Monday, November 30, 2009

Annual Sparkling Feast at Shiraz

Back when I was a resident of the O.C. (by way of West Bloomfield and later Waterford), I enjoyed attending many of the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group's monthly wine tastings, and dined frequently at such MPRG restaurants as Northern Lakes Seafood Company, No. VI Chophouse, and Shiraz. Those days (and the boyfriend with the deep pockets) are long gone, and nowadays it's quite the challenge to convince me to cross Detroit borders for any reason.* (And when I do it is usually after weeks of planning, a lot of heavy sighing, and a palpable sense of irritation, but I digress.)

Of all the monthly wine tastings, it is the December event which deserves the highest honors. This annual "Sparkling Feast" features a six-course menu with sparkling wine pairings. Remember, a proper champagne must actually be from the Champagne Region of France in order to be so named; otherwise it is simply called sparkling wine. Rob Lowe gives a great explanation of this lession in vinology in Wayne's World; please reference the film for further clarification.

Everything I ever needed to know I learned from movies.

At this year's feast, which will be held Friday, December 11 from 7:00PM-11:00PM at Shiraz in Bingham Farms, MPRG's Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon (and one of only 14 female Master Sommelier's in North America) will be pairing bubblies from Michigan, California, Spain, and the Champagne Region with each course on the menu. Wait--Michigan? Yes: Michigan. Lawrence Mawbry is the envy of his Michigan winemaking peers and is considered by winemakers and enthusiasts across the country as an unmatched genius. He produces nothing but sparkling wines under his two eponymous labels: perhaps you've heard of Sex?*(that's a good reason)

Six courses with wine all for only $75.00. Suit up, and celebrate the holidays sipping bubbly and feasting on an amazing champagne-themed menu. Take a look:

Annual Sparkling Feast

First Plate
-Vol au Vent with Wild & Exotic Mushroom Ragout, Morel Mushroom Sauce-

Soup Course
-Maine Lobster & Sweet Corn Chowder with Yukon Gold Potatoes & Fresh Chives-

-Poached Sekel Pear with Micro Greens, Toasted Walnuts, Red & Yellow Grape Tomatoes, Champagne Vinaigrette & Basil Oil-

Fish Course
-Sauteed Orata with Lemon, Chervil & Fresh Oregano atop Carmelized Leek Fondue with Champagne Sauce-

Principal Plate
-Blanquette de Veau atop Housemade Pasta Wild Mushrooms, Cipollini Onions & Fine Herbs-

-Warm Chocolate Souffle Cake with Champagne Crème Anglaise & Champagne Cured Berries-

Reservations are required and can be made by calling Shiraz at 248.645.5289

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Love Affair With Foran's

Photo ripped from website...apparently I have no pictures from inside this place. Inconceivable.

I've always liked Foran's (now officially known as Grand Trunk Pub, though still Foran's in the hearts and minds of every Detroit drinker), but recently I've found myself being quite the verbal proponent of the place. Why?

For starters, the people. The people there are quite simply the best. From manager Dave and his staff right down to the regulars, Foran's is the kind of place where you will always find a friend (either one you already knew or one you'll meet during your visit). No pretense, no BS, just good people getting together and drinking some good beer.

(And, blessed be, the Chotchey McChotch Tigers crowd has yet to discover this place...probably because they don't have $1 drafts of Bud Light on tap but regardless, let's hope it forever remains this way.)

Second, the beer. Foran's carries an ever-changing variety of Michigan brews on tap, and don't let the term "craft brew" scare you: a pint is only $5.00--in other words, what you'll likely pay for a pint of Bud in any other bar. Some of the best breweries in Michigan have found a home in Foran's, including Founders, Shorts, and New Holland. (On my last visit just a couple of days a week ago (I really need to write these posts faster), they ran out of New Holland's Poet Stout, which made me very sad, but which led to my discovery of the ultra-hoppy Founders IPA, which made me very hoappy.) There aren't many bars where you can find such a wide selection of Michigan craft brews on tap (save for the breweries themselves), so this instantly makes Foran's one of the best places for beer--especially since you get such a wide selection of different brewers.

But wait, there's more: Foran's has long served some of Detroit's favorite corned beef sandwiches and Sunday brunch, but now they're expanding the restaurant side of things even further: please welcome Foran's Delux Diner, located in the space where once stood Eph's (Eph's, under new ownership from its original and well-loved Corktown location, will be relocating to the Bohemian National Home né BoHouse).

Foran's Delux Diner will be serving "gourmet comfort food," according to owner Tim Tharp. It will combine the pub favorites of the Grand Trunk (a name born from the space's former identity as a GT ticket office) with the deli favorites of Eph's and a unique emphasis on sustainability (i.e., locally-sourced, seasonal items). From the Model D blurb, "If it's not from Michigan, we'd really rather find something else."

Right now the Diner is open Mon.-Fri. 11AM-3PM, and has already started hosting dinner events with the intention of eventually having a full menu with regular dinner hours. And because I like to tease you, take a looky-loo at the menu from last week's "dinner club":

Charcuterie table, featuring Detroit Corridor Sausage made with fresh pork sausage, sage, apple and maple country pork terrine, pork tenderloin inlay, fig and pistachio; beet-cured Canadian salmon, lox-style cure; assorted sauces and cheeses.

1st Course
Jerusalem artichoke soup served tableside; lemongrass chutney

2nd Course
Poached pear with grilled Romaine and radicchio atop raisin baguette and sweet vanilla vinaigrette

3rd Course
Braised short ribs, horseradish whipped potatoes, roasted baby beets, and confiture of red wine onions

4th Course
Chocolate almond torte, whipped cream and raspberry sauce

And as if all that weren't enough, each course is also paired with the best local beer and wine. All for--wait for it--$35.00 per person. That includes the booze, people. That's a damned good deal. Shoowt.

In time, Motor City Wine Bar will also be opening on the other side of the Grand Trunk (I will be bringing you the details soon enough, pets)...between all these places and Enoteca Campo Marzio on the north end of the same building, I will never have reason to leave this particular corner of Detroit. Never. Not ever, ever.

But back to Foran's, or whatever you should choose to call it. How about "AWESOME"? Okay then. This is my favorite place to wind up at the end of the night, but be warned: Foran's is a dangerous place to be for last call. When Dave looks at you and says, "Jameson's," it is not a question but a statement. You do not have the option of saying "no." And then "Dead Skin Mask" by Slayer will play. And it will be good.

BUT WAIT! There's more: Foran's is also known to host some pretty cool techno nights, and always at a totally reasonable price...such as the one coming up tomorrow evening, as in the day before Thanksgiving, as in "Humpsgiving" (for "Hump Day," 'cuz it's Wednesday, get it?). No matter where the night starts, this is where the night will end, bet. I will be surrounded by people I am Facebook friends with but don't actually know in real life. And then Dave will look at those of us still left at the end of the night once the ravers and suburbanites have left and he will say "Jameson's," and it will be good. Oh yes, it will be good.

Keep eyeballing my Twitter ticker to find out when the next Dinner Club will be held, and I will see you there, and we will become friends and eat good food and drink good beer, and then it will be last call, and we will drink Jameson's and listen to Slayer. Hey, I'm Irish and was raised in Macomb County, bust off.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Do You Do, Midtown?

Yes. Midtown. It's so much better than anywhere else in Detroit. We get it now. Here ya' go.

"People who live in Midtown like to talk about how much they love living in Midtown. And what's not to love? Midtown is the cultural and intellectual hub of the city. And thanks to some new and improved restaurants and bars, Midtown is cementing its status as the city's social center, too.

'Popular consensus seems to be that Midtown -- and specifically, the University and Cultural Districts -- has been woefully underserved in terms of casual restaurants. There is a huge market of working professionals, college students, and culture-seekers that previously had little local recourse. Until now..."

Read the rest of the article on Model D here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Divine Dim Sum: Shangri La

"Shangri-La" is a fictional location that has become synonymous with the idea of a pure utopia. How about foodtopia? The new Chinese eatery Shangri La, located in Midtown's University and Theatre District, is just edible nirvana (at least, the dim sum menu is).

Shangri La inhabits the space of the former Twingo's (a moment of silence in memoriam, please). They've maintained the overall design of the previous space, opting only to change the color theme to a palette of soft browns and warm woods. The decor is simple and inviting, though certainly more chic than your typical strip mall Chinese spot.

When I stopped in for a visit, I had the chance to speak with Raymond Wong--does that name sound familiar? It should--he's the mastermind behind the wonderful, brilliant, and unjustly short-lived Asian Village (including Fusia, which offered hyper-trendy haute Asian-fusion cuisine in stunning backdrop with a riverfront view...a moment of silence in memoriam, please).

Yes, Mr. Wong has quite the roster of cutting-edge and unfortunately failed restaurants under his belt, which is why he has since retired and is helping Shangri La in a consultant capacity only. After the failure of AV, Wong's experienced his own set of personal traumas, including divorce and bankruptcy. Oddly, Wong can laugh about this now...even though the conversation was a little...awkward...for me. :O But time heals all wounds, as they say, and at 60 years old Wong is ready to pass the torch on to the next batch of enthusiastic risk-takers.

Though the "risk" at Shangri La seems relatively minimal: with a built-in college student and working professional market thanks to the nearby WSU, CCS, and DMC campuses (as well the numerous cultural institutions such as the DIA and DPL) that was previously woefully under-tapped, Shangri La has almost limitless potential clientele.

They consider themselves an "authentic" Chinese eatery, distinguising themselves from the common generic take-out joint. And why? Two words: dim sum.

The lone dumpling that remained when I finally decided I should be taking pictures

If you've ever walked down Mott Street in Manhattan's Chinatown district (after first pushing your way past the junk-peddlers on Canal St.), you've seen the numerous nondescript dim sum restaurants that have no name, only addresses, and serve dim sum only on Saturday and Sunday mornings through the early afternoon. If you've ever visited such a place, you have a full understanding of dim sum, and you will not be disappointed by what Shangri La has to offer.

For the uninitiated: dim sum is a traditional Chinese cuisine featuring small plates of "finger foods" served in succession (often from a cart, though not at Shangri La), usually baked or steamed and including both sweet and savory dishes. It is typically served in the morning or early afternoon, though at Shangri La it is served until an hour before the kitchen closes so Asian students getting out of classes late can still order it, according to Wong.

“We did a lot of study of the area’s demographics, and we found that there are a lot of people from Asia in the area and there is a demand for authentic Asian food,” Wong told me. They also keep the prices very reasonable (most entrees are about $8.00) to appeal to the surrounding college crowd.

If you've got a hankering for a baked cream bun or curry chicken pastry, get there early or call ahead--the baked items are all made in the morning and tend to sell out quickly, though if you call in advance and request some be set aside for you, they will more than happily accommodate your request.

The dim sum menu includes the basics--Pan-Fried Dumplings, Baked BBQ Pork Bun, Baked and Steamed Cream Buns--as well as some decidedly more exotic dishes. Steamed Chicken Feet (which the table nearby raved about, including the four-year-old child), Curried Baby Squid, Beef truly experience the fullness of this dim sum menu, American palates may be forced to step a bit outside their comfort zone.

That being said, I decided to stay firmly planted in my comfort zone: Shrimp Shiu Mai, Roast Pork Pastry, Pan-Fried Dumplings. Nom nom nom. The portions were enough for two to share, and each item came out fresh, hot, and bursting with flavor. (Made me a little nostalgic for some Mott St. gyoza, lemme tell 'ya.) Next time I look forward to trying the Egg Tart and the Steamed Sweet Red Bean Paste Bun (Tao Sar Bao, a very common and popular Chinese pastry). The dim sum here is probably the best you'll find in the metro Detroit area (and the ONLY you'll find in the city proper), and is truly top-notch.

“We couldn’t open until we found the best dim sum chef around,” says Wong. “That was a must!”
Done and done.

As for the rest of the menu...some hits, some misses. The options are pretty catch-all Americanese, though they do also offer real Thai curry. The "General Chicken" (as in "General Tso's" or "General Tao's"), which happens to be my fave Americanese dish, was great: crispy deep-fried chicken still crunchy beneath the thick spicy-sweet red sauce that struck just the right chord between heat and sweet. The Egg Drop Soup was hearty and savory. The Yang Chow Fried Rice (with shrimp and BBQ pork) was only edible only once doused--doused--in soy sauce.

First of all, look at that picture. Does that even look like fried rice to you? Plus it's full of peas. I hate peas. Ugh. Blechy blech. Every bite bursting with pea flavor, blech blech blech. Also, where exactly is the fried-ness? This looks (and tasted) like regular 'ol steamed rice made with butter. Now, I am not a fan of utilizing tabletop accoutrements on my dishes (unless it's proper and necessary to the dish, like Vietnamese garlic-fish sauce). Skip the salt and pepper (unless we're talking about scrambled eggs, but ONLY then), and let the dish stand on its own. The way I see it, adding all that extra dressing is in effect destroying the integrity of the dish. And any dish that NEEDS to be dressed up in this way...well, it's probably just not very good to begin with. And so it was with the fried rice.

However, there's more good news: bubble tea. Yes, bubble tea (or, "boba tea"). Bubble tea is tea (sometimes flavored) with milk and "boba" balls, which are made with a mixture of tapioca and carrageenan powder that taste like gummy bears without the flavor. Popular throughout eastern Asia and abundant in Toronto (where I first discovered all its greatness over a decade ago), bubble tea is just now gaining popular momentum in the States thanks to our trendsetting cities on the East and West coasts. At Shangri La, you can order bubble tea in a variety of flavors; I opted for mango and was not disappointed, though perhaps next time I might stick to a more traditional tea flavor. All you bubble tea lovers, rejoice.

Shangri La is a great space in a great location and caters to a previously underserved market of students, professionals, and nearby residents who enjoy authentic (and inexpensive) Chinese cuisine...or just cheap, good food in general. Most dishes are at least satisfactory, but the real star here is the dim sum, and no dining experience here should be complete without first passing around a few such dishes ($2.95-5.95 each, and enough to share). Service is attentive if sometimes a bit awkward, but having only been open since October 1st I would chalk this up to opening "kinks." The restaurant is entirely non-smoking, and they are currently working on adding a sushi bar and acquiring a liquor license. The only thing that could possibly make this dim sum experience any better is if it could be done alongside one of those giant Chinese fishbowl-fire drinks that they only allow you to order one of.

In short: dim sum yum!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Little Vietnam in Madison Heights

Have you driven down John R or Dequindre between 12 and 13 Mile Rd. lately? Then perhaps you've noticed the same trend I did--the seemingly inexplicable and disproportionate number of Vietnamese restaurants, markets, and specialty stores that are concentrated in this area (and this area alone). It led me to embark on a quest, which you can read in this week's issue of Metromode.

"If you want to experience authentic Vietnamese culture, skip the 25-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Look no further than our own Madison Heights. Inexplicably, this mid-sized suburb seems to be the hub for Vietnamese culture in Metro Detroit.

'Or maybe not so inexplicable when you look at the numbers. While the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data suggests a population density for persons of Vietnamese descent at only 1.9% for the city—hardly a sizable number—comparable areas boast populations of 0.3% and less, making the overall population a slight 0.2% for all of Oakland County and the entire state of Michigan. In other words, the population may be small, but it is still nearly 10x that of surrounding areas.

'Which helps explain the disproportionate number of Vietnamese restaurants, markets, and specialty stores clustered along unlikely stretches of John R and Dequindre, but doesn't really make clear what local Vietnamese business owners find so alluring about the region between 12 and 13 Mile Roads..."

Read the rest of the article from Metromode here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Another Fucking Bar and Grill: No, Really

Detroit's got a new bar and grill...or, as the name so clearly states, Another Fucking Bar and Grill.

I for one LOVE the name, but that's probably only because it allows me to drop the f-bomb in a way that would not be considered inappropriate.

The general mentality of the place also suits the name: their website has a rotating list of pithy phrases including "Just what Detroit needs...," "Smoker's welcome. If you don't care about your liver, we doubt you care about your lungs," "Come back to the city your parents abandoned," and "Don't drink and drive. Drink and STAY." Their menu, which is currently only a small portion of what will eventually be a full menu with entrees, salads and the like, is affectionately titled "Little Ass Menu." The items on this little ass menu include "Sam and Ella's Chicken Sandwich" (sound it out...there ya go) and Mr. Potato Balls.

Located in that lovely stretch of desolation just north of I-75 the locals refer to as "Tweentown" (smack dab between Foxtown and Midtown), the owners of Another Fucking Bar and Grill hope to attract customers from the nearby theatres, sports arenas and casinos, as well as the WSU and DMC crowd. It is convenient to the freeways yet far enough removed from the hullabaloo of Foxtown to make it a prime location for a beer and a burger before or after a game.

Dave LaMarche, who owns the bar along with Christ Musianis, designed the place to be a laid-back, comfortable environment "where people can just come to have fun and meet new people." He insists that they're not high-concept, not a gastropub, and not a sports bar, but rather just a place where people can meet, chat, and share a few beers with friends and strangers.

But despite not being high-concept, the place still has its unique sense of humor. Aside from the name (which happens to be a throw-back to another place called AFB that was in Detroit in the '90s, and yes the two locations are affiliated) and the menu, there are little touches throughout the bar that elicit an unexpected giggle. For instance, the fact that the keg taps are housed in a wall of urinals.


Urinals are funny.

"It's like a fart joke that everyone gets," Dave says of the name and concept. Potty humor? Fuggedaboudid. The keg taps are urinals! "There are a lot of things here that people will have a reaction to, but its a friendly place," says Dave in reference to said urinal-kegtaps. "If you think about it, we just recycle beer anyway!" he laughs. "It gives people something unique to talk about."

That it do. Urinals.

AFB has only been about about a month, and while there is already a strong show of regular clientele, the place is still finding its footing. I was happy to see that they carry some Michigan beers, including Dragonmead's Erik the Red. (Sidebar: I naturally had to inquire about the absence of Final Absolution, to which Dave responded, "We don't want to encourage people to get drunk, but we would like them to be able to have more than one beer. Most people can't handle more than one Final Absolution." And how!)

While their concept is simple, comfortable, and friendly, this doesn't mean that they're serving equally simple pre-frozen and deep-fried food. As cheeky as the name is and despite the urinal centerpiece, the real standout here is the food. I tried "Another Fucking Burger," described as "slaughtered cow, hung, bled, freshly ground, seared and served on a perfect Avalon bun." This includes fries and coleslaw, and cheese can be added for no extra charge. AND it is served in a dog bowl. The meat is from Eastern Market's Fairway Packing Company, and the burger is intense. So tender, so juicy, so fresh...simply superb. When paired with the soft, airy bun from Avalon International Breads, it is a holy matrimony of burger and bun. This burger is on par with some of the much pricier "gourmet" burgers you would find at places like Roast and Bourbon Steak, and it's only $6.00.

For concept, design, attitude, and food, AFB is a win. I look forward to seeing their full menu roll out with their grand opening, which will be sometime before Thanksgiving. But if my words have made your mouth water and you find you just can't wait that long, bear in mind, they're still new and still acclimating, so do be patient. Also, check out the women's bathroom.

And, urinals.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yates Cider Mill

It's November, which means...I probably should have posted this a month ago. Ooops. BUT! The weather is not quite entirely vile yet, so you still have a few good weeks of valuable cider season goodness left!

Usually I like to make a day of it. Get all bundled up in cozy sweaters and head out to Armada with family members or a significant other to the original Blake's Orchard & Cider Mill and spend the whole day sipping cider, wandering through the U-Pick orchards, petting the farm animals. Many pleasant childhood and young adult memories were had here (NOT at the second-rate Blake's Big Red, nonononono). But alas, time did not permit this year, and I had to make do with a quick stop to a much closer locale.

For those of your reading out by the A2 way, you've got it made: the historic Dexter Cider Mill is but a hop and skip away. The oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan, they still make cider the way they did 120 with an oak rack (which is itself over 100 years old). This place is a taste of history to go with your apple pie, and a real agricultural and historical treat.

Alas, Dexter also proved to be too far away.

For those of you hailing from the counties Oakland and Macomb, you have a couple of nearby options. The Franklin Cider Mill is a favorite of locals, mostly because it is so closeby. Tucked away on this little inexplicably remote corner of 14 Mile Rd. and Franklin (just west of Telegraph) smack-dab between the Bloomfields and Birmingham, for many Westsiders it's only a few minutes' drive. I was introduced to this place when I lived out in West Bloomfield, and never did I imagine a genuine cider mill could be so close to home. I felt almost like it was a violation of my principles, standing in direct contrast to all that which a cider mill should be (far away, in the country, surrounded by farmland, north of 32 Mile Rd.). Plus, they don't have their own orchard, which to me was an abomination--what kind of cider mill doesn't even have their own orchard??? Suffice it to say, Franklin never really grew on me. I can't help it; my maternal side is from Almont. You can take the girl out of the country...

Which brings me to Yates Cider Mill. Yates is located in Rochester Hills at Avon Rd. and Dequindre, about a 20 minute drive from most of Macomb Country and the Troy/Birmingham area. It has been in the community since 1863 (though I don't believe continously operating), and here you will find all of the edible treasures you've come to expect from a proper cider mill: caramel apples, fudge, apple pies, apple turnovers, apple crisp, apple butter, apple syrup, apple jelly, dutch-apple jam, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich*, and doughnuts--all the fresh-made fried doughnuts you can eat, with their grease soaking right through the paper bag.

*Forrest Gump guys, come on.

They also don't have their own orchards, but they make up for it with a prime spot on the Clinton River and a lovely nature trail. They also have pony rides, a petting zoo, and other cider mill-y attractions to make up for it, so it almost feels just about right. It will do in a pinch, at least.

With the fiery fall foliage in full technicolor bloom, now is the perfect time to visit one of Michigan's many historic cider mills. While the benefits of making that half-day trip out to the country is well worth it (the U-pick orchards, the hay rides, the pumpkin patches), if it's cider you crave and time is your enemy, at least you have a few other options. For scenic value and greasy doughnuts, I recommend Yates.