Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brunching at La Dolce Vita and More Adventures on a Sunny Sunday

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Sunday was a BE-yoo-tee-ful day in the D--the temp actually broke 60 and it was well worth spending some time outdoors (especially since, in the tradition of cruel Michigan weather, the temps are supposed to drop back down into the 30s for the weekend and we might get more--wait for it--SNOW!).

I started my day in my favorite way--with brunch. My friends and I headed over to La Dolce Vita, which I must sheepishly admit was for my first time. I fell in love with the place immediately. From the high ceilings with exposed white brick and white plaster archways that comprise the main dining room, to the darker bar area the next section over which is like stepping into an old Italian's wine cellar (the wine is kept in an antique-looking large oak display cabinet against the wall, like something you would see in someone's home), the entire restaurant has a vibe like an unglamorous but charming Tuscan lunch spot.

There is a prominent Renaissance-style mural on the focus wall of the main restaurant area, and photographs of old Italian movie stars and Renaissance-style sketches dot the remaining walls. Two huge cement planters with Romanesque carvings greet you as you enter, and the place is lit (when not drenched in sunlight pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the main dining area) with a number of twinkling chandeliers. The granite floors of the main entrance and dining room (as well as the banquet room) also help sustain the Tuscan vibe, but in the dimly-lit bar area the décor is less old-world Tuscanny and more old-world Detroit--a solid oak bar, half-moon booths in desperate need of reupholstering, and that awful floral-printed carpet in all deep jewel colors that are further darkened with years of the treading of dirty shoes that you see in any old restaurant, hotel lobby, or casino around the world.

But--there is a piano set up in the corner, and the music we were treated to was of the slightly-Cuban (mostly because of the bongos) jazz cafe variety, and the culture-assault of eating an American-style brunch in an old-world Italian restaurant with Havana-style jazz playing was more entertaining than it was off-putting. The slight dankness of the bar area does not detract from the charms of the rest of the place, and certainly not in the late spring and summertime when the beautiful outdoor patio (again--very Tuscan, with the stamped concrete and wrought iron cafe tables) is in full bloom, and patrons are surrounded by walls of trellised ivy. After a few moments here, you forget entirely that you are in the armpit of Detroit (and being at Woodward and McNichols, right next to the well-known after-hours spot and drug haven Numbers and kiddie-corner from the Deja Vu, it is the armpit--but at least not the asshole).

Actually, you don't even need to step inside to forget your surroundings--the entrance is in the back (and the place is kind of hard to find--no sign announces it from the street, except for a small neon "LDV" above the patio), as is the all-valet parking lot--and when you're surrounded by sparkling-clean Beamers, Hummers, Mercedes(es), and a Bentley, you might feel like you just crash-landed in Birmingham or West Bloomfield.

But this isn't just a hoighty-toighty rich-person secret spot--the crowd was a wonderful mix of people, from yuppies to buppies to hipsters to young couples...and a slightly disproportionate presence of gays (this fact was simply explained to me by my dining partners as "Gays like places like this"). It was nice to see people of all different races and backgrounds, families and singles, the rich and the not-so-much, all enjoying themselves together in this very cozy place. We foolishly stumbled in wearing jeans and T-shirts, and were extremely conscious of this once we saw the cars in the parking lot, but the majority of the patrons were similarly dressed and this isn't the kind of place that judges what you're wearing (at least not for Sunday brunch, anyway).

But I have yet to mention the food...for years I've been hearing about the unsurpassed greatness that is the stuffed French Toast, so I naturally gravitated towards that. OMFG. When three slices of their homemade bread that were each about 3 1/2 inches thick and oozing with mildly sweet and rich mascarpone cheese (the same cheese used in tiramisu--not very cheesy at all, more like custard on crack), coated in slightly-carmelized slices of sautéed bananas were placed in front of me, I just about had a bruchgasm. It was rich, and decadent, and flavorful, and perfect--possibly even better without the maple syrup, as the bananas provide all necessary sweetness. This dish is definitely worth its weight in buzz, and is probably one of the best brunching experiences I've ever had (there was that time in the Russian Tea Room in New York...that was better...not that I mean to brag...okay, yeah I do). Add to that some very tasty bacon, with a perfect salt-to-grease ratio, and bottomless mimosas (at $12.00, a steal), and I call this a damn-near-perfect brunch. Oh, and the bottomless mimosas (as well as the bottomless Bloody Marys) are refilled with pitchers, so you never have to wait for the server to bring you another glass--your mimosa as well as your water is never allowed to go empty, and that's attention to detail I do appreciate.

Service is attentive and prompt, even if you get an old Italian waiter you have a hard time understanding over the din of the noisy restaurant. Even as you wait for a table, the hostess is very gracious and gives you regular updates or your status, making sure you are still comfortable.

The prices are--well, they aren't low. $12.00 bottomless mimosas aside (which is pretty much the going rate in this city anyway, and still a steal), the majority of brunch meals are $9.95 and up, plus meat and potato sides are additional. This isn't the place to go for brunch on a budget (that's what Coneys are for), but moreso when brunch is worth a little splurge.

A quick glance at the dinner menu shows a whole lot of old-world-Italian-as-conceptualized-by-Americans fare--nothing too standout in the way of culinary creativity (I would guess they probably don't even staff a head chef, executive chef, sous chef, chef de cuisine, or whatever else you might want to call the typical mastermind behind creative menus with unique flavor and texture pairings and an artful presentation), but my guess is that it's all probably pretty damn good.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part--some serious eye candy happened to come in whilst I was stuffing my face with stuffed French Toast. Tall, long unkempt wavy black hair, a day's worth of black stubble, soft brown eyes--think Adrian Grenier from Entourage only a little skinnier and perhaps even hotter. I spent the rest of our brunch gawking and trying not to giggle like a schoolgirl, despite the eye-rolling of my friends. The love bug struck me hard (or perhaps just some pent-up lust), but alas--I was feeling a little too "hair in a ponytail wearing a T-shirt and jeans with no makeup" and not quite enough "Let's approach a random guy while he brunches with two hipster-looking friends and give him my phone number for the singular and sole reason that I find him undeniably attractive and not so much because I care to find out more about his hopes and dreams" to pull off a ballsy move like that, so I just spent the rest of the day fantasizing about the hot guy I will never see again. *Sigh*

If anyone knows who I'm talking about, send him to this blog.

After our brunch, I demanded we do a drive-by my old alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy (we were right in the area). As we circled the campus, I pointed out all my old haunts--much to the eye-rolling of my friends. The KDR house, where much drunken debauchery occurred senior year. The gas stations we always bought our smokes. The Subway that we used to always walk to in the early hours of the morning because it was open super-late and we were drunk and hungry...until it burned to the ground (it has since be rebuilt). Briggs porch, where many hours were spent smoking. (It used to be referred to as my "office;" friends, other students, and professors alike would often walk by and say things like, "Are you STILL out here?" This is why I want my memorial marble ashtray there when I die, surely of something smoking-related.) Pied Piper Market, where much booze was bought. Detroit's Finest Coney Island (DFCI), formerly Detroit City Coney Time (DCCT), formerly Metro Grille (N/A), where lunch and sometimes dinner was had on a daily basis (yep--we knew all the cooks and waitstaff). I always referred to it by acronym, and at one point came up with an acronym that encompassed all three names...damned if I can remember it now though. (Detroit City's Finest Coney Island Metro Grille Time????) Oh, the memories.

After my little drive by memory lane, I dropped off my friends and headed home to the LT. Since it was so pleasant out, I decided to walk over to Greektown to check out the parade. The horn-heavy music blaring from the speakers could be heard across the freeway, and was deafening on Monroe St. The parade wasn't so much a "parade," in the sense of floats and costumes, but more a celebration of heritage and culture--mostly it was just people walking and waving the Greek flag, claiming their individual heritage (Macedonia, Athens, etc.) and representing their schools, churches, and Greek-based organizations. It was...loud, and probably more enjoyable if you yourself were Greek.

And so I took my Western European/North American white ass elsewhere, deciding that it was a good day to wander around the city.Do you remember that scene in Vanilla Sky in which Tom "I'm Not Gay I Just Like Having Sex With Men" Cruise is standing in the middle of Times Square and it is completely empty--no people, no cars, no movement, nothing? That's kind of like what Detroit feels like on a Sunday.

Most places are closed--bars, restaurants, lunch spots, retail stores, leasing offices, and pretty much anything else that would draw in warm bodies. Walking the streets of downtown proper, anywhere but along Woodward, you can hear the echoes of your own footsteps and are unlikely to have to worry about looking for cars before crossing the street. It's actually kind of eerie, but cool at the same time. The only foot traffic I passed once edging away from Greektown was a small group wearing Red Wings jerseys and a couple of guys wearing Tigers tees. Aside from that--it was like having a whole city to myself.

After a long afternoon of brunching and meandering, it was high time for nap time. On a closing note, do check out LDV whenever you get a chance--and if you see my hot Adrian Grenier-looking guy, tell him D-Tales is waiting.

(Oh, and for good measure, because I wouldn't fee right otherwise--went to Enoteca Saturday night, saw Stacey and John, love them, also some some familiar faces including a couple of local business owners and some forum peeps, good times, I <3 Enoteca.)