I had nearly forgotten about the place tucked in between a couple of hotels and the Indiana State Police post on Ellison Road just off West Jefferson Boulevard.
It's a bad spot that passers-by on Jefferson would struggle to spot, though it is very visible from Interstate 69. And as I pulled into Naked Tchopstix's parking lot, I thought it might have closed because the exterior has a boarded-up look with few windows and the parking lot was pretty much empty.
Not only was this Asian fusion spot – one of three with the others in Indianapolis – still going, it impressed me, which is something it did not do when I visited soon after it opened in 2010.
The place looks the same, which is not a bad thing. Its atmosphere was quite impressive when it opened as there was a shortage of upscale Asian restaurants with modern design at the time. It is still attractive at its base, but not as novel, and it has not been well maintained. The floor was warped in areas, water dripped from air conditioner vents to the floor a few feet away from me and the presence of plugged-in fans here and there to circulate the cool air from the past-its-prime cooling system was very tacky.
I feared the menu would have a similar dated feel, but I was wrong. I had no trouble finding enticing new things to try.
The Pork Tuna Mango Delight was a delight. It featured cubes of marinated pork, mango and sashimi tuna dressed in a vibrant clear citrus sauce. The pork was tender, and the spice from the marinade sneaked up on me, but that was nice because it was tempered beautifully by the sauce and super-sweet fruit. Sliced radishes and beet threads were not listed on the menu, but they were the best garnishes as they added crunch. My menu-listed leaf lettuce went untouched.
The greens – chopped mixed and Napa cabbage – were needed in the also wonderful seared tuna salad. It was said to have wonton noodles, red peppers and asparagus, but it instead had asparagus, carrots and beet strands. But I still loved it. The tuna was spot on and the sweet wasabi dressing would be good on anything. I would love to see it incorporated into a sushi roll.
The sushi rolls I did try – a spider with fried softshell crab and a standard California – were just OK. I will not be going back to Naked Tchopstix for the sushi rolls.
I will go back for the chirashi Sushi, however.
Basically a fancy-named sushi rice bowl, it had sticky sushi rice that was topped with red snapper, tuna, imitation crab, octopus, whitefish, a sweet tomago omelet, pickled carrots and sweet pickled daikon radish with some wasabi tucked in here and there.
It was the kind of dish you just wanted to dig into right away without stopping, and you might as well give up on the chopsticks and grab your fork.
Another in-a-bowl selection, this one from Korea, was worth trying. Dolsot bibimbap is a favorite of mine that I usually get with beef. But I tried it with shrimp here and came away happy.
The crunchy sticky rice that gets brown and slightly charred against the hot stone bowl is the best part, but the sweetness from the plump shrimp went well with the red sauce that was timid in terms of spice but added a great flavor. A generous portion of mushrooms added savory meatiness and all it needed was kimchi – a glaring oversight – to bump up the heat.
A couple of simple mainstay dishes were not executed well enough to be worth having again. The steamed potstickers were mediocre and not worth the price. The crab rangoon was crispy and decent, but no better than a takeout place that would charge far less.
I was happy to see dessert offered and found the mochi ice cream to be up to snuff, but the best meal-ender was another unique feature at Naked Tchopstix. There is a DeBrand Fine Chocolates case in the lobby so I was able to have a couple of truffles during one visit. And, of course, they were fantastic.
The service was far from fantastic. The tableside treatment was just OK, but the staff's failure to deal with an obnoxious customer was inexcusable.
Restaurant: Naked Tchopstix
Address: 8607 W. U.S. 24
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Crab rangoon ($5.99), potstickers ($5), tuna salad ($14.99), Pork, Tuna, Mango Delight ($11.99), Chirsashi ($18.99), spider roll ($9.99), California roll ($5.49), bibimbap ($13.99), mochi ($3.99), truffles ($3.50)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five