Saturday, September 24, 2011

The 5 Days of DRW: 24grille

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

From the very beginning, it seems that 24grille inside the AAA-four-diamond Westin Book Cadillac has been plagued with issues, not that your average restaurant-goer would know that. Despite problems with partners and upper management on all conceivable levels of common-grade restaurant industry salaciousness and scandal (you've read Bourdain, no?), their initial delay in opening (a full 6 months after the hotel - and Roast - opened), and their struggle to really define themselves in a culinary scene not wanting for lack of steakhouses and contemporary American cuisine, 24grille has survived the rough waters of these past two and a half years and now finally has a strong team in place that will guide it to its greatest potential.

The staff over the past year has changed almost entirely, which includes the addition of Executive Chef Christian Borden and General Manager Nicole Nassif. "She is insanely smart," says Borden of Nassif, and it's hard not to notice: after sitting in on part of the DRW staff training, I can plainly see this is a woman who runs a tight ship, takes no BS, and is exactly the kind of firm-handed manager this high-volume, high-profile restaurant desperately needed.

But solid management can only take a restaurant so far. There needs to be a chef in the kitchen equally as focused, talented and committed for the restaurant to surpass merely "good." And that is where Borden comes in.

Chef Christian (center)

You may recognize his name from Atlas Global Bistro; in fact, many people seem to think he's still there (an easy mistake to make, considering their new chef is also named Christian). Borden is the one who made Atlas what it was. It was his inventive menus, his truly global fusion flavors on every plate, his simply superior food that drove diners out to that desolate stretch of "Tween-town" (that lonely mile between Fox Town and Midtown that has some really nice condos and not a whole lot else). But after five and a half years, Borden was ready to leave, and an opportunity at 24grille presented itself at just the right time (actually, it was around the time of the Fall 2010 Detroit Restaurant Week).

Borden has been here a year now and has spent this time reconceptualizing the menus, redefining the brand, and generally acclimating to the significantly faster pace. We spoke a few days before the Fall 2011 Restaurant Week started; the hotel was at 100% occupancy and they were slammed every day, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, nonstop. And it's been that way since he started.

"It's a completely different world than Atlas," he says. "We're just a mile down the street and it's completely different." He is referring both to the pace and to the volume; there is simply no downtime to be had here.

Which is fantastic news for him, really. While he made a name for Atlas during his years there, 24grille is the place where he can really make a name for himself. The restaurant has an automatic built-in clientele of wealthy traveling businessmen, socialites and celebrities who, let's just be real here, aren't going to be taking casual strolls down Michigan Ave. to see what other options are available (and it's a long walk to Slows). Despite being good-with-so-much-potential-to-be-better, the restaurant has never hurt for business, and that means Borden's food now has more visibility than ever before, and people from all over the world can experience it.

It's also time for 24grille to step out of Roast's robust shadow. While the menu concepts are entirely different, the general appeal is the same and the individual "looks" aren't too drastically different (oh, sure, 24grille is a little more tempered glass and industrial chic, Roast is a little more plush leather and textured walls, are we really going to split hairs here?). 24grille tries to have a little more casual appeal (and their $8 "lunch sac" really just can't be beat), but the menu still boasts decidedly not-casual items like pork belly and duck confit (at the very least, these aren't meant for the "casual" diner). There is a nice mix of small plates and full entrees that will satisfy every appetite and craving, and the menu is also quite approachable: think steaks and seafood, but steaks and seafood done in a way you've never seen around here.

But for Detroit Restaurant Week, Borden is going balls-out. There are no salmon filets, no short ribs, no chicken sous-vide on this menu. It is 22 items of Borden's mad culinary genius, flirting with South American, Asian, and French traditions with influences of the American South and Gulf coast, all prepared in a way that honors Michigan's regional flavors and with an unapologetic disregard to your culture-shocked palate. Just eat it, Detroit. There are 21 fantastic restaurants participating in this season's Restaurant Week, but this is one not to miss.

Crackle sausage.


Crackle Sausage
(Spicy homemade sausages, crispy vermicelli noodle and sweet chile sauce)
Three Sisters Soup
(Prepared with sweet corn, Michigan white beans and butternut squash)
Michigan Sushi
(Prepared with polenta cakes, succotash and sashimi tuna)
Yucatanian Pulled Pork Tacos
(Three crispy tacos with three garnishes)
Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Salad
(Petite herb greens, pomegranate, crispy walnut and Valencia honey vinaigrette)
Chinese Barbeque Pork
(Cha siu-glazed pork belly, ginger, shallot and lychee)
24 Caesar Salad
(Baby romaine hearts, croutons, Parmesan cheese, toasted tomato and citrus-anchovy dressing)
Michigan Corn Crêpes and Wild Mushrooms
(Thin French pancake, seared mushroom, shallot and herb vinaigrette)
Watermelon Salad
(Local melons, ricotta salata, mint, macadamia, 20-year cherry-oaked balsamic)
Salmon Gravlax with Jalapeño Waffle
(Toasty waffle, tangy radish salad and cool lemon cream)


Georges Bank Diver Scallops with Ruby Red Grapefruit
(White cocoa butter-seared mammoth scallops, zucchini pearls, bitters and ginger blanc)
White Marble Pan-roasted Pork Tenderloin
(Spiny pepper-crusted pork, Maytag bleu, wild huckleberries, toasted pistachio and Port reduction)
Duck Breast on Roasted Italian Plum
(Slow-roasted boneless duck breast with stewed Italian plum jam)
Lamb Leg on Roasted Vegetables
(Lamb rolled in coffee and vanilla, pickled thyme, roasted shallot, radicchio, Parmesan, shiitake and chives)
Florida Skate and Minneola Citrus
(Seared, flaked southern coastal fish, Florida citrus, jicama and fried capers)
Angus Coulotte with Cotton Onions
(Chargrilled steak, Virginia onions and green peppercorn butter)
Chicken Saltimbocca
(Amish chicken, prosciutto and herbs with white wine-Marsala braise)
(Seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, Calabro ricotta and tomato-Chardonnay butter)


Gingersnap and Apricot Cheesecake
(Peppery gingersnap crust, smooth cream batter and local stonefruits)
Five and Dime Milkshake
(Vanilla bean gelato, malted milk, whipped cream, scoop straw and sprinkles)
Soda Jerk Float
(Cherry-vanilla syrup, ice cream, Coke in a bottle, whipped cream and maraschino)
Bread Pudding
(Nutmeg custard, banana bread pudding, walnut streusel and English toffee)
Summer's End Blackberry Panna Cotta
(Honey and black pepper Italian custard and minted blackberry-orange compote)
(Chili, lime and lemongrass sorbet, chocolate sea salt gelato, lychee and strawberry ice cream)

Want to see more? Check out the Flickr set here.

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