Thursday, April 22, 2010

DRW Preview #6: Forty-Two Degrees North

It's the final three days of the second bi-annual Detroit Restaurant Week, but you still have time! Reservations are booked solid but I'll let you in on a little secret: restaurants always allow space for walk-ins if you're willing to wait. Best of luck!

Question: what Detroit restaurant has hands-down the best view? Coach Insignia is impressive--it's very very high. And of course there's my favorite, Iridescence, which has a stunning view that has as much to do with the interior design as the exterior scenery.

Answer: Forty-Two Degrees North, inside the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Located on the third floor of the Ren Cen with a 180-degree view of the Riverfront, the view from this slightly-above-ground-level restaurant with floor-to-ceiling curved windows is absolutely breathtaking. The restaurant is decorated in bright, bold colors and natural sunlight floods the place with the most spectacular panoramic view of the Detroit River and Windsor that I've seen in a public space. At night, it twinkles. Simply, in a word, gorgeous.

But odds are pretty good that you've never even heard of the place. It opened relatively recently (within the last 12-18 months if I'm not mistaken), and doesn't get a whole lot of press...and certainly no foot traffic. They seem to cater mostly to their built-in hotel crowd, which is fortunate for all our out-of-town guests: little do they know they've got the best seat in the city.
To get to it one must navigate the labrynthine Ren Cen into the Marriott and from there you'll STILL get lost. Love postmodern theory; hate the architecture.

For my last DRW preview dinner of the Spring edition (I hope I get to do this again in the fall I do I do I do!), I visited Forty-Two Degrees North for the first time (the name refers to southeastern Michigan's geographical latitude). I also decided to take some 30 or so friends with me, and I must say as a sidenote, the management team is wonderful to work with--they were on top of everything, even reserving my party space at the nextdoor bar Volt for pre-dinner drinks. Truly a pleasurable experience working with them.

Having never heard too much about their food, I found myself quite excited to check this place out after reviewing their DRW menu and finding quite a bit that sounded intriguing. Executive Chef Franz Josef Zimmer has been with the Marriott brand for over 25 years, and his experience reads like an episode of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" He was born and trained in Germany and has worked in Saudi Arabia, Greece, Cairo, and...well, Dearborn and Detroit. His specialty is his own olive oil made from olives grown on his property in Greece; this special olive oil is all over the menu (including the DRW menu) and is also available for purchase. The menu is regional contemporary American Midwest (can I buy a signifier?), with emphasis on locally- and regionally-grown ingredients. Expect familiar dishes with an artful flare.

Having to make a dining decision proved very stressful. I've been spoiled by being served multiple courses from the menus but in this group setting (with people none of whom I know well enough to start forking off their plate) that wasn't really an option. Well maybe it was, but I would have looked like a real pig, hardly lady-like at all. :O

After much debate on the appetizers (Potato Skins with duck confit!?!? Spring asparagus with shaved parmesan, prosciutto, and cherry balsamic???), I decided on the Tomato Mozzarella Salad with Chef Zimmer's olive oil, Thai basil, heirloom tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and prosciutto crackling. A classic caprese, bounding with bright flavors, and with a contemporary twist in the crackling which was perfectly "crackled," adding constrasting saltiness and crispy texture that worked well with the lighter flavors and softer textures of the dish. The oil also had a noticeably rich flavor, so Chef Zimmer clearly is doing something right there.

Again with the decisions: Shrimp Scampi made with Grand Traverse Riesling or Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken? Chicken then, and this is why: it is seared and finished in its own sauce of blood orange, white balsamic vinegar and fresh baby mint, arugula, baby vegetables, and almond rice pilaf. The blood orange sauce was thick and sweet--actually, it reminded me of Duck l'Orange and, you know, I like duck.

Final decision, and this one was easy: Key Lime Pie. I can't help it, I love Key Lime Pie. This Key Lime Pie came in a tender, sugary graham cracker crust that had more the consistency of a cookie than a crumbly or gritty pie crust (as graham crusts so often are), topped with a thick layer of slightly browed meringue and served with a side of blessedly sugarless whipped cream (as it should be) and berries. There was this whole thing about "petting the berry," but I guess you had to be there. The filling was creamy and puckery-tart; the meringue was a little overwhelming but then again I'm not much for sugar. Still, I was happy--the crust made the whole thing. Crusts can be so hit-and-miss, you know? How many times is a perfectly good pie ruined with a bad crust?

Overall, this was a great experience. The cuisine is fresh and fun and the staff is polite and attentive (and management takes a special interest in satisfying their guests, which is always nice to see and not as common as you'd hope). For all my drinkers out there (I'd be shocked SHOCKED if any of my regular readers weren't), the wine list is equally fresh and fun, and also very respectably priced, with most bottles in the $20-$30 range. They even have a section dedicated to Michigan wines, including some labels that you don't often see on restaurant menus at all (Tabor Hill, Brys Estate). If you're going with a white, I recommend the Tabor Hill Gewurtztraminer as a crisp palate-cleanser.

But the view, OMFG the VIEW! is astounding. It's hard to see in the pictures; you really just need to go there and see it for yourself. While you're at it, stop at Volt nextdoor for drinks first, and be sure to order the Tart Cherry Blossom (cherry vodka, Cointreau and tart Michigan cherry juice)--like sweet, tart cherry juice with a nice kick of booze!

Heading into the final stretch of the Spring edition of Detroit Restaurant Week, I recommend you try to fit this one in. But, you know, good luck finding it.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
(Pepper jack cheese, chive beurre blanc, red and yellow pepper coulis)
Potato Skins
(Duck confit, brandy, smoked cheddar)
Tomato Mozzarella Salad
(Chef’s Zimmer’s olive oil, Thai basil, heirloom tomato, balsamic reduction, prosciutto crackling)
Spring Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan and Prosciutto
(Cherry balsamic dressing)

Spring Pea and Shiitake Risotto
Shrimp Scampi
(Grand Traverse Riesling, fresh herbs and paperdelli pasta)
6 oz. Seared Filet
(Green peppercorn and mushroom pan sauce, rosti potato, Stilton bleu fritter, baby vegetable)
Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken
(Seared and finished in its own sauce of, blood orange, white balsamic vinegar
and fresh baby mint, arugula, baby vegetables, almond rice pilaf)
Seared Halibut
(3 tomato, caper and olive salad with fresh basil and Chef Zimmer’s olive oil,
roasted fingerling potatoes finished with a baked prosciutto chip)

Key Lime Pie
Chocolate Decadence
(with pistachio and raspberries)
Caramel Flan
(with fresh berries)