Monday, August 31, 2009
I'll "tweet" the latest news on Restaurant Week, updates on restaurant specials and events, foodie tidbits, and anything else of interest that don't quite necessitate a blog post but 140 characters suit just fine!
So far today, I have:
DininginDetroitToday is the last day for 50% off food bills at MGM's Ignite, Palette, and Breeze! Also last day for BOGO free entrees at all Andiamos!
DininginDetroitIn Naperville IL. Headed to work and then lunch at Sugar Toad, the dining experience 9 months in the making for me! Home again tonight.
Now if I can just figure out how to tweet via cell phone...
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I tell everyone about that red wine and blue cheese ice cream. It was blue cheese. In ice cream. Even after having some of the most decadent and artistic desserts in the area, this one is still my all-time favorite (you know how I love cheese).
For this installment of my Detroit Restaurant Week preview sessions, Chef Paul whipped up some of his trademark seasonal creations (the menu at Cuisine changes constantly as Chef Paul regularly conjures up exciting new combinations based on what's available season to season), and this is where his true talent and genius as a chef takes center stage. He may have a quiet, unassuming manner, but don't assume that means he can't cook circles around those who exhibit more bravado. This is a man who truly loves what he does, who feels he is living his dream in ways most people never get the chance to, and that passion is evident on every plate.
First I try the Baby Arugula Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan, decorated with garden-fresh grape tomatoes and dollops of rich, raw honey from Michigan's Yale Farms. The greens are bitter with the slight crunch of salt and ground pepper for seasoning, and are balanced well by the prosciutto and parmesan. The honey--a thick, flavorful honey that seemed almost scented with lavender--was a bold contrast to the salad, giving it more of a summer feel (along with the bright reds and yellows of the tomatoes).
For my next preview course I am treated with Beef Short Rib braised in soy and honey with a puree of carrot and pear and a sautee of wax beans. I can see you raising your eyebrow--carrot and pear? Yes, carrot and pear, made with rice wine vinegar and white wine. Slightly tart and sweet, this puree offered a light, summery spin to the old meat-and-vegetable concept. Who would have thought carrots could be so interesting? And the wax beans--those are strange little beasts. Pale yellow, they look almost like macaroni noodles, and have an inexplicable spiciness to them. I'm not much of a bean fan but together with the sweet-tart puree and the hearty, tender beef, it worked. I don't know how it did, but it did.
And this is precisely what makes Chef Paul such a brilliant chef--his bold approach to taste combinations, his daring usage of common items. There is a certain artistry that goes with being a truly great chef--one must know and understand how different flavors, textures, colors, and smells work together to make something palatable (or not). There is much to balance, and not every guy with a set of knives has mastered this art to the point of being able to toy with it. Chef Paul has, and every meal you will ever eat at Cuisine is the end result of him, essentially, playing with his food.
I had the chance to speak with Chef Paul as I tried one of the DRW desserts, a chocolate walnut cake with a chocolate ganache and a scoop of sour cream ice cream. Yes, sour cream ice cream (the flavor was incredibly rich, but certainly not something you would want to put on a baked potato). As I ask him how he comes up with some of his ideas (whether or not his mind is always full of food), he confides that even as we speak he was thinking of a recipe for rack of lamb, which was being delivered in time for the weekend. Red lentils, figs (or plums, depending on availability, he explains, kind of more to himself than to me), caramelized onions, and some sort of orange/citrus infusion. He talks about it excitedly, and I feel as if, for that moment, I was peering directly inside his brilliant brain at the very moment another culinary masterpiece was being conceived.
The cuisine at Cuisine emphasizes simplicity. Chef Paul espouses the ideal that flavors should come first and that doing it simple is best (a sentiment I hear a lot of chefs echoing lately). He admits this approach can be labor-intensive, but the end result is wothwhile. Nothing is overdone or overworked; nothing is "stacked up two feet" high. He focuses on clean, fresh flavors that are designed around the availability of certain products at certain times. What you end up with can be deceptively simple--carrot and pear???--but rest assured, the flavor is like nothing you ever tasted before, or likely will ever again.
There are many fine, worthy restaurants participating in Detroit Restaurant Week; Cuisine is one not to miss.
And as an added bonus: every Wednesday during the summer they offer $25.00 Lobster dinners, as well as weekly wine tastings on their patio every Friday night from 5:00PM-7:00PM (only $15.00 per person with complimentary hors d'ouevres), which will carry through the end of September. Cuisine is also available for private parties and catering.
September 18-27, 2009
(Please choose one)
Baby Arugula salad with prosciutto and parmeasan
Lobster ravioli with citrus butter
(Please choose one)
Seafood plate of garlic shrimp, seared sea scallop,
smoked salmon and mini crabcake
Beef short rib braised in soy and honey with puree of carrot and pear
Chicken breast stuffed with parmesan and herbs over carrot risotto
Mélange of vegetables – 6 different preparations
Chocolate Walnut Cake
$27.00 per person exclusive of all beverages, tax and gratuity
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
But there's another component to this week as well: "Taste of Eastern Market."
At 10:00AM every Saturday between now and September 26, there will be chefs from different restaurants participating in Restaurant Week who will be offering cooking demonstrations inside Eastern Market's Shed 2. This is a great way for you to experience you own preview of DRW, instead of leaving all the work for me! (Not that I mind.)
Last week, Kirk Hansen from Atlas Global Bistro prepared Michigan Garden Ratatouille and Garlic Parmesan Panna Cotta. (I am truly regretting missing this--what else should sick days at work be used for?) Coming up next,
~24 Grille on August 29,
~Roast on September 5,
~Wolfgang Puck Grille and Saltwater on September 12,
~Seldom Blues/Detroit Fish Market on September 19, and
~Cuisine on September 26.
Besides, it will do you some good to get outside and get some fresh air. Summer is almost over...sad face.
23 more days until Restaurant Week! Plenty of time to buy some pants with an elastic waist!
Later this week, keep an eye out for my preview of Cuisine. You may have forgotten about this place, but you really shouldn't have.
I've only been back one time, and it was a bit of a FAIL. But over this past weekend, a friend of mine told me he wanted to go investigate Windsor and it sounded like a fun adventure, so off we went exploring.
We also passed by Chanoso's, whose outdoor menu board revealed items like stir-fry, hummous, samosas, and sushi. The full menu is an eclectic mix of Thai, Indian, Lebanese, contemporary American, and generic pan-Asian. It is certainly the most versatile menu I've ever seen; part of me hopes to never see it again. The reviews are all favorable, so I am intrigued, but the cultural stickler in me demands that a restaurant decide what exactly it wants to do and try to do it well, instead of trying to do it all.
Junk Pan-Asian Grill tries to do much the same. The overall look is distinctly more "Pan-Asian," but the menu boasts the same little of this/little of that mentality.
The Keg Steakhouse on the river caught my eye; this north American steakhouse franchise has locations all over Canada, including two in Windsor (the other in the nearby Devonshire Mall), and more in the US, but none over in metro Detroit (which is surprising, considering the prominence of steakhouses out in the Birmingham/Troy area). It has the look of a contemporary, upscale, corporate steakhouse (big, flashy) and a menu with Prime Rib in every size, shape, and color. Nothing new to the steakhouse scene, but the view sure is pretty.
After all this touring, we inexplicably ended up at a place called Papa Cheney's Whiskey Well where the Canadian Club is $2.50 all day every day. But they had pizza, and we like pizza, and it came recommended from his friend (I am always hesitant to take recommendations from people I don't know, and with good reason). The menu is deep-fried bar food, pierogies, and pizza. They've got Canadian brew Rickards on tap (the Belgian-style wheat ale called simple "White" isn't bad; better than the Coors on special, at least). There must be some kind of rock T-shirt uniform/theme thing with the staff, because each person there was wearing a T-shirt with some random band name on it (Green Day, Suicidal Tendencies, Nine Inch Nails, the Doors). But the place was comfortable, and OPEN, so we opted for the Pizza Pierogies and Four Cheese Pizza.
Coming soon to Windsor: the Shores of Erie Wine Festival September 10-13 in Amherstberg, featuring live music (from the Stills!), food from 23 area restaurants, culinary demonstrations, and a wine pavillion featuring wines from 12 Southwestern Ontario wineries. One-day passes are $15.00 in advance, $20.00 at the gate.
As it turns out, there is much to be discovered of our neighbors to the north! (Well, south, technically.) A trip to Windsor is not without its minor inconveniences--one needs a passport, must be subjected to a barrage of questions in customs, and pay $4.00 each way to cross the border--but the once-in-a-while roadtrip is worthwhile, if for no better reason than the stupendous view of Detroit from across the river (markedly better than the factories and casino we get to stare at).
Friday, August 21, 2009
Chef Edward has been with Andiamo for 12 years, serving as the executive chef of this downtown location for the past five. He trained at the Golightly Career and Tech Center (a career-training program offered to high school students in the Detroit Public School System), where he now serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Board for their Culinary Program.
When I asked him what is happening at Andiamo right now that he's most excited about (besides Detroit Restaurant Week, obviously!), his face lit up as he talked excitedly about Andiamo's new "Lean" menu. Andiamo Corporate Chef Jim Oppat teamed with Board-Certified Physican and Nutrition Specialist Dr. Tom Rifai to create this special prix fixe menu which includes an appetizer, entree, and fresh fruit panna cotta for dessert, priced at $17.95-$31.95 for all three courses. All "Andiamo Lean" selections contain minimal saturated and no trans fat, no gluten, no soy or nut products and are low in sodium. As an added bonus, each meal (regardless of the combination you choose) is fewer than 600 calories. Enjoy full-sized portions of robust Italian dishes that just so happen to be good for you at a price that's also good for your wallet!
MY visit, however, cost me a few more than 600 calories. Chef Edward presented me with plate after plate (after plate) of selections from Andiamo's just-finalized DRW menu. Portabella mushrooms in Zip sauce (a highly condensed salty butter sauce made with beef stock, garlic, and a variety of spices, which was created right here in the Motor City), Suppli alla Romana (deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with melted mozzarella), Fettucine Alfredo, Chicken alla Valdostana (breaded chicken with prosciutto and fontina cheese in a roasted garlic white wine sauce), and Trancia di Salmone (broiled Atlantic Salmon topped with tomato, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs). After all this, he still offered me a dessert, but at this rate I might not be able to eat again until Detroit Restaurant Week. I suppose this is what authentic Italian hospitality looks like! (Though Italians get offended if you don't eat everything on your plate...I sure hope Chef Ed was understanding in this matter.)
The real standouts here were the Portabella mushrooms--marinated, grilled, sliced Portabella mushrooms that were meaty and seemed almost au Poivre (coated in cracked peppercorn) and were further complimented by the rich, salty zip sauce--and the Chicken alla Valdostana, a hearty dish tempered by a light white wine sauce.
~Suppli alla Romano
Monday, August 17, 2009
Dining in Detroit was named "Official Blog" of Detroit Restaurant Week, which means that, for the next seven-ish weeks, I will be keeping you, my dear readers, informed of all the latest and greatest news concerning all things DRW, as well as offering weekly previews of some of the participating restaurants--get an "insider's scoop" on what's being dished with added info on the chefs, the restaurant, and anything else of interest to my Detroit foodies.
For my first morsel, below you will find the complete list of participating restaurants who have agreed to offer a minimum 3-course meal for the fixed price of $27.00 (excluding tax, gratuity, and beverages).
Andiamo Detroit Riverfront
Atlas Global Bistro
Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille
Detroit Fish Market
Forty-Two Degrees North
Wolfgang Puck Grille
Detroit Restaurant Week is presented by Paxahau Event Productions (you'll remember them from that big tecnho festival every Memorial Day), and is sponsored by the Greater Downtown Districts (Downtown, Midtown, Corktown, New Center, and Eastern Market) to support and promote area restaurants.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Photo courtesy of Michelle Matiyow and Lians for www.lmstudios.com
Inhabiting the former Cafe Muse location, a tiny little hallway of a building on Washington Ave., the spot is by its very nature terribly cute and cozy. As Cafe Muse, it was cheery and eclectic and quaint. What Crepe? is just as quaint, but with a little more drama. The walls are a deep berry-stained red, with dramatic dark wood accents and a distinctly Parisian flair. The furniture, glassware, and plates are all amusingly mismatched, like the lone leftovers of an antique sale that desperately needed a home. You might sit in a plush velvet wingback chair, or on a backless leather bar stool. One plate might be flowery like something found in Grandma's pantry, and another might have a wild zebra pattern. The menus are made with old French record sleeves, completing the apparent effect of what almost feels like a trendy Euro-style antique salvage space. The (mismatched) wrought iron cafe tables out front complete the vibe of a thoroughly modern Parisian cafe reborn out of the old.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Matiyow and Lians for www.lmstudios.com
On my first visit I had the chance to chat with owner Paul Jenkins Jr. (PJ), who is equally adorable as he is most assuredly insane for opening a new restaurant in this current economic climate, having no previous restaurant experience. "No time like the present," he tells me with a winning grin. "I always dreamed of opening my own restaurant, and now I'm finally living my dream."
The advantage What Crepe? has over some other restaurants is that, for $30.00, a couple can come out and have a lovely evening with amazing food, without breaking the bank. "I love seeing people come here on dates," PJ tells me, and he seems genuinely happy that people are choosing his place for their special nights out. They currently have no liquor license, but are third in line to receive the new "Bistro Liquor License," introduced by the Royal Oak Liquor Control Commission to allow restaurants with limited seating the ability to serve wine and beer (particularly in a city like Royal Oak which is already 2 or 3 Class C liquor licenses over its quota).
As the owner, PJ is constantly striving to offer the best ingredients to make the finest crepes. He will not TRY to be the best; he WILL be. This sort of full-throttle attitude is evident all over the menu: where else can you find such items as Truffle Zip Sauce, Agave Nectar, Creme Fraiche, as well as an assortment of vegan options and substitutes so that everyone can enjoy the items on the menu?
The Chicken Truffle is made with marinated all-natural chicken, arugula, and truffle zip sauce. The chicken is tender and juicy and the truffle zip light and tangy, perfect for a light lunch. The mixed fresh berry is a simple combination of smashed fresh raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries, topped with powered sugar and whipped cream. At first this sounded a little boring to me, but at the enthusiastic recommendation of our server, the endearingly sweet Sophie, I went for it. With crepes, simplicity is often key; here the tart berry compote with the cream and the delicate, slightly sweet crepe shell made for a tastefully simple combination.
Though there is also something to be said for indulgence: the What Chocolate Eclair Crepe is full of vanilla custard and coated with nutella, topped with shaved white chocolate, whip cream, powdered sugar and cocoa powder. You really just can't go wrong with custard, but custard with nutella makes for the juggernaut of desserts. Doughtnut, your days are numbered.
But I have yet to tell you about the crepe de resistance: Mushroom Madness. Cremini, shitake, and whole button mushrooms, soaked in butter and wrapped in a crepe shell that looks like it's about to burst. It is drizzled with truffle zip sauce and loaded with melted gruyere swiss cheese. Gruyere makes me happy, and tangy, melted gruyere covering butter-soaked exotic mushrooms makes me even happier. Having sampled it once already, I couldn't help but sample it a second time--the huge chunks of mushrooms burst with their uniquely exotic flavors and taste richer, more robust than some of the finest cuts of beef. The high-quality gruyere is sharp and tangy, offsetting the basic (as in, opposite of acidic), slightly bitter mushrooms. The crepe is hearty and filling and absolutely decadent.
There is a small garden plot behind the restaurant where they grow their tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, and strawberries, staying true to the garden-to-table ethic Slow Foodies and locovores all over are taking up.
The service is consistently wonderful. Sophie was my server on both trips and her genuine smile and upbeat attitude was a delight. On my second trip they had run out of some items after a particularly busy Sunday morning, and she was incredibly apologetic for it. Lita, whom a sixth-sense tingling makes me believe is PJ's crepe-loving globe-trotting partner, also personally came over and apologized for the inconvenience, offering to help us make different selections. This was in stark contrast to an experience I had almost two years ago at the Frank Taylor restaurant Detroit Breakfast House, where a terse and unapologetic "We're out of that" (orange juice, bananas, bacon) was met with impatience at our dawdling over the menu (suffice it to say I haven't been back since). Then Sophie later thanked us for being so nice to her, which caught me off guard because I certainly hadn't thought we had done anything special. Another server (Molly? Megan?) introduced herself to the table of middle-aged women next to us having a riveting conversation about medical ailments because she recognized them as regulars.
One thing I should note is that the space is very SMALL. The other patrons become your inadvertent dining partners--every conversation is easily overheard, and no matter where you sit you're likely to be sitting very close to someone at another table. The patio offers a little more privacy, if you don't mind baking in the sun. But despite this, the experience is still enjoyable--just know what to expect.
At What Crepe?, you're made to feel genuinely welcome, like each and every person there is sincerely happy and grateful that you came. This level of graciousness is hard to find, and it, much like this restaurant and its wonderful crepes, is a welcome treat.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Not that Opus One is in any way keeping with the current trend: one look around the dining room and you are immediately transported back to the glory days of Detroit, circa 1987. I couldn't help but to think about the old '80s sitcom It's a Living. Don't get me wrong; the inside of Opus One is beautiful, despite the fact that it is incredibly dated. Once again, the attention to detail is superb, and the dining room is quite posh--but posh in that over-indulgent '80s way, with swirling patterned upholstery, lots of recessed lighting, and mirrors on the back of every booth (perfect to pick your teeth!). Coupled with the smooth jazz Muzak playing over the stereo system, and the place feels like an unashamed '80s throwback, minus the irony.
After my friend and I were seated (the table pulled out for us to slide into the booth, because that's what they do in upscale restaurants still observing traditional upscale restaurant decorum), we were presented with our menus. I am not a near-sighted person, but I had to hold the menu as far away from my face as my arms could reach while squinting in order to read it. The best conjecture I can make is that just as the décor of the place is antiquated, perhaps so too is the clientele, making such large typeface necessary for eyes that just simply aren't what they used to be. We got a giggle out of this, anyway.
I wanted to start with the Shrimp Helene, as this is one of their specialties (jumbo shrimp wrapped in filo dough with Béarnaise sauce); however, as luck would have it, they were out of Shrimp Helene that evening. In a panic I quickly opted for the "Philly" Beef Tenderloin Ragoon, made with tenderloin tips, provolone cheese, peppers, and onions wrapped in a wonton then deep fried and served with provolone dipping sauce. Have you ever had one of those Philly Cheese Steak pizza rolls? The kind you would buy in the frozen food section of the grocery store? That's what they reminded me of. The tenderloin was tough and even though the provolone dipping sauce was tasting, I still felt like I was eating college dorm cuisine. Suffice it to say, I wasn't off to a good start.
I will also give you a little tip: many wines on this list are quite affordable (the namesake notwithstanding), and the wines by the glass list leaves something to be desired. Splurge a little and get a bottle; whatever you don't drink you can re-cork and take home.
I noted earlier that Opus One isn't always in keeping with the current trend, but recently they seem to be trying to appeal to a wider demographic with recession-friendly reduced prices, a tactic many of the finer dining establishments (the Rattlesnake Club, Iridescence) have been utilizing to get more people through their doors and offer value at a time when people are seeking it the most. The menu is priced quite reasonably (that Osso Buco was only $25.00, the Rack of Lamb only $29.00), with lunch pricing cut almost in half for lighter lunchtime fare. The Bistro Bar also offers pizzas for only $8.00 (available only at the bar), while their Sunday Brunch is one of the best values in town ($30.00 for 3 courses and two drinks included). And now, Opus One is offering special Game Day pricing for Tigers fans.
At $20.00, this menu is a steal, and I'm not talking about bases here. Opus One may be a bit dated, but it is still one of Detroit's finest dining institutions, and an opportunity to experience some of their food for such a greatly reduced price is not one to pass up (our $118.00 bill was brought down to $78.00 after my coupon discount; I really do love recession "anniversary" deals!).
Sunday, August 9, 2009
"As the auto industry crumbles around us, Michigan is slowing down…for the better.
'What many don't realize is that the state is at the forefront of an international phenomenon: the Slow Food Movement, which owes its existence in no small part to Michigan's status as one of the largest agricultural regions in the country.
'Agriculture is our second-largest industry, with an annual economic impact of $63.7 billion (and growing). The Michigan Department of Agriculture estimates that if every household spent just $10 per week on locally grown foods, we would keep more than $37 million each week circulating within Michigan's economy..."
(Read the rest here. Thanks to Jeff Meyers for being patient with my panicky phone calls as I realized that I perhaps bit off more than I could chew!)
Thursday, August 6, 2009
El Barzón is what happens when a chef from Puebla, Mexico works for eight years at a AAA Four Diamond –rated Italian restaurant (in this case, Southfield’s still-shuttered Il Posto) and infuses his knowledge of both culinary traditions into one menu. This is a kind of fusion cuisine you won’t see anywhere else: a menu that is one-half traditional authentic Mexican, and one-half traditional authentic Italian.
Chef Norberto Garita, co-owner of El Barzón, uses his hometown of Puebla as a launching pad to present his restaurant’s most-sought-after specialty, Mole Poblano, a chicken dish named after its distinctive regional sauce that is not only difficult to find even in the corner of Southwest Detroit aptly-named Mexican Town but even more difficult to find done correctly. Garita’s is impeccable: a rich, deep mahogany-colored sauce made with chile seco, cumin, sesame seeds, tomatillo, garlic, anix, almonds, toasted bread, platanos, chocolate, and more. Commonly thought of as simply a “spicy chocolate sauce,” true mole is much more complex, and Garita’s shows all the subtle notes of sweetness, fruitiness and spice that are brought on by all the many different ingredients. Time and patience is key here, as this is a sauce that cannot be rushed, and only a truly talented saucier could master. Whether it was his childhood in Puebla, the city from which this mole originates, or his years training in Il Posto’s kitchen that lent Garita his superior sauce-making skills is irrelevant: everything this man pours onto a plate is absolute perfection.
For appetizers, the Chiles Rellenos are stuffed with tasty ground beef and cheese and slathered in a rich yet light expertly-seasoned tomato sauce. The Bis di Pasta, which features Strozzapreti Norcina and Cavatelli alla Boscaiola (both also available individually as entrees), is simply stunning. The juxtaposition of these two sauces—one a truffle-scented sausage and tomato sauce (the Norcina), the other a garlic and mushroom cream sauce (the Boscaiola)—is a palate-pleasing shock. Both are rich and wonderful and to choose a favorite would be impossible (which is why I recommend the appetizer in which you get a sample portion of both!). The noodles themselves are equally exquisite—dense and perfectly al dente, Garita’s years at Il Posto have trained him well on the intricacies of pasta-making (if it were as easy as throwing noodles into a pot of boiling water, I would do it…who am I kidding, no I wouldn’t).
For an entrée, you have over 50 selections to choose from, and that’s not including the tacos or tortas. Chicken, Veal, Pasta, and the occasional pork dish and Barbacoa (steamed goat), all with portions available in lunch or dinner sizes (and almost all priced $18.00 and under). If it’s got sauce on it, you can’t go wrong, and you’d best believe that everything on this menu comes with some kind of elaborate sauce.
Whether your hankering is for Mexican or Italian, there is a wide (and I do mean wide) variety to choose from, and it is all prepared with the most painstaking attention to detail. HOWEVER (because there is almost always a “however”), the meat is not the highest quality. And that’s my nice way of saying (because I like this place, I really do), that the meat is, well, not good. BAD. The meat is bad. The chicken is tough and more likely than not to have gristle, the veal is even worse, the seafood is by and large rubbery, but the pasta is really really good and I swear to you, I swear, the sauces are simply amazing. And I’ve had luck with the ground meats! Those are good; stick with those. Due to the low-grade quality of most ground meat we’re accustomed to ingesting, even if the ground meat used here is just as bad as the poultry and veal you’ll most likely never even notice. So skip the veal. And the chicken. And even if you must get the Mole Poblano (and most people who visit here really must), just know that the star of the dish is not the chicken, but rather the sauce that accompanies it.
I’m sorry I had to say that. No other reviewer has said that. But it had to be said. I am sorry.
Devotees of traditional Mexican cuisine will not be disappointed. El Barzón offers traditionally-prepared tacos, corn or flour (corn!), with choices of meat including goat, spicy pork, and chorizo (Mexican spicy sausage) and adorned simply with cilantro and lime-splashed onions (the lime takes the bite out of the onions, and is common in authentic Mexican cooking); they also offer tortas, Mexican “sandwiches” served with choice of meat, beans, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, onions, and jalapeño peppers. Italian food aficionados will be pleased with hearty Gnocchi and wonderful traditional sauces such as Bolognese, Palomino, and Arrabbiata—generic Eye-talian cuisine this is not, and Garita has clearly not forgotten his time at Il Posto. The sauces are all incredibly rich and no amount of cheese, butter, oil or cream was spared in making them.
But despite Garita’s finely-honed skills in Italian cuisine, his heart still seems to lie in Mexico. Diners start with a basket of piping-hot tortilla chips served with green and red salsas. Before you read further, wipe that image of Old El Paso Chunky Salsa right out of your head: these are traditional salsas (mole verde and mole rojo, more sauce than salsa which, as we already know, is Garita’s strong suit), more the consistency of watery soup and absolutely chunk-free. The flavors are also unlike any that you’re accustomed to in a salsa; there is very little tomato in either, but lots of, oh, nuts…peppers…chiles…maybe a hint of citrus fruit? Tasting these salsas is almost like tasting wine, trying to discern the different notes of vegetables and fruits and identify them. They become more complex the more you taste them, and change the longer they’re in your mouth. Another item that El Barzón has become known for is the guacamole: fresh, handmade and, unlike the salsa, very chunky. I, however, don’t care for overly-oniony guacamole, preferring to have it overly-garlicky instead, so this was not my cup of avocado. Others enjoy it very much. I stand by Woodbridge Pub on this.
Desserts—again, both Mexican and Italian—are merely average. Not bad, but not great. Cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu, sorbet, profiteroles, flan…all the usual suspects from both cuisines. Stick to something slightly left of center (like the tartuffo), or skip it altogether. The wine list is also lackluster (something Garita apparently did not inherit from his time at Il Posto), but the hand-written tequila list is most impressive (and at $12.00 per shot, almost as expensive as most of the food!). To give you a point of reference, the names “Cuervo” and “Patron” make an appearance but are just two out of some 25 or so.
When Garita opened El Barzón in 2006, many of his diehard clientele from Il Posto followed him to this otherwise desolate corner of Michigan and Junction Ave. (don’t worry, it’s safe; there’s no one even there to rob you). On any given night you might find the surrounding streets full of Beamers, Lexi (plural for Lexus), and Escalades…what you won’t find is a valet. Here you get all the quality of four-diamond dining (except the meat, I’m not talking about the meat) but all the down-home friendliness and casual appeal of a Detroit corner diner. The staff is exceedingly friendly and accommodating, though many only speak a smattering of English (not unlike Il Posto in that regard). And with all entrees priced at about half or less of what Il Posto used to charge, it’s no wonder all the old clientele is willing to make the drive.
To sum it all up, I made a rhyme for you: the prices can’t be beat…STAY AWAY FROM THE MEAT.