Inconsistent Experiences at Indochine

When the sexy urban-chic Indochine opened on East Adams Street in Jacksonville's urban core, it seemed like Jax diners could at last be in for a great Asian restaurant experience. I've never wanted to like a restaurant more. I crave Thai food, and I appreciate a restaurant that puts such an effort into creating a beautiful space. I purposely didn't go immediately, while it was the talk of the town. I gave them more than enough time - almost a year in fact - to settle in to the restaurant they would be for the long haul. In the meantime I read many glowing reviews on Urbanspoon. 

I was more than ready when the opportunity presented itself to go for lunch with a couple of co-workers. We were seated immediately, and our waitress found her way to our table shortly afterward with water and menus. We found the atmosphere attractive, but the noise level during a half-full lunch service was a little high for our tastes. 

Green Curry - Lunch Portion
This was a particularly hot summer day, and the large, open room was a bit warm, but I managed to get by with a couple glasses of water from our table's water bottle, a nice and practical touch. When it came to ordering (or a refill on that water, for that matter) it was another story. 

Two tables were seated after us, but ordered and were served before us.Our waitress apologized in advance explaining some staff had called off and they were shorthanded. I was pretty sure I couldn't use that as an excuse back at my office.

I'll have mine with extra cabbage please...
Our food, when it finally arrived, was adequate. I enjoyed a small bowl of green curry with some very fresh vegetables in it, not the usual stewed melange. It almost looked as if the sauce had been ladled in and the crisp-fresh veggies laid on top of it. The heat level was a perfect #3, as ordered.

One of my table-mates chose the vegetable stir-fry and asked for extra vegetable in lieu of a protein choice. Her entree, while beautifully sauced, seemed to be topped with copious amounts of  cabbage. She professed to enjoy it, but I would have been disappointed in the dish. 

The biggest issue was the table service, or lack thereof. Our waitress was nowhere to be found once our entrees came to the table. We eventually managed to flag her down for more water and a soda refill, but these things never made it to our table. We wrote it off to a possible short-staff situation and I vowed to come again before forming an opinion or stating my feelings about the place. I usually dine somewhere 2-3 times before writing a review here or on Urbanspoon

My next visit was during Eat Out Downtown. My friends and I were happy to see that Indochine hadn't changed their usual menu for the annual promotion. We dreamed of which savory delights we would enjoy, and booked far in advance, an early seating so we could get some light for snapping pics. 

Aside from a brief brush with the law, we had no trouble getting there on time or finding convenient parking. We were seated immediately at a table near the back door and kitchen area, a bit warm as they were keeping the doors and windows open for cross-ventilation. With an outdoor temp in the 80s, I noted again that this wasn't the coolest of spots. 

As you can see, the appetizer platter was less than appetizing, with some clammy, lettuce filled summer rolls, a couple of crab rangoon oozing with a piping hot, bright orange liquid filling, some quite ordinary fried calamari and the greasiest, most overcooked spring rolls I have ever seen. Each of us ordered this dish, and two of us got the sauce pictured here, while the third got a bright red mess that looked like standard Americanized sweet and sour. No explanation was given regarding the different sauces. 

One bright note was an appetizer of Stuffed Chicken Wing. It was appropriately seasoned, a sort of pork-alicious filling with a crispy panko style crust, and came to the table at a perfect temperature. I would order this again. In fact, with a glass of wine, it would make a nice meal. 

Our waitress was April, the same woman who had waited on us during my previous visit.  She copped a surly attitude when we asked her to check if a particular dish was available, noting it wasn't listed on the promotional menu. She took an almost instant disliking to us, despite our attempts at remaining congenial and upbeat. 

Our dishes were tossed at us as if we were a pack of hungry dogs. At one point, we managed to flag her down to refill our long empty water bottle. She took it and abandoned us altogether. When much later she managed to reappear for our dessert order, we asked her to please bring our water. It was then I recalled we had the same issue with her the last time. Be forewarned. If you get April, it could be May or June before you see your beverage refilled. Order accordingly. 

And word to Indochine, when your server goes AWOL on a table, you are losing revenue from potential drink refills. I'm certain I would have ordered another glass of Steele Shooting Star Aligote - it's so infrequently found on local wine lists, and it pairs perfectly with spicy sweet Thai food.

Surly, dismissive service notwithstanding, we would still have been happy campers if the food had been up to standard. My chicken stir fry entree was tasty enough, but having ordered a #3 spice level, the same as at lunch, this time I didn't detect any heat in the dish. I assume they thought we didn't know better. Cari ordered her entree super spicy though, and it did pack the heat she expected. 

And then there was Jodi. It was her first trip to Indochine, and she had been looking forward to the experience. She ordered the Shrimp Pad Thai, #1 spicy. She calls it the "canary in the coal mine" of Thai cuisine. Hard to screw up a dish as elemental as Pad Thai. As it turns out, not impossible. Her dish appeared to be coated with and swimming in oil. The greasy noodles came with the usual condiments, but the shrimp were not evident at service. With some careful excavation she was able to find four small translucent shrimp, which she was afraid to eat, they looked so far undercooked. Complete. entree. fail. 

Dessert was part of the package deal for Eat Up Downtown, and we planned to each order one of the three options. When the lovely April came to take our order she informed us they were out of the chocolate lava cake. This was day two of Eat Up Downtown, early in the evening, at that, and they were already out of one of the three, the one any first year kitchen manager might assume would be the most popular, despite it not being in keeping with the restaurant's Asian theme. Planning fail. 

I ordered Coconut Creme Brulee, J and C each ordered the Mango Sticky Rice. The creme brulee was delicate and sweet. Score. The girls' Mango Sticky Rice dishes, however, came out looking like two totally different desserts. One was topped with a sliced mango, the other with an oddly cobbled together slab of mango colored.... custard? flan? orange cream jello? It was and remains a mystery. Of course April didn't mention a thing about the dueling presentations. The other, more critical issue with the sticky rice was that it seemed to be more crunchy than sticky. Another failed dish. 

I might return to Indochine, but probably only at lunch or for a cocktail and a snack, and only if I have plenty of extra time. I didn't find it to be worth the extra coin for dinner service. I do hope they make a go of it, though, and I especially hope they address the poor service and inconsistencies in presentation.

Indochine on Urbanspoon

21 E Adams Street Ste 200
JacksonvilleFL 32202

(904) 598-5303


Adventures in Jacksonville's Urban Core

Let me begin by saying downtown Jacksonville has such potential. The urban core boasts a fair amount of architectural charm. It's accessible, fairly easy to find a space to park (especially at night), there are decent restaurants, nightclubs, a theatre, hotels, and a fabulous new library. 

So why aren't we flocking there in droves? Maybe it has to do with the lingering perception that it isn't safe there after dark. Consider my recent foray into the area on the occasion of Eat Up Downtown - a showcase of downtown eateries sponsored in part by Downtown Vision

I parked my car in a safe and well lit (it was still daylight) lot by my restaurant of choice for the evening, Indochine. As I was settling into my parking spot, I saw a JSO officer chase a middle-aged woman across the lot. He flagged her down, they had a brief conversation, and he returned to his cruiser. As he was exiting the lot, he pulled up beside my car, threw his cruiser into park, and approached, jesturing for me to roll down my window. While my mind started cataloging my possible offenses (unpaid parking ticket? backing into the parking space?) I rolled my window down JUST enough to hear what the fine officer had to say. 

"Do you come downtown often?" he asked. Beads of sweat were popping out on my forehead at this point. What answer was he looking for? Did he mistake me for a middle aged, overweight hooker? 

 "Yes - well - not really" was my non-committal response. My mind was racing. 

He edged closer to the car and handed me - a government issue pamphlet. "We're giving folks some tips on staying safe. There's a lot of people coming here for the first time with that Eat Up Downtown."

"Yeah - that's actually why I'm here, I'm headed to Indochine" (I pointed to the restaurant in plain view, some 50 yards from my car). "Has there been a rise in the crime rate downtown or something?"

"Oh yeah, It gets pretty bad down here at night, especially with the homeless and all" he suggested. 

I was sixteen different kinds of offended by this. To begin with, I have, actually, spent many evenings in downtown Jacksonville over the years. I have had interaction with, but  have never felt threatened by the homeless population seeking shelter and sustenance there. Also, we were within walking distance of the Sulzbacher Center - offering "the way home"  for homeless men, women and children. If you suffer from the ill-conceived notion that homelessness is somehow a criminal offense, please visit their website and learn more about the wonderful work this organization does for the most vulnerable among us. And if you want to support their cause while learning more about what they do, consider attending their annual fundraiser, Transformations, October 6. 

The officer must have spied another potential victim of crime, and bid me farewell about the same time my friend pulled up. We warily made our way the few short steps to the restaurant and waited for our friend to arrive so we could get our fill of some Thai food... 

Next post - Indochine.