Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'80s Flashbacks and Game Day Specials at Opus One

Lately I've been reaping the benefits of reduced-price meals; recession specials are the best! (Detroit News just did a story on this; I would just like to take this opportunity to say that I wrote on it first, and repeatedly.) Most recently I had a 50% off the entire food bill coupon to Opus One, to celebrate their 22nd anniversary. I had plans with a girlfriend of mine to get together and when I realized this coupon expired on that day, my love of good deals got the better of me and I suggested we go there. Thankfully, she agreed, and we each enjoyed a lavish meal for a decidedly un-lavish price.

Opus One is both a staple and a relic of Detroit dining. Open since 1987, Opus One has received numerous awards of recognition (though mostly from a decade ago or more) and has staunchly stood by its slightly antiquated formula of fine dining service and décor since then.
Not that there's anything wrong with that...I personally enjoy the fuss of multiple servers and busers tending to my table, scraping off crumbs, refolding napkins, rolling out the banquet cart of desserts and giving a professional presentation of each item. I think it's a bit of a shame that so many high-end establishments have shied away from this level of service, deeming it too fussy or intimidating. My thoughts are if someone wants a casual meal then he or she should go to a casual restaurant, but that's just me. And so I am impressed by and satisfied with Opus One's attention to detail and service, even if it is not in keeping with the current trend.

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.
Until our entrees were served. My friend ordered the Rack of New Zealand Lamb à la Greque--Broiled eight piece rack rubbed with herbs and garlic, with a potato-fennel gratin, garlic wilted spinach, and finished with a natural sauce. I've been eating a rather disproportionate amount of lamb lately and felt a little lambed-out, but when I tasted hers it was simply little lamby heaven. There was almost no fat on these chops (and lamb is fatty, lemme tell 'ya), and they were tender, juicy, cooked a perfectly even pink, and were just simply wonderful. I always enjoy lamb but it can be a little hit-and-miss; this was a homerun.
But it was nothing compared to my Pork Osso Buco! Slow-roasted pork shank served with firecracker apple sauce, garnished with chili oil and finished with sweet pommes frites; the meat was so tender that it quite literally fell off the bone, but ohmygod so tender, so very tender. It was covered in a thick, sweet BBQ sauce (it tasted of maple and apples) and was surrounded by spicy apple sauce and a mound of shoestring sweet potato fries. The contrast of spicy and sweet, the pork with the apples, and the meat so tender, so very was comfort food the way Grandma might have made, if Grandma was into haute cuisine. That pork didn't have a shred of fat on it, and it picked apart so easily it could have been roasting for days. So very, very tender. Like pork butter.
The Ragoon may not have been the best way to start, but the Osso Buco more than made up for it. We followed this with the Apple Bavarian Cheesecake: vanilla cheesecake topped with sliced apples, chopped pecans and cinnamon sugar, served on a bed of crème anglaise and caramel sauce, garnished with almond brittle and a shortbread cookie. It was light, as much as a dessert this heavy can be light, creamy, and just decadent enough to be shared. Pastry Chef Paul Collis offers a variety of classic desserts with creative new twists, including a dessert drink (an ice cream-based Hummer) served in an edible chocolate cup. One of these days I'm going to try one of those famous Opus One chocolate cookies, too.
The wine list is extensive, with one of the largest selections of--yep--Opus One Meritage that you'll see probably anywhere in the world. This wine, a label born out of the partnership between Robert Mondavi (most of you are probably familiar with his eponymous wines) and Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild, of the big-name Chateau Mouton Rothschild in France (one of the top Bordeaux producers in the world, and extremely expensive). With this kind of pedigree, Opus One was bound to be well-received, successful, and above all else pricey. Should you find yourself in the mood for a $500 Napa Valley Meritage, look no further than Opus One, available in a number of different vintages (including my birth year!) at Opus One.

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.

Enjoy a 3-course menu for only $20.00, as well as 1/2 off cocktails after the game by presenting your Tigers ticket stub.
Prix Fixe Menu

Opus Romaine Salad or Specialty Soup of the Day

Choice of :
Petite Certified Angus Beef Rib- Eye
Maderia Demi Glace, Country Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli

Maple Glazed Pan Sear Chicken Breast
Sweet Potato Waffle, Cowboy Beans, Chevre Cheese

Blackened Fillet of Atlantic Salmon
Mango Relish and Sweet Potatoes

Opus One Chocolate Chunk Cookie

You can also add a bottle of "Chip's Pick" Wine Special for $20.00 per bottle.

This special prix fixe menu is available in the dining room and bar prior to home games and is not available with any other promotions, gift cards, discounts or vouchers. 1/2 price Cocktails limited to $10.00 and under items.

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!).