Downtown Jacksonville’s dining scene is improving. It’s still largely a daytime affair, with many of the neighborhood’s nighttime venues tilting toward serving drinks over food. While that remains true, the city’s urban core has enjoyed a restaurant resurgence with lunch and dinner operations like Indochine.
The Asian-spiced eatery has a cool urban vibe, right down to wrought iron out front and the narrow stairway leading to its second-floor perch. Inside diners are greeted by rustic exposed bricks and ceiling rafters and metallic a/c ducts. There are touches of Southeast Asia in the artwork and decor; however, the real flavor of the region is reserved for the menu. Thailand earns top billing for the culinary influences here but hints of Japan, China and Vietnam are easy to find, too.
The tour through the region begins with the list of starters, such as fried tofu ($6), grilled coconut chicken satay ($7) and steamed pork and veggie dumplings ($8). These dishes are best shared, so split a few among friends to get the largest selection.
Pad Thai, the de facto national dish of Thailand, is a hearty serving of thin rice noodles with egg, scallions and bean sprouts. Crushed peanuts and lime lend it the signature flavor and crunch. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup, and Indochine’s versions are brothy concoctions of noodles, beef slices, chicken, meatballs or seafood. A brief sushi list gets Japan in on the act. The mixed poke roll ($12), with tuna, salmon and yellowtail, onions, avocado, cucumber and sesame oil, is a top seller.
A half-dozen curry entrées are offered, and may be served with one’s choice of seafood, beef or chicken. The prah raam, or peanut curry, over steamed broccoli and fresh spinach, is the most unusual. Duck curry ($19) with tender breast meat bathed in a sweet red curry sauce with snow peas, red pepper, onion and Thai basil, is considered a house favorite.
One of the hallmarks of Thai cuisine is the use of fresh and bright vegetables. Cilantro greens, pepper reds, carrot oranges and oniony yellows can be like paints on a canvas of steamed white rice. Indochine does a fine job plating entrées for visual pop. And a squeeze or two of lime makes everything taste a little brighter.
As is common for many Asian eateries (especially Thai and Indian), diners may request the level of spiciness in their entrées. Indochine’s menu states that anything higher than “4F will be HOT.” Heed the advice. Don’t try to be a culinary daredevil and ask for the 6F. Order the appropriate level of heat for your tastebuds. Your mouth and your dining companions will appreciate caution over daring.