Sunday, May 20, 2007

Zinc: A Jew, a Chaldean, and a Debutante Walk Into a Bar

Zinc is a fabulous place with a fabulous atmosphere that serves fabulous food to fabulous people.

Or at least that's what they want you to think, and for the most part they pull it off.

One thing that cannot be ignored when in Zinc is the clientele--pulling into the parking lot, you find yourself surrounded by brand-new shiny Escalades, H3's, Benzes, Corvettes, and usually one or two exotics (there is a Ferrari dealership right down the road, after all).

Welcome to West Bloomfield, where people have a WHOLE lot of money and they want EVERYONE to know it. The problem is, prior to the introduction of Zinc a little over 3 years ago, they didn't have any taste.

(A very prevalent after-effect of "new money" mentality--and if there is any doubt in your puerile perception that there is indeed a difference between old and new money, all you have to do is spend a day in the Pointes followed by an hour in West Bloomfield. The West Bloomfield folk are all about the bling, concerned only with having the appearance of taste, which in their juvenile understanding of wealth they believe translates into designer labels, expensive cars, gaudy houses and gaudier jewelry.)

Once inside, it is still all about the image, and Zinc caters well to its conceit-conscious crowd. The interior is very trendy, featuring an all-oak bar with a stainless steel top, a well-lit selection of liquors, and cozy round booths (the only problem is the entryway, which is about 2'x2', and isn't very conducive to long wait times). The dining area is open, airy, and bustling, and there are mirrors overhead that really don't seem to serve any purpose but to make the place look larger (although I suppose if the angle is right a guy with a wandering eye could get a nice shot of an unsuspecting woman's mountain tops). The wait staff is always impeccably groomed with the women dressed in that ultra-trendy/borderline-slutty style straight from the cover of Cosmo. Thankfully, I was looking super-cute in my white terrycloth tube-top jumpsuit with white patent leather cork-wedge heels and my Banana Boat bottle tan recently touched up, so I fit right in.

A place like this could easily fall victim to its own aesthetic and focus more on appearance than on substance. But, fortunately for the quality-deprived West Bloomfielders, Zinc raises its own bar by not only offering a chic atmosphere for singles to mingle, but also offering a stellar wine list and phenomenal food.

Zinc opened in early 2004 by Mark and Matthew Brown, the family that also owns the Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak, a place widely agreed upon by native Detroiters to have the best burger around. They even offer the "Red Coat Burger" on their menu—which is a nice touch of non-pretentiousness, considering this is one of those places that also features Oysters Mignonette, Octopus Provence, and a Chilled Half Lobster on its “Seafood Bar” menu.

There is a killer drink on the menu called the Boysenberry Mojito, and this thing is probably the embodiment of the perfect summer cocktail (despite the fact that the last time I had it was the dead of winter, though I still had no trouble sucking down three). But don't you know, they were OUT of mint on this particular night. Now, I'm not counting it against them this time, it being early spring and them not having any inclination that the drink would be so popular in the warmer weather, but if it happens again I am totally posting a strongly-worded blog about it on my Myspace.

In keeping with the trendy French-brasserie theme of the restaurant, the wine list is predominantly French and French-varietals from New-World regions. There are a few glimmers of Old-World Spain and Italy, and our friends from South America also take a slight bow. The bottle list is priced accordingly, and the markup isn’t terrible. Most bottles run about $50-60, which is pretty standard restaurant pricing for mid-grade French producers. The bottle list is eclectic, and the by-the-glass list offers an impressive range (better than most)—most befitting for a wine bar. There is also a selection of fine European beers available by producers you would be lucky to find in even the savviest of bars—most befitting for a brasserie.

But what really makes Zinc the "brasserie" it claims to be is the menu. Heavy on all things Provençal (and by that I mean. a lot of niçoise olives), the selection is indubitably French—even the menu, printed on what looks like paper bag stock, has a "Parisian" look about, using what I like to refer to as the "Moulin Rouge" font to give it even more of that cafe-in-Paris appeal. I suppose the chintziness of the menu stock would somehow, someway be considered Euro-shabby-chic...because there is nothing that those classy Europeans do that we Americans don't find chic enough to co-opt.

But despite whether you find the menu clever or cheap, the offerings on it are impressive. The menu offers everything from the classic niçoise and Caesar salads to very decadent lobster bisque, from grilled lamb chops with a broken olive tapenade to grilled chicken frites with garlic-saffron aioli and braised Swiss chard, from Apple Tarte Tatin to Crepes Suzette. Pommes Frites (Belgian-style fries) are featured heavily here, being a side dish all its own as well as having its own entrée section (“Plates with Fries”)—these tasty, thin strips of twice-fried potatoes are, as was described by my companion, nothing short of “droolikins.” But what really put me in Zinc’s corner was the Assiette de Fromages—the cheese plate. Anywhere that has a cheese plate is top-notch to me. Here, expect the French basics: brie, camembert, something from Alsace-Lorraine. But it’s still a cheese plate, and it ain’t standard American cheddar block.

At Zinc, a full four-to-five course meal is in order. You will start with salty Italian foccacia (eat it while it’s warm). Then on to the appetizers. The cutely-named Salmon Ménage-`a-Trois was presented as a layered concoction, the first two of which were simple and tasty (the salmon tartare and caviar), the bottom of which was...meh. The problem with the layered presentation is that, when tasted in the layers as intended, the strong flavor of the bottom layer—pastis-smoked salmon with watercress in a lemon-basil oil (it sounds good, but the consistency came off like coleslaw, and I swear I tasted mayo)—overwhelmed the tartare and caviar, so that the simple, pleasurable flavors of these two preparations couldn't be fully enjoyed. And it tasted like salmon coleslaw.

The Escargots de Bourgogne, however, is probably some of the best escargot offered in the Detroit Metro area. Firm without any hint of rubberiness or grittiness, and soaked in the classic preparation of liquid butter with parsley and huge chunks of garlic, this dish is a definite must—and be sure to sop up all that extra garlic butter with the hunk of crusty French bread served on the side.

Though the menu is predominantly French, there are a handful of fusion elements present here, most noticeable in the seafood and foul dishes, which offer the now pervasively-trendy infusion of Asian influences (a trend which I find tiresome, and more than a little irritating—keep the soy sauce out of my brasserie, thankyouverymuch). For your entrée, try the Lamb Osso Buco ("on the bone"). This is a dish typically made with veal, making the lamb a unique Mediterranean spin on a classic Italian-style dish. The lamb was tender and flavorful, with a simple gremolata (a salsa verde made of garlic, parsley, and lemon peel) as its accompaniment, as is the traditional Italian preparation. The saffron "risotto"—and I use quotation marks here because it was really just standard long-grain rice—was superb, creamy with a hint of garlic and without being overly "saffron-y." The side of Swiss chard, a very bitter leafy green, was marinated in lemon, garlic, and parmesan and was a bold complement to the rich lamb (and delicious in forkfuls all on its own). One down side: most establishments offer a marrow scoop—yes, this is an actual item used specifically for the purpose of scooping marrow—with their presentation of Osso Buco. (This is a delicacy—the marrow soaks up all the juices from the meat and amplifies it, condensing the flavor into something even more impacting, and widely agreed upon as being the best part of and perfect finish to Osso Buco.) Zinc did not do this, and we had to ask for (*gasp*) a cocktail fork. This is an epicurean no-no…but most diners would be none the wiser. (Especially in West Bloomfield…oh, snap!)

The dessert offerings are limited and lack any significant creative luster, but they are classic Parisian-style indulgences and Zinc does them well. Try the Chocolate Pot du Créme, which has a consistency somewhere between mousse and custard, and is rich with the slightly bitter flavor of bittersweet chocolate with chunks of bittersweet chocolate smattered on top.

As much as the clientele an establishment such as this draws in come across as being pretentious trend-seekers, Zinc still maintains a slightly more down-to-earth feel (especially on a slower night). The food is fantastic, the offerings carefully selected for their style and the way they enhance the overall impression of the menu, the wine is impressive, the décor appealing…overall, this really is a quality brasserie made popular by its crowd and reputable for its quality. This is the best West Bloomfield has to offer (BESIDES the Lark, DUH), and I mean that in the best possible way. No, really, I do.

zinc brasserie & wine bar. 6745 orchard lake rd. west bloomfield. 248.865.0500
prices. apps, salads, soups, burgers: $7-$13. entrees $16-27.
hours. mon-sat 11am-1.30am (kitchen), 11am-2am (bar). closed sun.