Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Should New York Have All the Fun? Detroit Restaurant Week Begins Today!

What does New York have that Detroit doesn't?

Well, I'll tell you what they no longer don't have over us: Restaurant Week.

For years there have been "restaurant week" events in cities like New York, Boston, San Diego, Dallas, Austin, Washington D.C., Orlando, Philadelphia, and Chicago. These events offer a prix fixe menu at some of their respective cities' most prestigious dining establishments, encouraging people to experience and celebrate their local cuisine and support their local restaurants.

Detroit has never hosted a dining event on this scale...until now.

Over the past several weeks, I have been giving you previews of the Restaurant Week menus at different participating restaurants. I have interviewed chefs both here and for Model D, and I have heard the same response over and over again from each chef and restaurant manager I've spoken with: Detroit needs this.

In the past decade or so, Detroit--once a champion of fine dining in this country--has all but fallen off the national radar for our cuisine. The occasional James Beard nomination or Wine Spectator award has still been tossed our way, but the national public consensus has been dismissive at best (and downright brutal when at its worst).

The biggest problem is that we never lost the great restaurants; we just lost the prestige and notoriety. Sure, the London Chop House closed almost two decades ago and Chef Milos Cihelka has been retired for over a decade, but they weren't the only things that Detroit could uphold as its humble offerings to the culinary gods.

What about the Rattlesnake Club, the Whitney, Opus One? And in the last decade, Cuisine, Atlas Global Bistro, Coach Insignia? And in just the last few years when Detroit has been experiencing an explosion of creative new fine dining establishments, Roast, Saltwater, 24 Grille, and Iridescence? (And mind you, I am speaking only of those within city limits, and not of the countless noteworthy restaurants in the greater metro area.)

In Detroit we have chefs with impressive pedigrees who have studied under some of the most famous chefs in the most famous kitchens and schools in the world. Even when our very own public seems to have forgotten about is, we have still received recognition from such national publications as Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and GQ. Yes, over the last several decades our city has made national headlines for a number of negative reasons, and has certainly suffered in population and public opinion because of it. But make no mistake: this is still a great city, and it has always been a great place to eat.

I've heard all too often people claim that Detroit has no culture. To them, I point to the hundreds of art galleries, museums, artist studios, outdoor art installations, theatres, and performance spaces. To them, I offer the countless indie rock, jazz, funk, and techno acts that play on any given night of the week in dive bars, ultra lounges, and upscale jazz clubs. And to them, I point to the dozens of fun, eclectic, noteworthy restaurants, some of which are truly world-class.

I am no true "expert" in the field of dining. I have not been to Tokyo, Paris, or Moscow, nor have I had any kind of formal gastronomical training. But I think it would be fair to say that I at least know more and have had more experience than a good number of diners out there. I've been to some of the finest restaurants in the world--Osteria di Rendola in Tuscanny; Felidia and the Russian Tea Room in New York City; Spiaggia in Chicago; Thornton's in Dublin; Grano de Oro in Costa Rica. I've experienced fine dining in Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Toronto, and Phoenix. The only thing holding me back from having more experience is lack of access to a big-budget national publication's handsome expense account (PS, dear big-budget national publication, please give me access to your handsome expense account, KTHX). But just in my own experience, limited in worldliness though it may be, I can say with absolute conviction that some of Detroit's restaurants can compete with any of these highly-decorated world-renowned fact, some are even better.

Why is Detroit Restaurant Week so important? you might ask. Or rather, why have I been harping on you about it for weeks now? The answer is simple: it finally puts Detroit on the national culinary map. It finally puts us on the same playing field as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. It finally forces people to acknowledge the wonderful dining experiences there are to be had here and situates us as one of the nation's premiere dining destinations--a title we really never should have lost.

Jason Huvaere, Producer of Detroit Restaurant Week, said restaurant week promotions in other major cities across the country have brought customers back again and again -- even after the promotion has ended. And based on early feedback from participating restaurants and the local community, Detroit’s restaurant week is expected to be just as popular as those in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

“We are home to some of the best dining establishments in the country and this region will welcome this type of dinner promotion,” said Huvaere. “Over the course of the last three months, we’ve been promoting Detroit Restaurant Week at events throughout the region, and we’ve received a very positive response from everyone we’ve engaged.

“And based on preliminary reports from the participating restaurants, reservations are strong, which means that our community is truly embracing the Detroit Restaurant Week concept.”

Detroit Restaurant Week starts tonight. 17 participating restaurants are offering minimum 3-course meals at a fixed price of $27.00 (excluding tax and gratuity). Restaurant Week runs through Sunday, September 27th. If you don't understand what all the fuss is about, then now is a good time for you to find out.