Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'm Ashamed to Admit It--My First Trip to Small Plates

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Yes, I am ashamed to admit that, in all the years I've expressed my desire to experience Detroit's trendy little tapas bar, I've never actually been. I am now even more ashamed to admit that since I finally went. This place is fantastic.

We stopped in for a quick drink after the Auto Show on Thursday night. It was late, so it wasn't that busy. We were greeted with some of the most tempting smells--the scents of melted cheese and garlic filled the air, and I knew immediately I would love the place.

The décor is very trendy--plush, high-backed booths; a glossy wooden floor; a granite bar. Small Plates is very small inside, but this does not detract from its appeal. It is cozy, warm and inviting, and the staff is incredibly welcoming and friendly.

We situated ourselves at the bar and took a peek at the drink menu. The wine list is small but carefully chosen and very reasonably priced (a Chilean Carménère for only $36.00 per bottle is the standout selection here). But the wine selection isn't the only strength of this drink menu--the martinis and signature cocktails are some of the most creative I've seen.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I am always impressed by a creative, unique drink menu. This is why I enjoy places like [Proof] so much--sometimes the most fun part of the evening is flipping through the pages of martini selections and deciding what you'll be sampling next. While Small Plates' drink list is certainly smaller than [Proof]'s, what it lacks in quantity it more than compensates for in creativity.

I decided to try the "Lafayette" (in honor of my new apartment building)--fresh strawberries & cream with Bacardi and Calvados Apple Brandy. It tasted like an alcoholic strawberries & cream Frappuccino from Starbucks, no joke. After thoroughly looking over this menu, I have decided to make it my personal mission to sample every drink listed. From the "Sunrise, Sunset"--a Pomegranate martini with a hint of peach and Stoli Oranj--to the odd-but-interesting "Mikado"--muddled jalapeño and orange, Stoli Oranj & Vernor's Ginger Ale...even the "Honey-Nut Coffee," which has Frangelico and Bärenjäger. Now, I ask you, where else can one find Bärenjäger on a drink menu? Where? Hmmmm???? That's right--nowhere.

Yes, a good portion of my bar equity will reside in this establishment over the coming months, and that's okay with me. And maybe, while I'm there drinking, I can also sample some of their famous "tapas," which sound simple and delicious. I've been told the Petite Tenderloin with Gorgonzola cream, rosemary olive oil, and crispy onions is a must, as is the Broadway Baguette (basically bruschetta made with Boursin cheese). Other selections include everything from Empanadas to BBQ Ribs, with smatterings of seafood and Asian entrees throughout. The Olive & Cheese Plate has already won me over, and of the Brick-Oven Pizzas I know the Quattro Formaggi is calling me. There is nothing overtly "fancy" about the menu--noveau French and Italian buzz words are absent here. This is really just a straightforward menu with straightforward food, using simple ingredients with wide-ranging appeal. The prices are low...-ish. (If a couple were to dine together and order 3 entrees to split, which is what one does at a tapas bar, with perhaps a salad and a dessert as well, it would cost roughly $55.00 in food alone--not terrible for a nice meal to kick off a fun night on the town.) But the atmosphere and experience definitely make a trip here worthwhile.

I already look forward to visiting again, and already know that this will quickly become one of my new favorite hotspots.

Incidentally, they have recently opened a new location in Royal Joke. We will try not to hold this against them.