BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
A haunting air of nostalgia has long hung over the West Baden Springs Hotel and its neighbor the French Lick Resort: a faint whiff of days gone by, carried on the breeze, like the barely detected hint of sulphur from the Pluto Waters that made these spa resorts famous in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today those with a taste for nostalgia can indulge it, literally, at Sinclair’s, the restaurant at the West Baden, where the chefs have created a menu that puts a modern twist on classic dishes from the good old pre-cholesterol-counting days, when sauces were creamy and chicken was fried and Caesar salad was prepared tableside with a raw egg yolk.
Menu notes fill you in on the details of the original dishes as the chefs play with preparation and presentation, so that what is on your plate is both traditional and new. Take burgoo, customarily a spicy hodgepodge of a stew made in Depression-era Indiana from a variety of meats and vegetables. At Sinclair’s it is “deconstructed and reconstructed” to consist of lamb rillettes, duck confit, and bourbon-braised beef spooned onto a croustade, plus a small cup of savory stew and a side of country ham succotash with baby okra. A cider barbeque sauce
is drizzled around the plate, sweet and tangy.
Or try the Chilled Seafood “Louis”—the original was a rich and decadent San Francisco salad of crab in a pink dressing, chunky with peppers and onion and hard-cooked egg. At Sinclair’s it is updated and put on a diet—an ethereal shrimp and scallop terrine is served with a golden saffron poached shrimp and a lobster medallion on a light and tangy, creamy white version of the classic sauce, all on a bed of wafer-thin cucumber slices.
Sinclair’s is all about gracious service, and the elegant dining room with its high ceilings and light-filled spaces makes you glad you put your party clothes on. From the moment they usher you to your table and bring out bread with a selection of the evening’s tapenades, you know you will be taken care of gently and attentively.
A small stool is even provided for ladies’ handbags, letting the purses sit as comfortably as you do.
So indulge yourself. Sinclair’s has several dishes that it prepares or serves tableside, and the show is fun. The Caesar salad is a production—as good to watch as it is to eat. Salt, garlic, anchovy, egg yolk (and hot water, to cook it slightly), tobasco, oil, and vinegar are mashed and whisked and tossed with crisp romaine lettuce. And the whole fried chicken (not batter-fried but served tender and flavorful with its own skin crisp and crackly and flecked with herbs) is wheeled to the table, carved up, sauced in a creamy velouté, and served with colorful vegetables and a piquant, sun-dried tomato relish.
All this elegance and ceremony doesn’t come cheap—Sinclair’s is as pricy as any restaurant in the area—but for a special occasion or a weekend away, it’s well worth a dip into the wallet for this dip back into the past.