In late August, Vivante French Eatery opened inside Carmel’s new Hotel Carmichael, an Autograph Collection hotel. Located just off the Monon Trail, Executive Chef Joseph Hsu describes the restaurant’s menu as “approachable French cuisine.”
“Unlike traditional French restaurants where people tend to think ‘big plate, little food’ and can’t pronounce half of the items on the menu, we wanted to utilize local ingredients and use classic techniques, so that guests can identify what’s on the plate and not have to second guess what they’re eating,” he says.
The updated menu, which Hsu calls their “2.0 winter menu,” has been rolled out and includes a variety of dishes. Several fan favorites remain, however, including the Brussels Sprouts that come with crispy pork belly, apricot, a Thai chili-infused beurre blanc, and almonds. Another staple dish is the Roasted Breast of Chicken served with pommes croquettes and seasonal vegetables, glazed with traditional chicken gravy, and topped with Grand Marnier glaze.
Hsu compiles the menu based on the fresh ingredients he can source. He has become friends with local vendors at the Fishers and Carmel farmers markets, among others.
When it comes to sauces, it’s all about simplicity.
“The technique I use to prepare dishes falls back on the traditional,” he says. “I don’t want to mask the food by smothering it with sauce. I like the food to showcase itself.”
For example, in preparing the Roast Duck Chasseur, Hsu uses a classic searing technique to get the skin crisp, then finishes it off with a quick glaze of Grand Marnier sauce, topping the dish with seasonal veggies.
“The idea behind the hotel is built around the concept of the Great American Songbook, and we carried that look, taste and feel, with the fresh, provincial side of it, into the restaurant as well as the musical selections,” says Chef Dan Nichols.
Hotel Carmichael features Feinstein’s, an upscale live music venue inspired by musician Michael Feinstein, archivist for the Great American Songbook. In addition, there is Adagio Lounge, a lobby bar that includes a beautiful grand piano and a wood-burning fireplace.
“There are not a lot of facilities that offer what we do right here in downtown, and I’m not just referring to the restaurant portion of it,” Hsu says. “The hotel also has a gorgeous ballroom on the main level, which stays plenty busy with weddings – typically two to five a week.”
Like the rest of the world, the Vivante leaders and staff had to adapt to COVID-19, implementing seating and serving safety precautions. For instance, serving buffet-style is now a three-step process that adds extra time, but helps to keep diners and staff members safe. Everything is properly sanitized between guest visits. The establishment even has placards that let guests know if a table has been sanitized.
In addition, the staff doesn’t currently do full table settings, to prevent cross-contamination. Unfortunately, the ambiance of the restaurant has taken a bit of a hit due to limited seating and social distancing requirements. Seating capacity is typically 122, but is currently 75 with additional patio seating when the weather is nice.
“You come here expecting an experience, and we’re delivering on that with the food and the service, but unfortunately due to COVID, the atmosphere is not as warm as we’d like,” Nichols says. “The thing to keep in mind is that it won’t always be this way.”
The pandemic has forced many business owners to think outside the box, which can be tough in the restaurant industry.
“When you’ve got rubber gloves and face masks, muffled voices and a stark environment, it’s a challenge to get creative,” says Nichols, adding that the restaurant has ordered geodesic tents for the patio that go over the tables.
“We thought we’d test them out to gauge reaction,” Nichols says.
Despite this difficult year, the community has welcomed Vivante with open arms.
“We already have a lot of regulars,” says Hsu, who is grateful because for him, taking care of guests is what it’s all about. “There’s nothing more satisfying than to have guests come in hungry and leave happy.”
Nichols enjoys providing a distinguished dining experience.
“I love that immediate gratification of taking something I’ve created and presenting it to someone by a well-trained executive staff, in an environment that leaves them wanting to come back for more,” he says.
Vivante is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
“You can walk in here with comfy clothing wearing a baseball hat, or a suit and tie, having come from a wedding upstairs,” Hsu says. “Either way you’ll feel comfortable in this space. I’ve even seen guests come in wearing their pajamas because we’re connected to a hotel.”
Vivante French Eatery is located at 1 Carmichael Square in Carmel. For more information, call 317-688-1952 or visit them online.