Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Toast to Toast!

After seven years of being widely renowned as metro Detroit's favorite breakfast and lunch joint, Ferndale's Toast is now playing the big leagues with its new location in Birmingham...and they've upped the ante with a dinner menu and liquor license!

Okay, mish-mosh of sporting metaphors aside, the new Toast in Birmingham is everything that made the old Toast great and then some (namely, the dinner menu and liquor license). I swooped in for brunch this past Sunday after hearing many great things from people who would know, and after an hour-long wait during what should have been the restaurant's down time (the entirety of which was waited by my good friend in my stead...it's amazing I have the friends that I have who are willing to do the things that they do), we were seated in the cozy bar area where we began immediately to focus in on the brunch basics--eggs and booze.

I always enjoy a good bottomless mimosa, but apparently the people at Toast are keen to my kind who can drink a full week's supply of champagne for $12.00-$15.00, so the bottomless option isn't available. However, there is a fun "mimosa flight" priced at $38.00, which gets you a bottle of bubbly and orange juice, cranberry juice, and lemonade. Honestly, this isn't much bang for your buck, so why not skip the Dorothy drinks and head straight for the creative cocktails?

In the spirit of brunch, I tried a Blueberry Pancake Martini. Bailey's Caramel and Stolichnaya Blueberri & Vanil, with muddled blueberries served in a martini glass. Y-E-S spells delicious. Or if you're looking for something with a little more bite, maybe try the Blueberry Thyme Margarita--Jose Cuervo Classico tequila, Cointreau, blueberries, lemon, and sparkling wine. Or maybe the Birmingham Breeze, made with Tanqueray Rangpur lime gin, peach juice, grapefruit juice, orange juice, and grenadine. Nothing says Birmingham like a gin-soaked fruit!

After a good basecoat of booze, it was on to the tasty yum-yums. Now, the Granola Banana Pancakes are a Toast classic, and the New Orleans French Toast (with bourbon and bourbon candied pecans) sounded both decadent and timely (seeing as how I was just in the Big Easy), but it was the Bar Harbor Omelet that won my heart. Juicy, meaty seared scallops matched with chunks of salty smoked bacon, herbs, and with a fine layer of parmesan crusted atop a mound of perfectly-cooked fluffy and flavorful eggs was a pleasant spin on the classic breakfast-meat-and-cheese omelet. I bet the home fries and cinnamon challah would have been great along with it, but instead I was surprised with southern-fried cheese grits and marble rye. Sure, not quite what I ordered, but had this little mix-up not occurred I would not be able to tell you now that the cheese grits were actually quite tasty, despite being corn-based gruel and a close relative of my much-reviled polenta. Well, at least the top part with the parmesan cheese was good.

I was feeling particularly gluttonous, and praise Allah for that, because had I not had eyes bigger than my stomach I would not have also ordered the Breakfast Panini, a deceptively simple name for a foodgasmic brunch experience. Sliced banana, tart apple, and nutella on giant slabs of grilled raisin wheat bread and sprinkled with powdered sugar...those of you unfamiliar with nutella, it is a sandwich spread used all over Europe which is akin to our peanut butter, only instead of peanuts theirs is all hazelnuts and chocolate. Really good, really gooey chocolate. This is the Elvis Presley special for the global generation, an ooey-gooey breakfast confection that melts both in your hands and in your mouth. I would even call it sinful, but surely there can be nothing sinful about Sunday brunch?

Sides include everything from biscuits and gravy to choice of chicken apple or veggie sausage, even guacamole to go with your breakfast burrito. Prices are in the typical upscale breakfast range: $7.00-$11.00 for the meal, with sides an additional $2.00-$4.00. Toast also offers a full cafe-style range of coffee and espresso beverages, made from beans locally roasted in a unique blend made especially for their restaurants.

But wait, there's more! Was that "Duck Quesadillas" I saw on one of the daily specials menus? Or what about the Sliders made with blue cheese, basil aoili, tomato jam, feta tapenade, sharp cheddar and carmelized onions? Or the Mac & Cheese made with roasted cauliflower, gruyere and white cheddar? And this is just the tip of the Romaine, seeing as how I wasn't even able to steal a glimpse of the dinner menu (they're kind of like that there), they were out of carry-out menus, and they have no website for this location.

The servers are all very friendly--despite being in a constant state of overwhelmed--and the staff all wore T-shirts with clever sayings like "B'ham and Eggs" and "You Get Served...Challah!" One of them even tried to pose for a quick photo opp...the same guy, in fact, who told a woman looking for the restroom in the most deadpan voice, "I'm sorry, our restrooms are still under construction, what we've been doing is handing people cups and napkins..." which he allowed to trail off into silence before laughing and saying, "I'm just playin', they're right over there!"

He gay, so you know he had my heart immediately.

Owner Thom Bloom is also very friendly, especially when he notices a pretty little girl ordering a big, mean beer like Bell's Expedition Stout (clocking in at a hefty 10.5% alcohol by volume, and an oddly appropriate addition to brunch with its over-the-top coffee notes and acidity). He's done an amazing job with this new venture, creating a cozy/modern art-deco/down-home kind of space every bit as reminiscent of southern, southwestern, nouveau French, and trendy Manhattanite as the menu is.

The only disappointing thing about Birmingham's Toast--and mind you, I my friend had to wait an hour to get seated AND my order was incorrect--was the fact that I couldn't stay for dinner, too (they close at 4:00 on Sundays). Bravo, magnifique, and encore, Toast--I'll definitely raise a glass to you!

Prix Fixe Dinner Plans for NYE

New Year's Eve is one of those events that can be daunting to plan for, and it usually never works out quite the way you wanted it to. There are big big hotel parties and big big club parties and big big house parties, but sometimes the best way to do it up is quietly, with a lavish meal in an intimate setting with close friends or a loved one.

Enter Mon Jin Lau in Troy and Cuisine in Detroit, who have designed delish tasting menus to help you ring in the new year with a happy mouth, full belly, and a pretty solid guarantee of some level of maintained personal space.

At Mon Jin Lau, enjoy dinner and dancing for $69.00 per person (excluding tax and gratuity). And here's what's included in the tasting menu:

Veuve Clicquot Champagne Toast

First Course
*Vietnamese Crispy Spring Roll Wrapped in Lettuce
*Seared Kobe Beef Roll Seared Tuna

Second Course
Cucumber Wrapped Baby Field Greens Red Pepper, Mango, Goat Cheese with Yuzu-Asian Pear Dressing, Topped with Crunchy Filo

Third Course
Miso Black Cod Miso Glazed, Cellophane Noodle, Pea Shoots, Shitake Mushroom, Miso Broth

Fourth Course
Asian Braised Short Rib Shitake Mushroom, Baby Bok Choy


Reservations are required: 248-689-2332.

At Cuisine, Chef Paul Grosz has created an extradorinary dining experience for only $80.00 per person (also excluding tax and gratuity). Find the carefully crafted menu below:

First Course
(please choose one)
*Assorted mushroom ravioli with salsify vinaigrette and foie gras emulsion
*Charcutiere of duck pate, duck mousse and beef sausage
*King crab gnocchi gratin
*Lobster Bisque with lobster whipped cream
*Bluepoint oysters roasted with leeks and parmesan

Second Course

(please choose one)
*Foie gras sautéed with brioche toast and oven dried tomatoes
*Maine crab cake and sea scallop sautéed in a citrus glaze
*Caesar salad with Cuisine smoked salmon
*Chilean Sea Bass roasted over creamed shiitakes and chanterelles
*Maine Lobster butter poached with lobster ravioli and chanterelles

Third Course
Watercress and fennel salad with walnuts and black grapes

(please choose one)
*Roasted Indiana Duck ala ‘orange with buttered quinoa
*Spiced Colorado lamb chops with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts
*Beef tenderloin roasted over red wine braised barley and haricot verts
*Veal sweetbreads sautéed in puff pastry with a mustard sauce and spaghetti squash
*Roasted Cod over roasted fennel, potatoes and shiitakes with foie gras and port wine butter
*Dover sole meuniere roasted with dauphinoise potatoes and asparagus
*Oven dried tomato risotto with eggplant involtinis

New Year’s Eve tasting

For reservations, call 313-872-5110.

And have a safe and happy new year! Dine well; live better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"C" is for Cardboard

I have a weakness for pizza. I know that this information will probably make me the laughing stock of epicureans everywhere, but there it is. My love affair with pizza is almost as bad as my love affair with cheese (and in fact is probably heightened by it).

That being said, my love of pizza is indiscriminate, and I will sample pizza in the seediest bars, the dankest airports, and the most blase buffets.

And so it was that last week I ended up at CiCi's Pizza Buffet in Madison Heights. I had driven by on multiple occasions and was always curious--in fact, was even excited after seeing the commercials on cable television and finding one so very close to home. A buffet?!? Of pizza?!?! Surely this must be the greatest thing since kneeded bread...

Or not.

To be fair, the price is right: $5.29 (tax included) gets you in the all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert buffet (with non-water beverage it is more). You most certainly get your money's worth when you go in on an empty stomach...which isn't to say that you'll leave terribly satisfied, but at least you'll be full.

The pizza: cardboard. Carboard slathered in a special-recipe heartburn sauce. Several different flavors of it, too--no meat, one meat, and many meats. Mmm-mmmmmm!!!!!

The cheese bread: soggy. From what? From grease.

The pasta: one kind of generic noodle, two kinds of generic sauces.

The salad: iceberg with vats of your choice of liquified fat to drench it in.

The dessert: the brownies were chewy and chocolately, but the rest was blah and even kind of bleck.

The people at the counter were friendly, and the manager remembered my name and asked me periodically how I was doing. He complimented my coat: bonus points. It's not his fault the food his corporation serves is on par with high school cafeteria food.

And it is, oh but it is. In fact, I actually seem to remember my greasy, cheesy, cardboardy gut bombs from the lunchroom to have been more flavorful that CiCi's...but I was 15 and my palate was not yet fully developed.

Heh, I've come up with their new ad campaign. It's not fully developed yet, but it will play off the idea that "CiCi's Pizza takes you back..." Maybe there will be images of high school kids horsing around in a 1980s cafeteria, then flash forward to someone sitting inside a CiCi's and smiling as they eat the pizza and remember the good ol' days...the irony would be lost on most, but I would find it high-larious.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Like sipping a glass of summer...

Thursday night I met a friend out for cocktails at Sakana Sushi Lounge in Ferndale. As far as trendy sushi lounges go, this one doesn't try too hard and their sushi actually is quite good. They do occasionally bring in DJs, such as weekly Tuesday nights "Full Flavor" with DJs Reggie Harrell and Kraig Love spinning house/lounge/jazz, "Elev8ed Thursdays" featuring DJ SirReal (good eye candy) spinning house/lounge/mash-ups, and 3rd Saturdays "Raw"--raw house, raw hip hop, raw fish; but it is never the boozin' 'n floozin' -fest that is so often Crave.

They also have a rather extensive sake-infused drink menu. Sake: the much under-appreciated Japanese rice wine that is distilled more similarly to beer than wine and has a sweetness which disguises a deceptively high alcohol content--15-20%, depending--that will knock you on your ass. Sakana features over 50 specialty cocktails created by Sakana's resident mixmaster Brent Foster, many of which boast sake as a primary ingredient.

Last night we chilled to the popular house tracks and ambient lounge music spun by SirReal (really good eye candy) while trying our damnedest to make some serious headway through the martini/saketini menus.

I couldn't resist the Wasabi Bloody Mary--which is normally $8.00 but you can get on special Sunday afternoons for only $6.00--but it wasn't nearly as spicy as I had hoped. When I mix health food with my vodka I'm only happy if it gives me stomach cramps and I have to leave early to find myself a nice private bathroom (that's the point of health food, right?). This was not that Bloody Mary for me. Improbably, Dick O'Dow's in Birmingham still makes the best I've had in the area.

I also sampled the Asian Pearl Saketini--made with Momokawa Pearl Sake, Malibu Rum, and a splash of pineapple juice. Summery, no doubt, and sweet, but nothing compared to the Mango Saketini. Momokawa Ruby Sake, mango vodka, mango liquer, and a splash of orange juice...this thing was like liquid sex candy. Smooth, refreshing, and FULL of liquor, I could almost picture myself drinking on an exotic tropical beach along the Pacific Rim instead of in some dimly-lit sushi lounge in butt-ass-cold Michigan in the middle of freaking winter. Seriously, like liquid candy. "I said 'Sexual Chocolate'!"

If you need some nosh to soak up all that booze, they've got more than 30 specialty maki rolls (including vegetarian and riceless), as well as a full selection of nigiri/sashimi, some noodle dishes, and bar-food-friendly appetizers such as gyoza (beef, not pork--odd, but tasty) and soft shell crab tempura. Their presentation is unfailingly artful, service always attentive, and general atmosphere pared-down chic (really nothing fancy except the lack of fanciness; best described as minimalist décor on a budget). Plus their drinks are the BOMB-DIGGITY.

Word of warning: happy-go-lucky saketini sampling adds up quickly at $8.00 per drink, so choose your selections wisely. Stay away from anything with Triple Sec 'cuz...ew.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oops, missed one...

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Inyo Restaurant Lounge in Ferndale. Which already has Sakana Sushi Lounge. Not to mention its own fair share of other trendy lounges (bosco, Gracie's Underground, Via Nove). But sure, why not another sushi lounge. I mean, really.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In a Down Economy, Dine!

Has anyone else noticed the disproportionate number of new restaurants that have opened/are opening lately? And I don't just mean in Detroit, but all over the metro area. It's too much for a foodie like me to keep up with! I may need to adopt a "one new restaurant a week" policy...if only I could find someone to pick up the tab (blogger for hire, will work for food).

So here's what's going on:

Ferndale's favorite brunch location Toast has opened an brand-new boutiquey location which also serves dinner and alcohol in Birmingham. Early reviews have been great, and a friend of mine who works there raves about it. What I had seen of the interiors in early September looked promising--very warm, inviting, and arty. The menu also sounds fab.

Hit-or-miss (mostly miss) Andiamo Restaurant Group is extending their quasi-cultural appeal into Mexican cuisine with Rojo Mexican Bistro in Novi. With an extensive (and likely expensive) tequilla menu, it sounds kind of Agave-ish, and all I can say is IT'S ABOUT GODDAMN TIME. And also, why Novi? WHY??????

In Detroit, we all know all about Mercury Coffee Bar. But do we also know about Angelina Italian Bistro? It's a trendy new place best described to me as an "Eye-talian restaurant for Detroit hipsters" (thanks to Supergay for that one, pun on the pronunciation intended). I have a review-ish pending on that one...perhaps One of My Gays will meet me for lunch there tomorrow so I can do it proper-like...hm...must send email...

Also, the Westin Book-Cadillac has brought us Michael Symon's ROAST, now open and already very popular. I, too, enjoy dead things on plates and find its early success no surprise. Soon there will also be Spa 19 24 Grille, which...*sigh.*

Now, what exactly is going on in Dearborn? Maestro's opened in Dearborn's West Village Commons earlier this year, featuring executive chef Liam Collins who has worked in Las Vegas, Mackinac Island and most recently opened the Hotel St. Regis, is owned by Najib Rizk whose record is...questionable. Accusations of illegal activities a la La Cigar (in east Dearborn) and La Shish have been fairly rampant, and the reviews from locals have been mixed (it claims to be Mediterannean/French but seems more Lebanese, based on what Dearborners have said). But it is pretty inside.

Also, Dearborners apparently like sushi, as the downtown west Dearborn business district is about to have more than its fair share of sushi joints. We already know about the ultra-popular and ultra-trendy Crave; now there is also Kabuki Sushi, which has lower prices and more of a "family" (i.e., non-clubber) appeal. This is the second location of owner Michelle Lee's popular Kabuki Sushi; the original is in Farmington Hills. Further west down Michigan Avenue (like, a block) will be the aptly-named Sushi: A Japanese Restaurant. This one is still very much in the early stages of development. So now in less than one mile of Michigan Avenue diners will have no fewer than three different sushi options. Just. In. Case.

Ever wondered what would become of all those empty La Shish locations? A place called Palm Palace will be taking over. It will be exactly the same. Executive chef Jamil Eid is the "foremost expert of Mediterranean cuisine in the Midwest," having traveled all over Africa, Australia, Lebanon, and the US over the past 50 years, developing his culinary style and skills. Mark my words, it will be exactly the same as La Shish. Which is fine, because I rather liked their food.

What else has been happening in Dearborn? The much-buzzed-about opening just yesterday of P.F. Chang's and Bravo Cucina Italiana in the new restaurant plaza in Fairlane Town Center. Neither of which have great food (only varying shades of edible to decent), but both of which now add to my list of "Places I can be one shot and half a vodka martini into my evening less than 10 minutes after leaving work." And for that, I'm thankful. Friday's still has the best happy hour prices, though.

That's all for now. I will continue in my efforts to bring you all dining-related news and gossip, as well as thoughfully snarky restaurant reviews. A blogger's work is never done...

I'm Still Calling it Harmonie Park

Originally published in D-Tales here; edited for content.

...The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, know for their uncanny ability to make the bestest decisions ever, note that they are trying to "revive the cultural legacy of Paradise Valley." Already in the works are plans for the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center--dedicated to the support of African and African-American arts--in the Harmonie Club, as well as a new restaurant venture from restauranteur Frank Taylor (Seldom Blues, Sweet Georgia Brown) called Detroit Fish Market @ Paradise Valley. (Taylor has a proven track record of success and I do look forward to seeing what he does with this place, especially since the city is sorely lacking in quality fish markets and NO Fishbones and Tom's Oyster Bar are NOT quality.)...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michigan Winery Makes Robert Parker's Top Producers List

Originally posted in D-Tales here.

THE Robert Parker. The guy who instigated the infamous 100-point scale for rating wine and probably the most influential wine critic in history (the 100-point scale he introduced in his wine conoisseur newsletter The Wine Advocate became widely imitated by such publications as Wine Spectator and such second-rate critics as James Suckling, who most will agree is a tool). He named Traverse City's Left Foot Charley as one of the top producers east of the Rockies in his 7th Edition of Robert Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide.

I fondly remember my own experience in their tasting room earlier this year, and I will once again encourage my foodie readers to make the journey out to Traverse City. I had such a wonderful time there being fully immersed in Michigan's rich agricultural traditions and exploring all of the wonderful contributions of Michigan's farmers, winemakers, and chefs. Traverse City is a feel-good foodie paradise; if Pinot is your passion and sustainable cuisine your battle cry, look no further than Michigan's western shoreline.

Parker's acknowledgement of Left Foot Charley is a first for Michigan wines, and will increase Michigan's wineries' visibility in the global wine world. Granted my palate is not nearly as refined as some, I can say that I have in my life experienced a wide, full range of wines (some that have even cost in the quadruple-digits--I can also say that just because something is expensive doesn't it make it the best) from regions all over world; from low-production farms on tiny specks of land to the big-wig palatial Californian and Italian estates; from all over the Americas including south of the equator to southern Europe to eastern Europe to the Far East to South Africa to Down Under. In my most humble and sincere opinion, Michigan wines can compete on a global scale.

FYI: I said it before Robert Parker did.

Congratulations to Left Foot Charley, Bryan Ulbrich, and Old Mission Peninsula on this prestigious acknowledgement.

Because "Z"s are Trendier.

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Another month, another nightclub. This time it's inside the Greektown Casino, MGM's and Motor City's bratty (and bankrupt) little brother who screams "But what about meeeeee????"

In true fashion, Greektown Casino is about 8 steps behind the other two. First MGM brought us V (thank you), then Motor City brought us Amnesia (no thank you), and now Greektown brings us Eclipz. With a z.

I haven't been there yet. A friend of mine who NEVER comes downtown was trying to get me out there last Friday to see her musician ex, Tony Lucca, but Lager House and Oslo won that battle. Aside from that, the buzz on this place has been all but nonexistant...I suspect with reason.

Now I'm not saying that it sucks, but...well, let's just say the potential for suckiness is high. It is on orange alert for suck. Outlook not so good on the suck scale. Etc.

Currently they have a limited menu of cheese flights (and so it gets some leniency from me), chocolates, and boutique popcorn. They do plan on expanding their menu. They have a variety of speciality cocktails, including a $15.00 Passion Margarita. Hon, New York this ain't. Better knock a few bucks off that price tag. They do not have a cover charge but their music is all over the map--from acoustic musicians to the crappy DJs from 955's bomb squad to Motown. It is said that their clientele is "a nice mix of young and old." Old people at a nightclub? Pass. A jazz club, sure. Ditto with a dinner club. But a nightclub trying to be "hip" and attract a youthful, trendy clientele? Until they pick an image and promote it, this "come one come all" approach is going to do about as well as...well, as a bunch of other shit that has failed in Detroit has done.

I need to check it out before I form a proper opinion, but right now it sounds to me (and my background in marketing, promotions, branding and imaging) like it's way too all-over-the-map for its own good. It's fine to want/try to attract a diverse clientele and cater to a variety of different interests...but take that too far and you'll ultimately end up driving everyone away.

There will be theme nights--Monday is Service Industry Night with $2.00 drinks; Wednesday is singles nights utilizing a colored bead system signifying whether one is single, taken, or looking; Thursday is $10.00 hookah and free tea night. On Friday, November 21st they will be holding a "pajama party"--come in PJs or lingerie.

Yeah. I know. Not terribly inspired.

The décor is supposed to be rather impressive--60-foot glass ceilings (yep, just like Amnesia) with a glass global sculpture hanging from above, bold jewel-tone colors throughout, and a dramatic elliptical glossy wood bar with a granite surface and chrome accents comprise the interior design. Admittedly, it sounds pretty.

Suffice it to say that overall I'm skeptical, but intrigued. Terrible name, though. Absolutely terrible.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Day After the Election at Cafe 1923

Originally published in D-Tales here; edited and renamed for content.

...The morning after, I stopped at Cafe 1923 in Hamtramck (thank you Supergay for reminding me this place existed and for being patient with my dabble into politics), a completely fabulous place that is very new-Detroit trendy in that old-Detroit way (my double espresso con panna and Michigan Cherry Roast coffees were simply decadent), where we listened to NPR all morning and I learned that when Obama's victory was declared people poured out into the streets of Detroit to celebrate. You know, the way they usually only do when a sports team wins some big trophy thing. Yes, Detroit was nodded to in national news (specifically because of the concentrated African American population), and in a positive light no less...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mercury Coffee Bar Trip #1

Originally published in D-Tales here; see original post for pictures.

I say "Trip #1" as if there are immediate plans for a #2. There aren't, but next time I do plan on sitting in the dining area and actually being waited on, which will likely make for an entirely different experience.

That being said, me likey. I ate upstairs, ordering my breakfast at the counter and chatting with the baristas. At the recommendation of one of them, I tried the "Flat White" espresso, described to me as being similar to a latte but with only the slightest wisp of foam...and something about the way it's done something with something makes the espresso sweeter, I dunno. She said it was thus far their most popular espresso beverage so I said, what the heyl. It looked pretty, like it does on the main page of the website.

I also ordered a Bacon Ceddar Panino on Raisin Pecan. It was not a large sandwich, but it was very flavorful--the bacon is thick and meaty, and the cheddar very sharp and tangy. I'm typically not a fan of raisins in my bread, but the subtle sweetness of the bread was a nice way to offset the sharp, salty flavor of the cheddar and bacon. All in all, a very tasty little sandwich.

The rest of the menu is sparse, utilizing minimalist preparations with simple, flavorful ingredients. Paninos are available in flavors such as Black Olive Tapenade with Mozzarella and Sopressata with Sweet Onion and Fontina. Onions get a lot of face time...which, I hate, but I also hate ordering things off the menu "plus or minus this or that" because I feel it ruins the integrity of the dish as it was intended, so I can pretty much eliminate half the menu options. Paninos and salads are available in full or half orders; until I see what those sizes look like I will reserve judgement.

For beverages, a wide variety of imported teas and slow coffees (so named for the slow-drip style brewing, made fresh for each order) are available, as well as a host of espresso-based beverages and one "fast coffee" called simply, "El Diablo." The menu translates easily into breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and there are pastries available for dessert (though I simply could not justify spending $4.50 on a brownie).

The décor, as I noted before, is pleasantly loud. The endless, depthless pink floor, though at first a bit jarring, is actually kind of soothing in the morning light. And the views of the still-standing train station ruins from the windows are outstanding.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Windy City Blew

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

...So my time in lovely Naperville was pretty much spent working, eating, sleeping, working. I'd get out of work, head to one of the many fine national chain restaurants closeby, have a beer and get some food, and then back to the hotel to get a few hours of sleep before doing it again the next day. I at least tried to keep it somewhat real: aside from one emergency trip to Friday's, I tried to only go to national chains we actually don't have here.

Sweet Tomatoes is a trendy buffet, like Old Country Buffet but healthier and with an appeal to younger people. Though I sat next to a table of old people talking about how great the place is and how they used to drive 40 miles to go to one before the Aurora location opened. 'Cuz that's what you do when you're old.

Rock Bottom Brewery is a place I actually discovered in Charlotte, North Carolina (though I think this location has since closed). The location in downtown Charlotte (which is actually called "uptown") had a lot more flair than this one, but the food is decent-ish and the Milk Stout was tasty. The bartenders were fun, too, so I tended to migrate towards this place whenever I was trying to decide between Crappy Generic Chain Restaurants.

I did check out a place called The Foundry, which is conveniently located in the mall parking lot. This place is the ultimate in sports bars. It's HOOOOOOOOGE. And when you first walk into the bar area, you face an entire wall FULL of TV screens. And I'm talking about a space that's probably 20,000 sq. ft. or more, with walls that are at least 50 feet high. It is an entertainment MEGAPLEX. Like the Home Depot of sports bars. The interior is kind of cool--all steel and brick, no windows. Booths have their own small TVs. The menu is sparse, but the food is good. I can see how this would be a bumpin' place for a party. If you're into sports. Which I'm not. So.

One night I didn't feel like going to a Crappy Generic Chain Restaurant and so I ordered pizza from Braconi's Italian Restaurant, a place I discovered via the handy-dandy travel publication Travelhost. Sauce and cheese good; crust dry and tasteless. My foray into local cuisine was a fail.

I also attempted to visit a place I thought sounded kind of interesting, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant called Meson Sabika, located in a renovated 161-year-old mansion right outside historic downtown Naperville. It really was a beautiful place...and full of chattering Mexicans. I'm sorry, but after 5 full days of chattering Mexicans (this is apparently the bulk of the population and the mall's clientele), I just couldn't handle a Sunday lunch surrounded by hordes of them, especially since it would be my last meal in Naperville. I 180'ed and headed to the Foundry. I am a little sad about it, because I'm pretty sure that Meson Sabika would have pretty much constituted the gastronomic epicenter of Naperville, but alas...my patience was beyond exhausted at that point.

And that, my friends, was my culinary tour of Naperville. It was kind of like a culinary tour of Utica.

Downtown Naperville is kind of cute--I drove through it briefly at the prompting of a friend who is from the area. Very Birmingham-y. Well-dressed people walking around and shopping in pricey independent boutiques. Cute shops, trendy bars and restaurants--alas, just far enough away from my hotel that the drive there just wasn't worth the added loss of sleep when all those fine Crappy Generic Chain Restaurants awaited me along the way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mercury Coffee Bar: Almost Open But Not Quite

Originally published in D-Tales here.

But it will be tomorrow! Swing by the new Mercury Coffee Bar in Corktown across from Slows tomorrow between 7:00AM and 10:00PM to check out what they have to offer. They were supposed to open today, or so methought, but I guess they got delayed because when I came in I got a big no-ah-ah. I did get a piece of coffee cake though. Little dry...

The floor is very, very pink. And it is so solid and smooth that it looks like it might suck you into all its pinkness. It almost has a hypnotic effect in that way...you're getting very, very pinky...come closer into the pink...a long time ago in a pink far, far away...

Remember that scene from Austin Powers? "Moley moley moley moley moley"??? Pink.

For the time being, it's cash only. They will eventually be serving beer and wine, and apparently there was an article about it but I don't read. Coffee beans are being sourced from Intelligentsia Coffee, award-winning bean importers and roasters based in Chicago. Ah, hello Chicago. Newman.

I think I will give it another go tomorrow. After that, my patience will have been exhausted, so here's hopin' they're open.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

German Bierhauses and Hairy Balls

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

Friday night I convinced Two of My Gays to go to the Dakota Inn Rathskeller with me for their Oktoberfest celebration--good times. There was beer. Bier. And more beer. People were getting pretty friendly, dumping beer from their pitchers into our glasses without regard to the cardinal sin of mixing (I suppose at some point of drunkenness one just stops caring about petty things like that). There was a polka train. And yodeling. And German sing-a-longs. And a polka-esque version of the Blues Brothers' "Gimme Some Lovin'." And busty (but not like porno busty, more like hausfrau busty) waitresses in traditional Bavarian costumes. And a cuckoo clock. And Das Boot. Or as we say in English, "The Boot."

We drank heavy Hefeweizens and laughed at the dancing drunks. It was a freakin' blast. No true Detroit experience is complete without a trip to the historic Dakota Inn Rathskeller, now celebrating its 75th year. They're holding their Oktoberfest celebrations through November 1st; pay the $3.00 and be briefly transported to Rottenburg (which is not rotten at all).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spa & Grille?

Originally published in D-Tales here.

No, not "Bar & Grille." Spa and Grille.

The Spa 19 24 Grille (so named as an homage to the first year the original hotel opened) is set to open later this year inside the newly-reopened Book-Cadillac building in 7,000 sq. ft. of prime first-floor retail space, catering to residents of the luxury lofts and guests staying at the Westin alike. Well, and whoever else in the area who can afford spa treatments. Anyone? Bueller? Does anyone have jobs anymore?

So, how exactly does a spasteraunt work anyway? Seaweed wrap and sushi? Steak au Poivre and a pedicure? I mean, I get that they're really just two separate businesses, so why not just name them two separate names? I understand they're both being operated by the same group--Entourage Restaurant Group, with operating partners Wes Wyatt, local restaurateur Bobby Megargle, Jon Grabowski (who I believe owned/operated the old Pit Stop, if memory serves) and Gideon Pfeffer (as in Girl in the D's hubby)...so why with the cutesy dual-name? It's a bit too precious for my tastes, but then again I just like to call a spa a spa.

The spa portion of Spa 19 24 Grille (called Spa 19) will feature services by Todd Skog of Todd's Room in Birmingham and will offer an exclusive "spa menu" created by the 24 Grille team for guests of the spa to complete their unique rejuvenation experience. 24 Grille will feature American cuisine created by Executive Chef Jason Gardner, and it sounds like it will be more steaks and burgers than osso buco and farm-raised duck. Plus they want to attract *gulp* Tigers fans. And we hate them here. Yes, we do.

I can't get any more info on Entourage Restaurant Group, so I'm not even sure if this is their first venture together (though I suspect it is). I shrug. I also can't seem to find any useful info on Jason Gardner. Maybe I'm just having an off day. Anyone know where he has worked before?

I always like to see new restaurants open. I'm interested to see what the 24 Grille will be like. (But only in the winter.) I could give a flying pig's ass about Spa 19, but hey--aren't spas supposed to be the hallmark of the well-endowed? Like a status symbol for a city or something? (I mean, shit, Birmingham has one every other storefront.) So. Okay. I guess that's cool. Yay Detroit, and whatnot. I'm way more interested in the less-gimmicky Roast, but that's just me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Diamonds: Not Just for Girls Anymore

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Did you know we have no fewer than seven AAA-rated four-diamond restaurants in the area?

Of course you didn't. Well, we do. I've noted previously that Iridescence is Detroit's only four-diamond restaurant, but there are six more in the immediate metro area which also deserve some attention.

Every year the American Automotive Association grants the prestigious Four-Diamond Award to America's leading restaurants, an honor only about 3% of AAA's 60,000 rated restaurants receive.

So what other restaurants here make the cut?

The Grill. Because a rose by any other name would surely smell as sweet. The simply-named Grill at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn needs no further finesse of naming convention to be one of the top restaurants in the country. I mean...it's the Ritz Carlton, fer chrissakes. I've visited the Grill a couple of times--once for a dinner that I don't quite remember but I do know was (a) amazing and (b) expensive, and another time for the most decadent Sunday brunch I've seen in Michigan. It doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles. It's the Grill. In the Ritz Carlton. That's all you need to know.

Il Posto Ristorante. Authentic right down to the waiters' B.O. Il Posto in Southfield is hands-down the most authentic, old-world Italian restaurant, cut from the classic mold of customer service as the highest priority and taking great pride in the art of dining. Much like being in a family-owned world-renowned restaurant in Tuscany (Osteria di Rendola in the hills of Chianti is my closest comparison), the greatest emphasis is placed on quality of ingredients, creativity and expert preparation of dishes, presentation, and service. One table will typically see nine or so servers bustling about, refolding your napkin, wiping crumbs off your table, filling your water, and generally just making sure you are absolutely satisfied with every element of your dining experience. Oh, and did I mention the food is equally as amazing? Sorry to let my snobbery show through here, but if you've never been to Italy, you've never experienced anything quite like this. If you even try to make comparisions to the Bravo! Cucina Italiana or Johnny Carino's, I will punch you in the face.

Iridescence. Just go already, would you? From ambiance to presentation to the artful adventureousness of the menu, Iridescence beats all. I fell in love with it back when the restaurant was located in the bowels of the casino, past all the janky junk food joints and casino cafeterias. Now that they're located on the top of the Motor City Casino Hotel tower with a breathtaking view of the city and with some of the most impressive and daring interiors you're likely to see (the architectural lighting is better than most nightclubs), Iridescence makes other dining experiences pale in comparison. Literally and figuratively.

The Lark (West Bloomfield). You know...not as impressive as you think it would be. Yes, it nails the whole French-countryside standard of service and food preparations, and yes, their Rack of Lamb Genghis Khan is infamous and is served with its own number charting how many have been served since they started the numbering (over 70,000), and yes, their wine list is indeed The Wine Bible, and yesssss, the service is expertly attentive, the service carts are cute, and the extremely limited seating guarantees much personal attention and an always-full house, but...the food? I mean, for all the buzz? Meh.

Ristorante Cafe Cortina. All that time I lived in West Bloomfield, regularly driving through Farmington Hills, and I barely took notice of this place, much less thought to myself, "I should go there sometime." Apparently they're known for their fresh pastas, so much so that they were highlighted on the Food Network in 2006 as one of the best pasta places in the States. I want to punch myself in the face for having missed it all this time.

Rugby Grille. Another understated name for another top-tier restaurant located inside a world-class hotel recognized for its excellence in service and high standards of luxury and European excellence--the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. I sadly admit that this is another restaurant I've not been to...it's at times like this I miss my fuckass ex who, despite being a fuckass, knew how to dine well and always took me out to such places. Now with my limited personal means (I got my punch in the face from the struggling economy last year and have been barely treading water since) and lack of boyfriend my exposure to such things has been severely limited, save for the generosity of my gay friends who will occasionally take me out to such nice places...but then find boyfriends and go with them instead. *Sigh* Me wanna go here...it's so pretty and old-world-y and snobby and fabulous...probably not as pretty and old-world-y and snobby and fabulous as the Russian Tea Room, which is the pinnacle of pretty old-world-y snobby fabulousness, but the best we're going to get here in Michigan.

Tribute Restaurant. I know I've spoke of it in passing before. But since I have not actually been there since I launched this blog, there have been no dedicated gushy foodie posts for Tribute Restaurant in Farmington Hills. But this...this is my favorite dining establishment in the world. It's now changed executive chef hands a third time since they opened and I haven't been there since, but I doubt the essence of its personalized service, chic atmosphere, and experimental avant-garde menu items (not to mention a quite welcoming, knowledgable, and friendly staff--espeically if you stick around after-hours and drink with them) have changed much. It used to be a yearly tradition--every year my birthday would mean a decadent dinner at Tribute, which would always end with the Egg: most orgasmic explosion of flavors you'll ever experience. Words cannot begin to describe it. It is the dessert of the gods. Chocolate creme brulée, salted caramel...I...I just can't describe it. It's incredible. A typical meal there will see me gorging on foie gras, Kobe beef, a generous plateau de fromage full of imported creamy French and tangy Italian cheeses, some kind of wild game meat, and a chocolate souffle. Ah, I miss this place. I miss Kevin and Antoinne. Damnit, now I'm depressed. I'll punch you all in the face. Now open for lunch.

Well. Now that I'm awash in memories of a very, very different time in my life, I'll bid you all adieu and happy dining while I go find a corner to wallow in my many financial and romantic failures, thanks.

In the face.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Konichiwa, Wasabi!

Originally published in D-Tales here; see original post for pictures.

Last week I was able to check out the new Asian restaurant Wasabi inside the Park Shelton. The verdict's in: love it.

First of all, the décor. Polished granite floors, corrugated aluminum sheets on the walls (giving it a very urban chic-industrialized affect), dark-stained furniture, a very postmodern ambiance. I walked in and immediately felt like I was in one of those trendy/divey sushi joints in Manhattan (they're like 7-Elevens there) where trendy Wall Street people have power lunches but the dinner business is dead, save for carry-out and delivery orders placed by more trendy Wall Street people staying late at the office or who don't have enough time to cook at home. Totally felt that way.

Yes, I fell in love with it immediately.

Now, around here sushi is kind of like...well, it's like sushi. You can get it pretty much everywhere you go in some variety or another, whether you're at a high-end seafood restaurant with its own sushi bar (see: Mitchell's, Northern Lakes, et. al.) or at a high-end ultra-trendy ultra lounge that serves sushi (Corner Bar, Ignite) or at a high-end Asian-fusion restaurant with its own sushi bar (Mon Jin Lau, Chen Chow, et. al.), or at an ultra-trendy sushi-specific restaurant-cum-nightclub (Oslo, Ronin, Sakana, Crave). Even most area Krogers have their own in-house sushi chef (their to-go sushi is pretty tasty, too). Bottom line: sushi ain't that special. We're not in Tokyo anymore, Toto Hiro.

BTW: so how awesome is Heroes this season??? Sylar, going good, SRSLY????

Wasabi has a large offering of classic, regional, specialty, and vegetarian rolls, as well as sashimi (just the fish, ma'am) and nigiri sushi (wad of rice with the fish on top--easier for the smaller-mouthed to consume). In addition to this, they also have a full selection of Japanese and Korean entrees, which is something you don't see all that often in your higher-end pan-Asian restaurants or your run-of-the-mill pander-to-all-Asian local restaurants, often located in strip malls (places with names like Wok Inn, Dragon Phoenix, Peking Palace, Lee's Chop Suey, etc.).

I remember my first experience with Korean cuisine at Little Tree Sushi in Royal Oak...fried egg on top of a bowl of rice with some other undefined crap in it. Turns out, this is "Bimibab." And this is part of what I ordered this night. My friend and I also sampled the pork gyoza (deep-fried pork dumplings, dripping with peanut oil and that special gyoza sauce which I forget the name of but is usually made with soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil and is like liquid crack). From there, we moved on to the Spicy Scallop Roll (no wasabi needed here) and the specialty roll called "The Hulk," which was made with red snapper tempura, spicy shrimp, crab salad, and topped with seaweed salad on top to make it all green and Hulk-like. This one was fabulous; the flavors worked well together and the different textures provided a needed contrast and balance.

A future tip from my palate to yours is to always make sure your sushi rolls have some tempura-fried item inside. The biggest problem most people have with sushi isn't so much the flavor or the raw fish but the consistency...too much squish-factor will turn anyone off from future experimentation. Another tip, and this one's strictly a personal preference: stay the hell away from any roll made with cream cheese. THAT'S not sushi. It's not it's not it's not ohmygodjapanesepeoplewouldn'tputthathighcholesterolgarbageanywhereneartheirmouths it's not. It's good on bagels and that's it. Stop trying to put it in places it doesn't belong. That times two with bacon.

Since I am older and gastronimically braver, we also tried the Bimibab. Again: fried egg over rice with a bunch of other crap mixed in, but at least this time I knew what the other crap was. This isn't exactly the most flavorful dish (and being served luke-warm, a superior alternate preparation is to nuke the hell out of it and douse it in Korean hot paste), but it was good enough for what it was.

After this gross display of over-ordering, I had no room left for the tempura cheesecake I had eyeballed earlier, but I bet it's awesome.

And the green tea was served in a really pretty pomo pot, which also made me happy.

Would that pot be "pomo" or just simply "mo"? I can prattle on for hours about postmodernism in pop culture, but the whole interior design thing has me thrown off.

Overall: we now have a semi-authentic Japanese and Korean restaurant that looks high-end but has the price points of Lee's Chop Suey and also offers carry-out (perfect for the Park Shelton residents, who can pretend they live in a Manhattan high-rise if they never leave their building or stray further than the DIA) and delivery (for CCS and other unspecified Detroit locations). It is a non-smoking establishment that currently does not have a liquor license, though they're working on it. The food is good, the prices right, and the place is trendy without being all Hey-look-I'm-a-super-trendy-sushi-restaurant-and-I-bring-in-techno-DJs-at-night-to-show-you-how-trendy-I-am trendy.

Dining by D-Tales grade: B+

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lots of New Developments; Here's a List

Originally published in D-Tales here; edited for content.

...Level: This new martini bar will inhabit the former site of the once-popular Buzz Bar, which shut down for some damn reason or another, who can keep track anymore? So much for the rumored reopening...but I will always welcome a new martini bar. The sign says "Opening Soon," but you never really know what that means in this city. I'm still waiting on that new French restaurant right across the street.

Mercury Coffee Bar: Phillip Cooley (who, with his brother, owns Slows Bar BQ and half a block of Corktown) and Todd Wickstrom, co-founder of Heritage Foods USA and former managing partner at Zingerman's Deli, have teamed up to create Mercury Coffee Bar in Corktown. This two-floor building will have seating for about 50-60 diners, and will serve fresh-baked pastries and sandwiches made with ingredients supplied by local urban gardens and Michigan farmers. The idea is to create more jobs for locals as well as to drive economic development using food. With the recent shift in Detroit backs towards more agrarian roots and urban gardens cropping up all over the east side and Midtown, there's no time like the present. Mercury Coffee Bar promises to be the first wave of a sure new trend in Detroit: one that focuses on the highest quality ingredients and promoting the local agricultural economy.

Tre Monti Ristorante: This newly-opened Italian-esque restaurant behind the San Marino Club in Troy is open to the public, unlike the Club it is adjacent to. Some interesting things about San Marino: it is the oldest constitutional republic in the world and boasts the smallest population in the Council of Europe as well as one of the highest Gross Domestic Products per capita in the world. Membership to the San Marino Club in Troy is open only to those of San Marino descent. Which makes me wonder how many there could possibly be in Michigan, but apparently there's enough.

Tre Monti is the result of a longtime desire to extend the Club's cultural heritage, and is said to highlight the cuisines of tiny San Marino, the landlocked enclave republic completely surrounded by the rolling hills of Italy. The cuisine is shockingly similar. But, the decor is bright and welcoming and the fare sounds tasty enough, though pretty painfully basic. Some standouts include osso buco and involtini with prosciutto and mozzarella--again, nothing too fancy, and certainly not the work of a Chef de Cuisine, but I'll spare my judgement until I actually dine there. In my experience, it is oftentimes these non-flashy restaurants owned and operated by a long tradition of families from the Mother Country featuring menu items that sound pretty basic and simple that are the ones you'll rave about for years afterwards as being one of the most flavorful meals you'd ever experienced.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Stole the Name Detoberfest from Someone Else

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Now. Let me preface all of the following by saying: EVERY. BAR. will be having an "Oktoberfest" celebration. All of them. They will serve you seasonal Sam Adams on draft and cheap plastic banners that say "Oktoberfest" strung on the walls and maybe even have their waitresses in fraulein costumes if you're really lucky.

What I care about is beer. I likes to keeps it real, dig?

At nearest count, there are (approximately if not exactly) 74 brewpubs and microbreweries in the Great Lakes State. Yes, 74. Yeah, I figured you didn't know that, that's why I told you.

Now. You can go to your (sound of violent wretching) O'Toole's, or wherever the hell you quasi-trendy people go to celebrate Oktoberfest and St. Patrick's Day and Thanksgiving Eve and New Year's Eve and Boxing Day and Guy Fawkes Day and whatever the hell else you use as an excuse to get shitfaced aside from just the plain 'ole sake of it, OR you could try to be a bit more authentic-like and patron one of these fine pubs with indigineous brews.

(Indigineous means local.)

Moving along.

Oktoberfest is now ("But it's only September?!?" "Yes, I know it's only September, but the Germans are strange and celebrate Oktoberfest in September, whereas Americans celebrate in the last weeks of September through most of October. Thus, it has already begun, regardless of your country."), so it's time you got out there and sipped some fine pumpkin ales and cream porters.

And if I see any of you with a Heineken bottle I will break it over your heads.

Don't judge me because I drink Miller Lite; I'm poor and it's certainly not my preference.

But if you're spending good money on beer, please let it not be on that overpriced imported Austrian swill.

Moving along.

The following list is of brewpubs and microbreweries of interest in the metro Detroit/Ann Arbor area with their Oktoberfest specials. Drink responsibly. Adopt a child.

(Mind you: some well-known establishments are missing because their Oktoberfest celebrations have already passed, they haven't got anything special planned, and/or their website is not updated with current information. I did my best. What I do for you...)

Arbor Brewing Company-Ann Arbor: Oktoberfest Beer Tasting Night, Thursday, October 9
Featuring Marzen and Vienna style lagers as well as an assortment of fall specialty ales and lagers. Tickets $25 advance/$30 day-of.

Atwater Block Brewery-Detroit
The Blocktoberfest seasonal brew is worth the off-season trip to the riverfront. Top that off with the Vanilla Java Porter 'cuz it's good.

Bastone Brewery-Royal Oak: September 29-October 23
Purchase a half-liter limited-edition beer stein for only $9 and get it filled with any brew--including the specially-brewed Oktoberfest Lager--for just $3 all during Oktoberfest. Also try the Jagerschnitzel, Sauerbraten, and Roast Chicken.

Big Rock Brewery-Birmingham
Now serving their seasonal beers: Kölsch, Wit, IPA, Strong Scotch Ale, and Russian Imperial Stout, with Altbier, German Pilsner, and Doppelbock now on tap.

Black Lotus Brewing Company-Clawson: Black Lotus Turns 2, Friday, September 26
Check out their Birthday Brew, a cream ale made with vanilla birthday cake frosting. Also try the Oktoberfest Bier and the Monster Mash Pumpkin Ale. This Friday, celebrate Oktoberfest with beer brats and DJ 2040.

Detroit Beer Company-Detroit: Anniversary Extravaganza, Saturday, October 18
Huge "Detroit-style" BBQ, $2.50 pints and mugs all day, live music 8:00-11:00PM.

Fort Street Brewery-Lincoln Park: Harvest Fest, now-September 27; Beer Fantasy Camp Sunday, October 5
Harvest Fest offers a special menu of Michigan-grown foods and Michigan-inspired menu items including: Duck & Cherry Ravioli, Baked Trout, Squash Bisque, Michigan Salad, Beer Battered Asparagus, Apple Stuffing, and more. A new harvest beer released at 8:00PM every night, Monday-Friday, through Harvest Fest.Beer Fantasy Camp offers six beer tastings with a three-course dinner. Tickets $35.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company-Ann Arbor: September 29-October 23
Enjoy $5 pints of hand-crafted beer in a take-home limited-edition glass, with refills only $2 during Oktoberfest. Also enjoy authentic German foods such as Chicken Schnitzel and Braised Short Rib Goulash.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company-Warren: Saturday, October 18
Enjoy traditional German Bier and cuisine, including Eisbein (smoked pork shank), sausages, and all the sides. Food served noon-8:00PM.

Motor City Brewing Works-Detroit
Try the Oktoberfest beer while they have it. Have some pizza, too. It's good.

Rochester Mills Beer Company-Rochester Hills: September 26-27
German-style beer, food, and music under a massive tent. Lots of good clean family fun with carnival games, balloon artists, moonwalks, pony rides, a petting zoo, magicians, clowns, and more. Friday 5:00-11:00PM, Saturday 1:00-11:00PM. Tickets $5, children 16 and under free. Proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the YMCA North Oakland WAVES Swim Club.

Sherwood Brewing Company-Shelby Twp.: Saturday, October 4
Celebrate Oktoberfest on the release date of their special Fest Bier Oktoberfest. Bier, food, games, music, bier. And beer. And more bier.

And last, but most importantly:

The Dakota Inn Rathskeller-Detroit: Oktoberfest, Fridays and Saturdays September 26-October 4
Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Dakota Inn Rathskeller has been bringing authentic German cuisine, the widest selection of imported beers from Germany in the Detroit area (with special Oktoberfest brews flown in from Germany just for this occasion), and the infectious Old-World-style German sing-along tradition to Detroit for our very own slice of Bavaria! It is a historically designated site featuring intricate, hand-carved woodwork created by the current owner's grandfather, as well as trophy animal heads from family hunting trips, family pictures, and waitresses adorned in traditional Bavarian costume.The Rathskeller has been owned by the same family for three generations, and it continues to be Detroit's only authentic German bar. If you want to really experience Oktoberfest but can't afford the flight, look no further than the Dakota Inn. Tickets to all Friday and Saturday night Oktoberfest parties are $3, and are selling out fast. The party runs from 8:00PM-midnight.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Musical, Artful, Eatful, Drinkful Weekend

Originally published in D-Tales here; edited for content. See original post for pictures.

Yesterday was the last official day of summer. Sad, yes. But I sent the summer off with a bang. A very loud bang. A bang so loud I still can't really hear all that well and I'm probably talking very loudly, even to myself.

Wanna hear about it? Sure you do. But first, riddle me this: how many times did you go to Woodbridge Pub this weekend? If your answer was four, congratulations, you beat me. But you didn't, did you? I win at life.


Friday: The day started with the DSO at 10:45 in the morning. We then had lunch at Woodbridge Pub, after I had been hearing people rave about the food for some time (and by "some time" I mean the 6 days since I had (a) learned it was open and (b) went there for the first time myself).

And so you ask: did it live up to its hype?


First off, I don't believe in health food. I don't. I don't see the purpose in sacrificing the experience of taste just on the off chance that I might not suffer from colon polyps when I'm 80 after living on soy products for the bulk of my adult life. Sorry, but give me decadent creamy French cheeses and high cholesterol and I'll take my chances, thanks. So when people asked me if the food at Woodbridge was at all similiar to the Cass Cafe I gave a resounding HAYLTHAFUKNO. Woodbridge will lentil burger Cass Cafe up the artsy-fartsy tofu-you ying-yang.

The designer of the Woodbridge menu (the owner's sister and my new favorite human) believes in butter, and God bless her for it. I started with the housemade guacamole--perfection. Just how I like it: HEAVY on garlic, light on onion, with flavorful tortilla chips just the right density and saltiness. I ate the whole bowl. That's about 20 grams of avocado fat, thank you. This I followed up with the Cheese to the Seventh Power, "like grilled cheese on steroids" (as stated on the menu). Brie, White Cheddar, Romano, two kinds of Mozzarella, Provolone and Parmesan on a butter-saturated grilled baguette. How can I describe it? Like 1,000 greasy angels dancing on my tongue? Okay, how about this: the grilled cheese at Cafe Muse in Royal Oak was named by The Oprah "the best grilled cheese in America." I had it. It was tasty. But Cheese to the Seventh Power spanks it like a little bitch, fresh sliced tomato and drizzled honey or not.

My friend ordered the BBLT on a B--carmelized bacon, brie cheese, Michigan leaf lettuce, and marinated tomatoes on a grilled baguette. And by "carmelized bacon" they mean extra-thick cuts of meaty, peppered bacon soaked and fried in thick, rich maple syrup. That, with the brie, and the flavorful tomatoes...I challenge you to fine me a better BLT anywhere in the country. Challenge you.




There were other things at [Ferndale's first DIY Street Fair] too, such as the beer tent a mere 50 paces from the stage. Thank you, organizers, for that. It was thoughtful. Thank you also for being the ONLY festival to emphasize a focus on Michigan-made brews. The rest of you can take your Bud Light and bong it.

In other news, the B. Nektar Meadery is now open. Like from the days of yore. I got to sample some at DIY. It was meady. I think a field trip is in order. Who wants to go play north of 8 Mile?


I had some Pumpkin Ale from the WAB, and something from Sherwood Brewing Company that was quite tasty. Three drinks for $10.00--suck it, other festivals.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back from the Pitt

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

...So I get to my hotel, drop off my laptop, and head straight to work around 6:00PM. Now, I haven't eaten since the Bob Evans in Toledo around noon, so when we get out of work I'm starving. So one of the girls, who I refer to as Mini-Me, and I go to the Applebee's by my hotel (this is now officially a Pittsburgh tradition), where we partook of the ridiculously huge Pittsburgh portions of food and smoked our last public building cigarettes, as the Pennsylvania smoking ban went into effect at midnight on Thursday.

Thursday I worked 8:00-6:00. Went back to the hotel, slept for 4 hours, and woke up hungry so I decided to get a pizza from the Primanti Brothers, a local chain famous for their sandwiches and a staple of Pittsburghers' diets. I ordered their White Pizza, with garlic sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, tomato, and spinach. Again, Pittsburgh portions are ginormous, but I did my best to stuff myself sick. Oh, and I could taste the olive oil in the crust...so freakin' good. This was a damn good pizza. And I ate most of it. Which is the equivalent of 2 Michigan larges. Sick. Me.

SIDEBAR: I love the hotel they put me in when I travel there. The Marriott Springhill Suites has the best "continental breakfast" you'll ever find (waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage, bagels, doughnuts, muffins, fruit, yogurt--EVERYTHING), and there is something strangely comforting about staying in a hotel room that's larger than your 580 sq. ft. studio apartment. Even though I'm there for work, the hotel makes it feel like a vacation. Especially since the sink isn't littered with dirty dishes I don't feel like washing or the kitchen table filled with mail I don't feel like reading.

Friday I opened again, and worked straight through 8:00-4:00 so I could hit the road (in the torrential downpours Pennsylvania was having). I decided that since my Pittsburgh experience was a bit limited this time around, I would make the most of it by cruising into Lawrenceville (the arts district) and having a hearty dinner before hitting the road.

I went to Piccolo Forno, which I had read about on the 16:62 Design Zone website before my previous trip. I had caught them before their dinner rush, and had a quiet, relaxing meal in a mostly-empty restaurant. Piccolo Forno, much like many dining establishments in Pittsburgh, is BYOB, so instead of a glass of wine with dinner I had a damn fine cappuccino (best for driving, anyway). I had the Pomodoro e Buffala salad--halved cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and lightly seasoned with rock salt and pepper, with fresh, salty buffalo mozzarella with dollops of housemade pesto sauce. In a big-ass bowl. Caprese salads are among my favorite to begin with, but when all the ingredients are fresh they're amazing.

To follow up the salad, which honestly would have been enough in itself (portions = HUGE), I then had the special prosciutto and squash risotto. It's risotto. With prosciutto. I'm a sucker for both. I had to do it. Even though I was in pain afterwards and all the way through 3.5 hours at 65 mph Ohio. The risotto was great--could have used more prosciutto (I only found a few pieces), but the squash made for an interesting pairing with the prosciutto, and there was a strong presence of parmesan throughout (which made up for the lack of prosciutto for me). Different varieties of squash were used, but the butternut was the most noticeable, though strangely complimentary despite the flavor being so drastically different from the other primary flavors of the dish.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Light Dinner at Iridescence

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited and renamed for content. Visit the D-Tales blog for pictures.

...Now, let's talk about the first portion of the evening. Dinner at Iridescence. OMFG love that place, especially since they moved to the top of the hotel. The 40-foot ceilings and windows overlooking the city create a dramatic effect, and the lighting design and color schemes utilized throughout the restaurant make the environment as visually stunning as the food. Even though we failed to make reservations and the place was "fully committed" for the evening because of three different conferences all in town that weekend which had all the hotels booked up--apparently this was the busiest that Iridescence had been since they opened--and we had to dine in the bar area and were limited to the appetizer, tapas, and dessert menus, we still made the most of it.

From the tapas manu, we ordered the Goat Cheese Risotto Croquettes, with basil oil and a tomato puree, served with prosciutto. Risotto croquettes are great--it's what you do with risotto when it is no longer acceptable to serve but is still okay to eat. Just roll it into a ball, bread it, and deep-fry it. These particular deep-fried balls o'risotto goodness were also stuffed with goat cheese, and the strong flavor of the goat cheese was balanced well by the salty proscioutto and the unobstrusive risotto. The sauces complimented but were unnecessary; all the flavor this dish needed was in the croquettes and prosciutto. My friend ordered the garlic shrimp with potato puree and crispy leeks--I only tasted this, but what I tasted was a tender shrimp doused in heavily garlic-infused butter. Everything should be so doused.

From the appetizers, we tried the Habachi American Kobe Beef Tableside. It was served with three unremarkable sauces...again, the beef was really quite flavorful on its own and didn't need to be drowned in the overpowering garlic aioli, lobster aioli (though points for creativity there), and mustard (bleck). The presentation was...cute. Very fondue-style D.I.Y. The hibachi had cooled after about 5 minutes, so don't dawdle. I'd recommend they ditch the cutesy presentation there and focus on creating a dish in which the superior flavors of the Kobe beef (considered the best beef--the most flavorful, the most tender--in the world) can be highlighted; it seems a waste to have such a great menu item buried in its own presentation.

Presentation is, as always is the style with Iridescence, top-notch, as was the service in the very busy bar area. On top of three espresso martinis (had a craving), I then ordered the super-mega-ultra Iridescence Sampler Platter (at the urging of non-dessert-eating, sugar-shirking friend). You get a root beer float, an chocolate mousse layer cake, a chocolate-covered cheesecake, chocolate chip cookie sandwich, and warm chocolate custard offset with just a dash of strawberry sauce and raspberries. The display was impressive and the desserts tasty; what they lack in creativity they make up for in sheer volume. In the future, I'd recommend something else from the dessert menu, something which better showcases the patissier's style and skills. The rest of the dessert menu is full of unique and eclectic pairings which certainly deserve perusal.

But I still enjoyed the hell out of everything, because it's Iridescence, and Iridescence is amazing. It's worth a trip just for the decor alone...even the bathrooms are impressive. My friend was very apologetic that we didn't get to have a "full dinner," but this was just as good and just as enjoyable. One day...one day...I will try the 13-course Degustation menu. One day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Food and Fashion

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

...Wednesday was the Detroit Synergy Supper Club at Cuisine. The group was a little smaller than a usual Supper Club, but this actually became an advantage. The people who were there were Supper Club regulars (and I even succeeded in pulling some super-cool n00bs from the bar into our group), and it just couldn't have been a more fun, more laid-back group. We had a good mix of young and old, all people just looking to experience a great meal and enjoy themselves in the company of others looking to do the same. The vibe was warm and welcoming; this would have to be my favorite Supper Club event to date. I had a lot of fun chatting it up with loads of different people (I even met a fellow blogger!). Plus the food at Cuisine was amazing, as always: the ricotta-stuffed eggplant (and there was definitely some goat cheese in there as well; tasted like chevre) was tangy and delicate; the chicken roulade over parmesan risotto was full of flavor and very tender; and the lemon-line sorbet was a perfect palate cleanser. The wine selection was also very popular and sparked a lot of conversation at my table about wine and travel and other things I like to talk about.

R.I.P. Beans & Bytes

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Beans & Bytes was a coffee shop/Internet cafe in Midtown that quite honestly kind of blew. And while I am sad to see another independently-owned Detroit business closing, I think the closing of Beans & Bytes had less to do with a poor economy in Detroit and more to do with them blowing. Poor business was the stated reason. Poor business due to shitty coffee is more like it.

But never fear: soon (like, in a week or two) we will have Urban Grounds in Eastern Market AND that rumored Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes booth right next to it!

How do I love thee, Eastern Market? Let me count the ways! R. Hirt, Cost Plus Wine Shop(pe?), Vivio's, Butcher's Inn, Bert's Warehouse Theatre, and now good coffee and tasty crepes! Are you trying to make me jealous? I think you are...naughty Eastern Market.

I want to live in the FD Lofts. *Pout*

4AM at the Golden Fleece

So instead we stumbled towards Greektown and into the Golden Fleece Restaurant (they're open until 4:00AM for all the drunkards) and had some saganaki and a platter full of super-garlicky Greek foods that had names we couldn't pronouce nor remember but included octopus, tzatziki (that one I know, anyway--cucumber yogurt sauce), garlic mashed something-or-other, I think some olives, stuffed grape leaves, something else. We really wanted some more beer, but it was past 2:00AM and they weren't serving anymore.

Except when some super-douchey over-coiffed friends and family came in (it looked like they were probably the young male heirs to the Golden Fleece throne and their buddies and girlfriends) and were promptly served beers. Right there! Right in front of all the other customers who weren't allowed to order alchohol! What kind of shit is that? I mean, my God, don't you have a back room or something where the illegal gambling usually goes down that all the owner's sons and nephews can drink in after hours instead of right there in the front room with all the other customers and in plain view of the street ? W. T. F.

We joked about calling in a tip to the cops but of course we didn't. But still. But still.


Originally published in D-Tales here.

Last Thursday I was forced to go to Black Finn Restaurant & Saloon in Royal Oak.

Please know that this is a place I never ever ever would have elected to go of my own volition.

This is, quite possibly, the Worst. Bar. Ever.

Black Finn is pretty much the new trendy hang-out of Royal Oak. No more Woody's, no more O'Tooles, no more Fifth Avenue (all awful in their own special and unique Royal-Oaky ways), no...now it's all about Black Finn.

Because it's a bit trendier, and a bit prettier, and a bit glossier. Because all the artsy types who remained in Royal Oak for some time, clinging onto their memories of better pre-loft-development days, have finally sucked it up and moved to Ferndale; and because all the kids who moved to Royal Oak immediately after graduating college are now grown and have money and are looking for something a little more "posh" than the shitholes (like Woody's and O'Tooles) they used to hang out at. And also because waiting in line to get into a bar makes white people feel important (this is the only explanation I can come up with--it's the same phenomena I've witnessed at Main Street Billiards in Rochester...it's really not that great of a bar, yet people line up around the block and even pay cover to get in). And note, I said bar. Not club. Bar. Waiting in line to get into a bar. See also: St. Patrick's Day.

Now mind you, Black Finn is a straight-up bar. The interior is all oak, there's a bunch of plasma TVs to watch various sporting events, they have drink specials for all Tigers games, and there's a side seating area when you can sit down and eat their straight-up bar food. Aside from some fresh fish and steaks on the menu, it's mostly classic American bar-and-grill fare--lots of sandwiches and salads and starters, some with the occasional interesting twist but most pretty straightforward. Not unlike Mr. B's. And Royal Oakiphiles love Mr. B's. I never understood why.

There is much about Royal Oak I don't understand.

Such as why all the mid-twenty-to-thirty-somethings get all done up to go to a bar. Not club. Bar. A sports bar. A sports bar in a city with a glut of sports bars on a night when there are no sports on and the music consists of tracks from Michael Jackson, the "YMCA," and pop/rap songs popular last summer. And they wait in line for 30-45 minutes to get into said bar just to stand 5-deep at the bar and not be able to get a drink and get constantly jostled around by men with far too much hair product and women wearing halter tops and stilettos at a sports bar.

And I almost hate admitting this, but the men were kind of hot. In that "You're pretty to look at but the minute you open your mouth I will want to punch you in the face" kind of way.

No wonder I'm single...

Afterwards I ended up at my kind of sports bar: The Well. $2.00 Labatt Blues and Blue Lights and only five other people in the bar.

Why do I ever leave Detroit?

Black Finn--don't go. Do not do not do not do not. It's a terrible, awful, dreadful place FULL TO THE BRIM with Royal Oak douchebags. If you must be in Royal Oak...and by this I mean your car broke down and none of your friends can come get you and you don't know how to find the SMART bus or call a cab...go to Town Tavern at least. Phenomenal food, good drinks, and only ranks at a Yellow Alert on the Douchebag Advisory System.

Unless you like that frat-party-for-30-year-olds feeling. Then that's all on you.

As for me...I would have much rather been at the Lager House catching the free Sik Sik Nation show, but I wasn't. I was at Black Finn instead. *cough*

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse to Open

Originally published in D-Tales here.

New upscale restaurant! Super-yays!

Rated one of America's best steakhouses by the Dining Bible (i.e., the Zagat Guide) and recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse is set to open a new location in Bloomfield Hills. The Hyde Park Restaurant Group currently operates 11 properties in Ohio (I know), as well as locations in Pittsburgh, Daytona Beach, Sarasota, and Buffalo.

They do steak, and they do it really, really well. Theirs is honestly the most extensive beef menu I've ever seen...and, as you should all know by now, I've seen a lot of high-end menus. Aside from a broad selection of different cuts (together I think you could build your own cow), they also offer a number of "specialty" steaks--such as Steak Au Bleu, Steak Cabernet, and Steak Au Poivre.

To further up the ante, they also have an impressive list of daily fresh fish specials (like Tasmanian Sea Bass and Baramundi from Australia). Matt Prentice just pooped himself a little.

The cherry on top? Daily $4.00 martini specials.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Traverse City Travelogue, Day Two V.2

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

After getting a good solid case of the heebie-jeebies at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, I decided to wash the bad vibes away at Left Foot Charley, the region's first "urban" winery and tasting room (so-called because the winery is not located on a palatial estate with rolling hills of vineyards behind it). As soon as I walked in, I said to the woman pouring tastes (which, at this point, was solely for me), "Look, I have to say this to someone, but isn't it creepy that this place used to be an asylum?" She smiled and said that it bothers some people (including the winemaker, Bryan Ulbrich), but you get used to it.

We'll have to agree to disagree on that, I guess.

At Left Foot Charley the tastings were pretty open--I would find out later, at other places much busier and with a more burn-and-turn mentality, that there is typically a limit (6 usually) and you circle your selections from a menu and the pourers serve you in shifts. But here it was much more laid-back...I tried a couple of wines, including the "Lone Dry Red" the 2007 Red Drive blended from Dornfelder, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Regant grapes grown on Old Mission Peninsula. Didn't find this one too impressive, truth be told, but that's because what Left Foot Charley does best is whites--and boy oh boy do they.

Winemaker Ulbrich has a special affinity for Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Gewurtztraminer, and this fondness comes through in the wines themselves. The real standout of all was the Pinot Blanc--crisp, tart, full of character and depth, heavy on fruit (particularly yellow pears), strong alcohol--there's a reason this one took home the recognition of "Best Dry White Wine" in the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition. This wine also offers yet another reason why screw-tops are A-OK for crisp, acidic, ready-to-drink whites (see also: Kim Crawford's Sauvingon Blancs, as well as many other producers from the Marlbourgh region of New Zealand, widely-agreed upon by wine gurus worldwide to currently be making the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world)...verdict's still out on aging reds, though (I, personally, lean towards nay).

Left Foot Charley uses grapes from 13 local vineyards from the Old Mission Peninsula which are very small at only 1-2 acres each. They produce exclusively for Left Foot Charley, though the owners do not actually own the plots of land the vineyards are on.

After my little wine education and soaking in the pleasant vibes of the trendy modern tasting room, I had effectively washed (drank?) away the bad vibes and was ready for a snack before continuing on my wine tour. I went right next door to the Underground Cheesecake Company, a charming little place with 2 large glass counters filled with decadent desserts. I selected a 6-piece bite-size cheesecake assortment: Black Raspberry, Blueberry Swirl, Cherry Swirl, Chocolate Raspberry, Mocha Mudslide, and "Real" Key Lime. And I definitely sat outside and ate them all, popping one after another into my mouth until there were no more. I couldn't help it, they just looked so pretty...and yummy...

This was cheesecake like my mom used to make--none of this fluffy ricotta New-York-style cheesecake, but dense, heavy cheesecake, made primarily with cream cheese and sour cream. Sour cream? Yes, sour cream (you can especially taste it in the chocolate-flavored cakes...this is the only incarnation of sour cream I will ever eat). The flavors were rich and strong, too--each bite was an explosion of flavor from the rich chocolate and coffee flavors of the Mocha Mudslide to the tart 'n tangy Key Lime. In short...yum.

With a belly now full, I was ready to head to Black Star Farms, my number one pick of vineyards and the most strategically located to hit other vineyards on the way back.

Ideally I had wanted to stay at the Black Star Farms Inn, a luxurious full-service bed-and-breakfast which features, among other things, a full hot breakfast with all the breakfast-y accoutrements, an afternoon snack, a pre-dinner wine and hors d'oeuvres reception, after-dinner brandies and dessert wines, and with a number of different pampering products and treatments available (spa, sauna, massages, etc.). Sadly, they were booked. A place like this is probably better as a romantic getaway than an isolationist refuge, anyway.

I had another reason for wanting to go to Black Star Farms, aside from it being one of the most noted wineries in Michigan. And that reason is cheese.

The Black Star Farms "agricultural destination" is also home to the Leelanau Cheese Company, and the creamery is on-site in the large tasting room so people can actually watch the cheesemakers at work (I was not fortunate enough to catch the show, sadly). The cheese cave holds some 2,000 wheels of Raclette made from local cow's milk and brushed with brine and turned daily during their 3 month - 2 year aging process. The Raclette produced here is considered one of (and by some, the) best in America--and it's wonderful; mild and buttery and melts in your mouth.

The tasting room at Black Star Farms is immense, and filled with a variety of wares including locally-made jewelry, a wide assortment of wine-and-whiskey-related paraphernalia, various farmer's market items (more to be found at the actual farmer's market, also located on the sprawling estate), and, of course, their full collection of wines for sale.

Upon entering I was greeted with a sample of their Hard Apple Cider--tasted just like other hard apple ciders (reminded me of Strongbow but sweeter). The tasting bar is huge, with a secondary one off to the side of the building to catch overflow. The mentality here is strictly burn-and-turn--you get a menu, the pourer rattles off how the wines are listed in order of recommended tasting from sweetest to driest, you pick your wines, you drink them one after another in succession with crackers to cleanse your palate between white and red, you get your souvenier glass and you leave. (Oh, this is also the only tasting room that charged for tastings--$3.00 for wine, plus you get to keep your glass, and another $5.00 for spirits. You could also get a cheese sample for $1.00. I did all three.)

Of the wines, I sampled the 2006 Arcturos Pinot Gris, the 2004 Isidore's Choice Pinot Noir, the 2006 Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc, the Black Star Farms Cherry Wine, and the Sirius Pear Dessert Wine. The Pinot Gris was quaffable, the Pinot Noir negligible, the Cherry Wine pleasant and sweet, the Pear Dessert Wine lacking character but with a clear pear presence and surprisingly low on sugar. The real winner was the Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc. One whiff and I said to the pourer, "WHOA! That's French..." I actually got to chat with the pourer a little since I refused to be herded in and out like the other "trendy" wine drinkers ("We're here because we really liked the movie Sideways"), and she informed me that the Leorie Vineyard is producing what many consider the best fruit in the region. It's got all that dirty, funky, stinky, earthy French appeal (characteristic of Cab Franc) with intense dark, ripe fruits, and smoky chocolate and coffee. If they keep producing wines like that, mark my words, it will be no time before modest Michigan's wines will be considered competitive in the world market.

With my wine tasting complete, I moved on to the spirits. First I tried the Spirit of the Vineyard White Grappa. Grappa is misunderstood. There is an art to its production, much as there is to any wine. Grappa is made by the distilling of grape skins after they've been pressed, and is considered a "pomace brandy." Much like with the wines, the flavor of the Grappa is wholly dependent on the kinds of grapes used as well as the processes used in distillation. While Grappa certainly hits the nose like lighter fluid, it can have characteristics as rich as those of wine.

This Grappa was one of those. Full of herbs and spices, it had a warmth to it that exceeded beyond its high alcohol content. This was a fine Grappa, and an excellent digestivo.

Next up was the 2007 A Capella Ice Wine. What can I say about Ice Wine? It is, essentially, wine royalty. Extremely labor-intensive and difficult to produce and with very small yield not only makes this an expensive wine ($60.00 per 375 mL bottle, minimum), but also a very regal one. It takes great time and patience to make this wine, and earns producers instant respect. Ice Wines are most commonly produced in Germany (called Eiswein) and Canada (called Icewine, one word--the Pelee Island Icewine was my first-ever exposure to this style of winemaking at the age of 18, and I've been in love with it ever since), though there are many other countries that try. Ice wines are dessert wines made from grapes frozen while still on the vine, before fermentation. The freezing makes the wine more concentrated, sweeter. Very similar to its botrytis-plagued cousin Sauternes, the wines produced are sweet and heady like liquid honey. This particular Ice Wine, unfortunately for me, does not rank in the upper eschelon of dessert wines I've tasted (which, in retrospect, makes sense that Black Star was not yet sold out of their stock when all the other producers were).

After all of this, I bought some cheese, a bottle of the Arcturos Pinot Gris (it was on sale, and like I said, quaffable), and some chocolates from local chocolatiers. Chocolate Exotica makes marshmallow-like truffles--a very thin, fluffy, crunchy coating of chocolate to hold in the liquidy ganache inside. A couple had cherry flavors, one was white chocolate with lemon zest. I couldn't get past how the truffles had the consistency of marzipan. Another chocolatier (and also chocolate-maker) I sampled was Patricia's Chocolate. These chocolates are works of art, right down to the origami-like boxes they are packaged in. Each palet is hand-decorated with exquisite artistic appeal, and has a beautiful luster which signifies the careful tempering of the chocolate (indicating high quality). Each palet is smooth and creamy, a melt-in-your-mouth experience of rich near-liquid ganache and exotic varieties of imported spices, fresh herbs, locally-procurred fruit purees, coffees, teas, and fine liqueurs. My sampler featured Madagascar Vanilla with the rich flavors of Madagascar vanilla beans and dark chocolate, as well as Exotic Spice which is a fusion of allspice, green cardamom, licorice, Ceylon cinnamon, and green peppercorn dipped in dark chocolate. Like chocolate-flavored Fall on the tongue.

Driving into the Black Star Farms estate felt a little like driving through Tuscany--the rolling hills, the lines of vineyards stretching out into the horizon, the endless green. After meandering a bit, I realized I was pressed for time, so off I went.

I still had an hour to get to Chateau Grand Traverse, 20 miles and a whole 'nuther peninsula away. I hauled ass and got there with 30 minutes to spare...just as a couple of bachelor and bachelorette parties showed up.


"What's this? Eee-dels-why-ker?" Edelzwicker. A-del-zvyk-er. I hate you.

"Oh, this bottle is so pretty! It's worth getting just for that!" I hate you.

"Ooh, crackers!" Ohmyfuckinggod I hate you.

Seriously--this chick took oyster crackers by the handful and was eating them as if they were there to snack on. They're there to cleanse your palate, you vile human being. Get out of wine country and back to the sorority house with the keg stand competitions where you belong.

This outing I had to make quick because I was surrounded by stupid people who were ruining my wine-loving high. Six tastes got me the 2006 Ship of Fools (that was the "pretty bottle"), the 2005 Gamay Noir "Reserve," the 2006 Edelzwicker (truth be told: I only sampled this so those ignorant bitches could hear me properly pronounce it), the Grand Traverse Select "Sweet Harvest Riesling," the Cherry Riesling, and the Cherry Port. Of these, I remember nothing except for my patience being exhausted. I think I enjoyed the Riesling. I know I enjoyed the Cherry Port, which was a wonderful combination of sweet black and tart red cherries (sweet on the tongue, tart as it lingers), making for a complex, flavorful port, the kind you want to roll around in your mouth for hours.

Or, perhaps just 30 seconds, if you were me and were surrounded by human mediocrity. (Did I hate them for their lack of wine knowledge, or just because they were so terribly average?) I hopped back in my car and enjoyed the views of the early-evening sun illuminating the lakes and vineyards on my drive back to the hotel.

(For pictures, clink on the link to the D-Tales blog here.)