Friday, March 19, 2010

DRW Preview #1: Mosaic

Yippee skippee, it's here again! My favorite time of the year, Detroit Restaurant Week! The Spring Edition will be April 16-25, and I'll be bringing you previews of select restaurants' menus every week until then.

Just this past Tuesday I filmed a DRW promo spot for "Nikki Does Detroit" on Do Detroit TV, during which I was forced to eat food from Atlas, the Whitney, and Iridescence, and immediately afterwards was my first DRW preview dinner of the spring cycle at Mosaic in Greektown. I really just don't think people realize how hard it is to be me sometimes. I do it all for you.

Also, all this free food is making me fat.

But on to business: Mosaic.

Mosaic, owned and operated by Greektown business moguls the Pappas, has been a favorite downtown dining destination for several years now. Attracting both the fine dining clientele as well as the younger, trendier scenesters who pack the exquisite bar on Saturday nights, Mosaic has wide appeal and a steady reputation as the place to be seen in downtown Detroit's most popular social district.

In November 2009, Executive Chef Tim Voss took over the kitchen at Mosaic, and while much of the menu has maintained its familiarity for patrons, Voss has created a menu for Detroit Restaurant Week that is new and fun, something that will be as much of a draw for those who have never visited the restaurant before as for those who dine there regularly.

If the name Tim Voss sounds familiar...well, it should. He's had quite the established culinary career here in metro Detroit. His repetoire includes opening Tribute, nine years at Forte, and the Executive Chef title at the much-loved Fiddleheads in Royal Oak, may it live on in our memories forever. And as of earlier this week, Voss appeared in a new feature in the Metro Times on metro Detroit's new breed of chefs, twentysomething and tatted up who use fine dining as their ultimate act of iconoclastic rebellion the way their middle-aged counterparts once used rock music and motorcycles.

Voss strikes me as the kind of guy who has never uttered an unkind word about anyone in his whole entire life, and if he did it would be done in the most diplomatically possible way. In other words, just a hellova nice guy who smiles frequently (though shyly) and has an absolutely unassuming, quiet demeanor about him. Despite having trained and worked alongside some of the biggest industry names in Detroit and Chicago, Voss has maintained his humility, though make no mistake: this guy definitely knows his stuff, which is most evident when he rattles off excitedly about some of his favorite dishes.

Voss presented me and my dining partner with every single dish he will be featuring in his upcoming Spring Detroit Restaurant Week menu. We started with the "Soup du Jour," which was a Roasted Tomato and Asparagus Bisque with pesto and parmesan. (Note: come April 16 this may no longer be the featured soup.) This was a hearty winter dish full of robust flavors that meshed nicely.

From there we moved on to the Trio Temptation Sampler, with Taramasalata, Baba Ganoush, and Sun-Dried Tomato & Feta Cheese spreads served with flash-fried pita chips. I would like some of that tomato & feta spread in a quart-sized to-go container, please and thank you.

The Spring Mix Salad is made with a roasted Vidalia onion vinaigrette and buttermilk fried onion crisps, and while I'm not exactly Miss Onion Detroit, onion rings on a salad made for a fun contrast of flavor and texture.

The Parmesan-Citrus Crusted Snapper (which will be either Whitefish come DRW or whatever fish is freshest and available at the time) was served with pearl couscous, spinach, apricots, and a Michigan cherry red wine butter sauce. The snapper was delicate and part of me was admittedly a bit relieved to see a fish served on anything other than polenta cake (even though I've had good luck with polenta lately, still), but the real standout here was that cherry-red wine-butter sauce. This is going to be a strange comparison (when is it ever not?), but I remember from years ago that the only dish I enjoyed at Don Pablos was their sopapillas (my dining experiences were a bit simpler back then); I liked them because they were essentially just simple fried dough served with a decadent brandy butter sauce. This cherry wine butter sauce had just the right touch of tart sweetness with all the richness of a butter sauce...I say fry up some dough balls and serve the whole damn thing to me in a bowl with a spoon!

The Twin Medallions of Veal Tenderloin were stuffed with pancetta, scotch bonnet pepper, and gouda, served with a Michigan morel demi-glace and sweet potato risotto. At this point my sides were already about to split but I soldiered on. The pancetta was explosively salty while the gouda and demi-glace added richness to the dish, and the light sweet potato risotto worked to offset the heaviness of the meat and sauce. This dish is what I like to call "hardcore."

When Voss came out with the server to present the Roast Chicken Breast, all I saw was purple, and he seemed to get great joy out of saying "purple Peruvian potato puree." The server commented that it looks like "Play-Doh and nacho cheese." My dining partner later noted, "Purple potatoes taste just like regular potatoes."

One thing Mosaic does tremendously well is presentation, and you see this reflected throughout the decor of the entire restaurant as well as in the dishes themselves. This chicken was served with, yes, purple potatoes, as well as a crisp spring mushroom and chevre cheese roulade (which reminded me of a deep-fried spring roll with the pungent tanginess of goat cheese) and a carrot-ginger sauce (i.e., the "nacho cheese" color). The end result is a dish that is visually extravagant though comprised of simple, hearty flavors. The color was absolute Mardis Gras.

Another visually impressive item were the Towers of Spinach & Ricotta Lasagna Pinwheels. This isn't the kind of lasagna you're familiar with: no meat, no red sauce, filled instead with a golden tomato pomodoro with a salad of roasted gold peppers and Swiss chard on top and a Trebbiano vinegar reduction drizzle. If its so-called "traditional" red-sauce-and-ground-meat counterpart is the ideal winter dish, then this reimagined lasagna is perfectly spring. This is like no other lasagna you've ever seen or tasted.

And now, on to desserts (at this point I was about to do a face-plant into my food). We started with a kind of deconstructed chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream; not part of the DRW menu but an added bonus for us. One bite made even my sweet tooth hurt!

From the proper DRW menu, we tasted the Milk Chocolate Mousse which is a simple layer cake served with a berry sorbet. And when I say "simple layer cake" I mean "one of the best layer cakes I've ever tasted" and "puts most wedding cakes to shame." Despite the fact that I was already painfully full, I couldn't let this go to waste.

But, oh, we still weren't done. Not to be upstaged, the Meyer Lemon Semifreddo (made with "gorgeous" Meyer lemons, as Voss noted--this was another one that he was clearly excited about) is topped with a white cake pistacchio streusel and strawberry "caramel." A semifreddo is kind of a partially frozen mousse or custard, creamy like gelato though a little more dense. Lemons and strawberries made for a stellar spring dessert combination, and this dish in particular nailed it: a perfect pairing of tart and sweet, with the dreamy creaminess of the semifreddo offsetting the tartness of the lemon and the strawberry caramel acting as the ideal contrast. It's like strawberry lemonade conceived as a fancy dessert, and it was superb.

So often restaurants either nail their desserts or bomb them (usually because, in the absence of an actual pastry chef, the head chef is either not properly trained in pastries or just simply does not care about them, considering them only as an afterthought); here, the desserts just may have been my favorite part of the meal.

Tim Voss is new to Mosaic since the first round of Restaurant Week, so this is a perfect opportunity for you to check out what he's been doing in the kitchen since he came in. He's excited to be involved in this event and see how it will bring different groups of people out and bouncing around from place to place. Mosaic is also a stunning location full of marble, granite, copper, sculptured glass, and woven teakwood--as visually appealing as Voss's food. See. Be seen. Eat. Win x3.