bread Spaetzle, and it was very good.
We both had plenty to eat, Matt wanted to get over to the practice rooms, and I had a 30-minute drive back, so we skipped dessert, and were instead each brought a little chocolate chip cookie as mignardises by Sean. We said our goodbyes until tomorrow, and while driving back to my hotel, I thought of what surely must have been over 1,000 restaurants we’d enjoyed together over the years, freely letting a few tears fall during the drive past the northern end of Monroe Lake Park, thinking we’d just had our final meal together … but I was wrong.
Interestingly, just now I found this:
“Local Chef David Tallent To Lead IU’s Tradition’s Catering” by Andrea Zeek on inside.indiana.edu
Chef Tallent was working the kitchen on this evening, and there is no indication from this article that Restaurant Tallent will close – I’m happy for him.