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.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Traverse City Travelogue, Day Two V. 1

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

...Michigan has a very rich agricultural foundation, and the more I delved into the culture of Traverse City the more I discovered about the agricultural heritage of this state and the people striving to keep that hertiage alive. As much as an epicurean elitist as I am, the idea of all-locally-grown and -produced food items--from produce to dairy to coffees and teas, meats, beers and wines--appeals immensely to me, as does the purist mentality exhibited by these local farmers/food lovers.

In Traverse City, business owners take a great deal of pride in announcing that they use fresh dairy products procured from small-production local farms and fresh produce from local growers. Owner Paul Danielson and executive chef Myles Anton of Trattoria Stella create their menus daily based on the fresh ingredients they purchase each morning from local farmers. Other restaurants, such as Aerie inside the posh Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, print right on their menus and on their websites that they use local farm foods whenever possible to highlight the flavors and culinary culture of the region.

As if I needed any more reason to be a food it isn't good enough unless it's homegrown. Pshaw.

The passion for sustainable cuisine and for creating richly-flavored fresh food items from local farms and businesses is evident everywhere in Traverse City. As I toured the downtown area and wandered in and out of various shops, I found that almost every place sells some form of self-made foodstuffs from fresh locally-produced ingredients--the coffee shop sold fresh gelato which they make in-house daily using cream from local dairy farms. The candy shop hand-dips all their own chocolate making truffles out of fresh farm berries and heavy cream bottled locally. They also sell whole-bean coffees from a Michigan roasting company that makes the most amazing-smelling and rich-tasting flavors (kick me for not buying any). The all-cherry-themed specialty store also makes and sells their own fudge on-site, using all fresh, natural, organic local ingredients.

If this is a sickness I don't want the cure.

What really stood out to me, everywhere I went and in everything I read, is the pride. Northwestern Michiganders are proud of what they create--they are proud of their fresh, wholesome, all-natural organic foods; they are proud of their various dining establishments that run the full gamut of star-rankings from simple diner to ultra-upscale, all utilizing homegrown goods; they are proud of their region and their industry. They are, all of them, full of passion for what they do--and what they do is food.

Imagine a Detroit in which all of its inhabitants exhibited that same kind of pride...looks a little different, doesn't it? Thankfully there are still those who fight the good fight, despite the hardships they might have to face because of it. Take it from David Miller, owner of Miller's Cream Cup Dairy, or George Shetler of Shetler's Family Dairy, both of whom have small-production dairy farms considered by local restauranteurs and patissieres to be producing the best cream in the state. Both of whom struggle constantly to make ends meet and have yet to turn a profit from their self-bottling businesses. Both of whom insist on the highest levels of quality in production, which includes painstaking pasteurization processes which take significantly more time than the fast, cheap methods used by the large mass-production farms. Neither one of them does it for the money; they do it for the love. Passione. Theirs is milk with meaning.

By the end of my trip I had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head (well...cherries really), wanting to spread the gospel of good food to all who will listen.

I guess this is a start.

I began at the Serenity Tea Bar and Cafe, a small, inviting space which serves a selection of specialty cafe menu items in addition to their organic fair-trade and locally blended teas. The tea menu is extensive (and a bit daunting, as I am no tea afficianado) and they even offer all full tea service (like, with all the silver pieces on the big tray and special tools for measuring the release of the tea and do other things I don't quite understand--I was a bit taken aback when I walked in and saw a girl sitting cross-legged in the bay window with a full tea service in front of her). Their menu is all tea-infused--from the green tea hummus to the tea leaves used in the pizza sauce. They also offer vegan and gluten-free items on their all-organic menu. I sampled the four-cheese pizza and Darjeeling tea (I know). The pizza was tasty enough, but I decided it probably wasn't the best way to go. I'm not crazy about gluten-free dough (makes the crust too cracker-like); perhaps next time a specialty tea-infused soup or salad with tea-infused dressing. The servers were absolutely wonderful, though--incredibly welcoming and easy to talk to. The atmosphere was great--especially as I curled up in a big cushy vintage armchair (they've got couches, too) and listened to Bjork, Portishead, Moby and Morcheeba as I sipped my tea and read Edible Grand Traverse.

From there, I browsed some of the shops and galleries and ended up at Espresso Bay, a gourmet coffee bar where I had the most ZOMFGZ Cherry Truffle Mocha (so good I went back again the next day and got another one). They also make their own gelato.

Mmmmmmmm...cherry truffle mocha...ughghghghhghgh*drool*...

At this point I decided to head back to the hotel, get together my driving directions for the day's journey, and hit the road to experience some more of these much-touted local wines (and after reading Edible Grand Traverse I was extra-special pumped to do so).

Bloated in Mexican Town

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

Friday night I went to check out Blue Oyster Cult on the Riverfront...more on that in a separate post, though. Afterwards, One of My Gays and I decided to catch a bite in Mexican Town. I put a call out to some friends of mine, some real-life genuine Mexicanos, and asked which places are best to eat. We ended up at Los Galanes, after I was instructed by one of said Latino friends (and Another One of My Gays) to eat upstairs in the "fresh fish" area and, I was adamantly warned, not the buffet (come to find out, the buffet now shuts down at 3:00 due to "rising food costs"). The outdoor patio was packed but indoors was empty. On my friend's recommendation I tried the Quesadillas de Camarones (jumbo shrimp quesadillas). They were good, as was the guacamole (though it could have used more garlic). Afterwards, we were bloated from food and sleepy from margaritas, and spent the rest of the evening vegging out on the couch.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cheap Eats at Cuisine!

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Detroit Synergy is hosting another Supper Club event this month, this time at one of my favorite Detroit restaurants, Cuisine. Cuisine is pretty much the only restaurant in the city where one can experience authentic French preparations and methods (the Whitney waivers, others try; perhaps this new place opening on Larned can give them a run for their money), and their dishes are nothing short of works of culinary art. Other restaurants pale in comparison for the pure-blooded epicurean...and now you have the opportunity to experience all of this for CHEAP.

On Wednesday, August 27th beginning at 6:00PM, enjoy a prix fixe menu of Chef Paul's special selections made specifically for Detroit Synergy Group for only $30.00, including tax and gratuity. There is also an optional 2-glass wine package available for an additional $10.00.

$30.00. It's a steal. Chef Paul is allowing you to rob him blind. You are being permitted to commit a crime.

Here's the menu, highlighting some of their summer specialties:

*First Course (choice of): Spinach and mixed green salad with a red wine vinaigrette
Eggplant involtini (stuffed) with ricotta and scallions in tomato sauce;

*Entrée (choice of): Tomato baked whitefish with asparagus and a peach and apple cole slaw
Chicken roulade stuffed with herbs and parmesan over parmesan risotto and green beans
a Mélange of vegetables (8 different preparations);

*Dessert: Lemon-lime sorbet.

Because space is limited and because Chef Paul has to be able to prep entrees for some 40+ people, reservations MUST be made in advance at You may purchase tickets online at the DSG store or pay cash at the event--but your name had better be on the list lest you be denied at the door.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Traverse City Travelogue, Day One

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

...Once I was settled in (and posted a blog), it was time for lunch. I had done my research prior to the trip, and I had already selected a number of restaurants I wanted to try. I started with Trattoria Stella, located on the edge of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

I took a seat at the bar and started with a wine flight, the Old Mission Peninsula Trifecta (I figured, when in Rome, drink Italian wine...when in Traverse City, sample the local wares). My flight was all Rieslings from producers Bowers Harbor, Left Foot Charley, and Chateau Grand Traverse. The real standout here was the Bowers Harbor; of the three, this Riesling had the most depth, as opposed to the quick acidic burst of fruit that disappeared from the tongue seconds later as the others were. Impressed with this offering from Bowers Harbor, I decided to also try their Pinot Noir.

Bar manager Jon Ingham commended this selection...then proceeded to talk the many ins and outs of whiskey production with another customer at the bar. Turns out, he's somewhat of an expert on Scotch whiskey (and also just recently passed the introductory certificate course of the Court of Master Sommeliers), but still...I had barely been in Traverse City for an hour and already I was feeling like the social leper traveling solo (I often felt like Ingham was scared to approach me...perhaps he's just not the warm and cuddly type, but it did seem strange that he was Chatty Cathy with Whiskeyman but when I tried to broach a conversation on the Pinot the answers were short and clipped before he quickly skittered off).

Anyway, the Bowers Harbor Pinot. White pepper on the nose, green pepper on the tongue. Classic funky French. The grapes are actually Dijon clones from France and grown on the Old Mission Peninsula. The climate of northwestern Michigan is good to these grapes and they thrive, producing a very New-World-French-style Pinot right here in the Mitten (this would not be my last experience of this strangely French wine grown on Old Mission, either...stay tuned for Day Two).

This wine paired well with my cheese flight. I sampled a Canestrato Pugliese, Bra Duro, and Sottocenere di Tartufo (if I'm skipping Italian wines, by God I will have Italian cheeses). All were simply incredible--the sharp, nutty Bra Duro; the mild sheep's milk cheese Canestrato Pugliese (rare to find anywhere outside of southern Italy); and my favorite--Sottocenere di Tartuffo (cheese with truffles). The trace of black truffle was strong on this otherwise mild cow's milk cheese. Truffles + cheese = the only thing missing is Christian Bale.

After all that, I was still hungry from my long day of driving. The southern couple next to me ordered a pizza (y'all), and the aroma so consumed me that I needed to consume it. Ingham gave me another one of his indecipherable (and I'll go ahead and say trademark) strange looks as he served it to me (before skittering off). I ordered the White Pizza--parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses, roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and parsley. OMFG yum. This wood-fired pizza had a thin, crispy crust, reminiscent of pizza in Tuscanny. The cheese blend was a perfect balance of mild and tangy flavors, and the whole cloves of roasted garlic brought the whole thing home. I was spared another one of Ighman's weird looks at the empty wooden plank by the efficient busboy. So, I have a high metabolism and I binge eat, so what?

I was disappointed that the Panna Cotta I found on the website (red wine sauce with pomegranate) was no longer featured on the dessert menu...the substitute wasn't nearly as enticing. Ingham, in a rare moment of attempting to warm up to me, handed me a dinner menu just to peruse, where I found spaghetti with roasted boar shoulder. I commented to him "If only I could keep eating," which garnered a smile. Too bad it was right before I left.

...I had a head full of wine and was sleepy from driving, so I decided to nap...

After my rejuvenating nap in my too-big hotel room with the clean-smelling sheets, it was feeding time again. In my prior research I had found a place called Red Ginger, a trendy sushi bar featuring "luxe Asian cuisine" in downtown Traverse City (think the Social House of northern Michigan). It looked pretty...and trendy. What's that, you say? Chef and owner Dan Marsh studied at The Culinary Institute of America in New York and has worked in New York City and San Francisco? I'm there.

This newly-opened Asian bistro is the first of its kind in Traverse City, and the demand is clearly high as the place was packed. The menu features a variety of pan-Asian cuisine, which is Marsh's passion, but non-Asianphiles can also get a great steak (and hell, even rack of lamb). The menu is not an assault to the American palate--consumer-friendly Asian-fusion items such as crab rangoon, potstickers, lettuce wraps, spring rolls, Kung Pao Chicken, and Thai Curry abound...nothing too funky or too distinctly "Asian" (even the sushi menu is chock-full of rolls with cream cheese and mayonnaise...FYI, cream cheese and mayonnaise are NOT staples of Asian cooking). But the dishes are all accented with the appropriate Asian sauces and spices and the flavors all work well together. It might not be terrifically unique, but it is unique to the area and Pam and Dan Marsh definitely nailed the "trendy Asian bistro" theme that has become so widely popular throughout the States.

I sampled the Mu Shu Duck with Fried Wonton in Chinese Black Bean Sauce. The idea was to used the wonton as "crackers" and eat the duck as a finger-food...that lasted about 5 minutes (and one douse of Chinese black bean sauce all over my white pants) before the chopsticks came out and I called it a damn wrap. The duck was quite good, if a little stringy at times (which is common with such a fatty game bird), and the spicy-sweet black bean sauce was a compliment to the pungent flavor of the duck. The drink menu was what impressed me the most about this place: a wide selection of Asian-themed martinis, including flavors like Blood Orange, Ginger, and Lemongrass, as well as a half-dozen flavored mojitos including pomegranate, pear, and cucumber. If I hadn't been so full already I would have generously imbibed...alas, I merely dabbled at my stained pants, had impure thoughts about the hot waiter, and walked back to the hotel to change.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd

Originally published in D-Tales here.

Yesterday I was reading through the Discuss Detroit forums and found a thread on Iridescence inside the Motor City Casino. Some Bridge and Tunnel type made a comment about the food quality not being worth the price. I hammered out a response only to get denied at the point of posting because other people were posting at the same time. It was probably for the best anyway; I decided to save it for my blog instead.

With these Bridge and Tunnel types, it isn't that they lack culinary knowledge and walked into a fine dining establishment expecting to pay Applebee's prices and complain when their flat iron steak isn't mounded with mashed potatoes and gravy with a side salad swimming in It's that they have so much expertise in fine dining that they are disappointed by the quality in lieu of all the buzz; they are beyond a simple 5-star and cluck their tongues at the rest of us for being so easily duped.

It's not that fine dining establishments are all perpetually deserving of and entitled to the glowing reviews they typically receive...they're not. Mario's downtown? Horrible. Andiamo's? Varying levels of bad to awful depending on location. The Lark? Not as good as it is made out to be.

No, it isn't that a 5-star restaurant can't not live up to its hype. The problem with these B&Ts is that they inevitably endcap their argument with a "...for the price."

True foodies never talk about price. They speak of the experience, the art, the creativity, the boldness, the ambiance, the presentation, the service, the atmosphere, the compliments of textures and flavors, the adventuresomeness of the executive chef...but never the price.

So let this be a lesson learned: when you find yourself in the middle of a conversation with someone and they endcap their complaint about a high-end restaurant with a "...for the price," you now know you are dealing with a B&T type and you should proceed no further. They have about as much knowledge of fine dining as you do about caulking and soldering. You have two options: (a) nod politely and try to gracefully bow out of the conversation as quickly as possible, or (b) swifly redirect their line of thought by stating how great you think Obama is and how he is going to save the world and end all war and find a cure for AIDS.

So where does the "Bridge and Tunnel" come in, you ask? It's a pithy turn of phrase remnant from my days in Manhattan, taken from people who work in the fine dining industry in reference to the people who do not live in Manhattan but instead Long Island or New Jersey or elsewhere in the burroughs who take the bridge and tunnel into Manhattan every weekend to whip out their Visa Aspire cards and complain about the prices.

This is Manhattan. A cocktail is going to cost at a minimum $10.00. This is simply just how Manhattan is. If you don't like it, I suggest you go somewhere other than Manhattan.

So these Bridge and Tunnel types infest the island and overtake the high-end restaurants in their backwards baseball caps and flip-flops and jeans and ponytails, then order by pricepoint and complain about quality and service in an effort to make themselves look less cheap.

I've had one significant experience with a B&T. I was at Felidia, the flagship restaurant of Lidia Bastianich and one of the most renowned restaurants in New York (which puts it in the top 50 in the country). There I had the most culinary orgasmic experience of my life, beating out the former title holder Spiaggia in Chicago (for a black truffle risotto). It was a duck ravioli with shaved white truffles--and when I say "shaved white truffles," I mean the server stood tableside and shaved mounds of white truffles onto my dish, coating it as if I were at the Olive Garden getting my gluttony on with mounds of parmesan being shaved on top of my bottomless house salad. I'm talking more white truffles than I have ever seen in my entire life.

$150.00 worth, to be exact. That little dish was $185.00 total, and worth every penny. My orgasmic experience was interrupted, though, by the B&Ts sitting next to me.

I was there with my BF at the time. He was an arrogant prick and I both loved and hated him for it. Eventually the hate won out, but for this particular moment in my life there is no one else in the world I would have rather had with me to share it.

I'm in the midst of my foodgasm when this uncouth B&T bitch next to us starts yapping about the prices and how she didn't know how much the white truffle ravioli cost and how he (the server) should have told them (yes, that would be classy--"Tonight we have a special duck ravioli with shaved white truffles." "Oh, that sounds great, I'll have that!" "Yeeeeeeeah, it's going to be about $185.00 though, sure about that?" Um...tacky?). This dough-faced boorish troll of a woman (with her douchey denim-wearing boyfriend) pitched such a fit that she got the white truffles comped. COMPED! $150.00 worth of white truffles COMPED!

(SIDEBAR: This is why I never bend for customers--human beings exhibit all the same Pavolvian conditioning patterns as those infamous dogs, and the general consensus in this service-the-customer country is if you piss and moan loud and long enough you'll eventually get what you want. My favorite things to say are, "Look, these are your options, and that's it. And I don't even have to do that much." and "I'm just not gonna do it." They usually back down when you look them dead in the eye and say "No." But you cannot show fear...they can smell it and will seize their opportunity to pounce.)

It was embarrassing to be sitting next to her during this display of why Marx was clearly wrong, so much so that I had to put down my fork in the middle of my foodgasm and sit there playing telepathic disgust with my boyfriend. So this squawking, yelping, pudgy little harpy finally stomps her way out of the restaurant and the rest of us are allowed to continue with our meals.But...but...not only did she get $150.00 worth of white truffles comped, she continued to complain about the restaurant (because it's the restaurant's fault for her unhappy existence), then she STIFFED THE SERVER.

YOU DO NOT STIFF THE SERVER IN A FIVE-STAR RESTAURANT. Hell, you do not stiff the server period. I don't care if it's Coney-fuckin'-Island and the woman forgot to refill your coffee and fucked up your order twice. YOU DO NOT STIFF THE SERVER.

Not only is it a show of your complete lack of etiquette and class, but it also shows your total failure in common human decency.

Because of this whole intensely awkward and unpleasant episode, my boyfriend decided to overcompensate with his tip, which was already going to be about 30% to begin with because the service was top-notch, by adding another $50.00 to it. Hell, I think I even contributed an extra $20.00 to the cause, and I hate paying for anything ever.

(Yes, I can walk by Beggars' Row and avoid eye contact and insist I don't carry cash--which is actually true--but the second a server at a 5-star restaurant who probably makes 6 figures a year--because in Manhattan they do--gets stiffed, I'm getting all causeworthy about it. And I am totally okay with this, because I believe in Darwin and the GOP.)

After the troll left, we engaged the server in conversation about the little episode and he simply shrugged politely and said that these are the kinds of people he has to deal with on weekends. He then hooked us up fat with glasses of wine, port, and a dessert platter all on the house. Catch more flies with honey, no?

This is what I mean when I say "Bridge and Tunnel." These are the kinds of people who should never leave the comforts of the Olive Garden, with its $11.95 entrees and bottomless salads & breadsticks and carry-out boxes. These are also the kinds of people who would be fatally insulted if you were to treat them the way their behavior demands them to be treated, and then would proceed to squawk endlessly about that.

Yes, you're right--I'm the asshole here.

And so, going back to the "bad experience" at Iridescence. You did not have a bad experience at Iridescence. Iridescence doesn't have bad experiences. And trust me when I tell you that you can squawk all over the forums about it as much as you want, the only people whose business you're driving away are the people who shouldn't have been there in the first place. Really, it would be doing everyone a favor. So keep squawking.

Your lobster tail was not overcooked. And if it was...if it really, really was because you ordered the Jumbo Western Austrailian Lobster Tail, which is very difficult to cook properly. This isn't so much the fault of Iridescence's preparation as it is their fault in catering to the American fascination with all things big.

In the future, I hear Red Lobster has a very fine lobster tail, and it's only $10.00. You can also shovel down all the cheesy biscuits your plaque-filled heart desires.

And this brings me back to basic fine dining knowledge and the B&T crowd's lack thereof. White truffles are very very expensive. If you order something that has mounds of shaved white truffles on it, it's going to cost you a car payment. This is something you need to know before you go somewhere that serves shaved white truffles. Your ignorance in this matter is not the fault of the restaurant.

Same goes for Overcooked Lobster Tail. It's a 10-oz. jumbo lobster tail. It is next to damn impossible to cook all the way through without the outside getting a little rubbery--not unlike a 10-oz. filet, which would be charred black on the outside and runny red on this inside if not butterflied prior to cooking. This is something you should know. Much like you should know what an amuse bouche is so that you're not sitting there staring at it wondering if you're going to be charged for it (a discussion I've also heard before).

If these are things you do not know, I will not, in fact, judge you for your lack of knowledge. Provided you stay the hell away from such situations in which you have no such knowledge. Much like you will never catch me at an Obama mob rally with Obama-head-shaped fireworks and styrofoam Obama fingers, or on a mission with the Peace Corps to save poor people by spreading Christianity (back in the day it was called a "Crusade"--a much more honest phrasing, don't you think?), I never want to see you at five-star restaurant acting as if your malcontentedness is intentional and not the result of you feeling painfully, awkwardly, angrily out of place.

Overcooked Lobster Tail is probably one of the same people who complained about Tribute not "meeting expectations" back when Takashi Yagahashi was there--in my own humble opinion, the most brilliant chef whose creations I've ever been fortunate enough to experience in my lifetime. I've had truly orgasmic single dishes in other restaurants in other cities in other countries, yes. But Yagahashi is the only chef from whom I've ever experienced a truly perfect meal. (In Las Vegas, I made it a point to visit Okada while he was still there, and now he has opened Takashi in Chicago which just might make it worth a day trip, despite the fact that I don't think Chicago is all that great.)

And yet--people complained. And always, inevitably, it was "...for the price."

If I ever open a restaurant it will be strictly a vanity project. I would have money coming out of my arse from other sources and the intent of the restaurant would not be to actually make money, but to be elite. There would be a 5-table/20-person capacity, and all potential diners would first have to pass an entrance exam just to be allowed inside. This exam would include questions like, "Name five worldwide celebrity chefs (Emeril Legassi, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck do not count)," and "From which body parts of what animals are foie gras and sweetbreads made?" and also "Name two of the top ten culinary training academies in the world." Perhaps I would round it out with "Name five different types of mushrooms, not field or Portabella." Perhaps also "Name the top 5 French wine producers." For shits and giggles, I would also ask "What is your favorite Italian dish, by region?" just to weed out all those Veal Marsala assholes.

Oh, there would also be an oral portion to the exam. People would have to properly pronounce the following: Foie Gras, Au Poivre, Meuniere, Buerre Blanc, and Dauphinoise, AND know what they are/what style of preparation they refer to.

These are all rather easy questions to answer, if you are a foodie. If you cannot answer them, let's make a deal: I'll stay out of your Obama-head pool party with Obama-shaped burgers if you stay out of my restaurants. Deal?

(Though I'll still make fun of you for voting for him. Or maybe I'll just let her do it.)

On a related note, yes this is currently the most offensive, insulting thing on television.

Monday, August 4, 2008

So Many Rumors...

Originally published in D-Tales here.

This weekend was full of interesting tidbits for me. I got the scoop on a lot of future goings-ons, so much so that I'm not even sure I'll remember it all and some of it I can't even repeat (which is going to kill me, btw--so when I finally am officially able to talk about it and the post starts with "I ALREADY KNEW THIS" you'll know that was this stuff I'm NOT talking about here).

I have to run off to work in a hot second so I'll keep this one limited to the dining rumors:

First, I wondered the other day what exactly the new Michael Symon restaurant inside the Book-Cadillac would be--I got the answer. (Admittedly this information was likely readily available online, but I didn't feel like looking for it. So there.) It will be called Roast and it will be a steakhouse. Very beefy. Can't wait.

Second, there is a new French restaurant opening soon across the street from Buzz Bar (or, what used to be Buzz Bar and still has the Buzz Bar sign but is not in fact open). It was supposed to open July 1st--that's what the sign said--but the inside is still looking pretty gutted. These things never happen on time anyway. My question: classic French or French fusion? And who's the chef? Please please please let it be Shawn Mac...I'd really like to see him land on his feet and stay in the city post-AV.

Third, apparently the owner of the Good Girls Go to Paris crepe stand is already talking about opening a second location in Eastern Market, possibly even with a little cafe area where people can sit and eat their crepes. Instead of doing what I did, which was stop by on my way to work and eat this overflowing crepe from a paper plate while doing 80 on the Lodge. Hey, I never said I make the best decisions, I just have the best taste. The crepe was wonderful, btw. I had the "Fay"--bananas with pecans, caramel, brown sugar, whipped cream, and lots of real butter. OMFG so good. Elegant in its simplicity, as crepes should be. The crepe shell was perfect, too--doughy and slightly sweet. It is my personal goal to sample all the crepes and give a full report afterwards. This will be possible only on Fridays and Saturdays when their hours are more conducive to my schedule (open until 2:00AM, that is).

Hm, what else? I think that's everything food-related that I am allowed to share. The rest will eat at me until I'm finally able to repeat it.

Heh..."eat" at me. Punny!