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 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'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) 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'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'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'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.