Saturday, September 25, 2010

DRW Preview #2: Coach Insignia

My latest Detroit Restaurant Week preview venture found me at Coach Insignia, the six-year-old fine dining flagship of the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group located at the top of the Renaissance Center, making it the tallest restaurant in the Western hemisphere. This is one of those places that I have ALWAYS enjoyed. It also happens to be the favorite restaurant of my dining partner's, which spurred on a conversation about all the great memories we both have of this place...

Lavish two-bottle/four-hour dinners where we end up shutting the place down and doing shots with the bartenders at the end of the night...

An evening with some of the organizing members of Detroit Restaurant Week during the first campaign (followed by an EPIC party at the Yacht Club; now THAT was a night lemme tell ya)...

Crashing the British Consulate party during some big something something thing by pretending I was with a bunch of lawyers...

Invading the lounge with a gaggle of gays during the Detroit Guerrillas Thanksgiving Eve 2007 event...

Falling asleep in one of the oversized Alice in Wonderland chairs on my first visit only a few months after they opened in 2004 after attending my company's open-bar Christmas party at the Roostertail and my then-mate wandered off to the bathroom then ran into some people he knew and was gone for 15 or 30 or 45 minutes, can't really say for sure, leaving me to my own devices which translated to me curling up in the chair and falling asleep, wine glass in hand (and you BET it never tipped either)...

Ahhhh, good times...

These chairs.

Coach Insignia has always delivered a consistently great experience for me, and it has certainly always been one of those "special occasion" types of places. But new General Manager Ray Kurmas is trying to change that with their new Happy Hour. Every Monday - Friday, 5-7PM the top floor lounge hosts a casual after-work happy hour, offering $4 drink specials on select martinis, wines, and draft beers, as well as specials on small plates such as a Hot Salmon Tostada ($3), Mini Lobster Corn Dog (the restaurant's most popular item, only $4), and a Kobe slider & draft beer combo for only $5.

This happy hour is casual with no dress code; what Ray loves the most about this is that people can come and enjoy the same great food, atmosphere, and service as they would in the dining room but they can come in shorts & flip-flops and it is more affordable. "This is great for people who want to come up and enjoy the view but can't afford it otherwise," Ray says. "They can have a drink and an appetizer and still experience the same full service and atmosphere." His goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor people feel when visiting a place like Coach -- so typically understood as only a "special occasion" kind of place -- by making it more casual and more affordable, even adding more flatscreen TVs into the lounge area so people can come and watch games, etc. (See? What'd I tell you?)

But let's get back to bid'ness...Detroit Restaurant Week bid'ness, which is why I was there after all. Ray informed me that, as of Thursday night, they were almost COMPLETELY booked solid for the duration of this season's DRW (that's 400 covers PER NIGHT). My suggestion if you really want to make this one of your stops is to call every day around 4:00 and see if they've had any cancellations; you could get lucky. Or you could end up wishing you would have taken my advice when I told you to make your reservations early...I'm just sayin'...

We started with the Chipotle & Watermelon BBQ Short Ribs with fingerling potato salad and glazed root vegetables. The short ribs were tender (note: this cut of meat tends to be fatty so if that's a foodie turn-off for you, try one of the other options), but that brilliant red chipotle-watermelon sauce was outstanding, a bold way to dress up an otherwise basic dish.

My favorite though was the 5-oz. Stockyard's Angus Filet, a contender for this season's "Most Bang For Your Buck" award. Served with haricots verts, Cippolini onion, baby carrot and roasted garlic (also served with a selection of sauces, one being zip sauce and the other two being who cares because one was bearnaise and the other was white and I don't eat white semi-solids but truth be told it was probably horseradish but still), the presentation is simple, the filet all buttery and beautiful, tender and delicious, like buhtah. Meat buhtah. (I have a weakness for filet mignon, and this was a fine show of it. And look -- no char! Blessed be!) Succulent and wonderful, if I could get a table I would come back and spend all of my money on this.

Well, that and the Lobster Corn Dogs. Behold, Coach's most popular dish (and after several years of notoriety one that still has not yet been duplicated elsewhere), the concept of the childhood favorite all done-up for adults: tender, slightly sweet lobster skewered and battered and fried up a deep, luscious, crunchy golden brown, covered in whole grain mustard hollandaise and Napa cabbage slaw. Confession: I have a hard time choking down most egg-based sauces (hollandaise, bearnaise, aoili, pretty much anything remotely resembling mayonnaise), especially when poured on as generously as it was here, but this dish was simply divine and I didn't have to plug my nose to taste the sauce, not even once. The batter is so deliciously crunchy and the flavors of the hollandaise with the just WORKS. No wonder this was such a hit at Tastefests past and why it is their most popular item.

I ended up not having dessert but I did have one hell of an outstanding Old-Fashioned. If and when you go, visit Chelsea at the bar -- she can make a DRINK, that one can.

Corporate Executive Chef Eric Ward is stationed here at Coach but oversees all of the Matt Prentice restaurants. He has been with Prentice for over 20 years, and together they have made a firm commitment to utilizing locally-sourced products, supporting Michigan farmers and markets. The kitchens use all organic products and everything is made from scratch (including all the breads and desserts for the entire MPRG made from scratch in their own kosher bakery). Prentice himself has made headlines in the past year for signing a contract with Henry Ford Health Systems to bring natural, healthy foods into their hospitals (instead of that awful pre-packed garbage...healthy food as part of the healing process, fancy that! AND it's saving the hospital money!), and this commitment towards healthy, high-quality products and buying local has been adopted by all his restaurants, from the casual delis to the high-end steakhouses. Coach Insignia is also a six-time recipient of Wine Spectator's Best Of Award of Excellence. ...I know, I just re-read that and it feels a little tacked-on, but that blurb really didn't fit anywhere else and hell, most of you probably didn't even make it this far anyway.

I've dined here a dozen times if once, not to mention cocktails and parties and banquets, but not ONE TIME have I actually sat in the dining room.

Sign up for their frequent diners program to receive all sorts of deals and discounts (for birthdays and anniversaries as well as upcoming specials, etc.) and you can also download coupons from the website at

And for those of you who tend to avoid this place because of parking issues (to valet at the Ren Cen will end up costing you about $25; nearby garages are $5-10), either do what I do and park in front of Tom's Oyster Bar literally right across the street, OR park in Greektown and take the People Mover over which drops off right in front of the building. It ain't a lightrail but it's what we got.

Detroit Restaurant Week Menu:


Chilled Poach Shrimp
(Louisiana-style Creole and rémoulade sauces)
Poached Pear Salad
(Watercress, gingerbread croutons, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese
and Port wine vinaigrette)
Lobster Corn Dog
(Served with Napa cabbage slaw and whole-grain mustard hollandaise)


Udon Noodle Bowl
(Baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, green onions and
curry sauce)
5 oz. Stockyard's Angus Filet
(Served with haricots verts, Cippolini onion, baby carrot and roasted garlic)
Miso-glazed Salmon
(Served with Chinese vegetables)
Braised Lamb and Pappardelle Pasta
(Served with peas and roasted tomatoes)
Chipotle and Watermelon BBQ Short Ribs
(Served with fingerling potato salad and glazed root vegetables)


Crème Brûlée
(Classic French crème brûlée with a burnt sugar crust)
Mini Chocolate Coach Torte
(Layers of cashew caramel, chocolate caramel ganache and milk chocolate mousse wrapped in chocolate)