Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adventures on a Friday: A Tale in Two Parts

Originally published on D-Tales here, edited for content.

...After nibbling on some of the cheese and pastries they had at the exhibit preview and sipping on some of the wine from local winery Red Hat Micro-Winery in St. Clair Shores (nothing that would make it into Wine Spectator, but nice to know it's nearby), my friend and I were feeling in the mood for some fine wining and dining, so we decided to head off to Cuisine in the New Center area, a place neither him nor I had been to before.

Okay, kids, this is where I'm about to get all foodie on you. I think another friend of mine said it best when he noted that there are places in Detroit people can go to for a nice meal, and then there are places that food people go for nice meals--Cuisine is the kind of place that a food person goes to for a nice meal. Well, he's absolutely correct in that observation.

Cuisine Restaurant is housed in a historic old Detroit home (much like the Whitney), with all of the heavy plaster, crown molding, intricate woodwork, bay windows, hardwood floors, and the like that go with that. But despite the historic home architecture, the décor is very contemporary--lots of electric blue glass accents, clean white tablecloths, and blue and yellow stained glass light fixtures create a very calming juxtaposition of the contemporary with the classic. The music also helps enhance the mood--French cafe songbirds, classic jazz, and classical pieces dominate. The sounds are markedly different, but the effect is the same, and adds to the classic-meets-contemporary ambiance.

But the best thing here is the food. The cuisine at Cuisine is best described as Nouveau French-American. Owner and Chef Paul trained at some of the top culinary schools in France, and brought that training back here to Detroit to realize his dream of owning an award-winning restaurant (which it is) in a city he has a true passion for.

Cuisine's menu offers a few different dining options. In true French style, there are two different Progression Menus offered (more commonly referred to as a tasting menu in the U.S. and a dégustation in France), which offer a variety of the chef's signature dishes at one prix fixe price (the more expensive offers a larger number of tastings), and includes all dining courses. Considering that to order most items a la carte (appetizer, salad, entree, dessert) would be more expensive than ordering the Progression Menu, don't let the $50-$80 price tag scare you off--these pre-selected menus are typically more bang for your buck anyway.

My friend and I decided to still go a la carte, sampling first the wild mushroom ravioli appetizer (fantastique). Throw chanterelles and morels into any dish and I'm pretty much sold--here the ravioli dough was thin and fluffy, stuffed full with large pieces of semi-exotic mushrooms in a rich, buttery cream sauce. Exotic mushrooms + lots of butter = FRENCH. Hardcore.

For dinner, I decided to go all out--roast quail stuffed with veal sweetbreads (glands) with accents of fingerling potatoes and marinated red grapefruit.

Mind you, this is not a dish for a novice. One must not only be acclimated to game hen (really, it tastes like really freaking good chicken), but one must also be comfortable with eating veal glands. And, might I say, the portioning of the sweetbreads was quite generous. They are slightly soft (to call them "squishy" would not be outside of reasonable), and an acquired taste--not unlike the heaping helping of foie gras my friend had with his Filet, which was all kinds of artery-clogging pungently flavorful goodness.

My quail dish was phenomenal--my only criticism is that there were so many flavors at work there that they tended to battle each other for dominance as opposed to working together for enhancement. Extra points for presentation, however--once again, in true French tradition, the presentation of the food is as much of an artform as the food itself. The quail was split up the middle and partially de-boned, served laying flat with the sweetbreads tumbling out, with the grapefruit slices artfully arranged and the potatoes carefully scattered. Very pretty, indeed...until I hacked it apart trying to cut the very small and very delicate quail carcass. :/

And, oh, the wine--I must say, while Cuisine certainly doesn't have the most impressive wine list in the city, they certainly have one of the most reasonably priced. A nice smattering of selections from around the world, with no particular emphasis on any region or varietal, and most of them available by the bottle for $40.00 and under. I found a fantastic South American cab for only $18.00, but there was also a handful of the requisite high-end wines also available--such as a bottle of Penfolds Grange, priced very reasonably (for what it is) at $200.00. We selected a Shiraz from Washington State to pair with our meals (my personal weakness: Shiraz and Pinot Noir from Oregon and Washington--killer), which complimented the delicate flavors of my quail quite nicely, as much as it suited the robustness of my friend's foie gras-covered filet.

But the absolute best part of our dining experience came with dessert. ALL breads and desserts and made in-house by Pastry Chef Kevin Kearney, who studied at the acclaimed French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu, where Chef Paul also studied. The world of the patissier is much different from the world of the chef de cuisine--much less notoriety and recognition, often considered an afterthought, and typically not taken all that seriously in all areas of the culinary world (often referred to derogatorily as a "baker"). This isn't to say that pastry chefs are a laughing stock all over the world--they're just often not as appreciated as the executive chefs, especially here in the States.

That being said, the pastry chef--when permitted to fly freely by the executive chef--can demonstrate as much artfulness and creativity as the head chef, perhaps even moreso. Here at Cuisine, Chef Kevin is giving Chef Paul a run for his money.

Every single dessert sounded absolutely tantalizing (THEY HAD A CHEESE PLATE AND I PASSED ON IT), right down to the three different flavors of soufflés. But when we were told what the special house-made ice cream selections were, we were sold. Get this: a red wine ice cream with Danish bleu cheese and walnuts. I KNOW. Fucking fabulous. Also available was a Guiness ice cream with pecans and good old-fashioned wonderful strawberry. But it was the red wine/bleu cheese combination that made both my friend and I say "Gimme some of that," and had us ooohing and ahhing for the rest of the night. When it hits your tongue, you taste the fruity fullness of the wine. As you swirl it in your mouth and bite into the walnuts, the taste of the bleu cheese jumps out. Truly one of the most interesting desserts I have ever tasted, like a little piece of heaven on my tongue. Paired with the rich Graham's "Six Grapes" port I selected, I was having one serious foodgasm.

Cuisine is definitely a place to go for people who love food and love the experience of dining. The service is also very friendly--we chatted at length with our two servers as well as Chef Kevin, and were made to feel extremely welcome and appreciated. At this point in time, the nearby Fisher Theatre is closed for renovations through November (from which Cuisine receives a good portion of their business), so now is a great time to go and enjoy what is guaranteed to be a unique and intimate dining experience. Anyone who has doubts about the dining culture in Detroit, head to Cuisine.