Friday, April 18, 2008

Adventures on a Friday: A Tale in Two Parts

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Part One: Asian Village, Mezzanine, and Lunch at Vicente's

It's been a busy week for D-Tales, so I'm playing Blogger catch-up now. But still I would like to share with my readers my adventures from last Friday, as they were...adventuresome.

The day started out with me taking an injured friend to work so he could tie up some loose ends. While we were in the area, I decided I wanted to get some coffee at the Kawaiian Cafe inside Asian Village. I had read about it repeatedly on the website (as recently as earlier that same week) and wanted to check it out, figuring this would be my perfect opportunity.

Except for that it's apparently been closed for, like, almost a year. Okay, not quite that long, but a pretty long time. The website had never been updated to reflect this closure (ditto with the closing and reopening of Asian Marketplace, the lunch spot). So THEN what should happen I KID YOU NOT just a few days later???? The website gets shut down for a day, and then totally revamped and now NOT advertising businesses that no longer exist.


I was just bummed I couldn't get my coffee.

BTW, I've heard rumors for some time that Asian Village is hurting for business (hence the closures), but most recently I've started hearing about some improvements in patronage. I don't know if Detroiters have simply FINALLY caught on to the coolness that is (every OTHER trendy Asian place in the outlying suburban areas are considered THE places to hang out--Chen Chow in Birmingham, Sakana in Ferndale, Mon Jin Lau in Troy, Crave in Dearborn...Detroiters seemed to have missed the boat on the 18,000 sq. ft. trendy Asian MegaPlex right here on the Riverfront, but they're putting on the life preservers and trying to swim to catch it now). I always attributed it to a problem with advertising--as in, complete lack thereof. Other people cited reasons as simple as parking dilemnas (there is valet service there, but it's expensive--$5.00 before 9:00PM, $10.00 after). But now that Fusia is getting some good buzz and the new lounge Sutra is open (Saturdays only; $10.00 for girls, $20.00 for guys; tables with Ketel One bottle service and admission for 5 people $225.00) and being promoted by my fave Jay Noonchester, things are apparently looking up for AV.

Just the other day, a friend of mine told me that Saturday nights at Asian Village was the new hot spot for black people. She said it seemed like every friend that called her up was either already at or on their way to AV. She also said, "You know us black people--we find a new place we like and suddenly it's the hype place to be." So apparently catering to a more diverse crowd...or, really any crowd at all, aside from the GM Ren Cen workers and business travelers staying at the Marriott...was a wise business maneuver for AV. Now BRING BACK THE COFFEE!!!!!

I am glad that it seems AV is no longer two weekends away from shutting down.

But I'm still pissed I ended up with a crappy Mocha Frappuccino bottled thing from CVS.

So, from the ill-fated attempt at getting coffee in AV to lunch at Vicente's Cuban Cuisine. But first, my friends and I decided to drop in and say hi to our friend Joe Posch, owner of Mezzanine, a high-end modernist furniture and home accessory store located at Grand River and Broadway. Tres chic.

The store is actually located on the second floor, and you have to call for the elevator operator (an older woman named Jean, I believe, who has apparently been doing this for some several-odd decades). This is one of those super-old-fashioned elevators (with an operator! who operates!), iron grate and all. Plus, in true old-fashioned form, Jean smokes as she operates. For one brief second it was like living in the '50s...if in the '50s a twenty-something woman who was single with no children could wear pants with a T-shirt in public and be accompanied by her two best openly gay male friends, that is. Other than that, just like it.

Mezzanine was a visual treat--it's a very trendy place in a very trendy space (Joe was fortunate to be able to have his store occupy the corner of the building, so it features ceiling-high windows over two full walls; very trendy and loft-like, which is actually great for the store because browsers are able to envision what the products might actually look like in their own modern Detroit loft home). The merchandise is all exactly the kinds of things I gravitate towards in the CB2 and Chiasso catalogues, only at Mezzanine the merchandise is a little less mass-produced and thus a little more expensive. The store has a very nice set-up, with small home accessory items on display with the larger items and the furniture, so everything has a very "livable" look to it--actually, it felt more like a showroom than a store. In fact, it reminded me a lot of several fully-decorated model lofts I had seen on previous loft tours, as if someone could buy the whole entire space outright and move right in without having to change very much about the set-up to make it a true home. There are a number of different artistic and eclectic modernist pieces on display for your purchasing perusal, but no giant warehouse with bin numbers a la IKEA or walls of miscellaneous knick-knacks 5-deep. This is a great place to go for your contemporary home d├ęcor needs, and I'm fairly positive that it is the only store of its kind in Detroit. (Bureau of Urban Living is more accessory and less furniture, though those who would shop at one would certainly shop at the other.)

After oohing and ahhing at pretty things we can't possibly afford, we bid Joe adieu and headed over to Vicente's for some late lunch.

I love Vicente's; I just think it is a wonderful place with a very unique vibe and some very tasty food. Friday and Saturday night salsa dances are a must-see at least once for all metro-Detroiters. Plus, love all the flavored mojitos.

Lunch at Vicente's is a different vibe. The Cuban music isn't blaring, the dancefloor isn't packed, and there is a minimal crowd dining. It's a nice, relatively quiet place to go for lunch (at least at 3:00 in the afternoon it is--I can't speak for the common lunch rush).

I've dined there numerous times before, and I typically opt for the diverse Tapas menu over a single full entree--you get to sample a larger selection of items for a little more bang for your buck. I heartily recommend the Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp marinated in garlic, olive oil, and white wine with lemon juice, crushed red peppers and parsley--so simple, yet so good, and be sure to sop up the remnants with some crusty bread) and the Calamares Fritos (calamari in a lemon butter sauce--when done right, the edges of the calamari have just the slightest crispness, which is a fantastic contrast to the creamy garlic butter).

To try something a little different, I ordered the Surtido de Espana--a basic meat and cheese plate (I know! as many times as I've been there and I've NEVER ordered it!). Manchego cheese, serrano ham, cantimpalo chorizo and marinated olives were served to me on one very greasy plate. Now, individually these are all very greasy items (especially the cheese and chorizo sausage)--when put on the same plate and served at room temperature after being chilled (read: sweat), it was pretty much just a pool of mixed grease on a plate. Still tasty, though, but at $10.95, not a very good value. Oh, but the olives--yeck. The marinade was apparently some kind of mayo base--yeck, yeck, yeck.

What I get most excited about when I go there are the Plantanos Maduros (fried sweet plantains)--the sweet plantains (pungent mini-bananas) get a little caramelized as they are fried, so the edges get crisp, the sugar caramelizes and enhances the naturally sweet flavor, and they are just simply YUM-MY. Much like the majority of Vicente's menu, the motto at work here is "the simpler the better," and it works oh so well.

For dessert, we opted for some Tres Leches (three milk) cake--white cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and then soaked in good old-fashioned liquid milk. The cake is actually not made in-house but is brought in from a bakery in Mexicantown (not...remembering...the name...), so you have to try to get it when it's fresh. It is most certainly a different experience--the cake is beyond moist, given that it is still dripping with milk, but it is very light and flavorful and...cold.

We left there full and bloated and ready for a nap time. My ambition earlier in the day was to take a walk to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I quickly gave up on this when the temperature dropped 20 degrees, the wind started gusting 30+ mph, and the Weather Channel was reporting a storm blowing I decided to get rested up for the big night I had ahead of me and took a lengthy nap


Check back soon for Part Two: The Dossin Great Lakes Museum and Cuisine! But first, gotta go pay the bills and make some dolla dolla bills y'all...