Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ye Not-So-Olde Woodbridge Pub

Woodbridge Pub, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. My #1, hands-down, no-contest favorite guacamole in town (and “town” includes the sector of the city known as “Mexican Town”)
2. $2.00 off Irish whiskey during St. Patrick’s Day weekend AND Bell’s 2-Hearted on tap
3. Three different kinds of meat-errific burgers (plus an veggie option for good measure)
4. Four generous chunks of rich, flavorful, artery-clogging cheeses on their Sunday brunch cheese plate
5. Five different kinds of cheese in their Mac and Cheese on steroids, the Cavatappi con Queso
6. Did I mention that cheese plate is only $6.00?
7. ”Cheese to the Seventh Power,” described as “grilled cheese on steroids” (so much for my steroids pun), with seven different kinds of cheeses and lots and lots of butter

I could go on.

Due to the overtly cheese-centric nature of the above list, you can certainly tell my tastes, and this is definitely one place I won’t leave asking “More cheese, please!” Owner Jim Geary’s sister created the menu, and this is a woman truly after my own heart. She clearly loves cheese possibly as much as I do (and that’s rare), and she has no fear of including it all over the menu and in heaping helpings on your plate. Some might cry about calories and cholesterol…this is not the place for them.

However, Woodbridge Pub does cater to the vegan/vegetarian set with a number of hearty and flavorful menu items that have no meat (and only some with cheese). A quick glance over the menu reveals no fewer than 15 vegetarian items (not including sides or desserts), with five vegan-friendly options available (more if you order minus the cheese, but ohdeargodwhywouldyou). Of these *ahem* cheeseless items, I sampled the Pasta Primavera, made with a mix of fresh vegetables atop a bed of fettuccine noodles and “drizzled” with garlic-herb infused extra virgin olive oil and “a hint” of pesto—which means it was extra-oily and the pesto was hardly a hint, neither of which is bad because the oil kept the veggies moist and the pesto had a great flavor without being overpowering. Also, there were tons of veggies in this one—broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, mushrooms—which made for a healthy, hearty meal. Which would have been better with grated parmesan on top, but I digress. (It was actually quite flavorful and satisfying.)

Another cheeseless item I’m rather fond of: the guacamole. To utilize the parlance of the tommy-gun-toting gangster era, this guacamole is the tits. This homemade creamy creation is heavy on garlic (to the point that you can still smell it emanating from your pours a day later), light on onion—just how I like it! And the tortilla chips are fresh and flavorful with just the right amount of salt. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best guacamole in the city.

But that’s just to start (the Nachos also smell amazing and seem to be a favorite with regulars, though I have yet to sample them). From there, try one of their thick, hearty sandwiches, such as the B.B.L.T. on a B., with caramelized bacon, brie cheese, Michigan leaf lettuce, and marinated tomatoes on a grilled baguette. The bacon is thick and meaty, covered with peppercorn flavor and a sticky-sweet caramelized coating which balances nicely with the meat and the creamy, rich brie. Do you remember the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding when Julia Roberts made the comparison between crème brulee and Jell-O? Jello-O, meet your crème brulee. And trust me, no one wants Jell-O.

And then there’s Woodbridge’s pièce de résistance: Cheese to the Seventh Power. You had me at “Cheese.” Brie, white cheddar, Romano, two different mozzarellas, provolone and parmesan on a butter-soaked toasted baguette. There is nothing healthy about this, but if this is wrong I don’t want to be right. Oprah might have called Café Muse’s dainty honey-drizzled grilled cheese the best in America, but for foodies and cheeseheads alike this one is no contest.

Woodbridge Pub is also open at 11:00AM for Sunday brunch. Now, if there’s one thing I love almost as much as I love cheese, it’s brunch. Woodbridge Pub once again does not disappoint. On separate trips I ordered the Fruit and Cheese Plate, served with their soft, crusty baguette bread. Large portions of cheddar, provolone, brie and Manchego comprise this Sunday starter, and on the seventh day God rested, and it was good. I followed that up with that day’s special “Omnivore Omelet,” made with mushrooms, onions, walnuts, and with LOTS of crumbled goat cheese on top. It might count as “vegetarian,” but it was heavy. The over-abundance of goat cheese was a bit too tangy for even my tastes (which means a lot of others would hate it), so I’d recommend they exercise some moderation with this in the future. Not with everything, mind you, just with this, and only because it’s goat cheese. On another trip I tried the Croque Madame, grilled sourdough with Black Forest ham, fried egg, Gruyere, and tomato. This was like a party in my mouth—and here the overabundance of Gruyere Swiss was the guest of honor. The flavors balanced beautifully, and this is meal enough for a whole day. Breakfast is also served with their cubed herb-and-oil-drizzled home fries, which are themselves rich and filling, as well as fruit for that healthy balance. And if all that weren’t enough, Woodbridge Pub boasts the best bottomless mimosa deal in town: $11.00 ($1.00-$4.00 cheaper than any other Detroit brunch spot that I’ve encountered).

If fat grams were no object, I would eat here daily. But what makes the food at Woodbridge Pub so good is that it is so bad. Geary likes to call his food “healthy, home-cooked food;” to which I must ask when has “home-cooked” ever been healthy? I’m thinking, of course, of the days when mom stayed at home and made pot roasts with mashed potatoes and vegetables with lots and lots of real butter. THIS is the kind of home cooking you get at Woodbridge Pub. And ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.

Surprisingly, for a restaurant that has been so on-point with so many other things, their one failure is in—and God I really hate having to say this—their pizza. Pizzas are made with a 10-inch extra thin crust, which as the consistency of old cardboard and doesn’t taste much better, and are topped with items that sound good but don’t ultimately end up doing too great together. First I tried the Artichoke, Spinach and Brie pizza, drizzled with garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. Sounds great, right? Except for not really. The toppings were fine, but the crust was just so damn dry…so I gave it a few months. I figured hey, they just opened, they’re still toying with the menu, maybe this was a fluke. And I tried again, this time with the “You Got Smoked” Chicken pizza, made with hickory-smoked chicken breast, onions (and I HATE onions, but I was willing to overlook this), crispy bits of bacon, mushrooms, Alfredo sauce and a five-cheese blend. Triple-bypass heaven! Except…not so much. Again, the crust was so dry that the rest was negligible. The Alfredo sauce was just too rich and overpowering for the rest of the pizza. Also, I HATE onions. Which is not really the restaurant’s fault; I just thought I’d get that out there.

Woodbridge Pub has a limited number of beers on tap (two at any given time, and one is always Motor City Brewing Works’ “Ghetto Blaster”; currently the other is Bell’s Two-Hearted, though it has been Miller Light in the past), but they do carry over 40 different labels, and many of them local. Drinks are cheap and strong, two things I like, and they also offer great daily drink specials. The food is also cheap (or perhaps I should call it college-friendly, what with its proximity to Wayne State), with very few items topping $7.00, a more than fantastic deal for such great food.

Service is consistently friendly, with hipster-ish bartenders and waiters serving their hipster friends. This place is a hipster haven, BTW; they even have a burger named after them (“Detroit Hipster Burger, Dude”). At any given time you’re bound to run into members of one of Detroit’s indie bands (they even work there) as well as various artists and photographers, some of whom have even shown their work on the walls. My last trip there I ran into Megan Owens, a very talented local photographer whose work I first saw the first time I went to Woodbridge. I almost always spot a band member or four, but the vibe isn’t so much hipster-exclusive as it is all-inclusive and welcoming. As soon as it opened Woodbridge Pub became the new favorite hangout for young Detroiters, and despite its off-the-beaten-path location on Trumbull just north of Warren, the crowd is always full of familiar faces. You’ll always have a friend at Woodbridge; if not, you’re sure to meet one. And taking its cue from a number of other local dining establishments that also display local art, Woodbridge (much like the Majestic or Motor City Brewing Works) has an new art exhibit on display every two weeks. Sometimes the service is slow (specifically for Sunday brunch, when the kitchen and staff seem to be easily overwhelmed, at least both times I went), but the food makes the wait worthwhile. They also have a great jukebox, but you’re likely to never know it because, sadly, the acoustics inside are atrocious and even at top volume you can’t really hear the music. However, the completely renovated interior made with refurbished materials (items salvaged from a shuttered church in Saginaw include pews which comprise seating and steps which went into construction of the large, high polished bar; wrought iron came from a salvage yard) is nothing short of beautiful, maintaining both an old-world pub vibe (with lots of glossy wood covering the walls and surfaces) as well as an old Detroit vibe (with the presumably original plaster and moulding ceiling).

Woodbridge Pub is, at its heart, a classic neighborhood pub. Word got out on it fast and there is always a good crowd regardless of the time of day. This is the kind of place you can come to just to have a beer with friends and hang out as much as you can sit down for a great lunch or dinner before going out for the evening. They also offer free Wi-Fi Internet access, which is great for the students of nearby Wayne State University. But despite its convenient location in a neighborhood that was desperately in need of its own local hangout, as well as its appeal to the local youngsters and cheap prices, the bottom line is that the food is great, and that is ultimately what makes this place work so well. Welcome to the neighborhood, Woodbridge. We’ve been waiting.

Woodbridge Pub is located at 5169 Trumbull. They are open 11:00AM-2:00AM daily and serve food until 10:00PM Sundays-Thursdays, midnight on Fridays & Saturdays.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Panacea at Andiamo

This Saturday, March 28th, Andiamo of Dearborn is hosting a benefit for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute with a formal dinner, fashion show, and after party. Tickets to the dinner and after party are $50.00; to attend the after party only is $20.00 (the after party is 21+). Purchase your tickets in advance here.

"The night begins at 6pm with a wine tasting, cheese & crudite display, hors d'oeurvres, and performance by amazing vocalist Brad McNett. There will be an open bar, (already included in ticket price) for all guests from 6:00-9:30pm.

'Enjoy the entertainment while you mingle and check out our raffle items that include donations from local businesses such as Stanley G Roberson Jewelry Design, The Showroom of Elegance Fine Jewelers, M Mazzoni Jewelers, Andiamos of Dearborn, L'Esprit Salon & Spa, Bright Side Dental and Millennium Limousines.

'Dinner begins at 6:45pm and includes a chefs house salad, Italian wedding soup, chicken marsala, roasted sirloin with zip sauce*, fettuccine alfredo, garlic whipped mashed potatoes, fresh vegetable mix, rolls, and ice cream sundaes.
*vegetarian entree available upon request.

'Guests will also enjoy music by pianist Michelle Chekan, and The Island Guys.

'Dinner will conclude by 8:30pm, we will draw raffle winners, and our spectacular hair and fashion runway show begins.

'This is a red carpet event - formal attire is requested.

'The night will conclude at 9:30pm, but for those of you who choose to stay.....
Your ticket also includes free admittance into our Red Carpet Charity Benefit After Party which will take place in the restaurants lounge/bar until 2am.
Free vodka drinks by Pearl Vodka from 10:30-11:30pm complimentas of Allure Entertainment*
'Sounds by DJ Miguel M and visuals by Detronik."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

James Beard Foundation Nominees

Known as the Academy Awards of the restaurant industry, the James Beard Foundation Awards honors the finest chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, restaurant designers, and electronic media professionals in the country. On Monday they announced their official list of nominees for this year's awards, which will be presented on May 4, 2009 in New York City.

There is a special category specifically for "Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)," and contenders for this year's award included Luciano Del Signore of Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, John Somerville of the Lark in West Bloomfield, and Brian Polcyn of Five Lakes Grill in Milford. The only contender to make the short list of nominees from Michigan, however, was Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse.

I'll update you with the award winners' information as soon as the winners are announced. In the meantime, congratulations to all of the contenders and best of luck to Alex Young. It would be great to see another Michigan chef take home this honor. (Presently, Jimmy Schmidt of the Rattlesnake Club is the only Michigan title-holder of a JBF award, and that was in 1993.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Techno Sushi: Oslo

It’s been over a year now since Detroit’s favorite sushi place reopened—after a rather unfortunate and unnecessary closing—under new ownership. Owners Katalia (Kat) and Roberto Lemos (DJ Bet), who worked at the first incarnation of Oslo as bartender and DJ respectively, have very much kept the spirit of the old Oslo alive, and have perhaps even improved upon it, much to the happiness and relief of techno-lovers around Detroit. The basement bar is still a weekend haven for late-night dancing and debauchery with noted techno and house DJs and hip-hop artists spinning into the wee hours (though they shut it down at 2:00AM now, instead of 4:00AM as before). Oslo was always considered to be one of the best electronic music clubs in the area, and thankfully has retained that coveted reputation.

Oslo also was considered to have some of the best sushi in the area, which was unmistakably true and a fact that even the most stern of sushi snobs would hardly fain argue. When the Lemoses took over, they joined forces with Kat's mother, co-owner and chef Lumpai Rossbach (former owner of the Royal Thai Cafe in Royal Oak), who changed up the menu a bit, giving it more of an appeal to a wider variety of tastes (i.e., those who don’t like sushi) by adding hot food (gasp!) to the menu. Rossbach has deep roots in Thailand, and introduced a variety of Thai-style dishes to the menu, as well as a few familiar dishes from the popular Cantonese style. The result is a very trendy, very hip, somewhat generic hodgepodge Asian restaurant.

On two recent trips, I sampled a variety of dishes including the sushi and sashimi. I made it a point to stray from such general and obvious selections as Almond Chicken and California Rolls, sampling instead some of the more seemingly unique and perhaps even “authentic” items on the menu. (Granted, cultural authenticity in dining is relative, but it is still the Holy Grail that critics love to chase.)

I sampled the Tom Yum soup, a hearty broth made with lemongrass, lime leaves, straw mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chicken. The lime and lemongrass gave it a citrusy tartness, but with the heartiness of soul-loving chicken broth. Though a stretch from traditional Thai "Tom Yum," which is actually a hot-and-sour soup, it was still flavorful and satisfying. I also tried the Steamed Dumplings, served with a sweet gyoza sauce. The dumplings were perfect--bursting with juice and wrapped in a delicate, tender dough that tears ever so easily but is also firm and resistant.

Though I have an affinity for spicy foods, I was at the mercy of my sensitive-tongued dining partner, and so when I ordered the Drunken Noodles they came ever-so-mildly mild. Made with bean sprouts, onions, bamboo, wine, egg, fresh noodles and basil, the Drunken Noodles were firm and fat and slippery, a perfect texture with a perfectly imperfect shape (noodles ranged in size and shape, proof of their homemade freshness). The flavor was rather rich, and while regrettably not spicy, still full of body with a long-lingering taste.

For sushi, I first tried the Triple Hitter (yellow tail, tuna, salmon, avocado, and masago) and the T.N.T. (spicy tuna and avocado topped with spicy sauce then baked). The Triple Hitter was mild, with no real standout flavor, though not at all unpleasant. The T.N.T. roll was a neon-colored explosion of spice, and while the "baked sushi" concept was a little off-putting, the taste was hot, hot, hot. (And I like hot.) My next venture brought me the Cherry Blossom: salmon and cucumber topped with tuna, lemon and fish eggs. Again, mild, with the standout flavor being the dried lemon on top which was, quite frankly, too much lemon. I also tried the Red Snapper and Crab Stick sashimi. The Red Snapper had a dollop of chili sauce on top, which was superb together. The Crab Stick tasted like the crab meat had been soaked in butter, and melted in my mouth as if it had. By and large, my preference tends to lean more towards sashimi than sushi, and here was no exception.

On both occasions my server was the friendly and affable Kevin, whose namesake specialty drink “Kevin Love Japan” (made with Jameson, Fuki Plum Wine, a splash of key lime juice and Sprite) is a surprisingly smooth and refreshing beverage, though deceptively strong (especially when the bartender accidentally makes you two). Kevin has a solid knowledge of sake, Japanese rice wine, which he will more than happily share. Opting instead to go it alone (mistake), I went for the Cap Ace, which tasted like…lighter fluid. When I told him as much, he cheerily answered that he’d be happy to help me choose next time, and that the house sake is actually quite good. But I know he was thinking I should have just taken his advice the first time. I know it.

For those of you with a strong thirst to quench, Oslo offers a variety of beer, sake, and creative specialty mixed drinks. If you'd like to round out your "Asian" experience, you can sample Japanese beers such as Sapporo, Asahi, or Hitachino ($7.00), or try the Chinese-brewed Tsing Tao, or even Sing Ha, a Thai beer (both $5.00). There is a small wine list with no real stars, and a comparitively extensive sake list which offers a variety of sake styles from the dry to the sweet which are made to pair with with this kind of cuisine (but I do recommend you ask for assistance with your selection if sake is not one of your areas of expertise). The cocktail menu utilizes surprising combinations to create truly unique creations, showing off Kat's mixmaster skills. I've already told you about Kevin Love Japan, but while you're there you might also want to try the Space Odyssey, made with 1800 Tequila, Bacardi 151, Liquor 43 and Seagrams 7...which adds up to 2001 (extra points for the clever name). Or if you want to try sake but are not sure you want to commit to it straight, order the Narviktini, made with Fuki Plum Wine and sake. Or you could just go for broke and order Kat's namesake, The Kat, a Svedka Vodka martini infused with peaches and fresh ginger, with a dash of peach nectar. Like angels dancing on your tongue.

The interior of Oslo is the same as ever--a post-industrial postmodern sake house set in almost-black wood with simple angles in an extremely narrow space, which fills up quickly during lunch and dinner. The expansion of the menu to include hot food has seemed to do the restaurant good, as it now appeals to more metro Detroiters than just the narrow sushi-loving niche (the Thai-loving niche is much broader, and dishes such as Sweet and Sour Chicken, Spring Rolls, and Crab Rangoon appeal to even the most reluctant tastes). On any given day the small space is bustling with groups of friends and co-workers out to dine, and most seem to opt for the Thai. Somewhat comical, for a place that made its name on sushi.

The charmingly polite Kevin noted that Oslo received the nod from the Metro Times for metro Detroit's best sushi. Now don’t get me wrong, the food is good. Perhaps some is even great. But metro Detroit’s BEST sushi? Once upon a time, but no more. (Though this is the same Reader's Poll that named Pizza Papalis "Best Gourmet Pizza" and did not include Chen Chow Brasserie under "Best Chinese," so you can really only take it so seriously.) The thrown-togetherness of the menu's culinary traditions is something that many purists (including, unfortunately, myself) take great issue with...sushi belongs in a Thai restaurant as much as it does at a Chinese diner or a high-end fish house (i.e., Not. At. All.). Unfortunately this Japanese tradition gets so frequently clumped together with whatever the nearest "Asian" or "fish" categories are, and the result is places like the N'awlins-themed Fishbones having a sushi bar. It's something that I continually raise my eyebrows and sigh at, even though I know such outward appearances of disapproval are futile.

Now, as for Oslo: they were doing sushi long before they did Thai, and so they staked their claim to it (and they did it better than most). The introduction of Thai to the menu helps broaden the restaurant's clientele and marketability; I get that. Does it bother me that people still use the word "authentic" to describe both the sushi and the Thai dishes in a restaurant that really isn't clearly either one? Yes; yes it does. But hey, as we already know, authenticity is all relative.

As far as Thai food goes, there's lots of curry and coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, spicy garlic sauce, and peanuts (whole and as sauce). Is that "authentic" enough? The absence of nam pla makes me say no, but hey...this is America, and fish sauce is slightly unsettling on American tastebuds. As for the authenticity of the sushi, well...avocodo and cream cheese do not exist in the Japanese culinary tradition but have become a staple in American "sushi" to help acclimate to Western palate. It is no different at Oslo, where common Japanese ingredients are soiled by Westernized creations. While it is sliced and rolled expertly by Korean-born John Riney, it still cannot shake its own Americanization. Good? Yes. On par with the majority of other sushi joints? Absolutely. But the best? Sorry, but no.

Also, I miss the vegetable tempura (particularly the sweet potatoes). If you had ever dined at the old Oslo, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Oslo is a good restaurant. On any visit there you are more than guaranteed a tasty meal with friendly, helpful service. It might not be exactly what it was before, but it is still a fine place to grab a quick bite, have a drink, and dance the night away. With regularly scheduled techno and hip-hop events such as Re-Vive Sundays with Detroit Beatdown Sounds and the bi-weekly, bi-curious Fierce Hot Mess, as well as special guest DJs on Saturdays, Oslo is still hands-down one of the best music venues in the D. So if it's a quality club scene you're looking for, then by-golly you've found it. And if it's a quick-and-easy Thai carry-out place you need, you got it. However, if it is "authentic" sushi you want, and the best in all metro Detroit, you might have to look a little further.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fine Wines at Bargain Prices...at Meijer?

The tagline “Higher standards, lower prices” works well for 24-hour Midwest grocery (etc.) chain superstore Meijer, and their extensive wine selection is no exception. On a recent trip to the Allen Park location, I found nearly their entire stock of decent low- to-mid-grade labels on sale (most through April 4th, some only through March 28th), and some at deep discounts.

It may seem strange for me to be speaking of a chain grocer (-slash entertainment store, -slash clothing store, -slash housewares store, -slash automotive supplies store, -slash beauty supply store…) having a noteworthy wine selection, and I must admit, not all chain grocers are created equal. For example, the Kroger in West Bloomfield has an amazing wine selection (the REALLY high-end stuff was even kept in a locked case)…the Kroger in Waterford, not so much. Ditto the Waterford Meijer (apparently Waterfordians are not considered to have sophisticated palates). The availability of such wines in Allen Park is admittedly a bit of a surprise, but most assuredly a welcome one—especially since this is probably one of the few places to carry many of these labels within spitting distance of the city. This Meijer does not carry any liquor/liquers, but what they lack here they more than make up for in their surprisingly diverse (if California-centric, though what else could we really expect here) wine selection.

J. Lohr Cabernet, from California's Alexander Valley (in my humble opinion, highly underrated and often better than Napa), the FIRST wine I truly came to love and can credit it as the wine that started it all for me. A steal at $13.49.

Villa Antinori, a fully decent Chianti Classico at a fairly decent price, $18.99.

I don't know anything about this Petite Sirah from California's Prodigal Son Winery, but at a $6.00 savings I picked up a bottle to try.

Australia's Penfolds makes a variety of wines ranging in price scale from the very very expensive to the very very cheap. Koonunga Hills labels are on the very very cheap end, and right now they're even cheaper at $8.99 (but what you save in dollars you don't lose in quality; these are still highly enjoyable wines).

The extensive selection of Michigan wines, with many on sale.

Seven Daughters is another new label to me, but the savings is significant and it might be worth a try.

Sterling Cabernet is one of my absolute favorites, and even at $21.99 it is still a bargain, as this could easily be a $50.00 wine. Very big and bold, and can more than hold its own amongst the much pricier Napa cabs.

Another favorite of mine, Sin Zin, also from the Alexander Valley (told you). Another bargain at $15.99.

And when you factor in their regular store-wide sales and markdowns, their prices often times can’t be beat. Meijer: not just for groceries and children’s clothes and car batteries anymore! (Check out your local Meijer store to see what kind of wine bargains they might have, now through March 28th.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Motor Bar's Bloody Mary Bar

If you're anything like me, you love a good Bloody Mary but have a hard time finding a place that does it just right (and "just right" for you is likely vastly different than "just right" for me...which is almost half tabasco sauce with spicy bloody mary mix, seasoned salt, and a pickle). The Motor Bar inside the the Westin Book-Cadillac offers up a killer build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on Saturdays from 11:00AM-11:00PM and Sundays noon-close. And at only $5.00, it's a decent deal (the vodka pour is quite generous, too). Take a stroll through the building if you haven't yet done so, check out the elegant and extravagant ballrooms, and enjoy your own perfect Bloody Mary in the posh but very friendly Motor Bar (ask for Sandy or Neil, they'll take great care of you). Enjoy some Kobe beef sliders or hummus from their small but intriguing menu and relax in the quiet, upscale, and inviting environment. This is a perfect way to start or end a relaxing Sunday afternoon, either by yourself or with friends.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Upcoming Dining Events

Thursday, March 19th: DYP Mixer at Fishbone’s

Join Detroit Young Professionals (DYP) after work at Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Café in Southfield.Enjoy networking and intelligent conversation with young professionals in the festive atmosphere of the New Orleans French Quarter delivered with a Midwestern twist. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres.

Where: Fishbone’s Rhythm Kitchen Café, Detroit
When: 6:00PM-9:00PM
Tix: Free admission, no need to RSVP

Thursday, March 19th: Cowley’s Anniversary Wine Tasting

Celebrate Cowley’s 6th Anniversary on Thursday, March 19th with six courses prepared by Chef Zachariah Peterlin with wine pairings and lecture by Sommelier Michael Larranaga
Reservations Required

Where: John Cowley’s & Sons Irish Pub, Farmington
When: 7:00PM-10:00PM
Tix: $30.00 (excluding gratuity)

Tuesday, March 24th: Black Star Farms Wine Dinner

Enjoy The Very Best Of Michigan

We're pleased to welcome Lee Lutes, Winemaker from Black Star Farms Winery, for a memorable evening of fine food and wine.
Our Chefs have designed a special menu that highlights the unique characteristics of each wine, and showcases food products indigenous to Michigan. Each course will be paired and served with a wine that perfectly complements it from Black Star Farms Winery of Michigan. Lee will be describing the pairings as well as provide information and background on each selection.

Please call for reservations. Seating is limited, so please reserve early for this event.

Where: Maggianos Little Italy, Troy
When: 6:00PM-9:30PM
Tix: $55.00

Tuesday, March 24th: Bell’s Brewery Beer Tasting

Join us as we present Rex Halfpenny & Larry Bell for a tasteful discussion on Bell’s Brewery Beers. Rex will discuss the history and style characteristics while you sample a number of beers. $20 will get you light appetizers, your first pint from our taps, the style samples, and Rex’s Informative Oration.

Reservations Recommended
(248) 474-5941

Where: John Cowley & Sons Irish Pub, Farmington
When: 7:00PM-10:00PM
Tix: $20.00

Tuesday, March 24th: South America Wine Tasting

Featured wines of South America. Taste five wines and enjoy light appetizers and a fun-filled evening with Sommelier Robert Bassett. Tax and gratuity included.

Where: Enoteca Campo Marzo, Detroit
When: 6:30PM-8:30PM
Tix: $30.00

Wednesday, March 25th: Detroit Synergy Supper Club at the Rattlesnake
(click on link above for info)

Wednesday, March 25th: Detroit Wine Organization Wine Down Wednesday

A Tribute to the Award Winning Movies and Wines of Francis Ford Coppola

With two wineries in California, one in Sonoma and one in Napa, Francis Ford Coppola has shown he can make incredible wine as well as highly esteemed movies. We will be showcasing a collection of wines from both The Rubicon Estate Winery and The Rosso & Bianco Winery.

Francis Ford Coppola is best known as the FIVE-time Oscar winning Director, Writer, Producer of such films as "The Godfather" trilogy, "Apocalypse Now", "American Graffiti", "The Great Gatsby". In honor of the 36th anniversary of "The Godfather" winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, come join us at Opus One Downtown for a fun and different Wine Down Wednesday. There will be DVD givaways, Trivia contests and more!!

View the wine list at our web site.

Where: Opus One, Detroit
When: 6:00PM-8:00PM
Tix: $40.00 members, $45.00 non-members

Thursday, March 26th: Leaders Workshop with the DYP at Fleming’s Steakhouse

Don't miss this dynamic professional development workshop, where you'll gain valuable tools and insight on how to enhance your leadership skills. $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Complimentary appetizers.

Join us to hear from:
Faris Alami, Founder and CEO of Integration Systems Management, a popular speaker at Chambers of Commerce, Schools and Conferences, Faris Alami has been a featured speaker in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Washington D.C and New Mexico. Named 2008 Diversity Business Leader by CORP! Magazine and 2008 Automation Alley Member of the Year Finalist.

The Workshop:
Provide participants with insights and tools on how to strengthen their skills to be part of the next generation of leaders. Steps that you should take to be part of the next generation leaders of the organization,

1. Learn insights with interactive exercises "what does it mean to part of the next generation of leaders"
2. Specific steps to become part of the next generation of leader
3. Implementation plan starting with what you can today to become part of the next generation of leaders.

Thursday, MARCH 26, 2009:
6:30PM-8:00PM - WORKSHOP
8:00PM-9:00PM - MIXER

Where: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Birmingham
When: 6:00PM-9:00PM
Tix: $8.00 advance, $10.00 at the door

Saturday, March 28th: Micro-Brew and Wine Tasting at Black Lotus

Four (4) tastes of four (4) different Micro-Brewed Beer, two (2) tastes of wine and munchies for $15 per person. Ladies, if your husbands (or significant others) like Beer, this is the event that will allow you to be in the same place at the same time. Also, you ladies can learn more about beer, as well.

Drink What You Like.

Where: Black Lotus Brewery, Clawson
When: 6:00PM-10:00PM
Tix: $15.00

Saturday, March 28th: Dips and Sips for the Movement Against MS at Bella Vino Winery

You are cordially invited to attend our first annual “Dips ‘N Sips For The Movement” at Bella Vino Winery, 350 Eureka, Wyandotte, MI 48192 (www.wine-dotte.com)

A prepaid donation of $20 per person will gain you entrance to the tasting and all the fun.
We will be “sipping” an array of several white and red wines that are made right at Bella Vino’s. There will also be a selection of refreshments for “dipping” provided by MS volunteers.

Please plan to attend and share this experience with other wine lovers and support a wonderful cause. This will be an excellent opportunity to network, taste some excellent wines and have fun with chances to win some great prizes. Spring is almost upon us and what better way to help celebrate then by raising our glasses and sampling some first class vino!

Please reserve your tickets now by either visiting www.wine-dotte.com or emailing Cindy Dildine at cindy.dildine@basf.com

Where: Bella Vino Winery, Wyandotte
When: 7:00PM-9:00PM
Tix: $20.00 advance

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bookies: Bigger and Better

Our little Bookies is all growed up! After the ultimely closure of the Book Tower in January 2009, Bookies Bar & Grille (formerly Bookies Tavern) moved to their brand-new, completely renovated location at 2208 Cass (at the corner of Columbia) and just opened their doors for business last week.

This move was long in the making, as owners John Lambrecht and Mark Jerant had begun to see the "writings on the wall" of the imminent closing of the Book Tower, Bookies' home (and namesake) since it opened its doors in 2003. They wanted to keep their bar downtown as they feel very passionately about the downtown community, and when they found the location at Cass and Columbia they knew it would be their new bar. They planned on opening a new location here regardless of what happened with the Book Tower (this would simply have been a second bar with a different name), but as it happened the new location was seredipitous and allowed for a speedy transition of the old Bookies to the new.

And what a transition it was! Upon entering the new building, I could still smell the construction--sawdust and plywood and plastic--new building smell, not umlike new car smell, and not at all unpleasant. The first floor serves as the main dining area, and it is open, airy, and spacious, with high ceilings and tall windows and a gorgeous stone and granite bar that seats 20. There are six high definition plasma televisions lining the walls and a 16-foot projection television behind the bar to suit all of your sport-watching needs (which is what the former Bookies was known and loved for). There is a narrow spiral staircase leading up to the DJ alcove above the front door, and a décor that is markedly more trendy and contemporary (such as the stone walls and bar).

But that's not all...an elevator will take you up to the other floors. On the second floor you'll find a VIP lounge which overlooks the dining area and offers bottle service, its own private bar, private bathrooms, two more high defintion plasma televisions, and plush white couch lounge seating (also, if the VIPs don't care for the music the DJ is spinning, different music can be piped into this room, as well as the third floor). On the third floor you'll find the "lounge," three more high def plasma TVs, and the spacious rooftop patio deck which is sure to be a huge summertime hit.

In perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the new location, Bookies now serves food. Lambrecht and Jerant hired on 19-year restaurant veteran John Rodemich IV--who has served as the Executive Chef at Chuck Muer, 5ive in Plymouth, Sweet Georgia Brown, and most recently came from Michael Symon's Roast in the Westin Book-Cadillac. Rodemich serves as Bookies' Executive Chef, and has created a menu of contemporary American cuisine at reasonable prices that appeals to both the lunch and dinner crowds. The menu includes creative appetizers, hearty soups and salads, inventive sandwiches and entrees, and decadent desserts. Gone are the days of the simple burger and beer, as Bookies went and got itself gourmet. The kitchen is open until 11:00PM daily, with a limited menu available after 11:00PM.

Bookies is also still appealing to the downtown work and sports crowd by offering free shuttle service to and from sporting events as well as to and from workplaces (so downtown workers can enjoy lunch without having to move their cars, deal with parking or traffic issues, etc.). Just call ahead an hour before your desired pick-up time at 313-962-0319 or send an email a few days in advance to bookiesdetroit@gmail.com. Otherwise, secured and well-lit free parking is available in the lot behind the building. All three floors are available for party rentals, and Bookies was already named by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as the hometown bar for fans of the East Regional team that advances to the Final Four being held at Ford Field in April.

When I was there on Saturday, I was struck by the newness, the contemporariness, and the appeal this new location offers. The stone accents modernize this "sports bar" (which I think in all fairness needs to be considered much more than just that), and the contemporary American menu puts this restaurant on par with any other mid-tier restaurant offering contemporary cuisine in the city (the Majestic Cafe and Union Street specifically come to mind). DJ Sohand, whom I had never heard of before but now consider myself a fan, was spinning in the DJ booth top 40 hits by everyone from Keri Hilson to the Killers to Kanye West and "Calabria" mixed with his own house techno beats; the uninterrupted techno-flow made me feel like I was in the hottest club in town. The third floor lounge was packed and there were people filling all the first- and second-floor tables. And it was all so clean and trendy and modern and new! This is a far cry from the original Bookies...and might I say, a vast improvement. Bookies has graduated from a simple sports bar to a trendy dining spot, an ultralounge, and an entertainment megaplex. Brava, Bookies.

And as for the food: I sampled the "B.A.T. Sliders" (sweet and spicy bacon with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise) and the Apple BBQ "Go Wings." The bacon on the sliders was thick and meaty, full of the promised sweet-and-spicy flavor, and the sauce on the wings was thick, tangy, and sweet, strong with a maple-hickory-apple flavor. Other selections include Salmon Cakes with a spicy remoulade sauce, BBQ Pork Sliders or a full sandwich (served with fries) with the same Apple BBQ sauce and tabasco onion frizzles, a New York Strip Steak with Guinness Peppercorn Cream Glaze and tabasco onion frizzles (with choice of fries, rice pilaf or roasted vegetables), and a "Fantastic French Toast" for dessert, served with vanilla ice cream and caramel maple syrup. The menu is small but the selections are unique, flavorful, and reasonably priced. Also, the waitstaff is extremely eager to please, helpful, and attentive, and I saw several familiar faces from the Detroit bar and restaurant scene who have described this new Bookies as "more [their] speed."

This new location promises to appeal to a wide variety of clientele, from the sports fans and locals who were with them from the beginning to the savvy nightlife scenesters and the discriminating diners that would not have had reason to frequent the old locale. Well done, Bookies. When life gave you lemons you went and made lemonade (or, at least, vodka lemondrop shots).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

All the (Proof) You Need

Friday night I was at (Proof) Martini Lounge on Woodward celebrating my friend's birthday. I made a decision long ago to try a new martini every time I visit there, and so I am slowly but surely making my way through their extensive martini menu (I believe it's some 100+ martinis?). While the drinks aren't cheap--$8.00-$12.00 on average--they are tasty, and also rather pretty. Take for example the Bomb Pop Martini, the one that popped my (Proof) cherry back in '06. It looks and tastes like a bomb pop popsicle, with the liquors settling in layers that is a shame to mix (ah, but you must, unless you like mouthfuls of single flavors).

This time around I had the Pineapple Upside Down Cake--Stoli Vanil, pineapple juice, and grenadine with a cluster of pineapple and cherries on the rim--and the Detroit Lunch Box--vodka, beer, and a hint of tabasco sauce. The Pineapple Upside Down Cake was served with the grenadine at the bottom so the drink kind of looked like an (upside down) Upside Down Cake. (Again, you must stir it after the fact, but the presentation is worth it). The Detroit Lunch Box might sound disgusting but I assure you--it was like having your Bloody Mary with the chaser all at once. Surprisingly tasty, and the hint of tabasco really set it apart.

If you love martinis but don't love big bar tabs, come during happy hour on Mondays and Fridays. Fridays from 4:00PM-7:00PM enjoy half-off martinis, and Mondays enjoy half-off martinis and appetizers 4:00PM-midnight. At the very least, you'll get through the whole martini menu twice as fast!

(Proof) is also known as a hub for house music--trance, trip-hop, techno, and dance DJs spin all weekend, and there's usually no cover. It's a great place to dance as much as a great place to chill and enjoy an artful martini; a favorite Detroit hotspot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Matt Prentice's Lastest Venture

In an innovative and forward-thinking project on health and healing, Matt Prentice--well-known local restaurateur and chef--has partnered up with the newly-opened Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital to create over 3,000 recipes that are 99% organic to not only provide patients with high-quality foods during their recovery time, but also to provide them with foods that may actually assist in their recovery.

Organic foods retain more vitamins and minerals than those that are mass-produced, and the ingredients Prentice utilizes in such items as his hearty broths are selected because they not only taste good but they provide such benefits as boosting the immune system and fighting cancer. While there are some hospitals that do offer limited organic menus, Henry Ford West Bloomfield looks to be the first of its kind to be fully dedicated to the use of organic ingredients and wholly subscribe to the belief that, well--you are what you eat.

The hospital looks towards opening two greenhouses on its campus in the future, one for learning and the other for production, and currently sources its organic produce from Chef's Garden in Ohio and Earthbound in California. The hospital is also building a relationship with Schoolcraft College's Culinary Arts Program, which plans on a course in healing cuisine in the Fall and is in discussion with the hospital of a joint health care culinary institute, as well as having developed with Ford a series of community education programs called "Culinary Partners in Health."

Prentice himself claims to have learned more about the correlation between diet and health in the last two years than in a lifetime of cooking and studying at culinary institutes. He plans a new patient- and quality-focused approach to hospital cuisine, taking restaurant standards of quality and cleanliness into the hospital kitchen, which has historically been known to focus only on the keeping down food costs. Prentice also contends that, in the longrun, investing in slightly more expensive ingredients will actually save the hospital money by shortened length of visits, and that organic cooking (if done efficiently and portioned properly) is actually less expensive than purchasing prepared foods.

As people become increasingly more interested in holistic approaches to health and healing, the food we eat suddenly becomes more important than ever before. There is a growing realization that sustainable cuisine (which includes organic and locally-produced foods) not only tastes better, but helps your body heal faster and feel better. The days of 50-year-old hausfraus scooping some unidentifiable slop onto your grandmother's hospital food plate or your son's school cafeteria tray (Michigan is also on the forefront of sustainable cuisine in school cafeterias) are fast disappearing, and are being replaced with bonafide chefs who have trained at real culinary institutes and have made a committment to quality food made with quality ingredients with the health and wellness of the patient or student in mind. Thank the Food Network or the nation's faddish fascination with all things going green...whatever it is, it's about damn time.

Remember: you are what you eat.

Source: Metromode.

Detroit Synergy Supper Club at the Rattlesnake

PRESS RELEASE MARCH 12, 2009: This month Detroit Synergy Group is very excited to announce our Supper Club at the world-renowned Rattlesnake Club. On Wednesday, March 25th beginning at 6:00PM, Supper Club heads to the Detroit riverfront to one of the most acclaimed dining establishments in Michigan—the Rattlesnake Club, located at 300 River Place.

“We’re very pleased to be able to host this event here,” Private Dining and Catering Manager Amy Engelbert declares. “Many people have a misconception of what the Rattlesnake Club is all about. We want to welcome these new faces and show them we’re not ‘stuffy’ at all. And we also want to do something above and beyond past Supper Club events and make this one truly one to remember!”

For this event, participants will indulge in some of world-renowned Chef Jimmy Schmidt’s infamous cuisine, as well as some new inspirations from his kitchen:

Salad (Choice of):
o Organic Field Greens tossed w/Apple Cider Vinaigrette, Golden Beets Carrot Strings, Crispy Onions & Grated Parmesan
o Willy's Caesar Salad w/Romaine Hearts, Garlicky Dressing & Parmesan Crisp;
Entree (Choice of):
o Ginger Scented Wild Atlantic Nova Salmon: Ginger Crystal Coated Salmon Swimming in a Sweet Corn Risotto, Splashed w/Ginger Froth, Scallion & Crispy Ginger Salad)
o Live Smoked CAB Beef Short Ribs Braised in Rich Rattlesnake Barbeque Spices then Live Hickory Smoked Atop Roasted Cauliflower Smash, Tobacco Onion Rings
o Maple Roasted Breast of Free Range Chicken Pan Roasted atop Butternut Squash Ravioli, Roasted Cippolini & Chantrelle Mushrooms, Splashed with Parmesan Froth & Fried Sage
Dessert (Choice of):
o Flourless Pressed Chocolate Cake served w/Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce
o Lavender & White Chocolate Creme Brulee w/Caramelized Raspberries, Burnt Turbinado Sugar Crisp & Pyramid

Tickets are $30.00 in advance at the DSG store, http://shop.detroitsynergy.org, and include tax and gratuity. (NOTE: Tickets might not be available for purchase immediately. Please check back again.) There will also be an optional two-glass wine flight available for an additional $10.00. Tickets to this event are available by online purchase only, and all purchases must be made by Tuesday, March 24th.

Afterwards, join the Rattlesnake Club for an afterglow in their scenic Grill Room, where fantastic Happy Hour specials will be extended for Detroit Synergy members after dinner. Happy Hour specials are as follows: $2.00 Domestic Beer Bottles, $3.00 Well Drinks, $4.00 Wine Selections, $5.00 Wall of Vodka (100 choices shaken, stirred, or up).

The Rattlesnake Club carries with it quite a bit of “old Detroit” cachet. Chef Jimmy Schmidt began his culinary career in Detroit as the Executive Chef and Executive General Manager at Detroit’s historic and world-famous London Chop House, which he left some 20 years ago to open his own restaurant—the Rattlesnake Club in Denver, followed by the Detroit location. Since then he has opened another location in Palm Desert and continues to offer the same cutting-edge cuisine that has garnered him international recognition, including being honored with the title “Best Chef of the Midwest” by the prestigious James Beard Foundation (and to this day remains the only recipient of this award in Michigan). He is also the Chairman of Chefs Collaborative, which includes culinary stars Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, and Mark Miller in a collaboration of commitment to sustainable cuisine and utilizing local ingredients. The Rattlesnake Club has garnered international recognition as one of the finest restaurants in the region, and Detroit Synergy’s Supper Club is both fortunate and thrilled to be holding our March event at such a distinctive and prominent location.

Detroit Synergy is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. Its mission is to generate positive perceptions and opinions about Detroit by bringing together a diverse community and building upon the City's strengths and resources to realize a common vision for a greater Detroit. Please visit www.detroitsynergy.org for more information about the group.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming Dining Events

There are a number of great dining events coming up in the next several weeks, and I will be keeping you updated along the way. Starting tonight, check out Detroit Synergy Group's newest food-focused social outing, "Diner's Club." From there enjoy wine tastings, wine pairings, and winemakers' dinners to your heart's content.

Wednesday, March 11th: Detroit Synergy Diner’s Club at Eph’s

The kickoff of for the NEW Detroit Diner's Club will be at Eph's on Woodward. Eph's features a daily array of great deli sandwiches named after legendary Detroit icons & landmarks, hot soups, plus a hot cup of Joe or a Fa! ygo. They're also well-known for their famous bread pudding & whiskey sauce. Scope out the great plethera of vintage signage, photos & maps that tell a story or two of old Detroit. So come join us for some great eats and conversation.

When: 6:30pm
Where: 608 Woodward Ave. located on the east side of Woodward just north of Congress in downtown Detroit. Look for the big pickle!
Parking is available onstreet or in nearby garages for a fee.

Cost is only $13.00 and includes:

1) Four small sandwiches from their most popular menu items on one plate:
• THE MABLE CLARK ~ An Irish Reuben Style Sandwich, it features corned beef, swiss, slaw, russian dressing on an onion roll
• THE DUBLIN GARDEN ~ Lettuce, Tomato, spinach, Mayo, Red Onion, Dijon, Sprouts , Havarti on whole grain bread
• THE WOODDBRIDGE ~ Just like the Dublin but add a generous amount of turkey
• THE CAMPUS MARTIUS ~ Roast Beef, Horseradish, Red Onion, Lettuce, on an Onion Roll

2) A Beverage of your choice: Bottle of Vernors, Stewarts Ginger Beer or orange soda, IBC Root Beer, or Coffee.

3) Tax and gratuity.

Tickets: Space is limited, so reservations MUST be made in advance. Tickets are available on the DSG store http://shop.detroitsynergy.org and must be purchased by 9:00PM on Sunday, March 8th; cash reservations must be received by 3:00PM Monday, March 9th. (Editor's note: there's always room for walk-ins; send a note to the email address below.)

Will there be anything else? We're told the bread pudding with whiskey sauce is TO...DIE...FOR... but you may be already stuffed so that is an optional dessert item if you have the room. We'll also be stopping by Cliff Bell's afterwards for some live jazz with the Scott Gwinnell Orchestra & cocktails with some cool cats. Cover is $5.00 at the door plus drinks, optional of course.

For more info, contact Steve Holowicki detroitdiners@detroitsynergy.org
For additional info, visit http://www.yelp.com/biz/eph-mcnallys-detroit

Where: Eph’s, Detroit
When: 6:30PM
Tix: $13.00 (must RSVP in advance to ensure availability)

Thursday, March 12th: Wine & Cheese Pairing at Vitner’s Wine Cellar

Wine and cheese pairing in downtown Royal Oak.
Come try four of our wines with four cheeses from around the world.
Relaxed environment....a great way to spend an early evening or start your night out.
Please contact us at 248-591-9463 to reserve a spot.

Where: Vitner’s Wine Cellar, Royal Oak
When: 6:00PM-8:00PM
Tix: $15.00

Thursday, March 12th: Rock ‘n Roll Wine, “Amplified” Wine Tasting at 336 Main

An “Amplified” wine tasting. Making wine more accessible, less pretentious, and more fun by pairing it with live music in interesting venues. On Thursday, March 12th, Rock ‘n Roll Wine gets shakin' at 336 Main---a club and martini bar in Plymouth. 336 Main offers a respite from the franchise pub and sports bar crowd by espousing the concept of keeping it casually upscale with quality beer, wine, liquor and excellent live entertainment. As usual, RnR Wine will be pouring a brand-new mix of the underappreciated, unusual, and just plain good wines from all over the globe.

One of 336 Main's regular entertainers, Rick Canzano, will be performing a wide mix of popular covers and original entertainment. Canzano is a dynamic live performer, who plays several instruments, and has honed his craft throughout the clubs of Detroit.

A $25 advance ticket lets you sample all of the music and wine that your heart desires. The cost goes up to $30 the day of the show.

Wine pouring starts at 6:30pm, live music begins shortly thereafter. See you there!

Where: 336 Main, Plymouth
When: 6:30PM
Tix: $25.00 advance, $30.00 at the door

Friday, March 13th: Vintage Rock Wine Dinner Featuring Mike Fleetwood Riesling and Doobie Red at Fleming’s

Double Platinum Champagne Cocktail
An original creation by rock star mixologist Kim Haasarud,
author of 101 Champagne Cocktails

served with spring greens and batons of carrots
Riesling Central Coast, 2005
This refreshing, off-dry 2005 Riesling crafted by Mick
Fleetwood is the winner of numerous awards and accolades.

served with sautéed chard, tomato and whole grain
festival fries
DOOBIE RED, North Coast Collectors Series, 2005
Having managed The Doobie Brothers for over 35 years,
B.R. Cohn Winery's Bruce Cohn named this Collectors Series after the artists.

dark chocolate brownie, fudge sauce, raspberry sauce,
chantilly cream, chopped candied walnuts
Coffee or Tea

Where: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Birmingham
When: 6:30PM-9:00PM
Tix: $55.00 (excludes tax and gratuity)

Tuesday, March 17th: A Night in the Andes Wine Dinner at Forest Grill

Hour Detroit’s “Restaurant of the Year” presents “A Night in the Andes”
March 17th, 2009, 6:30 P.M.

Prepare to feast with Chef/Proprietor Brian Polcyn's and Executive Chef David Gilbert's collaboration as they bring you Latin America fare paired with award winning wines from Argentina and Chile.

Seating is limited for this event.

Lime Marinated Snapper
Avocado, Mango, and Green Papaya
Accompanied with: Trivento Torrentes, Mendoza Argentina 2007

Sopa De Quinoa
Roasted Sweet Peppers, Garlic, Poached Egg, and Pepper Broth
Accompanied with: Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley Chile 2007

Aired Dried Ham
Fried Plantains, Pickled Chayote & Bacalao Pebre Sauce, Queso Fresco shot
Accompanied with: Amelia (CYT) Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley Chile 2005

Slow Roasted Loin of Lamb
Poblano Peppers, Empanada, Raisins, Chimichurri
Accompanied with: Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec, Mendoza Argentina 2006

Braised Beef Cheeks
Smoked Tongue, Fresh Bacon
Accompanied with: Terrunyo “Peumo Vineyard,” Carmenere, Cachapoal Valley Chile 2006

Dulce De Leche, Tropical Fruit
Accompanied with: Concha Y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Maule Valley Chile 2005

$85 per Person Plus Tax and Gratuity
Reservations are made with a credit card only.

Where: Forest Grill, Birmingham
When: 6:30PM
Tix: $85.00 plus tax and gratuity

Friday, March 20th: Duckhorn Wine Dinner at The Reserve

This Event will Sell Out

Reception 6:30 pm

Passed Appetizers
2007 Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2006 Decoy, Napa Red Wine

Dinner 7:00 pm

Poached Butterfish

Baby Rocket and Fennel Salad, Dragon Fruit-Satsuma Vinaigrette
2007 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Foie Gras Cappuccino
Quinoa and Duck Breast
2006 Migration Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley


Veal Loin

Quince and Lentil Ragout, Pancetta, Olive Puree
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot Three Palms Vineyard

“Rocky Road”
2006 Paraduxx, Napa Valley Red
Chocolate Barks and Bites

French Press Coffee Service
Bon Appetit
Executive Chef Brian Henson

Where: The Reserve at Big Rock Chophouse, Birmingham
When: 6:30PM-9:30PM
Tix: $150.00 inclusive of tax, tip, and valet

Monday, March 9, 2009

Happy Hour Specials at the Rattlesnake

You wouldn't think it because of its hoighty-toighty reputation, but the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit has some of the best happy hour specials in the city (especially for a fine dining establishment).

Check it out:

4:00PM-7:00PM Tuesdays through Fridays

Tuesdays The Wall of Vodka
Choose any of their 100 vodkas shaken, stirred, up or on the rocks -- your choice for $5.00

Wednesdays Martini Madness
Enjoy the Rattlesnake's house-infused martinis for $5.00

Thursdays & Fridays
$2 Domestic beer bottles
$3 Well drinks
$4 Wine selections
$5 Wall of vodka

Enjoy complimentary artisanal pizza served during happy hour on Thursday & Friday.

$5.00 martinis and a wall of vodka? AND pizza??? Yes, please.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's Really Pronounced "Fort": Forté

It's been years since I've been to Forté in Birmingham. What I do recall was a largely unremarkable experience; a whole lot of flair with little else, and a solid but overpriced wine list. Suffice it to say it did not make my short (or even semi-extended) list of places I would put in my regular rotation.

Then I recently found out that Don Yamauchi, formerly of Tribute Restaurant in Farmington Hills (a former favorite of mine) which is operated by the Epoch Restaurant Group which also owns Forté, is now the Executive Chef there (after a brief stint at the MGM Grand Michael Mina restaurants--by the way, MGM seems to have a hard time maintaining quality staff--most of those who went there in search of greener pastures have since left and returned to the area's tightly networked independent fine restaurants). Since taking over late last summer, Yamauchi has completely transformed their menu, making it a little more affordable and now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

(Note: hours may vary over the next month or so as the restaurant closes sporadically for renovations.)

Yamauchi has maintained his very unique cooking style. As a half-Latino, half-Japanese chef raised in the southwest with Tex-mex cooking traditions, Yamauchi has maintained his multicultural identity on this simple, unpretentious menu. Hearty meat-and-potatoes -style dishes meets a smattering of more delicate fare, but unlike Tribute (where Yamauchi had to follow in the steps of the indomitable Takashi Yagahashi, a difficult adjustment to make for all involved), this is not haute cuisine. Perhaps it never really was, but under Yamauchi Forté has become the kind of place where one-pound pork chops and whole chickens marinated in sea salt and cinnamon dominate the menu.

Catering heavily to good ol' boy American tastes, Forté's menu features items such as an Iceberg "Wedge" Salad (chopped iceberg lettuce with candied pecans, bacon, grape tomatoes, and 1000 Island Dressing), a great big whopping wedge of culinary faux pas in any fine-dining establishment but here, it just seems to fit. There's also pizza--plain old regular build-your-own pizza--and for kicks, the Forté Kobe Cheeseburger (a half pound of kobe beef on a brioche bun with Don's special sauce). The menu may be simple and overly American, but here it seems like Yamauchi is finally having some fun.

We started with a basket of their soft and easily tearable fresh-baked salt-and-herb-encrusted bread, served piping hot with creamy butter. I then moved on to the Buffalo Chicken Spring Rolls with celery and bleu cheese (Far East meets southwest if ever there was), which tasted exactly how you think they would and made me want to drop all etiquette to lick my fingers and ask for a wet nap. Other starters include Chilled Vegetarian Spring Rolls and a Crispy Maki Beef Roll with horseradish aioli, and this is where Yamauchi's Asian culinary background is most evident on the menu (aside from the creative Wasabi Mashed Potatoes served with the whole chicken). You can also order "Garlic Braised Snails." Yes, "snails." Not escargot. Snails. Another fine dining faux pas but at this point you should expect the unexpected here.

Like the truffle pig I am, for dinner I sniffed out the one thing that made this menu most intriguing to me: the Eggs Rosini. Short rib hash, foie gras, and white truffle hollandaise. One of my favorite dishes in some time, and quite a standout on a menu of steaks and chicken pot pie. Even though it didn't really seem to belong on the menu, it definitely belonged in my mouth. The hollandaise was strongly aromatic of white truffles and the foie gras was absolute perfection--probably the best-prepared foie gras I've ever had, cooked to a perfect temperature and not at all burnt. The flavor was also fairly mild for foie gras, and melted in my mouth like butter right alongside the decadently rich hollandaise and slightly crisp short rib hash. Plus, the title egg, which added even more richness.

The desserts sounded delectable, but at that point I had consumed a week's worth of fat grams and was ready to be rolled to my car. I did sample some of my friend's Fresh Fruit and Sorbet with lemon and strawberry house-made sorbets. A perfectly light palate-cleanser.

The wine list is as solid as I remember--somewhat boutique-ish with some favorite names such as "Cakebread" and "Sin Zin." Big on California. About 10 wines from France, Spain, and Italy, yet the Italians are all heavy-hitters (two Brunello di Montalcino labels, a Barbaresco, and Ornellaia...someone here likes their Italian wines). Some decent "New Worlds." Nothing too amazing. Fairly priced. We split a bottle of the Paso Robles' Clos Mimi Petite Rousse Syrah--soft, perfumey, lots of fruit including sweet cherries and red currant with a hint of spice; more than anything I knew it would be something my friend would enjoy as it is not one of those punch-you-in-the-face loud, stinky reds that I typically like.

At Forté the menu might scream casual Americana, but the ambiance and service does not. Our server was extremely polite and knowledgable, offering his help in making wine selections and even offering to run outside and put change in my car so I wouldn't have to...though I'd never dream of actually allowing him to do this (Can you imagine!?! "Sure, it's down the street on the right, here's a quarter."), it was still a show of stellar service that he even offered. He commended particular selections (including my Eggs Rosini), and was incredibly patient when my friend wavered aloud over particular options and even offered his input. He was speedy and attentive and exhibited all the proper decorum; a stellar presence of absolute professionalism in this restaurant. Service truly can make or break a meal.

The décor is a bit...stuffy. It's very pretty and very trendy--perhaps too pretty and trendy for the direction the food has taken. The dark colors and heavy drapes which line the dining room are a bit too much for an establishment that should be a little more light and fun, open and airy. I do like the neon blue-illuminated wine cellar as well as the blue-and-gold mosaic tiles in the bar area, but after so many years of the same-old, Forté could use a facelift to go with the new face in the kitchen. And perhaps that is the plan with the coming renovations, which should now be underway.

In the before time, the crowd at Forté could be a little Birmingham-y--old rich folks in the early evening followed by pampered young trustfunders at night. When I was there on a Friday the crowd was a little more laid-back with people just drinking and laughing in the bar (instead of pursing their lips and looking to see who's looking at them) and only a handful of other guests in the dining room after 9:00. The lunch crowd should be a good draw as their lunch menu is ideal (French Onion Soup and Mile-High Pastrami, anyone?). I'm excited to see these changes that Forté is going through and I think they will best suit the restaurant in the future. The times they are a'changin' and for a place like this to stay successful, it must cater to more traditional tastes (i.e., comfort food at comfortable prices). I commend Yamauchi's plucky audaciousness in creating a decidedly non-trendy menu in a historically trendy place, and for being so bold as to shirk fine dining conventions and just call a snail a snail.

Looking forward to seeing what else you do, Don.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Midwest Young Chef's Competition

On Saturday, March 21st the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs will be hosting the Midwest Jeunes Commis Rôtisseurs Culinary Competition at Schoolcraft College. Schoolcraft College has very respected and internationally acclaimed one-year certificate programs in Culinary Arts, Culinary Baking and Pastry Arts, and Culinary Management. There is also an on-campus student-operated restaurant called The American Harvest (students work under the direction of award-winning Certified Master Chef Dan Hugelier), and many of their Chef instructors and students have won national and international competitions.

Students of the Culinary School as well as other area amateur chefs will be competing in this year's Midwest Young Chef's Culinary Competition, hosted by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. The Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an international gastronomic organization with roots dating back to 1248. They welcome both the industry professional and the amateur foodie into their fold, and are opening this event to the public.

The competition will be held at the Culinary School which is inside the VisTa Tech Building at 18600 Haggerty Rd. in Livonia. Young chefs will be preparing their dishes from behind glass windows and those curious to see what goes on in such an intense kitchen competition are invited to watch. Afterwards, there will be an awards ceremony, induction, and banquet at the College beginning at 6:30PM. Again, this event is open to the public.

The competition will ensue as follows:

Each competitor is to receive an identical mystery basket, permitting them to compose a
three-course menu of their choice prepared for four (4) people, consisting of individual
plates for Appetizer, Main Course, and Dessert. After examining the mystery basket,
competitors shall have 30 minutes to write out a three course menu, and only after the 30
minutes has elapsed, be allowed to commence preparation at their designated kitchen
station. They then have 3 hours to prepare the items and must begin the presentation to the
Jury within their designated 30 minute window (10 minutes for each course, consecutively,
and strictly timed).

Each of the three courses will be judged independently by the following criterion:

Taste - Maximum 15 points
• Balance of four basic tastes.
• Maximum 15 points, awarded by tasting judges.
• Flavors must work in harmony; no over-powering flavors.
• Appropriately seasoned food.
• Avoid competing flavors on the plate.
• Accurately cooked food items.
• Hot foods must be served hot, and cold foods must be served cold.

Presentation - Maximum 5 points
• Maximum 5 points, awarded by tasting judges.
• Judges will be looking for visually appealing presentations that show creativity and
innovation. Each entry must show a proficiency of skills using; contrasting or
complementary colors, shapes, flavors, sizes and with a variety of mediums while
maintaining consistent portion sizes.
• The portion must be appropriate to the dish and to the standard rules of nutrition.
• Strong visual impact and harmony of colors.
• Meat and vegetable juices should not make a dish look unappetizing.
• Points will be deducted for vegetables that are not cut/turned uniformly.
• Plate arrangements should be practical yet appealing and should comply with the current
industry trends.
• Must use more than 50% of each mandatory food item.
• Deductions will be made for:
o Inconsistent portioning
o Disproportional sauce and garnishing to main piece
o Unappealing presentations

Originality - Maximum 10 points
• New creation of dishes and preparation of food.
• Maximum 10 points, awarded by tasting judges.
• Primarily based on the originality of the artistic work and the degree of difficulty and

(There is also a separate judging criterion used by the kitchen judge for technique.)

See for yourself what Michigan's up-and-coming young chefs are capable of in the kitchen! The Young Chef's Competition Awards Banquet is $95.00 per person to attend, and must be paid for in advance. You may make checks payable to:

Robert S. Levine
Bailliage du Michigan
761 Falmouth Drive
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48304

There will also be another Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinner at Iridescence on Friday, March 20th (the evening before the competition) at 7:30PM for a cost of $140.00 per person. This will be an 8-course degustation menu with accompanying wines appropriate to the tastings. Reservations must be made in advance, make checks payable to above.

Viva la Chaîne!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Grinch Didn't Take THIS Roast Beast: Roast

I must admit, I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to "celebrity chef" restaurant ventures. I don't think Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse are among the finest chefs in the world (far from it), and any chef that will market himself to the point of having his own section in the frozen food aisle has, in my book, officially traded in his culinary knives for commerce instead. That's it. That's a wrap.

Michael Symon qualifies as a "celebrity chef" somewhat by accident. After winning the Food Network's Next Iron Chef competition in 2007, Symon's name has launched from the lips of Food & Wine devotees and travelers to Cleveland (where his first and second ventures, Lola and Lolita, garnered rave reviews and brought him into the culinary spotlight) to those of every casual Food Network foodie across America. Wonderful for him, and more wonderful still that with his newfound fame he opted to open a restaurant here in Detroit.

But. What inevitably seems to happen with these "celebrity chef" places is that the restaurant becomes more name than substance, and the other chefs in the kitchen don't always get their chance to shine and instead must continuously cook up whatever pre-designated menu items the "name" chef created. Not always, mind you, but often enough. The food then becomes second-rate, lacking in the creativity and imagination that perhaps lent that chef his celebritydom in the first place but has since fallen by the wayside, favoring consumerism over the art of consuming.

Michael Symon's Roast inside the Westin Book-Cadillac is dangerously close to crossing that line, though thankfully it hasn't quite done so yet.

Roast is heavily fashioned after Symon's self-professed "meat-centric" cooking methods. The menu reads "meat, meat, and more meat;" a vegetarian would have a difficult time finding a satisfactory meal here, though one should know to expect that when entering an establishment called simply "Roast."

The starter menu offers a variety of different meat meat and more meat options, including some uncommon ones such as Crispy Chicken Livers and a Charcuterie for two (a selection of preserved meats which can include sausages, salt-cured meats, confit and pâté). The Roasted Marrow with sea salt, oregano, capers and chilies is another stand-out on this starter menu, and may be worth a trip back simply for that. One of my dining companions ordered the Crispy Fresh Bacon, served with pickled tomato, almond, and haloumi. This is real bacon, not the store-bought sizzle strips Americans are accustomed to. The large round medallions of bacon we were served were most likely cut from the back (what Americans would refer to as "Irish bacon") instead of the underbelly, which is where the more common "streaky bacon" is cut from. Two of the medallions were meaty and tasted more like pork meat than salt-cured bacon; the last medallion was really just a small slab of pork fat and made the stomach of my die-hard bacon-loving friend turn a bit. I understand that the fat gives it the flavor, but it still isn't pretty to look at (or pop a whole wad of into your mouth, for that matter).

Roast has a small selection of soups and salads (most with meat) to choose from, and I opted for the day's soup special, a Spicy Tomato Soup with crisped bacon and blue cheese crostini. Points for presentation on this one: much as a fine dining establishment will present you with your lobster bisque by setting down a large bowl with nothing but lump lobster meat and perhaps a garnish in it, then having a waiter with a small soup pot pour your bisque artfully over the meat and into the bowl, so was my soup presented as a bowl with only crostini and crisp bits of bacon and poured from a small pot in one sweeping motion of the arm. The soup was really quite delicious--with almost the consistency of a puree and a brilliant tobascco-orange color, the flavor itself was hearty with a pleasant spiciness, and the salty, crunchy bits of bacon and powerfully tangy blue cheese crostini were perfect contrasts.

Choosing an entree was no small task with items like Braised Lamb Shank, Wild Boar Rack, and Duck Cassoulet. Ultimately, I opted for the Roasted Beast of the Day--in other words, a chunk off of whatever animal should happen to be turning in the prominently-placed spit visibly displayed for the whole dining room (again, this really isn't a place for vegetarians). Mine was Suckling Pig served with their house-made green salsa verde, and it was as soft as butter. Tender, juicy, flavorful, and quite literally melt-in-your-mouth, this little piggy went "Eeee! Eeee! Eeee!" all the way into my belly. There's just nothing quite like meat from a spit. (The crispy skin served atop the pile of pulled pork was a bit much for me--very greasy. Luckily it was really nothing more than a meat garnish.)

My companions weren't quite so fortunate. One decided that the Roast Burger sounded good, made with bacon, cheddar, and fried egg on an English muffin. I've had fried egg on a burger before. I was in a very traditional Dublin pub and was completely not expecting it though was too hungry to turn away from it. It was one of the most disgusting dining experiences I've ever had--the yolk running all over the burger, etc. One look at his burger brought back that unpleasant memory, and my sympathies went to my friend who braved it anyway. His large metal cone of Rosemary Fries, extremely thin shoe-string cut (my favorite, and the only way fries should ever be) and aromatic with rosemary, were very tasty, though the house-made ketchup tasted strangely like Taco Bell sauce. The presentation was also clever, modeled after the paper cones pommes frites are served in all over Europe.

The other friend opted for the Prime Rib special with a side of asparagus. The asparagus was steamed, nothing more...no shaved almonds or parmesan, no butter or garlic or olive oil, nothing...just steamed. I wonder, is this a trend now? It used to be a side of asparagus always had some kind of additional flavor to it, even it if was just sea salt and ground pepper. If this is the new steakhouse trend, consider me disappointed. Especially when the asparagus is overcooked and limp to boot. As for the Prime Rib, for a restaurant that touts the fact that all of its meat is "hand-chosen and naturally raised...dry aged for a minimum of 21 days and finished with sea salt and oregano," this cut was particularly bland. Though cooked to the appropriate temperature as ordered, the beef itself had no real flavor, was neither tough nor tender, and was just kind of...a big slab of beef. All the flavor was in the charred crust, and that's only good if you like char flavor.

The dessert offerings were small but tempting. The crème brûlée of the day was Tahitian Vanilla (good, but common) and the special sorbet flavor was Mango (YUM). Other desserts included a "Mocha Parfait" made with flourless chocolate cake and citrus caramel sauce, as well as Warm Cinnamon Donuts served with a cider reduction, apple compote, and sour cream. The Michigan Tart Cherry Almond Crisp with sherry ice cream sounded equally as decadent, but it was the "Beer & Pretzels" I ultimately opted for, made with Guinness ice cream, chocolate-covered pretzels, and caramel. Again, Roast wins with presentation but not necessarily with flavor. Served in a pint glass and looking like a parfait, the ice cream itself was very mild with only the faintest hint of Guiness flavor, and the clearly store-bought chocoalte-covered pretzels were too severe a contrast to the mild, creamy ice cream. The pretzels themselves were approaching staleness and the chocolate coating already too old to serve, beginning to turn white and losing its flavor (called "blooming," when the cocoa butter fat rises to the surface and turns the chocolate white, which happens when chocolate is stored in warm temperatures and also when the chocolate is just simply old). Every bite of slighty stale, overly-salty pretzel overwhelmed the ice cream's flavor...and honestly, I've had better Guinness ice cream in Ben & Jerry's short-lived "Black & Tan" flavor. A great concept that unfortunately fell (far) short.

However...Roast does also offer an Artisanal Cheese Plate (choose 3 or 5 cheeses) on the dessert menu, which is more than enough reason for me to come back and try again.

Overall, the food was quite good with a few easily corrected missteps. The décor is absolute understated luxury--the whole dining room and bar is adorned in warm chocolate browns and tapues, with plush leather accents, a very simple ceramic tile around the bar, and very modern recessed lighting which creates golden pools of illuminating light overhead. It is at once modern and classic, posh and inviting. Service was attentive, though server skills were spotty--some seemed very comfortable in a fine dining atmosphere, while others were perhaps a bit too casual for the setting, lacking the decorum for a place which presents itself with this much panache.

I've held off on discussing the wine list, and with reason. While the restaurant itself succeeded in at the very least challenging my pre-conceived bias against such a "celebrity chef" establishment, the wine list in all ways confirmed it. This is exactly the kind of wine list I would expect to find in some over-inflated "celebrity" chef's restaurant which is all pomp and no substance, catering strictly to expense rather than taste. It's got 3 of the Big French 5 (Lafite, Mouton and Margaux), as well as high-priced California reds such as Axios, Caymus, and Quintessa. These wines, much like my pre-conceived bia against celebrity chef ventures, are all name and little more. (Which isn't to say they aren't great wines; some are. There are equally great wines from Spain and South America for 1/10 of the price.) While you'll be hard-pressed to find a quality selection under $80.00, there are plenty in the $200.00+ range. A wine list like this tends to point towards amateurish notions of "fine wine;" a wine doesn't have to be expensive in order to be phenomenal, and even clientele who can afford a $420.00 French Bordeaux can still appreciate a $40.00 Spanish Tempranillo--and a good sommelier would well-represent all those tastes, instead of discouraging people with more "economic" tastes from the over-priced, over-hyped wine list. Also, this list features a lot of lesser-known labels...which can really go either way, and is sometimes a great mark of experimentation and innovation. The verdict is still out here.

The wines by the glass list is pretty sparse, though I definitely recommend the Four Vines Old Vine Zinfandel--spicey, peppery and jammy. Great with the many, many meats found on the menu. And again, presentation is top-notch--my glass of wine was brought out in a small decanter and poured into my wine glass (which also happened to be the proper shape for a Zin), allowing the young wine to aerate before ever hitting my tongue. Again, bravo here.

I will say that Roast offers a fairly sizable list of Michigan-made beers on tap and by the bottle, which is always refreshing to see (and not the usual Ghetto Blaster from Motor City Brewing Works, either). Their specialty cocktails and martinis are also impressive; the Espresso Martini (made with Stoli Vanil, Patron Cafe XO, Tia Maria, and espresso) tastes just like your favorite morning pick-me-up. The ultra-chic (yet comfortable) bar also provides a casual-yet-classy atmosphere for patrons to imbibe, and offers a welcome respite from the overly trendy and the shabby chic which dominates the area.

Roast is full of hits and misses. Hits: a thoughtful if meat-centric menu which showcases the chef's specialities that is moderately priced and overall savory. Flawless atmosphere. Attentive service. Consistent excellence in presentation. Misses: too often it buys into its own snobbish appeal when it doesn't really need to (and really, the place isn't even all that snobby--haute cuisine this is not), particularly with the wine list. Also, some dishes need work. But overall I was pleased with this experience and with the restaurant in general; despite some missteps I think the concept is great and is executed fairly well, and while I recognize that not all dishes can be winners, I would expect that the wine list could be more accommodating to a wider range of tastes. I do think Symon has succeeded in creating a dining establishment that is innovative without being elitist, and after some fine-tuning I think it could be one of the best restaurants in metro Detroit. Time will tell there, but in the meantime, I am thankful this particular celebrity chef decided to take a chance in Detroit.