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The Journal Gazette

  • Rua in Warsaw.

  • Hanger steak with cracked wheat at Rua in Warsaw.

  • A smattering of antique bowls line the kitchen counter at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Duck gyro at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Confited avocado with crushed pistachios and poppy seeds at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Pork belly with beech mushrooms at Rua in Warsaw.

  • A salad? No this was the stuffed pasta at Rua in Warsaw, which came buried underneath the salad.

  • Farmer;s cheese with olives and pepitos at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Brazilian cheese biscuits at Rua in Warsaw.

  • The stir-fried barley may have been the most impressive dish at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Kitchen towels used as napkins are just part of the funky, hip details at Rua in Warsaw.

  • House-made semolina pasta stuffed with goat cheese and eggplant at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Sticky rice with gin-poached pears at Rua in Warsaw.

  • These old spotlights from an Indianapolis theater have been repurposed into the table lights at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Semolina cake at Rua in Warsaw.

  • These old spotlights from an Indianapolis theater have been repurposed into the table lights at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Steamed mussels at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Rua on Market Street is the latest in what has become an impressive dining scene in Warsaw and neighboring Winona Lake.

  • Charred butternut squash at Rua in Warsaw.

  • Beet cake with five-spice frosting at Rua in Warsaw.

Sunday, May 21, 2017 1:00 am

Trendy Warsaw spot left skeptic awestruck

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Rua

*****

Out of a possible five

$$$

I was skeptical when I heard Warsaw's newest trendy eatery, Rua, was trying to create international street fare in small-plate form.

It is hard enough to master one cuisine, let alone food from across the globe. And when I saw its menu featuring a gyro, Asian-style mussels, stuffed pasta and Brazilian cheese biscuits, my skepticism grew.

But with each passing bite and each empty plate leaving my table, I came away not just proven wrong, but left in awe.

The brainchild of Andrew Jones, who got his start at Noa Noa in Warsaw and later worked at Cerulean in Winona Lake, and Andrew Holladay, who worked for a short time at Cerulean and later honed his craft in Chicago, Rua is the latest in what has become a very impressive dining scene in Warsaw and Winona Lake.

Rua is in the historic Brennan Pharmacy space on Market Street, and its looks are as impressive as the menu. It is done in a rustic, modern style with exposed crumbling brick walls, hardwood floors and all the idiosyncrasies an old downtown building should have. But its coolest feature – dated spotlights hanging over and pointing down on the tables – came from an old theater in Indianapolis.

Those cheese biscuits – Pao de Queijo – were a great way to start my dining experience as was the simple-sounding Farmer's Cheese.

The biscuits were crispy on the outside and super moist on the inside with a sort of strong, funky cheese flavor. They were sort of a very upscale version of Red Lobster's cheddar biscuits.

The soft, spreadable Farmer's Cheese was mixed with diced green olives and pumpkin seeds. It was creamy, crunchy, briny and so good I almost licked the bowl.

However, the finest of the first courses, if there is such a thing – the menu is not sectioned but items increase in price and size as you go from the top to bottom – had no name. The “avocado, lime, poppy seed, pistachio, cilantro, tortilla chips,” was a take on guacamole.

Half of a confited avocado was served on a pool of cilantro-jalapeo oil with the seeds and crushed pistachios on top. The oil had a big herb punch that the nutty pistachios worked well with, and those nuts and seeds – combined with crispy, salty tortilla chips – made it a masterpiece.

The next masterpiece was from the other side of the globe and was a take on fried rice. The Stir-fried Barley had al dente pieces of the grain perfectly coated in scrambled egg and joined by snap peas, diced purple cabbage, pickled daikon radish, shaved celery and crispy plantain straws. It was seasoned with a lively yellow curry and was a hard-to-stop-eating dish.

Another Far East-inspired dish was good to the last drop. The steamed mussels were from Prince Edward Island in Canada, but they were steamed in wonderful Thai curry broth with cubes of zesty Chinese sausage, bean sprouts and fried garlic. It came with some of Rua's excellent house-made naan bread to sop up the broth, but I will ask for some sticky rice next time, too.

Rua's pork belly might have been the best interpretation of this trendy ingredient I have had. It was served in one of the restaurant's funky old bowls that line the open kitchen counter and are a mishmash you would find on a table at a swap meet, with a few beech mushrooms and some pea shoots. The mirin and chile glaze that coated the crispy seared pork, which was as fatty and succulent as it gets, was exquisite.

Simplicity is also what made the charred squash so enjoyable. This bowl had two butternut squash wedges that were charred until black and coated with a thick, silky sauce made from Mexican chilies and coconut milk with a little crme frache underneath. The sweet squash combined with the spice of the sauce and that char hit all of the right notes.

The only flaws in any of the dishes at Rua were conceptual or due to a poor menu description.

The Maple Leaf Farms Duck Gyro had tender meat, pickled radish and carrots and sprouts wrapped in the naan. Its lack of a creamy element to represent tzatziki and those Asian vegetables made it more like a bnh m wrap than a gyro. But it was still delicious.

The stuffed pasta was buried under a salad and the two long cylinders looked more like enchiladas. And given they were made with gritty semolina flour, their texture was similar to corn tortillas. They were filled with a creamy mix of goat cheese and eggplant and coated in a thick romesco sauce. It was OK, but the pasta was a bit chewy.

The hangar steak was the most deceiving. It was said to be paired with cracked wheat, capers, fennel and pistachio, which I assumed would be a side to the steak. But what I got was something similar to a rice bowl with the grain, chunks of the tender beef, charred fennel and the nuts covered with crumbled ricotta and a cream sauce, the latter of which were not in the description. Calling it a hangar steak wheat bowl would have made more sense.

There was no confusion when it came to dessert.

The best meal-ender was one that I was told has never left the ever-changing menu – the beet cake.

This sort of murky green, ginger-infused cake – beets change when cooked so it did not have the reddish-purple hue – sat on a brightly colored beet puree that had the proper color. The cake was super moist with just the right punch of ginger. But it was the crazy-good five-spice frosting that made it a winner. It was airy like whipped cream and the five-spice was present but subtle. The combination was magical.

The sticky rice was spot on with a green tea and gin-poached Asian pear in place of the usual mango you get at most Thai places. It also had the standard coconut cream and was dusted with sesame seeds. I really liked the soft pear better than mango.

The semolina pound cake was hurt a bit by its chocolate ganache. I hardly ever want less chocolate, but this delightfully gritty cake had a lemon syrup added, but it was undetectable with the pile of chocolate on top. I still finished every morsel but missed the lemon.

But that was not enough to sour me on Rua, which also had impeccable service. Its fusion was fabulous, and I look forward to being proven wrong again soon.

Restaurant: Rua

Address: 108 E. Market St., Warsaw

Phone: 574-267-4730

Hours: 11a.m. to 3p.m. and 5 to 10p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9a.m. to 2p.m. and 5 to 10:30p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: International

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes (great menu)

Menu: Biscuits ($2), Farmer's Cheese ($8), charred squash ($5), pork belly ($10), pasta ($12), stir-fried barley ($12), duck gyro ($14), mussels ($16), hanger steak ($18), beet cake ($4), sticky rice ($4), semolina cake ($5)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (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 at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews at www.journalgazette.net. Follow on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.