Saturday, April 26, 2008

Amicci's Pizza in Detroit

Originally published in D-Tales here.

In a previous post, I noted my lack of certainty regarding the existence of the Detroit location of Amicci's Pizza.

At about 1:50AM, after trying desperately to call both Jet's and Happy's for some late-night delivery (they say they're open until 2:00 but they LIEEEEEEEEE), I was able to find the phone number for Amicci's in my almost-passed-out friend's phone. The line rang once...twice...and like the true spirit of hope come down from above to comfort me, a voice on the other end was suddenly saying, "Amicci's Pizza, will this be pick-up or delivery?"

My confusion in said previous post came from the fact that I was searching for "Amici's Pizza" in Detroit, not "Amicci's Pizza" (two "c's", not one, and not affiliated with the gourmet pizzeria in Berkley--spelled with one "c").

Within 20 minutes I had a beautiful large round pepperoni pizza in my hands--the pepperoni was the classic standard crispy variety (not overly spicy, but the exact flavor you think of when you think of pepperoni). Perfect proportion of gooey mozzarella cheese. Crust was soft with a distinct buttery flavor, though not greasy at all. Oh, and I could eat the hell out of that mozzarella bread (and I did, too).

So let it be known: my favorite Detroit pizza is Amicci's, at 3849 Vernor west of Grand Blvd. (313-842-7373), and my reasons are twofold: first, they have the best-tasting pizza, and I'm not just saying that because it was after 2:00AM and the $5.00 Long Islands were going down pretty smoothly at the Harbor House all night. Second, because they stay open late and deliver fast, and that to me puts them far ahead of all competitors, even if they're pizza wasn't already the best.

Without Amicci's, I would have ended up at White Castle. Thank you, Amicci's. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adventures on a Friday: A Tale in Two Parts

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

...After nibbling on some of the cheese and pastries they had at the exhibit preview and sipping on some of the wine from local winery Red Hat Micro-Winery in St. Clair Shores (nothing that would make it into Wine Spectator, but nice to know it's nearby), my friend and I were feeling in the mood for some fine wining and dining, so we decided to head off to Cuisine in the New Center area, a place neither him nor I had been to before.

Okay, kids, this is where I'm about to get all foodie on you. I think another friend of mine said it best when he noted that there are places in Detroit people can go to for a nice meal, and then there are places that food people go for nice meals--Cuisine is the kind of place that a food person goes to for a nice meal. Well, he's absolutely correct in that observation.

Cuisine Restaurant is housed in a historic old Detroit home (much like the Whitney), with all of the heavy plaster, crown molding, intricate woodwork, bay windows, hardwood floors, and the like that go with that. But despite the historic home architecture, the décor is very contemporary--lots of electric blue glass accents, clean white tablecloths, and blue and yellow stained glass light fixtures create a very calming juxtaposition of the contemporary with the classic. The music also helps enhance the mood--French cafe songbirds, classic jazz, and classical pieces dominate. The sounds are markedly different, but the effect is the same, and adds to the classic-meets-contemporary ambiance.

But the best thing here is the food. The cuisine at Cuisine is best described as Nouveau French-American. Owner and Chef Paul trained at some of the top culinary schools in France, and brought that training back here to Detroit to realize his dream of owning an award-winning restaurant (which it is) in a city he has a true passion for.

Cuisine's menu offers a few different dining options. In true French style, there are two different Progression Menus offered (more commonly referred to as a tasting menu in the U.S. and a dégustation in France), which offer a variety of the chef's signature dishes at one prix fixe price (the more expensive offers a larger number of tastings), and includes all dining courses. Considering that to order most items a la carte (appetizer, salad, entree, dessert) would be more expensive than ordering the Progression Menu, don't let the $50-$80 price tag scare you off--these pre-selected menus are typically more bang for your buck anyway.

My friend and I decided to still go a la carte, sampling first the wild mushroom ravioli appetizer (fantastique). Throw chanterelles and morels into any dish and I'm pretty much sold--here the ravioli dough was thin and fluffy, stuffed full with large pieces of semi-exotic mushrooms in a rich, buttery cream sauce. Exotic mushrooms + lots of butter = FRENCH. Hardcore.

For dinner, I decided to go all out--roast quail stuffed with veal sweetbreads (glands) with accents of fingerling potatoes and marinated red grapefruit.

Mind you, this is not a dish for a novice. One must not only be acclimated to game hen (really, it tastes like really freaking good chicken), but one must also be comfortable with eating veal glands. And, might I say, the portioning of the sweetbreads was quite generous. They are slightly soft (to call them "squishy" would not be outside of reasonable), and an acquired taste--not unlike the heaping helping of foie gras my friend had with his Filet, which was all kinds of artery-clogging pungently flavorful goodness.

My quail dish was phenomenal--my only criticism is that there were so many flavors at work there that they tended to battle each other for dominance as opposed to working together for enhancement. Extra points for presentation, however--once again, in true French tradition, the presentation of the food is as much of an artform as the food itself. The quail was split up the middle and partially de-boned, served laying flat with the sweetbreads tumbling out, with the grapefruit slices artfully arranged and the potatoes carefully scattered. Very pretty, indeed...until I hacked it apart trying to cut the very small and very delicate quail carcass. :/

And, oh, the wine--I must say, while Cuisine certainly doesn't have the most impressive wine list in the city, they certainly have one of the most reasonably priced. A nice smattering of selections from around the world, with no particular emphasis on any region or varietal, and most of them available by the bottle for $40.00 and under. I found a fantastic South American cab for only $18.00, but there was also a handful of the requisite high-end wines also available--such as a bottle of Penfolds Grange, priced very reasonably (for what it is) at $200.00. We selected a Shiraz from Washington State to pair with our meals (my personal weakness: Shiraz and Pinot Noir from Oregon and Washington--killer), which complimented the delicate flavors of my quail quite nicely, as much as it suited the robustness of my friend's foie gras-covered filet.

But the absolute best part of our dining experience came with dessert. ALL breads and desserts and made in-house by Pastry Chef Kevin Kearney, who studied at the acclaimed French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu, where Chef Paul also studied. The world of the patissier is much different from the world of the chef de cuisine--much less notoriety and recognition, often considered an afterthought, and typically not taken all that seriously in all areas of the culinary world (often referred to derogatorily as a "baker"). This isn't to say that pastry chefs are a laughing stock all over the world--they're just often not as appreciated as the executive chefs, especially here in the States.

That being said, the pastry chef--when permitted to fly freely by the executive chef--can demonstrate as much artfulness and creativity as the head chef, perhaps even moreso. Here at Cuisine, Chef Kevin is giving Chef Paul a run for his money.

Every single dessert sounded absolutely tantalizing (THEY HAD A CHEESE PLATE AND I PASSED ON IT), right down to the three different flavors of soufflés. But when we were told what the special house-made ice cream selections were, we were sold. Get this: a red wine ice cream with Danish bleu cheese and walnuts. I KNOW. Fucking fabulous. Also available was a Guiness ice cream with pecans and good old-fashioned wonderful strawberry. But it was the red wine/bleu cheese combination that made both my friend and I say "Gimme some of that," and had us ooohing and ahhing for the rest of the night. When it hits your tongue, you taste the fruity fullness of the wine. As you swirl it in your mouth and bite into the walnuts, the taste of the bleu cheese jumps out. Truly one of the most interesting desserts I have ever tasted, like a little piece of heaven on my tongue. Paired with the rich Graham's "Six Grapes" port I selected, I was having one serious foodgasm.

Cuisine is definitely a place to go for people who love food and love the experience of dining. The service is also very friendly--we chatted at length with our two servers as well as Chef Kevin, and were made to feel extremely welcome and appreciated. At this point in time, the nearby Fisher Theatre is closed for renovations through November (from which Cuisine receives a good portion of their business), so now is a great time to go and enjoy what is guaranteed to be a unique and intimate dining experience. Anyone who has doubts about the dining culture in Detroit, head to Cuisine.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Best Pizza in Detroit...and the WORLD???

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Recently the folks at Gracie See Pizzeria (located at Greenfield and Warren in Detroit's Warrendale community) competed in the International Pizza Challenge at the 24th Annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. They won second place in the "Best Traditional Pizza" category, just missing the title of "2008 World's Best Traditional Pizza." First and third places went to some guys from Italy, go fig.

Consider my curiousity piqued. I decided to check out this Gracie See's to see what all the fuss is about.

Gracie See's has this whole "I do business with the family" thing going on--"the family" referring to, you know, the family. As in, THE FAMILY. Their specialty is a huge platter o' pasta known as "The Godfather," and comes with the works of pasta dishes--your choice of noodles (spaghetti, rigatoni, etc.) covered in mushrooms, peppers, two different kinds of sausage, and more. With an order of "The Godfather," you also get a free order of their "Dago Fingers"--pizza dough topped with cheese and garlic butter. Gracie's See's has a full menu of traditional Italian-American dishes, with classics like Veal Parmesan, but this isn't what they placed second internationally for, and so I focused on what was most important: the pizza.

First of all, the place is a bit off-putting. When you first walk in, you enter a hallway in which you are staring directly into the kitchen. To your left is a small, crowded dining room/bar area (with no clear area to wait to be seated, and no clear direction to seat yourself); to your right, another small dining area, also with no clear seating direction. I kind of stood there looking lost until I finally asked some dude in the kitchen, which was the only thing in my immediate vicinity standing as I was right inside the entryway, where exactly I should pay for my carry-out order. It must have been pretty obvious that I was new there, because it felt like everyone was staring at me for my supreme ignorance. Then again, maybe I was just feeling a little self-conscious in a place that had 2-litres of pop and gallons of booze just kind of piled up by the windows, like a party store in the middle of an inventory check.

The décor had the look of an extremely run-down once-popular restaurant that had suffered greatly from the passage of time. The place has been open since 1969, and it looks like it hasn't had a paint job or new carpet since then. All the upholstery was brown, brown, brown...unfortunately, this went beyond shabby chic to just plain shabby.

But again--they did not win an award for their interior design, but for their pizza, and it was the pizza I was there to try. I decided to play it safe with a standard pizza classic--medium round with cheese and pepperoni. I find that this classic preparation is the best way to determine the quality of the pizza itself--clean and simple, letting the pizza speak for itself.

I liked it. I wasn't bowled-over impressed by it, but I liked it. I certainly didn't think to myself, "WOW! This is some of the best pizza in the whole entire WORLD!", but I liked it. Super-thin crust, very flavorful and spicy (and greasy) pepperoni, a good balance of mozzarella cheese, well-made sauce that complimented the other flavors instead of overpowering them...overall, mighty tasty. The crust was the best part--many places fail to meet the appropriate ratio of greasiness to doughiness to crustiness. A good crust should have some flavor; it should be crunchy on the outside but soft and doughy on the inside; it should serve to soak up the grease of the pizza without itself being greasy. Too greasy, and you get Pizza Hut-style soaking through the cardboard box. Too dry and it's Little Caesar's-style cardboard. Gracie See's got it just right, Papa Bear, but the rest was just...just good. Not great. Just good.

Personally, some of my favorite pizzas have ranged from super-thick doughy crust (a place called Vinnie's up at 17 Mile Rd. and Hayes, now a Rosie O'Grady's, had what was probably my favorite pizza ever--my grandparents used to take me there all the time when I was just a young pup, and I always got their deep dish pizza which was about four inches of fluffy doughy goodness--I still have yet to find a proper replacement for this place) to super-thin grease bomb (Tomatoes Apizza in Farmington Hills spanks all other thin-crust competitors, hands-down--and I've been to New York, and I've been to Italy, and I've had thin-crust pizza in both places--and Tomatoes still spanks them). I also enjoy a good cheesy, crunchy square deep dish (mmmmm...Jet's). AND I apparently tend to think that Detroit-area nationally acclaimed pizza joints are just simply overrated. First it was Buddy's (it is truly beyond me why so many people find this place so great). Then Pizza Papalis (HATE Chicago-style). Now Gracie See's. (Though apparently Tomatoes Apizza has won some national acclaim, so I guess my tastes are right on national target there.)

And personally, if we're giving out awards to Detroit pizzerias, Amici's Gourmet Pizza should win. And, if I'm not mistaken, there is a location in Detroit (I know I've recently had some late-night delivery from there, and I'm pretty sure I've even driven by it in the past couple of months, but damned if I can find the info for it online now...and my drunken recollections are a little hard to trust).

So, Gracie See's. I wouldn't call it the best in Detroit, and certainly not among the best in the country, much less the world. But still...the fact that it did receive the recognition--being this tiny little run-down joint in Warrendale, of all places--is impressive, and merits at least one trip out there to experience it for yourself. Besides, it is tasty--and I'm willing to bet that dining in at this place is an experience all its own.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Adventures on a Friday: A Tale in Two Parts

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Part One: Asian Village, Mezzanine, and Lunch at Vicente's

It's been a busy week for D-Tales, so I'm playing Blogger catch-up now. But still I would like to share with my readers my adventures from last Friday, as they were...adventuresome.

The day started out with me taking an injured friend to work so he could tie up some loose ends. While we were in the area, I decided I wanted to get some coffee at the Kawaiian Cafe inside Asian Village. I had read about it repeatedly on the website (as recently as earlier that same week) and wanted to check it out, figuring this would be my perfect opportunity.

Except for that it's apparently been closed for, like, almost a year. Okay, not quite that long, but a pretty long time. The website had never been updated to reflect this closure (ditto with the closing and reopening of Asian Marketplace, the lunch spot). So THEN what should happen I KID YOU NOT just a few days later???? The website gets shut down for a day, and then totally revamped and now NOT advertising businesses that no longer exist.


I was just bummed I couldn't get my coffee.

BTW, I've heard rumors for some time that Asian Village is hurting for business (hence the closures), but most recently I've started hearing about some improvements in patronage. I don't know if Detroiters have simply FINALLY caught on to the coolness that is (every OTHER trendy Asian place in the outlying suburban areas are considered THE places to hang out--Chen Chow in Birmingham, Sakana in Ferndale, Mon Jin Lau in Troy, Crave in Dearborn...Detroiters seemed to have missed the boat on the 18,000 sq. ft. trendy Asian MegaPlex right here on the Riverfront, but they're putting on the life preservers and trying to swim to catch it now). I always attributed it to a problem with advertising--as in, complete lack thereof. Other people cited reasons as simple as parking dilemnas (there is valet service there, but it's expensive--$5.00 before 9:00PM, $10.00 after). But now that Fusia is getting some good buzz and the new lounge Sutra is open (Saturdays only; $10.00 for girls, $20.00 for guys; tables with Ketel One bottle service and admission for 5 people $225.00) and being promoted by my fave Jay Noonchester, things are apparently looking up for AV.

Just the other day, a friend of mine told me that Saturday nights at Asian Village was the new hot spot for black people. She said it seemed like every friend that called her up was either already at or on their way to AV. She also said, "You know us black people--we find a new place we like and suddenly it's the hype place to be." So apparently catering to a more diverse crowd...or, really any crowd at all, aside from the GM Ren Cen workers and business travelers staying at the Marriott...was a wise business maneuver for AV. Now BRING BACK THE COFFEE!!!!!

I am glad that it seems AV is no longer two weekends away from shutting down.

But I'm still pissed I ended up with a crappy Mocha Frappuccino bottled thing from CVS.

So, from the ill-fated attempt at getting coffee in AV to lunch at Vicente's Cuban Cuisine. But first, my friends and I decided to drop in and say hi to our friend Joe Posch, owner of Mezzanine, a high-end modernist furniture and home accessory store located at Grand River and Broadway. Tres chic.

The store is actually located on the second floor, and you have to call for the elevator operator (an older woman named Jean, I believe, who has apparently been doing this for some several-odd decades). This is one of those super-old-fashioned elevators (with an operator! who operates!), iron grate and all. Plus, in true old-fashioned form, Jean smokes as she operates. For one brief second it was like living in the '50s...if in the '50s a twenty-something woman who was single with no children could wear pants with a T-shirt in public and be accompanied by her two best openly gay male friends, that is. Other than that, just like it.

Mezzanine was a visual treat--it's a very trendy place in a very trendy space (Joe was fortunate to be able to have his store occupy the corner of the building, so it features ceiling-high windows over two full walls; very trendy and loft-like, which is actually great for the store because browsers are able to envision what the products might actually look like in their own modern Detroit loft home). The merchandise is all exactly the kinds of things I gravitate towards in the CB2 and Chiasso catalogues, only at Mezzanine the merchandise is a little less mass-produced and thus a little more expensive. The store has a very nice set-up, with small home accessory items on display with the larger items and the furniture, so everything has a very "livable" look to it--actually, it felt more like a showroom than a store. In fact, it reminded me a lot of several fully-decorated model lofts I had seen on previous loft tours, as if someone could buy the whole entire space outright and move right in without having to change very much about the set-up to make it a true home. There are a number of different artistic and eclectic modernist pieces on display for your purchasing perusal, but no giant warehouse with bin numbers a la IKEA or walls of miscellaneous knick-knacks 5-deep. This is a great place to go for your contemporary home décor needs, and I'm fairly positive that it is the only store of its kind in Detroit. (Bureau of Urban Living is more accessory and less furniture, though those who would shop at one would certainly shop at the other.)

After oohing and ahhing at pretty things we can't possibly afford, we bid Joe adieu and headed over to Vicente's for some late lunch.

I love Vicente's; I just think it is a wonderful place with a very unique vibe and some very tasty food. Friday and Saturday night salsa dances are a must-see at least once for all metro-Detroiters. Plus, love all the flavored mojitos.

Lunch at Vicente's is a different vibe. The Cuban music isn't blaring, the dancefloor isn't packed, and there is a minimal crowd dining. It's a nice, relatively quiet place to go for lunch (at least at 3:00 in the afternoon it is--I can't speak for the common lunch rush).

I've dined there numerous times before, and I typically opt for the diverse Tapas menu over a single full entree--you get to sample a larger selection of items for a little more bang for your buck. I heartily recommend the Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp marinated in garlic, olive oil, and white wine with lemon juice, crushed red peppers and parsley--so simple, yet so good, and be sure to sop up the remnants with some crusty bread) and the Calamares Fritos (calamari in a lemon butter sauce--when done right, the edges of the calamari have just the slightest crispness, which is a fantastic contrast to the creamy garlic butter).

To try something a little different, I ordered the Surtido de Espana--a basic meat and cheese plate (I know! as many times as I've been there and I've NEVER ordered it!). Manchego cheese, serrano ham, cantimpalo chorizo and marinated olives were served to me on one very greasy plate. Now, individually these are all very greasy items (especially the cheese and chorizo sausage)--when put on the same plate and served at room temperature after being chilled (read: sweat), it was pretty much just a pool of mixed grease on a plate. Still tasty, though, but at $10.95, not a very good value. Oh, but the olives--yeck. The marinade was apparently some kind of mayo base--yeck, yeck, yeck.

What I get most excited about when I go there are the Plantanos Maduros (fried sweet plantains)--the sweet plantains (pungent mini-bananas) get a little caramelized as they are fried, so the edges get crisp, the sugar caramelizes and enhances the naturally sweet flavor, and they are just simply YUM-MY. Much like the majority of Vicente's menu, the motto at work here is "the simpler the better," and it works oh so well.

For dessert, we opted for some Tres Leches (three milk) cake--white cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and then soaked in good old-fashioned liquid milk. The cake is actually not made in-house but is brought in from a bakery in Mexicantown (not...remembering...the name...), so you have to try to get it when it's fresh. It is most certainly a different experience--the cake is beyond moist, given that it is still dripping with milk, but it is very light and flavorful and...cold.

We left there full and bloated and ready for a nap time. My ambition earlier in the day was to take a walk to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I quickly gave up on this when the temperature dropped 20 degrees, the wind started gusting 30+ mph, and the Weather Channel was reporting a storm blowing I decided to get rested up for the big night I had ahead of me and took a lengthy nap


Check back soon for Part Two: The Dossin Great Lakes Museum and Cuisine! But first, gotta go pay the bills and make some dolla dolla bills y'all...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Zaccaro's Market Now Open!

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Zaccaro's Market, Detroiters' new destination for all their high-end grocery needs, just opened for business last Thursday, and I finally got the chance to swing over there earlier this week.

This place has loads and loads of potential, and I have no doubt that it will one day be every inch as cool as all the early buzz made it sound. But...and there's always a but...right now they still seem to be working through some opening-week kinks.

It would seem that the produce and imported meats and cheeses sections aren't quite, er, fully stocked yet. A gander at the meat and cheese counter, with blocks just kind of thrown about haphazardly and seemingly nothing pre-cut, makes me think (a) this doesn't look like 100 different varieties of somewhat-hard-to-come-by imports, and (b) this doesn't look quite done. The produce section was teeny-tiny--which is fine, considering that this isn't quite a produce market, but simply a high end grocer that carries a little of everything and a lot of nothing--but it was so teeny-tiny that I'm inclined to think that it is still being stocked, too. (Unless they just plan on selling oranges and lettuce and strawberries, but I find that unlikely.)

The wine bar, coffee bar, and demonstration kitchen all look great, but during the time I was there (3:30PM) it didn't really seem like very much was going on at any of them (I'm not even entirely sure they're all functional yet, though there is a drink menu at the "Expresso Bar"--a choice of spelling I truly hope was self-consciously kitschy).

I think where Zaccaro's most won me over was in the chocolates and pastries. I'm typically more of a cheese girl than a sweets girl, so an impressive cheese counter and nothing more would have had me singing their praises endlessly...but, since that was a bit disappointing (though I did find a tasty pre-packaged garlic-infused cheddar in the fridge section), I saw the potential in the pastries instead.

There is a wide selection of imported bar chocolate in pretty much every flavor imaginable (including chocolate made with chili peppers), perfect for the hoighty-toighty chocoholic. But don't let the sizes fool you--I saw some 1-oz. bars priced as much as $5.50 (these are imported from all over the world, and expensive even in their home countries to begin with). For a person who is out seeking the United Colors of Benetton in chocolate bars, Zaccaro's is the place to go--even more so than Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and other larger gourmet grocer national chains (who have more money and thus more product which includes more imports), and it is only with the chocolate that this can be said.

Then there is the pastry and bread counter. Some pastries are made in-store, including the cookies and a tasty raspberry-cheesecake-brownie treat I indulged in. Not the bestest ever, but quite tasty. Then there are the wide assortment of hand-rolled chocolate truffles, the highly decorative mousses and tortes, and other visually impressive pastries that are shipped from the Give Thanks Bakery and Cafe in Rochester, MI. Pastry Chef Rick Michaels is particularly skilled in German pastries and ornate decorations of cakes and tortes, and it shows in the small selection on display at Zaccaro's. Plus, added props for the utilization of an independently-owned Michigan bakery (though I'm sure some will gripe about Zaccaro's tapping the Oakland County market instead of keepin' it real with a bakery in the D, but...meh). The artisan breads sold at Zaccaro's also hail from the same bakery (the Wah-Wah Crowd: "But why not use Detroit locals like Avalon Breads, or a Mexicantown Bakery, especially since they need the business now more than ever?" No one's ever happy.), and are made in the traditions of classical French and German baking with only the purest and simplest of ingredients. And they make an Asino Cheese & Garlic bread! Mm-mmmm!!!!!

Little things like labels and price points for each item on display still need to be rectified, but again--they've only been open a week.

The wine is apparently still a no-go (I know owner Cindy Warner has been battling it out with the guv-ment to try to get her license to sell wine in time for the opening, but it doesn't quite seem like it happened. Unless I completely missed a section of the store.), though I will be very interested to see (a) what wines they decide to stock, from what regions and what vintages, and (b) what these wines will be priced.

One arena in which a place like Whole Foods simply cannot be beat is their impressive wine selection at very reasonable prices, something a small, independently owned place like Zaccaro's probably won't be able to pull off. But hey, Zaccaro's took a chance on the city and Whole Foods didn't, so :P.

Other points of interest: Zaccaro's is definitely catering to the Go Granola! crowd...lots of organics, lots of soy. There is a nice, if small, selection of imported coffees and teas. There is a variety of boutique-y food-prep accents--sauces and marinades and jellies and condiments you wouldn't be able to find just anywhere. A packaged of dried Chanterelles had me drooling until I remembered that I don't cook. And there is also a pre-packaged meals area when you first enter where you can buy pre-made sandwiches, salads (lettuce, pasta), etc. There is also a made-to-order panini counter, which I just think is all cool and Euro. I'm really glad Americans have caught on to the greatness that is the panini. Now if I could just find a decent chocolate brioche...

One thing that might deter some folks from shopping regularly at Zaccaro's is the price pointing. It's,'s not very cheap. Did I mention the $5.50 chocolate bar? Or how about the $4.50 organic milk? (It's $3.50 at Meijer.) Or the $3.50 package of table water crackers? ($1.99 at Meijer.) And someone else told me there was a pasta salad priced at $7.00/lb., yikes. But...BUT...we must bear in mind that this place is independently owned, there is no other place like this place anyone near this place, and sometimes we must pay more for convenience.

Besides...the people living in the $250,000 lofts just north of the place can probably afford to shell out the extra few bucks.

In first impression of Zaccaros' Market was one of promise. Not bowled-over impressed, but definitely interested. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing the wine selection, and perhaps even being able to chat with the sommelier. And the events Warner plans on having in-store--cooking demonstrations, *I believe* wine tastings, etc.--will really add to the appeal. It's set up quite nicely and can accommodate a medium-sized crowd for such gatherings, as well having all the makings of a great morning coffee spot and afternoon lunch spot. The décor is very loft-modern (minimalist, with drab concrete floors but highly-polished granite countertops and chrome accents). Overall--pricey though it may be, it's a great addition to our city.

Hel-lo, Zaccaro's!

SIDEBAR: Locals are very likely to run into people they know. I ran into Jerry, owner of the Park Bar, while I was there. Other people I know ran into other Park Bar regulars. It's a small city. You really can't throw a stone or buy bread without running into someone you've spent an evening drinking with.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Detroit Synergy Supper Club at Fusia

Originally published in D-Tales here.

It's no secret--I like fine dining. And fine dining for less? GAME ON.

Detroit Synergy's popular Supper Club event has been touring all the fine dining establishments Detroit has to offer for a few years now, and has been giving diners deals on meals that would otherwise be pretty pricey (not to mention offering some much-needed and much-appreciated exposure to some of these struggling businesses). The menu is always specially-selected and prix fixe to include tax and gratuity, and it is always a bargain for anyone who participates (typically, to order all of the items a la carte at full price would cost anywhere from 50-150% more). Plus, it gives people the opportunity to discover new places and patron the city. Really, it's a win-win-win...-win.

"On Wednesday, April 30 from 6:00PM-8:00PM, Detroit Synergy will be hosting its April Supper Club event at Fusia, inside Asian Village. For only $30.00 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity), Supper Clubbers will be able to experience a special four-course menu featuring some of Fusia’s most popular items. There will also be an additional wine package featuring two glasses of wine picked to pair with your meal available for only $10.00 more. Tickets are available by advance purchase only through the DSG store.

'The management of Fusia has selected a very fine four-course menu which gives diners a taste of what fine Asian dining at Fusia is all about:

'First Course:
Baby Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Chili Garlic Sauce
'Second Course:
Mixed Asian Greens with Tofu Croutons and Passionfruit Vinaigrette
'Third Course:
Togarashi-Encrusted Filet of Beef with Udon Noodles and Chinese Long Beans
'Fourth Course:
Asian Key Lime “Pie”

'Fusia inside Asian Village is fairly new to Detroit, but it is already redefining trendy Detroit dining. From the glass-enclosed entryway to the stylish Asian-influenced design and the tastefully done blue and green neon accent lighting, Fusia encompasses everything that makes high-end Asian dining and sushi bars the hotspots of choice for trend-conscious nightlife seekers. Having just played host to Detroit Fashion Week, as well as catering to high-end clientele with private parties (during the NAIAS Charity Preview, for example), Fusia inside Asian Village is quickly becoming known as the place to see and be seen for Detroiters looking for the latest trendy hangout.Top off their sleek Vegas-dinner-club-style ambiance with their impressive high-end Asian-fusion menu (the menu is unquestionably Asian-themed, but does borrow some heavy influences from cuisines all over the world—hence the name), and you’ve got a restaurant and party palace to rival all of the very best metro Detroit has to offer.

'Fusia inside Asian Village is located at 521 Atwater Street, next to the GM Renaissance Center and overlooking the Detroit River."

It's just too bad that they aren't offering their Duck Three Times entree at this discounted price: "Crispy Pekin duck breast, pomegranate molasses. Sesame duck confit, preserved green mango, salad of fresh herbs, Chinese chive-orange crepe. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras, black pepper and peach compote. $35.00." ZOMFGZ.

I must admit I have not dined at Fusia yet, so this is a great way to experience (somewhat inexpensively) what this place is like. But that duck...OMFG that duck...*droolikins*

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brunching at La Dolce Vita and More Adventures on a Sunny Sunday

Originally published on D-Tales here.

Sunday was a BE-yoo-tee-ful day in the D--the temp actually broke 60 and it was well worth spending some time outdoors (especially since, in the tradition of cruel Michigan weather, the temps are supposed to drop back down into the 30s for the weekend and we might get more--wait for it--SNOW!).

I started my day in my favorite way--with brunch. My friends and I headed over to La Dolce Vita, which I must sheepishly admit was for my first time. I fell in love with the place immediately. From the high ceilings with exposed white brick and white plaster archways that comprise the main dining room, to the darker bar area the next section over which is like stepping into an old Italian's wine cellar (the wine is kept in an antique-looking large oak display cabinet against the wall, like something you would see in someone's home), the entire restaurant has a vibe like an unglamorous but charming Tuscan lunch spot.

There is a prominent Renaissance-style mural on the focus wall of the main restaurant area, and photographs of old Italian movie stars and Renaissance-style sketches dot the remaining walls. Two huge cement planters with Romanesque carvings greet you as you enter, and the place is lit (when not drenched in sunlight pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the main dining area) with a number of twinkling chandeliers. The granite floors of the main entrance and dining room (as well as the banquet room) also help sustain the Tuscan vibe, but in the dimly-lit bar area the décor is less old-world Tuscanny and more old-world Detroit--a solid oak bar, half-moon booths in desperate need of reupholstering, and that awful floral-printed carpet in all deep jewel colors that are further darkened with years of the treading of dirty shoes that you see in any old restaurant, hotel lobby, or casino around the world.

But--there is a piano set up in the corner, and the music we were treated to was of the slightly-Cuban (mostly because of the bongos) jazz cafe variety, and the culture-assault of eating an American-style brunch in an old-world Italian restaurant with Havana-style jazz playing was more entertaining than it was off-putting. The slight dankness of the bar area does not detract from the charms of the rest of the place, and certainly not in the late spring and summertime when the beautiful outdoor patio (again--very Tuscan, with the stamped concrete and wrought iron cafe tables) is in full bloom, and patrons are surrounded by walls of trellised ivy. After a few moments here, you forget entirely that you are in the armpit of Detroit (and being at Woodward and McNichols, right next to the well-known after-hours spot and drug haven Numbers and kiddie-corner from the Deja Vu, it is the armpit--but at least not the asshole).

Actually, you don't even need to step inside to forget your surroundings--the entrance is in the back (and the place is kind of hard to find--no sign announces it from the street, except for a small neon "LDV" above the patio), as is the all-valet parking lot--and when you're surrounded by sparkling-clean Beamers, Hummers, Mercedes(es), and a Bentley, you might feel like you just crash-landed in Birmingham or West Bloomfield.

But this isn't just a hoighty-toighty rich-person secret spot--the crowd was a wonderful mix of people, from yuppies to buppies to hipsters to young couples...and a slightly disproportionate presence of gays (this fact was simply explained to me by my dining partners as "Gays like places like this"). It was nice to see people of all different races and backgrounds, families and singles, the rich and the not-so-much, all enjoying themselves together in this very cozy place. We foolishly stumbled in wearing jeans and T-shirts, and were extremely conscious of this once we saw the cars in the parking lot, but the majority of the patrons were similarly dressed and this isn't the kind of place that judges what you're wearing (at least not for Sunday brunch, anyway).

But I have yet to mention the food...for years I've been hearing about the unsurpassed greatness that is the stuffed French Toast, so I naturally gravitated towards that. OMFG. When three slices of their homemade bread that were each about 3 1/2 inches thick and oozing with mildly sweet and rich mascarpone cheese (the same cheese used in tiramisu--not very cheesy at all, more like custard on crack), coated in slightly-carmelized slices of sautéed bananas were placed in front of me, I just about had a bruchgasm. It was rich, and decadent, and flavorful, and perfect--possibly even better without the maple syrup, as the bananas provide all necessary sweetness. This dish is definitely worth its weight in buzz, and is probably one of the best brunching experiences I've ever had (there was that time in the Russian Tea Room in New York...that was better...not that I mean to brag...okay, yeah I do). Add to that some very tasty bacon, with a perfect salt-to-grease ratio, and bottomless mimosas (at $12.00, a steal), and I call this a damn-near-perfect brunch. Oh, and the bottomless mimosas (as well as the bottomless Bloody Marys) are refilled with pitchers, so you never have to wait for the server to bring you another glass--your mimosa as well as your water is never allowed to go empty, and that's attention to detail I do appreciate.

Service is attentive and prompt, even if you get an old Italian waiter you have a hard time understanding over the din of the noisy restaurant. Even as you wait for a table, the hostess is very gracious and gives you regular updates or your status, making sure you are still comfortable.

The prices are--well, they aren't low. $12.00 bottomless mimosas aside (which is pretty much the going rate in this city anyway, and still a steal), the majority of brunch meals are $9.95 and up, plus meat and potato sides are additional. This isn't the place to go for brunch on a budget (that's what Coneys are for), but moreso when brunch is worth a little splurge.

A quick glance at the dinner menu shows a whole lot of old-world-Italian-as-conceptualized-by-Americans fare--nothing too standout in the way of culinary creativity (I would guess they probably don't even staff a head chef, executive chef, sous chef, chef de cuisine, or whatever else you might want to call the typical mastermind behind creative menus with unique flavor and texture pairings and an artful presentation), but my guess is that it's all probably pretty damn good.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part--some serious eye candy happened to come in whilst I was stuffing my face with stuffed French Toast. Tall, long unkempt wavy black hair, a day's worth of black stubble, soft brown eyes--think Adrian Grenier from Entourage only a little skinnier and perhaps even hotter. I spent the rest of our brunch gawking and trying not to giggle like a schoolgirl, despite the eye-rolling of my friends. The love bug struck me hard (or perhaps just some pent-up lust), but alas--I was feeling a little too "hair in a ponytail wearing a T-shirt and jeans with no makeup" and not quite enough "Let's approach a random guy while he brunches with two hipster-looking friends and give him my phone number for the singular and sole reason that I find him undeniably attractive and not so much because I care to find out more about his hopes and dreams" to pull off a ballsy move like that, so I just spent the rest of the day fantasizing about the hot guy I will never see again. *Sigh*

If anyone knows who I'm talking about, send him to this blog.

After our brunch, I demanded we do a drive-by my old alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy (we were right in the area). As we circled the campus, I pointed out all my old haunts--much to the eye-rolling of my friends. The KDR house, where much drunken debauchery occurred senior year. The gas stations we always bought our smokes. The Subway that we used to always walk to in the early hours of the morning because it was open super-late and we were drunk and hungry...until it burned to the ground (it has since be rebuilt). Briggs porch, where many hours were spent smoking. (It used to be referred to as my "office;" friends, other students, and professors alike would often walk by and say things like, "Are you STILL out here?" This is why I want my memorial marble ashtray there when I die, surely of something smoking-related.) Pied Piper Market, where much booze was bought. Detroit's Finest Coney Island (DFCI), formerly Detroit City Coney Time (DCCT), formerly Metro Grille (N/A), where lunch and sometimes dinner was had on a daily basis (yep--we knew all the cooks and waitstaff). I always referred to it by acronym, and at one point came up with an acronym that encompassed all three names...damned if I can remember it now though. (Detroit City's Finest Coney Island Metro Grille Time????) Oh, the memories.

After my little drive by memory lane, I dropped off my friends and headed home to the LT. Since it was so pleasant out, I decided to walk over to Greektown to check out the parade. The horn-heavy music blaring from the speakers could be heard across the freeway, and was deafening on Monroe St. The parade wasn't so much a "parade," in the sense of floats and costumes, but more a celebration of heritage and culture--mostly it was just people walking and waving the Greek flag, claiming their individual heritage (Macedonia, Athens, etc.) and representing their schools, churches, and Greek-based organizations. It was...loud, and probably more enjoyable if you yourself were Greek.

And so I took my Western European/North American white ass elsewhere, deciding that it was a good day to wander around the city.Do you remember that scene in Vanilla Sky in which Tom "I'm Not Gay I Just Like Having Sex With Men" Cruise is standing in the middle of Times Square and it is completely empty--no people, no cars, no movement, nothing? That's kind of like what Detroit feels like on a Sunday.

Most places are closed--bars, restaurants, lunch spots, retail stores, leasing offices, and pretty much anything else that would draw in warm bodies. Walking the streets of downtown proper, anywhere but along Woodward, you can hear the echoes of your own footsteps and are unlikely to have to worry about looking for cars before crossing the street. It's actually kind of eerie, but cool at the same time. The only foot traffic I passed once edging away from Greektown was a small group wearing Red Wings jerseys and a couple of guys wearing Tigers tees. Aside from that--it was like having a whole city to myself.

After a long afternoon of brunching and meandering, it was high time for nap time. On a closing note, do check out LDV whenever you get a chance--and if you see my hot Adrian Grenier-looking guy, tell him D-Tales is waiting.

(Oh, and for good measure, because I wouldn't fee right otherwise--went to Enoteca Saturday night, saw Stacey and John, love them, also some some familiar faces including a couple of local business owners and some forum peeps, good times, I <3 Enoteca.)