Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Toast to Toast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prix Fixe Dinner Plans for NYE

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

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

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

Veuve Clicquot Champagne Toast

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

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

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

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


Reservations are required: 248-689-2332.

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

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

Second Course

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

Third Course
Watercress and fennel salad with walnuts and black grapes

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

New Year’s Eve tasting

For reservations, call 313-872-5110.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"C" is for Cardboard

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

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

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

Or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Like sipping a glass of summer...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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