Friday, May 4, 2012

[Metromix] ZIN Wine Bar

French Chicken. All photos by VATO for Metromix.

Plymouth’s Grape Expectations closed their doors on December 31, 2011. After three weeks of interior overhauling it reopened again on January 21, 2012 as ZIN Wine Bar and Restaurant. Much like Grape Expectations, ZIN is a wine bar, but that is where the similarities cease. ZIN is a totally new approach to the wine bar-restaurant concept, not just to Plymouth but to all of metro Detroit.

Partners Jorge Manzano and Steve Papas worked closely with previous owner Lisa O’Donnell to make it a smooth transition between Grape Expectations and ZIN. They hired Executive Chef Justin Vaiciunas in May 2011 so he could start developing the menu and get a feel for the Plymouth clientele … a strategy which has worked well for them, as regular customers were slowly introduced to Vaiciunas’s inventive yet unfamiliar techniques and started to get excited about the new concept.

Beet Salad.
Manzano has worked as a mechanical engineer for Ford for the last 20 years and has always wanted to open a restaurant. Papas previously owned a restaurant in Northville, which is how the two of them connected. “I told him, ‘I want to have a restaurant whenever you’re ready,’” Manzano says. “This is what happened! I don’t know how to cook but I know how to eat!”

Thankfully that’s where Vaiciunas comes in. He started worked in kitchens at the age of 14 and has spent nearly half his life doing it. He has worked in all aspects of the restaurant industry, from fine dining at places like the Hills in Grosse Pointe and the Detroit Athletic Club to catering and casual restaurants. He and Manzano have a fantastic rapport and, though they seem like an odd pairing, share a vision for ZIN and work well together to achieve it without stepping on each other’s toes. There is a great sense of camaraderie here, which makes ZIN more than just a fantastic restaurant and wine bar but also a fun, enjoyable experience.

The Mood

The space has ben redesigned to suit ZIN’s new aesthetic. They wanted to create a “more mellow, romantic” look that still has an upscale ambiance with a casual feel. Subtle touches like modern new lighting pendants and exposed brick painted white create a more urban chic appeal, while shades of espresso and warm wood paneling soften the effect so it doesn’t feel cold or impersonal. Chalkboards show their hand-written specials and create a bit of whimsy, and large canvas paintings bring a lively burst of color.

Upstairs is a loft lounge, open to the dining room below but still separate enough to be its own entity, where they will have an ever-rotating mix of live music from top 40 to jazz to salsa. They also have an outdoor patio perfect for warm summer days.

The Food

Executive Chef Justin Vaiciunas is a graduate of the Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts Program, widely regarded as being one of the top culinary programs in the country (with the largest number of Master Chef instructors). At age 24, Vaiciunas is one of the youngest Executive Chefs in the state of Michigan, and he wants to make ZIN one of metro Detroit’s primary dining destinations. “I want there to be more food culture in Detroit, and I will do whatever it takes to work to get that here,” he says. “I love Chicago but I don’t want to have to go to Chicago every time I want to have something I want to eat.”

Shaved Prosciutto Salad.
The menu is not typical of most other restaurants in metro Detroit. “I want to take it to another level,” he says. “When you come in maybe you don’t know what something is, but you try it and love it. People see the creativity now and every week [we’re getting busier].” Vaiciunas wants to teach people about food. “I want to give them something they’re not used to having … and give them the opportunity to experience new things.”

Everything is made in-house from scratch using the highest possible quality ingredients. Vaiciunas doesn’t use anything from wholesale distributors; instead, the products that he uses come from farmers’ markets and local producers, like apples and squash from nearby orchards and microgreens from Werp Farms in western Michigan, an infamous farm used by top chefs all over the Great Lakes region.

In addition to using locally-sourced products, Vaiciunas is utilizing cooking and presentation techniques that we currently do not see anywhere else in metro Detroit. He incorporates molecular gastronomy techniques into his dishes – nothing as unapproachable and esoteric as something you’d find at a Grant Achatz restaurant, but certainly something new and unfamiliar to metro Detroit. He uses liquid nitrogen, sulfurifications and foams, all in an effort to “take food to another level Detroit doesn’t have … it’s something you’ve had somewhere else but it’s being plated differently.” Vaiciunas is as passionate about presentation as he is about product; to him, it is all an equal part of the dining experience. “[We] don’t just slop food on a plate. There’s a purpose for everything to be there.”

The menu covers a wide range of items, from small plates and pizzas to fresh seafood and steak, and all of it affordably priced (the most expensive thing on the menu is $25, and portions are large). It is hyper-seasonal and will change over entirely every three months (the spring menu will debut April 21), but there are also weekly specials which change based on what is currently available in the kitchen. Because of the seasonality of the menu, Vaiciunas says “people are eager to come back because they want to try everything before it all goes away.”

Brussels Sprouts Salad.

Charcuterie and cheese plates are written on the chalkboard and change every week. Cheeses come from R. Hirt Distribution in Eastern Market; charcuterie items like rillettes and duck prosciutto are made in-house, and Vaiciunas later plans on curing his own meats and making his own sausage.

The Beet Salad ($7) is made with juicy roasted heirloom beets, feta cheese, pistachios and citrus dressing, presented as foam. The flavors are simple and clear, an exceptional example of one of Michigan’s most prominent crops.

The Brussels Sprouts salad ($8) is served warm with shaved carrots, white beans, roasted sweet onion and black garlic aioli, artfully presented with the aioli brushed across the plate as a backdrop to the salad.

Soy Bean Hummus.
The Soy Bean Hummus ($7) is an alternative take on classic hummus, utilizing soy beans instead of the traditional garbanzo beans. Served with fried wonton chips, this dish is salty and creamy, a great starter to share.

The Shaved Prosciutto salad ($12) features piles of prosciutto atop a luscious lemon mascarpone spread, drizzled with Italian white truffle oil and topped with fennel. Once again the flavors are simple yet bright, the lemon mascarpone a creamy tease to the salty prosciutto.

The French Chicken ($17) is a lively take on “boring old chicken.” Served with sweet potato hash and apricot & cherry compote, the flavors are a perfect harmony of cold weather comfort food favorites

The Duck Confit Risotto ($21) is a heavy dish of succulent duck meat served with thick, creamy wild mushroom risotto in a rich jewel-hued port reduction.

The Tenderloin Tips ($21) are easily one of their best dishes for this current season: tender, juicy beef served over smooth, velvety polenta, exquisite roasted root vegetables, natural sauce and truffle oil. The flavors dance on the tongue; this is one not to miss.

For dessert, Vaiciunas is just as creative. The cheesecake ($7) is deconstructed on the plate, with graham cracker crumbs, Oreo cookie pieces, raspberry sauce and cheesecake filling all swirled across the plate like an edible Pollock painting.

They are also open for Sunday brunch serving creative breakfast concoctions like Shortrib Omelets ($11) and Duck Confit Frittatas ($13).


The Drinks

Zin Wine Bar is very much a wine bar with over 120 wines and 35 available by the glass as full or half pours. They offer their own flights but patrons can also design their own flight. It was very important to Manzano that they operate as both a wine bar and as a restaurant. “When we bought this place it was just a wine bar with a limited amount of food and no beer,” he explains. So they upgraded all the wines and increase the amount of wine storage they have, and also hired on Sommelier Joseph Allerton – the celebrated Beverage Director of Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit – as a consultant. They now have a robust wine list with a wide range of eclectic boutique wines as well as a handsome selection of craft beers. (Later they will be adding a tap system and will have beers from Plymouth’s Liberty St. Brewing Co. on draft.)

They’re also making house-infused vodkas in flavors like pineapple, vanilla, and spicy pepper for Bloody Marys. For those who enjoy a good cocktail, they have a whole menu of classic cocktails as well as their own signature featured cocktails list. They will also start hosting monthly wine tastings this month.

Tenderloin Tips.

The Service

ZIN is warm and welcoming above all else. Although wine culture and fine dining can sometimes be intimidating, the staff at ZIN works hard to overcome any possible intimidation factors. With affordable menu items (priced about 30% lower than similar dishes at comparable restaurants), guests are encouraged to experiment with different dishes and share small plates to pass around with little risk to their wallets. The staff is also well-trained in making wine pairing suggestions for their menu and are happy to walk you through their wine list. There is an obvious camaraderie amongst the staff that creates an upbeat, positive energy inside that guests easily pick up on.

Insider’s Tip

Because they only recently opened ZIN is still fine-tuning various details, from the wine and beer offerings (which they will continue to expand) to the live entertainment and special events. Follow their Facebook page for updates. On Tuesday through Friday they host a happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. with $5 glasses of house wine and $10 cheese or charcuterie boards. Specials change weekly (sometimes daily, depending on availability) and the menu changes seasonally, so if you have your heart set on a specific dish you may want to call ahead. But this is really the kind of place you will be inclined to try something new with each visit! Also, downtown Plymouth is absolutely charming with a host of cute shops, coffee houses, bakeries and beer bars to check out … plan on exploring a bit before or after dinner.

The Verdict

Their goal is to make ZIN a metro Detroit dining destination, and they have all of the elements in place to do exactly that. If the success of the Root Restaurant in White Lake is any indication, the metro Detroit connoisseur is hungry for something new and is willing to drive great distances to get it. While many outsiders may accuse metro Detroiters of having a lack of culinary sensibility, places like ZIN prove that to be entirely wrong. We have been waiting for something like this all along, even if we didn’t know it. Get ready to hear a lot more about ZIN and about Justin Vaiciunas.

Originally published (in different format, edited for content) on Metromix here.

Zin Wine Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon