Monday, July 20, 2009

Farewell, Five Lakes Grill...Hola, Cinco Lagos

After 14 years of serving up a smorgasbord of house-smoked, house-cured meats such as rabbit, venison, and wild boar, celebrated Chef Brian Polcyn's Five Lakes Grill in Milford closed its doors on Sunday and will reopen August 3rd as Cinco Lagos (Spanish for "five lakes"), Milford's premiere Mexcian restaurant. Cinco Lagos will maintain the same traditions as Five Lakes--fresh, natural, local ingredients, prepared simply to maximize flavors. They will be serving traditional Mexican fare such as housemade salsas and guacamole, hand-made tortillas, braised meats, and chorizo.

Diehard fans of Polcyn's charcuterie can still find it at Forest Grill in Birmingham, Polcyn's latest venture which opened in 2008 with much apblomb and has since been named Hour Detroit's Restaurant of the Year for 2009.

This seems to be happening more and more lately. Restaurants with hefty price points are reimagining their menus, if not their whole concept, to keep in line with the current budget-conscious trend. It may manifest as a new casual menu, like the Bar Burger at Bourbon Steak; special discounted dishes like the Rattlesnake Club's $30.00 3-course "Lobster Madness;" or it may mean a total transformation, a complete reconceptualization of the atmosphere and menu (even in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, an Italian eatery I visited on my last trip has since reimagined itself into a burger joint--and from what I understand, not all that successfully).

While there is nothing in any of the press that explicitly stated "We're doing this because Five Lakes Grill is no longer making any money," I'd bet a hundred thousand pesos that this is the underlying reason--perhaps this, and the fact that Forest Grill is garnering so much attention that Polcyn can no longer divide his time and attention between the two restaurants and maintain the same level of quality, creativity, and consistency for both. And while a Mexican restaurant seems like a bit of a cop-out, think less Rojo Mexican Bistro and more El Barzon.

It should be interesting to see what a Mexican eatery a la Brian Polcyn looks like (their Barbacoa will probably be off the chain), though I will admit that the loss of Five Lakes Grill is quite unfortunate, especially since Polcyn was just this year nominated for a James Beard Award for this restaurant.

This trend of restaurants reimagining their menus--more desirable than shuttering entirely, no doubt--may yield some interesting changes, though it also may lead to some disastrous ones. The biggest problem is that, for those looking to skate by this time by lowering prices and hoping for a speedy economic recovery, there is no turning back. Like I learned from my own experiences in advertising and retail, once you lower your prices (or offer special introductory rates), your customers will NEVER pay full price again (or go back "on rate"). Tribute, Opus One, the Rattlesnake that they've begun discounting, they'll never be able to stop. Bourbon Steak can never eliminate its Bar Burger, and Cinco Lagos can never go back to being Five Lakes. Regardless, for those who have money to spend, there is no time like the present to get some great deals on just have to hope that your favorite places don't decide to reconceptualize from fine dining to cheap eats.