Saturday, August 29, 2009

DRW Preview #2: Cuisine

Cuisine is an old favorite of mine. The first time I discovered Cuisine a friend of mine and I had been out touring museums, and we wanted to dine somewhere that would compliment our cultural mood. It was pure coincidence that we chose Cuisine, which fit our criteria of (a) being somewhere a little more upscale where we could have "a nice meal" (code for fancy and pricey) and (b) being a place neither of us had never visited before. That evening we shared the kind of meal that we still talk about to this day, where I had my first experience with veal sweetbreads (they're not for everyone, but I like them) and where we had a red wine and blue cheese ice cream with walnuts.

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).

From that moment on Cuisine was instantly catapulted into my Top 5 list of favorite area restaurants, and still maintains that rank even with all the new players in the game. It might not have the same glossy ultra-chic finish as some of the newer, sleeker, trendier places, but the food here puts most of these aesthetics-centric establishments to shame. Plus, Chef Paul Grosz is one hell of a nice guy.

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).

Next Chef Paul brings out his Seafood Sampler, which included a foamed lobster bisque served in a cup, a small pile of butter-poached lobster, a seared scallop, and a lobster ravioli. All were outstanding, but the seared scallop (which also happens to be on the DRW menu) was my favorite. This is most likely because I have a weakness for scallops (tasty little mollusks that they are), but regardless, those at Cuisine do not disappoint.

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.

If you want to see the mind and hands of Chef Paul Grosz in action, he will be demonstrating at Taste of Eastern Market on Saturday, September 26th at 10:00AM in Shed 2. He is excited about this and will not be planning in advance what he will be demonstrating, instead waiting until the day of the event itself to see what is available in the market. For you, it's a live cooking demonstration which you can then try to repeat at home (to whatever level of success); for him, it's a challenge, a way for him to further test his skills. Chef Paul is always thinking, always trying to improve and challenge himself, and THAT is what makes Cuisine so great.

Detroit Restaurant Week Menu for Cuisine
September 18-27, 2009

First Course
(Please choose one)

Baby Arugula salad with prosciutto and parmeasan
Soup Dujour
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


Strawberry tart
Chocolate Walnut Cake

$27.00 per person exclusive of all beverages, tax and gratuity