Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Crepes Have It (Again)

Creperies are all the rage right now, no? Mais oui!

What Crêpe opened just two months ago in Royal Oak and is a welcome addition to the Oak's sometimes stale dining scene (the good places are great; the rest a parade of mediocre). Following the trend started by Josephine Creperie & Bistro in Ferndale, made hugely buzzworthy by Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes (still on John R at Woodward, but soon to be opening second and third locations in Midtown and Grosse Pointe Park), and further popularized by the divine Le Petit Zinc in Detroit, What Crêpe is serving up more of these delicate little dishes that are populating their way all over metro Detroit.

What Crêpe offers crepes of both the sweet and savory variety, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. Some of their specialties include Mushroom Madness with a blend of cremini and shitake mushrooms, Mixed Berry with strawberries, blackberries and raspberries topped with powdered sugar, and the signature dessert What Chocolate Éclair Crêpe, complete with creamy vanilla custard and topped with rich chocolate. They also serve organic teas and fair trade coffee to pair with your pastry (is a crepe shell considered a pastry, I wonder? And if it isn't, then what is it? Surely, even as pancake's cousin, it is still in the family of pastry? Ah, life's mysteries...).

In recent news, owner Paul Jenkins Jr. has hired on Chef Justin Kopsch, formerly of Little Tree Sushi Bar, to expand on the menu and double portion sizes. This little creperie is a concept unique to Royal Oak (frankly I'm surprised it took so long), and I imagine it will do well here (I'm specifically reminded of the success of the similarly-minded and similarly-eclectic Cafe Muse). This charming little crepe cafe is further proof that slowly but surely, Royal Oak is learning to re-embrace its indie roots (even if it is in a more upscale way). If Ferndale is the new OLD Royal Oak, the NEW Royal Oak is the new Birmingham, and Birmingham is...well, it's still Biiiiir-mingham, and it always will be.

P.S., the name is most clever when you pronounce "crepe" properly...shorten the "e"...kind of rhymes with "strap"...get it now?

What Crêpe is open for lunch, dinner, and private parties. It is located at 317 S. Washington Avenue and also offers outdoor patio seating. As added incentive, service industry folks receive 15% off their food bill on Tuesdays, and Royal Oak residents save 10% Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Their hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When in Naperville...

I've been to Naperville, Illinois three times for work over the past 9 months; I even started a Naperville dining entry after my last visit but for whatever reason ("whatever" being the decreasing level of interest I had in writing about Naperville the longer I was away from it) I never completed this entry.

After yet ANOTHER trip to this Chicago suburb, I feel once again inspired to share my experiences in discovering the hidden culinary world of Naperville, Illinois. And I must admit, with each visit my experience becomes a little more enjoyable, and I always discover at least one hidden gem which I had not discovered before. My first trip was wholly unadventurous and uninspired; I've learned my lesson well since then and have embraced all that which Naperville has to offer the overly-critical gastronome such as myself...and found that it was a whole lot more than I would have expected.

Naperville is by and large a nightmare of suburban sprawl. Route 59--best comparable to the M-59 Eastsiders know and love (west of I-75 it just simply isn't the same steering-wheel-pounding experience)--is a non-stop nightmare of slow traffic, congestion, lack of turn-around opportunities, and never-ending mega-malls. Driving down this road at a slow-and-steady 35mph (this is the fastest you will ever travel on this road, regardless if it is day or night), you pass by an ample array of uninspired chain restaurants: Friday's, Applebee's, Chili's, Olive Garden, another Applebee's, On the well as chains unfamiliar to us Michiganders, such as Boston Blackies, Houlihan's, and Culver's. You could lift the whole stretch up and plop it down anywhere else in the Midwest, and it would look pretty much the same as every other suburban landscape.

But interspersed amongst all the city block-sized super-stores, strip malls, and the big shopping mall in the middle (the reason I'm even there, after all), there are nondescript sushi lounges, wine bars, and ohdeargod pizza.

There is also a very cute, quaint little downtown area, very Birmingham-ish, with lots of cute, quaint shops and restaurants and even a cute, quaint riverwalk (think more creek than river). Regrettably I admit to spending more time downtown back in January in the middle of a week-long blizzard than I did during the 5 warm, sunny days I spent there this month...but did I mention how annoying the traffic is? Seriously. It's bad.

This time around, I ate a lot of pizza. Which, okay, might have been the easy way out but hey--I love pizza, and it's an equally valid approach to charting a city's culinary landscape as hitting all the 5-star joints (of which I believe there is exactly one in all of Naperville). Besides, I can only charge so much to my corporate expense account. But between my last two sojourns I've discovered quite a bit about Naperville cuisine, and I find myself liking it. Liking it enough, anyway.

Thanks to a great new website called simply "Naperville Dining" (and where were you on my last trip???), I was able to navigate my way through some of Naperville's most noteworthy locations, and discovered what ended up being total serendipity: a wine bar.


When I arrived at the Distinctive Cork, I was not in a happy mood. I pulled up to its faceless strip mall location in a big empty parking lot in my rental Yaris with the GPS system aglow and found myself facing 6 people outside drinking wine and smoking cigarettes and previously full of merriment until they were surprised (and perhaps a bit unpleasantly) by me, the 11th-hour customer (or 23rd hour in military time).

At this point I was dejected. Clearly they were closed, and I was interrupting. I made a desperate plea for a glass of wine (something about killing someone), and was given a glass by the fabulous Fred Gore, one of the co-owners of the restaurant-slash-wine bar.

In Mr. Gore I found a foodie after my own heart. We started by talking about politics (suffice it to say that the views we share are in the minority), and agreed that Chicago's food really isn't all that great, and talked about different restaurants in New Orleans where he worked and I briefly visited, and different chefs, and writing, and more about restaurants, and travel, and socioeconomic crisis, and we agreed about EVERYTHING, and I really forgot just how nice it is to talk to someone who agrees with me about everything. It's really nice. More people should be right all the time about everything like me and Fred Gore.

I learned something else that night as well: four glasses of wine on an empty stomach is still not a good idea, and probably never will be.

But I must say, this was a great night and the most fun I've had in Naperville to date. Not such a great morning, though. For me or the hotel's maids.

For other visitors, I highly recommend checking out the Distinctive Cork for both the food, the wine, and the ambiance. The walls are decorated with art for purchase from the Naperville Art League, and the menu is wide range of tasty offerings from tapas to artisanal cheese plates (with wine pairing suggestions) to fresh seafood and risotto to decadent specialty desserts. It's contemporary American (i.e., a multi-culti fusion for an American palate) and some of the most gastronomically ambitious in the 'burbs. (Where else will you find veal meatballs with goat cheese in a vodka tomato sauce?)


I learned something else, too: pizza in Chicago is WAAAAAAY overpriced. Even foregoing the infamous "Chicago-style" pizza (deep dish crust in which the ingredients are baked inside with the sauce covering the top--a preparation which I detest, and I LOVE PIZZA), you will still pay about $13.00 for a regular hand-tossed or thin crust pie just big enough to tide you over for a couple of hours. $20.00 will fill you for the night, with a little leftover to get you going in the morning. $5.00 Hot-'n-Ready's to feed a family of 4 this is not; granted, they definitely don't taste like $5.00 pizzas either.

A quick run-through of various Naperville pizza outlets:

Chicago Pizza Authority: They just opened the Aurora location (next to Naperville) and they really really really want business. I tried the thin-crust Margharita pizza--toppings good, crust BAD. Thin, flavorless, and dry as cardboard. Otherwise the olive oil soaks the crust under the toppings and makes it edible; just eat right up to the edge of where the cheese stops.

Giordano's: Voted Chicago's best stuffed pizza/best pizza in America by a variety of networks, I opted for a more traditional pie, sampling the garlic cheese tomato bread and a thin-crust spinach with mozzarella and parmesan pizza. The garlic bread was like the kind you might make at home; the pizza was tasty even if the crust lacked flavor (at least it wasn't bone-dry). Apparently Chicago, being known only for their deep-dish pizzas, has yet to master the art of thin, pan, or hand-tossed crusts. You can find a Giordano's in all corners of the greater Chicago area, not unlike metro Detroit's National Coney Islands.

Connie's Pizza: I took a toll road and paid $10.00 for a mouthful of pizza. Yes, it was a tasty mouthful, but really? I also only discovered this place because they used to cater a restaurant called "Pizza to the People," a hippie-era-inspired pizza joint on Route 59 that has since closed but still has a sign up. They've got three locations throughout the 'burbs including a "lodge" in Naperville--take advantage of their daily specials because menu prices are high.


I've also discovered a little place called Le Chocolat du Bouchard. Chocolate lounges (or "chocolate cafes") are becoming quite a popular trend across the nation, and we do have a few here in metro Detroit: Chocolate Gallery Cafe in Warren is more a cafe/restaurant, but they offer a range of homemade chocolate confections made by co-owners Cathy LaBash; the Chocolate Bar Cafe in Grosse Pointe is more like an old-fashioned sweet shop and also serves Illy espresso and Alinosi ice cream. But perhaps the most comparable to Le Chocolat is Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe, with locations in Twelve Oaks Mall and Partridge Creek, which offers pastries, coffee, and a wide range of gourmet chocolate beverages.

While I am typically not a "sweets" person--preferring my beloved cheese over chocolate any day of the week--I do find something inherently sexy about chocolate. The way it smells, the way it tastes, the way it triggers the same chemical response in your brain as heroin...just to say the word, chocolate, to picture liquid chocolate being drizzled on top of an elegant dessert, to see the colorful displays of molded chocolates shining under the bright lights of a display case, like little edible works of art in an array of colors and flavors and quality...yes, there's definitely something sexy about it. Cheese, by comparison, is always stinky. So good stinky, but stinky just the same.

Le Chocolat du Bouchard is a colorful chocolate boutique, selling an array of gorgeous pastries, clever candies, rich chocolate bars and sinful cocoas, even chocolate-scented candles and lotions. Owner Cathy Bouchard emphasizes the healing aspects of pure, quality chocolate--how it can help alleviate pain, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and more. She teaches workshops and lectures on chocolate's many benefits, based on her own history of chronic pain relief via the cocoa bean (and her inspiration for opening the cafe). The crown jewel of this cafe is the large chocolate "bar"--peruse the "drink" menu (a variety of dozens of cocoas, chocolate "martinis," and more gourmet chocolate beverages) and experience the exotic nature of internationally-inspired chocolate. Twice I've been here, and twice I've walked out with a beverage so wonderfully decadent it can only best be likened to something sexual. The Mayan Hot Chocolate was filled with exotic spices and a dash of peppery heat, completely unlike any hot chocolate I've ever had. The Belgian Chocolate Malt is rich and creamy and blended so smooth, so...oooooh. If you don't believe in the healing power of chocolate before you enter this place, you sure will when you leave. And they put Godiva's Chocolixers to shame.


Next up on the Naperville hit list: generic Eye-talian places.

Rosebud of Naperville: This family-run "Eye"-talian restaurant used to serve up hot platters of traditional Italian-American family-style foods--think big, big platters of pasta and entrees like Chicken Marsala, Eggplant Parmesan, and the like. Detroit equivalent: Roma Cafe. Wholly uninspired, fairly generic, but the portions are large and the food is hearty. Since I was last there, this place has transformed (in an effort to attract more budget-conscious clientele) to "Rosebud Burger & Comfort Foods"--at a tremendous remodeling expense and, from what I understand, not much of an improvement. (And the $10 "Blue Ribbon Burger," which isn't even USDA Choice Black Angus which is should be for that price, is hardly economical.)

Luigi's House & Jillian's Piano Bar is located right off highway 59 between my hotel and Fox Valley Mall, and every time I would pass by it I was taunted by the tantalizing smell of garlic. On my last trip I stopped in (during a blizzard, because everything I did that week was during a blizzard) and tried some of their pizza with a glass of wine. Their wine selection is--icky. The pizza was okay. More generic family-style Eye-talian fare (Chicken Marsala, Eggplant Parmesan), but damn if it didn't smell amazing.


And now, tapas madness:

Meson Sabika: A Spanish tapas-style restaurant in a 150-year-old mansion. The mansion was beautifully restored for the restaurant to open almost 20 years ago, and is an amazing location for parties, weddings, etc. (Think the Whitney with a totally different kind of menu.) The interior was beautiful in the way that only a restored mansion can be, and the tapas menu hands-down the most extensive and the most authentically Spanish-style menu I've seen anywhere (granted, I've not been to Spain). Endless choices of meat, seafood, and cheeses abound, but there is also a full paella menu to sift through as well (after Costa Rica, the last thing I wanted was chicken and rice, but the paella is a traditional Spanish dish and is certainly as wonderful as their tapas dishes...admittedly I was actually there in January, so the Costa Rica thing isn't really an excuse...I'm just really sick of chicken and rice). While there I had a duck loin dish with an Amontillado sherry; their wine and sherry list is SOLIDLY Spanish and as extensive as the tapas menu. Rioja lovers will rejoice! (As will lovers of the Ribero del Duero, and Priorat, and any of the big, bold wines coming out of Spain that can hold up blow-by-blow to their Italian and French counterparts.) This is also probably the most extensive list of Spanish wines I've seen on any menu, which makes Meson Sabika both a foodie and a wine enthusiast's dream...tucked away in often surprising Naperville.

Tango Argentinian Grill: As I am a die-hard Sunday brunch fan, I spent a good amount of time scouring online menus and user reviews to find a good place for brunch in Naperville. After discovering Tango's Champagne Brunch ($15.95 includes a wide range of breakfast and lunch foods served buffet-style including made-to-order omelets & crepes and seafood paellas, as well as--and this is unconfirmed--bottomless mimosas???) I was sold, and headed there straightaway...only to find that they had closed the buffet a half an hour early due to slow business (this was on my last trip, during the Great Four Month Long Blizzard of 2009). Wah-waaaaah. But since I was there already and had no backup plan, I figured, what the hell? Why not sample another tapas menu? It can be a theme!

While there was little distinctively Argentinian about this Florida chain with this one random Napervillian outpost, Tango Argentinian Grill (though they do promise the "World's Longest Steaks," which is apparently an Argentinian thing), the bruschetta and the bacon-wrapped scallops were very enjoyable and I would certainly visit this place again. The wine list is also agreeable, with a good cross-section of North and South American wines.


Sushi, please:

Bento Zushi: It's a kiosk in Fox Valley Mall. I tried it and didn't die. That pretty much covers the finer points.

There's always next time:

Sugar Toad: I suspect this is may be the gastronomic epicenter of Naperville, but have yet to make it out to the Hotel Arista to discover for myself. I also suspect that I had loose dinner plans with my new BFF at Distinctive Cork, but that was into the fourth glass of wine so you can't really blame me for my spotty memory. Chef Jimmy Sneed has garnered rave reviews for the regional contemporary American cuisine at Sugar Toad, which gets its name from an ugly little blowfish that Sneed serves tempura-style as a complimentary amuse bouche to diners. The menu focuses on highlighting the local, seasonal flavors of the region and it is said to be "worth the drive from Chicago." I guess I have a reason to go back, then.

While intially I was adverse to the whole idea of Naperville (a suburb--bleh--of a city I don't even think is that great to begin with), after several visits I have warmed to it nicely. Much like our own little Detroit, it might not smack you in the face with its culinary savvy but if you give it a chance, it might surprise you. (The traffic really is awful, though.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Chef at Iridescence

After all my gushing over Don Yamauchi after my trip to Forte, he went and did me one better: he took up residence at Detroit's hands-down best fine dining establishment, Iridescence inside Motor City Casino.

The fact that he decided to try out another casino restaurant after having what I understand to be a not-entirely good experience at MGM speaks volumes for what he must see as his opportunity at Iridescence. All I can say is: yespleaseyespleaseOMGyesplease!

Read the full press release below:

Chef Don Yamauchi has taken the reigns at Iridescence, a premiere dining destination located atop Detroit’s elegant MotorCity Casino Hotel. He brings with him a fresh take on upscale comfort-inspired foods presented in an unforgettable setting.

Yamauchi, a Chicago native, is a recipient of the James Beard Society’s Rising Chef award. He has been named among Food & Wine magazine’s Top 10 New Chefs in America. A graduate of the Culinary School of Kendall College in Evanston, Ill., Yamauchi understands the nuances of the Midwest dining scene. He built his career as a co-owner and executive chef at Le Francais in Wheeling, Ill., and has served as executive chef at such highly regarded metro Detroit venues as Forte, Saltwater, Bourbon Steak and Tribute.

Yamauchi, a Farmington resident, stands to take Iridescence to the next level with his innate understanding of Midwest sensibilities, French culinary training and Asian-inspired flavors. His menu re-envisions classic dishes, and elevates them to new heights.

“This isn’t your grandmother’s Chicken Pot Pie,” said Yamauchi describing a signature menu item. His preparation of the comfort food favorite involves a confit enriched by duck fat. His menu features appetizers like Crab Louie with avocado puree, Wagyu Beef Sliders, and entrées like Pan-Seared King Salmon with miso butter. His fresh upscale take on comfort foods places Iridescence in a new class, as a restaurant destined to be everyone’s first choice, from special events to a casual weeknight dinner.

While the experience is sure to be a memorable one – from the breathtaking views high atop Detroit’s MotorCity Casino Hotel to the extensive wine list, exquisite personalized service and inspired dishes – it is now a more accessible dining option.

Yamauchi understands the challenges of today’s economy for every family. The average entrée costs $25, and his adventurous tasting menus range from $35-$50. Iridescence remains dedicated to quality ingredients, artful presentation and refined service, as Yamauchi presents what he calls a “relaxed menu at relaxed prices.”

This marks a new beginning. Yamauchi will lead the MotorCity Casino Hotel culinary team overseeing all venues. Those restaurants include The Assembly Line Buffet, MotorCity Pit Stop, Flames and the Signature Lounge.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Farewell, Five Lakes Grill...Hola, Cinco Lagos

After 14 years of serving up a smorgasbord of house-smoked, house-cured meats such as rabbit, venison, and wild boar, celebrated Chef Brian Polcyn's Five Lakes Grill in Milford closed its doors on Sunday and will reopen August 3rd as Cinco Lagos (Spanish for "five lakes"), Milford's premiere Mexcian restaurant. Cinco Lagos will maintain the same traditions as Five Lakes--fresh, natural, local ingredients, prepared simply to maximize flavors. They will be serving traditional Mexican fare such as housemade salsas and guacamole, hand-made tortillas, braised meats, and chorizo.

Diehard fans of Polcyn's charcuterie can still find it at Forest Grill in Birmingham, Polcyn's latest venture which opened in 2008 with much apblomb and has since been named Hour Detroit's Restaurant of the Year for 2009.

This seems to be happening more and more lately. Restaurants with hefty price points are reimagining their menus, if not their whole concept, to keep in line with the current budget-conscious trend. It may manifest as a new casual menu, like the Bar Burger at Bourbon Steak; special discounted dishes like the Rattlesnake Club's $30.00 3-course "Lobster Madness;" or it may mean a total transformation, a complete reconceptualization of the atmosphere and menu (even in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, an Italian eatery I visited on my last trip has since reimagined itself into a burger joint--and from what I understand, not all that successfully).

While there is nothing in any of the press that explicitly stated "We're doing this because Five Lakes Grill is no longer making any money," I'd bet a hundred thousand pesos that this is the underlying reason--perhaps this, and the fact that Forest Grill is garnering so much attention that Polcyn can no longer divide his time and attention between the two restaurants and maintain the same level of quality, creativity, and consistency for both. And while a Mexican restaurant seems like a bit of a cop-out, think less Rojo Mexican Bistro and more El Barzon.

It should be interesting to see what a Mexican eatery a la Brian Polcyn looks like (their Barbacoa will probably be off the chain), though I will admit that the loss of Five Lakes Grill is quite unfortunate, especially since Polcyn was just this year nominated for a James Beard Award for this restaurant.

This trend of restaurants reimagining their menus--more desirable than shuttering entirely, no doubt--may yield some interesting changes, though it also may lead to some disastrous ones. The biggest problem is that, for those looking to skate by this time by lowering prices and hoping for a speedy economic recovery, there is no turning back. Like I learned from my own experiences in advertising and retail, once you lower your prices (or offer special introductory rates), your customers will NEVER pay full price again (or go back "on rate"). Tribute, Opus One, the Rattlesnake that they've begun discounting, they'll never be able to stop. Bourbon Steak can never eliminate its Bar Burger, and Cinco Lagos can never go back to being Five Lakes. Regardless, for those who have money to spend, there is no time like the present to get some great deals on just have to hope that your favorite places don't decide to reconceptualize from fine dining to cheap eats.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

July Supper Club at Bookies Bar & Grille

Time for a press release!


Bookies Tavern was a staple sports bar and a local favorite located on Washington Blvd. for several years, but when Bookies reopened to a larger location at 2208 Cass Ave. (at Columbia) earlier this year, they made it clear that they were now ready for the big leagues. Supper Club will be heading to their spacious rooftop patio on Wednesday, July 29th, beginning with a cocktail hour at 6:00PM and a full four-course dinner at 7:00PM.

Co-owner John Lambrecht is a steadfast supporter and promoter of Detroit, and feels very passionate about his (and his bar’s) continued involvement with the city.

“We could see the writings on the wall with the old location,” says Lambrecht, in reference to the closing of the Book Building, which forced the bar’s move. “We knew we wanted to keep the bar in the city and stay involved with this community, but we also wanted to redefine what Bookies was all about.”

And redefine they did. Not only is Bookies now a top-notch three-floor bar and lounge with a private VIP area (and a 16-foot projection television with a dozen high-def plasma TVs throughout the bar’s many floors, so sports fans can still get their fill), but in what is probably their greatest improvement from the old location, they now serve food. Great food, by 19-year restaurant veteran John Rodemich IV, who has served as Executive Chef at Chuck Muer, 5ive in Plymouth, and most recently came from Michael Symon’s Roast. Here at Bookies, Rodemich offers classic bar food with a gourmet twist, perfectly suited to Bookies’ new upscale feel.

For Supper Club, diners will experience a broad range of Bookies’ best offerings:

• Appetizers (Served Family-Style):
Cajun Beef Tips—5 oz. of Tender Beef Tips sauteed to order, tossed with a Cajun Cream Sauce & Tabasco Onion Frizzles.

Apple BBQ Shrimp—Fresh Shrimp battered in a house-made batter with Apple BBQ Sauce

• 2nd Course (Choice):
Michigan Vineyard Salad with Dried Cherries, Red Onions, Bleu Cheese, Toasted Nuts & Raspberry Vinaigrette

Gazpacho—Homemade Chilled Vegetable Soup, filled with Fresh-Chopped Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Celery, Onions & Cilantro.

• 3rd Course (Choice):
Grilled Atlantic Salmon finished with a Soy Honey Ginger Glaze. Served with Rice Pilaf & Roasted Vegetables

Walnut Encrusted Chicken with Mango Brown Butter. Served with Mango Salsa, Rice Pilaf & Roasted Vegetables.

• 4th Course:
Fantastic French Toast—Cinnamon Swirl style French Toast topped with Vanilla Ice Cream & Caramel Maple Syrup. Finished with Powdered Sugar.

If you haven’t yet done so, it’s time for you to rediscover Bookies. While still a sport fan favorite, it is also a welcome new addition to Detroit’s growing culinary scene, and worth being viewed as so much more than just a sports bar.

Tickets are $30.00 in advance at the DSG store,, and include tax and gratuity. There will also be an optional two-glass wine or beer 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, July 28th. No walk-ins, please. Tickets are first-come, first-served.

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 for more information about the group.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Bar Burger at Bourbon Steak

Mmmmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger.

The new Bar Burger at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak was introduced about two and a half months ago as a way of attracting more customers into this pricey place during these times when people are less apt to drop a couple hundy on a meal (ignore the irony that the customers they are trying to attract are inside the MGM Grand Casino gambling their money away), and so far it has seen great success. According to our server, since introducing this new casual menu--available only in the bar and lounge areas--the restaurant has been progressively busier every single week. On this Tuesday night around 7:00PM, the dining room and bar were full and there was a wait at the front.

My friend and I decided to go here after previous dinner plans fell through. I said, "I just want a freakin' cheeseburger," and he said, "Oooh! We could go check out the Bar Burger at Bourbon Steak!" And so it was decided.

We sat down at the bar and were greeted warmly by the doorman and the bartender. I perused the wine list but, after spending several wonderful days in Michigan wine country, California reds at a 300% markup just weren't cutting it for me. I inquired about one of the beers on tap, from a brewery named "Avery" I had never heard of before. It was a Russian Imperial Stout called "The Czar" and I eagerly said yes (chuckling a little at the server's warning about the 10% alcohol content).

The beer was superb--creamy with heavy notes of espresso, chocolate, malted hops, and dark berries. I loved it. I loved all $11.00 of it.

Yep...this was just the beginning. To adequately tell this tale I need to start at the end: our total bill, for what was essentially two burgers, a shared order of fries, a beer and a well vodka drink was $56.18. If the idea was to attract more customers with the more casual fare, the target demographic is still those with deep pockets. (By comparison, for $5.50 at Lefty's Lounge I could have had a burger and a 22-oz draught beer and would probably have been equally as satisfied, not as far as quality per se, but at least as far as saving 30 bucks.)

We both ordered the all-beef burger, a blend of USDA Prime and American Kobe beef. Other choices include lamb, turkey, salmon, and falafel. Of the meats, none are less than $14.00. You can pick from a variety of accoutrements for your burger--the whole concept is a build-your-own burger bar with up to six add-ons. I chose farmhouse cheddar and Emmental Swiss, and also added on a side of Duck Fat Fries (a trio of differently-seasoned fries paired with three different sauces) for an extra $5.00.

The food came...after 30 minutes or so, anyway (our server admitted that they need more staff, and it was certainly no fault of his)...and yes, it WAS a tasty burger. Thick, tender, juicy, flavorful, perfectly cooked to my requested medium-well temperature and not at all charred. Despite the fact that I was getting full about halfway through, I forced myself to eat the whole thing because (a) I don't like leftovers and I would be damned if a single ounce of a 14-dollar burger wiould go to waste, and (b) if it's true what they say about red meat sitting in your colon for some seven or so years because of the body's difficulty in digesting it, then I wanted to make sure that thing would be keeping me company well into my thirties.

The fries were okay. Just okay. Being cooked in duck fat I was expecting something more, but no--they were just fries. Regular old uninteresting fries. The two seasoned samples I didn't care much for, nor did I care for the "Secret Sauce" or "Michael's BBQ" (or was it steak sauce? couldn't really tell). The unseasoned fries with the Onion Ketchup were tasty enough. But for 5 dollars I could buy enough fries from McDonald's to fill the trunk of my car, so I wasn't at all impressed.
We were fortunate enough to receive an accidental order of creamed spinach, which I admit was my first time ever trying spinach of the creamed variety, and it was surprisingly good. There were some bits of meaty bacon on top for added pizazz, but the bacon flavor permeates the dish and makes quite a compliment to the slightly bitter, creamy spinach. See, I can eat healthy--you just need to throw some bacon and dairy in there for me.

I nursed my 11-dollar beer and forcefed myself the 14-dollar burger and still felt a pang in my chest (though it could have been the burger) as I signed away $36.00 on a burger, beer, and fries, but was a tasty burger.
Was it worth $14.00? Possibly, but that still doesn't mean I wanted to spend that much. Besides, this isn't some high-falutin' Manhattan hotel, this is Detroit, where no one has jobs. Economically this "bar burger" doesn't seem to make much sense...but then again, the restaurant was packed, so what do I know?
Though on a different note I will say: love the decor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Detroit Restaurant Week: Official Press Release

Detroit Restaurant Week (DRW) will serve-up meals made for a silver platter at blue-plate special prices Friday, September 18 through Sunday, September 27. The 10-evening dinner promotion will showcase the outstanding cuisine of Detroit’s finest restaurants-- offering “foodies” an opportunity to enjoy delicious three-course meals for a fixed price of $27 per person.

“Detroit is home to some of the best fine dining establishments in the country,” said Jason Huvaere, producer of Detroit Restaurant Week. “Restaurant Week will give residents from Southeastern Michigan and Ontario the opportunity to have a great meal for a fraction of the regular menu price.”

A minimum three-course dinner will be included in the $27 fixed price, exclusive of beverage, tax and gratuity. Some restaurants will offer specially-priced wine and beverage pairings to accompany the meal.

“We anticipate this event will have a lasting effect on the participating restaurants,” said Huvaere. “People who visit and enjoy the cuisine at an establishment during Restaurant Week, will likely return at a later date to experience another great meal by the same talented chefs.”

“We are soliciting participation from top-tier local establishments that would not normally be able to offer this multi-course dining experience at these exceptional prices,” said Sandy Levine, restaurant liaison for DRW. “We’ve been extremely pleased with the positive response from local restaurant owners, who know how successful these events have been around the country. Our goal is to have more than two dozen restaurants participate in the inaugural Restaurant Week.”

A complete list of participating DRW restaurants, menus, and reservation options will be found on in the coming weeks.

Detroit Restaurant Week is sponsored by the Greater Downtown Districts, as well as The Social Connection. It is being produced by Huvaere’s Paxahau Promotions Group.

“Detroit Restaurant Week is supported by the Greater Downtown Detroit Districts to showcase downtown’s many premier dining establishments while offering the region’s food aficionados an opportunity to enjoy special prix-fixe menus from a wide variety of exceptional menus. This ten-day event will bring diners to discover new restaurants in Downtown, Midtown, Corktown, New Center and the Eastern Market, or to rediscover some of their favorites at a very attractive price,” noted Ann Lang, president and CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

About Paxahau
Paxahau Promotions Group was established in 1998 to promote electronic music. Since then it has grown to become a year round event production company. In addition to producing Detroit’s annual electronic music festival—Movement; Paxahau has been responsible for booking talent or producing several other events. They include: Comerica Cityfest; Arts, Beats & Eats; various North American International Auto Show events; the Book Cadillac Grand Opening Weekend and BravoBravo! With a network of alliances and resources that span the globe, Paxahau has earned the reputation as a premier promotions group. Visit

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Famous Food Quote

I'm sure you've seen those dining quotations painted on the overhangs of shopping mall food courts, quotes such as George Bernard Shaw's "There is no love sincerer than the love of food" or Virgina Woolf's "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well" (a quote I myself have even used in this blog before).

Well, I have one for you, and it's timely considering the current economic state of the world.

"Don't be afraid of a few extra pounds; they're the only things you can afford to lose."
Nicole Rupersburg, food writer

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Detroit Alfresco

A couple of weeks ago I went out with a friend of mine for a few drinks and, it being a pleasant evening, he wanted to go somewhere outdoors. However, he couldn't think of anywhere besides his usual haunts--Beaubien St., Motor City Brewing Works--so he turned to me for my unique expertise in the matter. And so it was I thought to myself, "Hmm."

And from that "hmm" came this little guide to dining in Detroit alfresco-style (or, in some cases, just drinking). I will pre-empt this by saying, yes, I know I missed some things (parts of Corktown, all of Southwest Detroit and Hamtramck, a handful of spots in Greektown); you're just going to have to forgive me for that. This isn't meant to be an all-inclusive list, but rather just one to get you by (and by "get you by" I mean "could probably navigate the bar scene better than most locals").

I've separated it by neighborhood this time around (we'll just go ahead and pretend I didn't already do something similar to this last summer on that other blog, as it was long before this one was officially launched and you fine readers deserve your chance to be informed), and stopped just shy of making a Google Map for you. I need to leave you SOME fun of your own!

Now that the weather has finally reached above-60 at night (what is it now? July?), it's the perfect time to enjoy outdoor wine tastings or a burger and a frosty cold beer in the sunshine. Bon appetit!

Central Business District & Campus Martius

Detroit Brewing Company: Home to some of the best beer and bar food in the city.

Enoteca Campo Marzio: Sip a glass of Sauvignon Blanc as you watch the action at Campus Martius and chat with the best staff in town.

Foran's Grand Trunk: The "patio" is tiny, much like the bar itself, but the atmosphere is always welcoming and sometimes you might even find a techno DJ spinning. Also, some of the best corned beef in town.

Pulse: Tiki torches will keep you warm on a chilly evening; so will the martinis.

Small Plates: The plates really aren't that small, but they appeal to a wide range of tastes and budgets with a great cocktail and wine list to match. A sure bet every time.

The Well: The daily drink specials are great (my favorite is the $2.00 Labatts on Thursdays), but be warned: the area vagrants are aggressive here.


Hoots on the Avenue: It's a hip-hop and R&B crowd that is always jammin'. Good only if you like hip-hop and R&B. Go for the homemade Mac & Cheese and the weekly Friday Fish Fry.

PJ's Lager House: Now serving food! Gilmore's Grill operates from the back patio on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until close. The menu includes botanas, hamburgers and veggie burgers, chicken wings and hot dogs.

Le Petit Zinc: Magnifique! A wonderful creperie and cafe tucked away in a desolate corner of Corktown with a cute 'lil patio where you can sip a superior capuccino and nibble on a crusty baguette sandwich. It's a little hard to spot from Howard St., but if you find yourself in an area where there seems to be absolutely no life, you've found it. All the life you need is inside, trust me.

Slows Bar-B-Q: One of the trendiest eateries in the city (and the country!), Slows Bar-B-Q regularly packs in a sizable crowd. To skip the lines and enjoy the outdoor breeze, head there mid-afternoon or late-evening mid-week.


Bookies Bar & Grille: Do I have to repeat myself? The rooftop deck is massive and can easily accommodate large parties (as it did during Movement and for Opening Day); also, the food is great.

Harry's: Classic bar burgers and a sports-friendly atmosphere make this a pre-/post-game favorite. And much like its rival down the street (Bookies), the patio is enormous.


Beaubien Street Saloon: A great dive, right next to another great dive with a patio, the Detroit Bar

The Detroiter Bar: See Beaubien Street Saloon

Exodus Lounge: They serve food until 1:00AM and thump out the beats--whether it be jazz or techno--until much later. Located on the roof of the Golden Fleece Restaurant.

Niki's Pizza: On the same stretch as Beaubien Street and the Detroiter Bar, but can (and does) handle large after-hours crowds (they serve food until 4:00AM on Fridays and Saturdays).


The Bronx Bar: COMING SOON! The owners promise that the addition of the outdoor patio will not detract from the much-loved well-worn indie vibe of the place, and if this is true, the patio can only make it better. Also, they offer a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar Saturdays AND Sundays noon-5:00PM. Beat that!

The Magic Stick/The Alley Deck: You can't always access the Alley Deck for free (it is attached to the Magic Stick, so when there is a concert there you won't have access to the roof unless you have a paid ticket), but when you can it is the most rockin' deck in Detroit. Be sure to order a PBR (when in Rome...).

Motor City Brewing Works: I like pizza! And the kitchen is open 'til midnight or later daily. Nom nom nom.

The Old Miami: Remember all those backyard high school graduation parties you went to where there was BBQ food and lots of beer and someone's friend's band was playing? It's kind of like that. Brilliant. And probably the biggest backyard in the city. No lie; it's an oasis.

Z's Villa: This is one of my favorite unknowns. They have no website and they get very little press, but in the summer they've got a great outdoor patio with volleyball courts and there's always a few good techno parties here during Movement. It's a hidey-hole still fairly hidden...enjoy that while it lasts!

New Center

Cuisine: Excellent food and wine in a relaxing, tucked-away atmosphere; Chef Paul is amazing and the whole staff incredible. Also be sure to check out their weekly Friday wine tastings, held every Friday evening at 5:00PM on their patio.

Palmer Park

La Dolce Vita: Brunch on the patio here should go on your list of things to do before you die. It's like stepping out of Detroit and into Florence, Italy. Just make a right at the Deja Vu.


Andiamo on the Riverfront: One of the stronger offerings from the Andiamo chain has a lovely view of the Detroit riverfront, and also hosts weekly wine tastings every Thursday.

The Rattlesnake Club: Weekly Wednesday wine tastings on the gorgeous riverfront patio all summer long, as well as one of the best happy hours around.

River's Edge Grille: They maintain some of the traditional Irish menu from the former McNarney's and also CHEAP BEER ($2.50 for a 20-oz. domestic draft beer, all the time). And a huge patio that's always empty, save for the occasional techno or jazz event.

Tom's Oyster Bar: We've already made peace, Tom. The patio overlooking Jefferson Ave. with a view of the Ren Cen is pretty cool, too.

Summer Cruise Series: Havana Nights

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Zing: Zingerman's Deli

Over the weekend I decided to do a little culture tour of Ann Arbor, that little city just on the outskirts of what is formally considered "metro Detroit" but which makes a lot of noise on the arts and culture radar. On the advice of one Ann Arborite as well as with my own limited knowledge of the area, I had a lovely little day trip (because, mark my words, A2 is a DAY TRIP--anything that takes an hour to get to is, in my book, a DAY TRIP, and not just somewhere you go for a "quick bite" or a "couple of drinks"), which ended with me at Zingerman's Deli.

Immediately upon walking in, I am greeted with their mammouth cheese counter. It's like porn to me.

I admit, it's been awhile. A long while. And I realize probably great advancements have been made in the field of sheep's milk harvesting, culturing, and pasteurization which have potentially caused an increase in price. BUT. For my favorite cheese--the one cheese I can actually clearly taste on my tongue when I think about it, the cheese that is to me like a heroin fix to a junkie--to go up $10.00 per pound from $14.99/lb. to $24.99/lb.???
Pardon my language, but are you out of your f$%#ing mind????

When the cheese monger handed me my humble hunk of Pecorino di Toscana priced at a very clearly written $14.57, the feeling I had was bittersweet. Yes, this is my favorite cheese, and I haven't tasted it is years. But Christ, $14.57??? For this tiny-ass nugget that I'll eat in one sitting????

And now I'm afraid to eat it because, well, what if? What if it isn't as good as I remember it being? What if, after paying almost $15 bucks I find out that it is not, in fact, made of solid gold? Not to mention that now I feel like it has to be some sort of special occasion cheese, that I can't just bust it out any old night. Now I have to make a big event of it...not that I'm going to share it with anyone because my God, it was 15 freakin' dollars!

Zingerman's, you've changed.

You needn't remind me of the preaching I've done about people who complain about prices and how it's neither appropriate nor accurately informed. I'm well aware of the preaching I've done in regards to this.

But this? THIS??? Inflation on cheese is a 67% increase in five years? I have a hard time swallowing that (and not just because it's so damn expensive I feel guilty eating it).

But let's further explore the goods available at Zingerman's, shall we? A wall full of olive oil from all around the world (they weren't named by Atlantic Monthly Magazine as "the country's leading purveyor of olive oil" for nothing), olive oil so rich in flavor that it puts your Meijer-bought bottles to shame. Hardly any priced under $20.00 and most hovering in the $30.00 range. While you are certainly paying more for quality (and if you've never experienced a truly fine olive oil, rest assured it is well worth the money), still--DAMN.

Moving along. Oooh, Mango Preserves! Oh. $16.00 per jar. And then there's the $27.00 pistachio butter. Not a single box of tea costs less than $11.00. Salt water taffy from France, $25.00. And just so we're clear on this, these are all standard sizes, not bulk. As much as I appreciate the eclectic array of hard-to-find imports available here, another part of me is forced to wonder who in their right mind is paying these prices for these products during these unstable economic times?
Apparently the recession has yet to affect A2.

I am a huge proponent of the Slow Food Movement. I believe in sustainable cuisine. I believe in locally-grown, seasonal, organic food items. I support artisinal products. I just can't help but think Zingerman's might be capitalizing on people such as myself who share these beliefs and appreciate the quality of finer foods but don't quite know where else to find them, or get easily caught up in the self-propelling hype machine that is Zingerman's (this is Ann Arbor, after all: safe, liberal, artsy, wealthy, white). My thing is, if you want saltwater taffy, buy Michigan-made direct from sellers like Mackinac Fudge Shop for only $8.95 for a 10-oz. bag (versus $25.00 for the French 1lb. tin--and a good chunk of that pound is in the tin, guaranteed). Is this the Slow Food Movement or the Elitist Food Movement?

And you wonder why Mercury Coffee Bar didn't make it (one of the owners hailed from Zingerman's, and they charged $7.00 for a bite-sized grilled cheese sandwich in the city of Detroit, which doesn't give two squirts about your fancy Ann Arbor food).

I will give them this, the staff is unflappably perky. (Something I would have also said about MCB.) They'll smile broadly and become your new best friend as they offer you samples of any over-priced item you'd like to try and convince you of the value it would add to your life.

I decided to give them one last chance. I was already there, after all, and hungry. After several minutes of deliberation (during which time I was offered assistance no fewer than three times), I decided on Jay's BBQ Chicken Sandwich--pulled Amish chicken in their housemade BBQ sauce with Vermont cheddar on a soft bun. BTW, no sandwich on the menu is less than $10.00, save for the one exception--our old friend, the $7.00 grilled cheese.

So what does a $10.00 BBQ chicken sandwich taste like? Strikingly similar to a $5.00 one. It was good, don't get me wrong...but it wasn't great. It didn't change my life. This wasn't the sandwich to end all sandwiches. And frankly, the BBQ sauce didn't quite live up to my $10.00 expectations. But I ate it. It tasted just fine. The pickle was good, too.

And now here I am, still trying to figure out how a sandwich, a soda (all-natural sugar cane!), and two small hunks of cheese cost almost $35.00, and feeling like something of a traitor to the local artisinal movement I so desperately want to promote. I've determined that the Zingerman's crowd is almost cultish, and those that don't follow that cult mentality are punished with feelings of guilt and are forced into questioning their own judgment...which is how I feel right now.

No thank you, sir, I don't want any Kool-Aid, I just want my cheap cheese back.