Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: El Barzon

"In the tradition of great things being combined (like those Taco Bell/Pizza Hut combos that started showing up a few years back) comes El Barzon — half Mexican, half Italian, all authentic. Proprietor/Chef Norberto Garita is from Puebla, Mexico, and many of his dishes have traditional Pueblan influences. But he also served eight years in the esteemed kitchen at the now-shuttered Il Posto in Southfield so, you know ... there’s that, too.

'Pulling up to the humble establishment on Michigan and Junction, on the outskirts of Southwest Detroit, the sight of so many Audis and Jags seems a bit out of place. These are Garita’s devotees from his Il Posto days. In fact, most of his customers are from the suburbs. “They drive 45 minutes to come here; they come from Birmingham, Ann Arbor … not a lot come locally, though!” Garita laughs..."

Read the rest of the story here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fountain Bistro Coming to Campus Martius

Remember when Au Bon Pain in Campus Martius closed and they said that an American bistro would be opening in its place sometime in the summer and I was all, "Yeah, that'll be the day that actually happens..."? Well, it's happening.

What I didn't know at the time was that John Lambrecht, owner/partner of Bookie's Bar & Grille, had already acquired the space and was moving forward with these plans. His track record with bringing Bookie's Tavern on Washington Ave. from a decidedly non-glossy neighborhood bar to an impressive three-story Bar & Grille on Cass Ave. with a 60-foot projection screen, a spacious outdoor rooftop patio, and a whole floor for private parties and VIPs should give the public some faith in his new venture. Announced today: Fountain Bistro. Read on, wayward sons.

The Detroit 300 Conservancy announced today a new casual dining concept, Fountain Bistro at Campus Martius Park, to open this May in the Park. Fountain Bistro is owned and operated by John Lambrecht and will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner in an atmosphere that blends the charm of a classic European café with modern American style.

“For the past two years John Lambrecht has managed concessions for Campus Martius Park during The Rink season as well as major events, giving him insight into the Park’s daily operations,” said Robert Gregory, Detroit 300 Conservancy President. A downtown entrepreneur, Lambrecht is owner/partner of the successful Bookies Bar and Grille in Detroit’s growing Entertainment District. “This experience, combined with his enthusiasm, keen sense of marketing, and understanding of the role of food and beverage will contribute to our visitor’s experience in the Park.

“Fountain Bistro At Campus Martius Park is going be a terrific addition to the Park,” Gregory continued. “I feel the concept that’s been developed for this bistro will be comparable to the cafés in top ranked parks and plazas in the U.S. and abroad.”

Lambrecht said “Fountain Bistro will feature a casual, but diverse menu, the convenience of carryout with the option for full service dining inside and on the outdoor patio, and upgrades such as a new color scheme and more comfortable furniture”. The bistro will be open year-round for special events and programs hosted by Campus Martius Park.

“We are making changes to the former cafe space that will make carryout more convenient for people who are in a hurry, and provide those who have more time with an enjoyable full service dining experience,” said Lambrecht. “Additionally, we hosted a focus group about the menu that gave us great insight into the kinds of menu items Detroiters want from our bistro. It’s an extra step that will go a long way toward making our establishment a welcome addition to an already dynamic park.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

DRW Preview #6: Forty-Two Degrees North

It's the final three days of the second bi-annual Detroit Restaurant Week, but you still have time! Reservations are booked solid but I'll let you in on a little secret: restaurants always allow space for walk-ins if you're willing to wait. Best of luck!

Question: what Detroit restaurant has hands-down the best view? Coach Insignia is impressive--it's very very high. And of course there's my favorite, Iridescence, which has a stunning view that has as much to do with the interior design as the exterior scenery.

Answer: Forty-Two Degrees North, inside the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Located on the third floor of the Ren Cen with a 180-degree view of the Riverfront, the view from this slightly-above-ground-level restaurant with floor-to-ceiling curved windows is absolutely breathtaking. The restaurant is decorated in bright, bold colors and natural sunlight floods the place with the most spectacular panoramic view of the Detroit River and Windsor that I've seen in a public space. At night, it twinkles. Simply, in a word, gorgeous.

But odds are pretty good that you've never even heard of the place. It opened relatively recently (within the last 12-18 months if I'm not mistaken), and doesn't get a whole lot of press...and certainly no foot traffic. They seem to cater mostly to their built-in hotel crowd, which is fortunate for all our out-of-town guests: little do they know they've got the best seat in the city.
To get to it one must navigate the labrynthine Ren Cen into the Marriott and from there you'll STILL get lost. Love postmodern theory; hate the architecture.

For my last DRW preview dinner of the Spring edition (I hope I get to do this again in the fall I do I do I do!), I visited Forty-Two Degrees North for the first time (the name refers to southeastern Michigan's geographical latitude). I also decided to take some 30 or so friends with me, and I must say as a sidenote, the management team is wonderful to work with--they were on top of everything, even reserving my party space at the nextdoor bar Volt for pre-dinner drinks. Truly a pleasurable experience working with them.

Having never heard too much about their food, I found myself quite excited to check this place out after reviewing their DRW menu and finding quite a bit that sounded intriguing. Executive Chef Franz Josef Zimmer has been with the Marriott brand for over 25 years, and his experience reads like an episode of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" He was born and trained in Germany and has worked in Saudi Arabia, Greece, Cairo, and...well, Dearborn and Detroit. His specialty is his own olive oil made from olives grown on his property in Greece; this special olive oil is all over the menu (including the DRW menu) and is also available for purchase. The menu is regional contemporary American Midwest (can I buy a signifier?), with emphasis on locally- and regionally-grown ingredients. Expect familiar dishes with an artful flare.

Having to make a dining decision proved very stressful. I've been spoiled by being served multiple courses from the menus but in this group setting (with people none of whom I know well enough to start forking off their plate) that wasn't really an option. Well maybe it was, but I would have looked like a real pig, hardly lady-like at all. :O

After much debate on the appetizers (Potato Skins with duck confit!?!? Spring asparagus with shaved parmesan, prosciutto, and cherry balsamic???), I decided on the Tomato Mozzarella Salad with Chef Zimmer's olive oil, Thai basil, heirloom tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and prosciutto crackling. A classic caprese, bounding with bright flavors, and with a contemporary twist in the crackling which was perfectly "crackled," adding constrasting saltiness and crispy texture that worked well with the lighter flavors and softer textures of the dish. The oil also had a noticeably rich flavor, so Chef Zimmer clearly is doing something right there.

Again with the decisions: Shrimp Scampi made with Grand Traverse Riesling or Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken? Chicken then, and this is why: it is seared and finished in its own sauce of blood orange, white balsamic vinegar and fresh baby mint, arugula, baby vegetables, and almond rice pilaf. The blood orange sauce was thick and sweet--actually, it reminded me of Duck l'Orange and, you know, I like duck.

Final decision, and this one was easy: Key Lime Pie. I can't help it, I love Key Lime Pie. This Key Lime Pie came in a tender, sugary graham cracker crust that had more the consistency of a cookie than a crumbly or gritty pie crust (as graham crusts so often are), topped with a thick layer of slightly browed meringue and served with a side of blessedly sugarless whipped cream (as it should be) and berries. There was this whole thing about "petting the berry," but I guess you had to be there. The filling was creamy and puckery-tart; the meringue was a little overwhelming but then again I'm not much for sugar. Still, I was happy--the crust made the whole thing. Crusts can be so hit-and-miss, you know? How many times is a perfectly good pie ruined with a bad crust?

Overall, this was a great experience. The cuisine is fresh and fun and the staff is polite and attentive (and management takes a special interest in satisfying their guests, which is always nice to see and not as common as you'd hope). For all my drinkers out there (I'd be shocked SHOCKED if any of my regular readers weren't), the wine list is equally fresh and fun, and also very respectably priced, with most bottles in the $20-$30 range. They even have a section dedicated to Michigan wines, including some labels that you don't often see on restaurant menus at all (Tabor Hill, Brys Estate). If you're going with a white, I recommend the Tabor Hill Gewurtztraminer as a crisp palate-cleanser.

But the view, OMFG the VIEW! is astounding. It's hard to see in the pictures; you really just need to go there and see it for yourself. While you're at it, stop at Volt nextdoor for drinks first, and be sure to order the Tart Cherry Blossom (cherry vodka, Cointreau and tart Michigan cherry juice)--like sweet, tart cherry juice with a nice kick of booze!

Heading into the final stretch of the Spring edition of Detroit Restaurant Week, I recommend you try to fit this one in. But, you know, good luck finding it.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
(Pepper jack cheese, chive beurre blanc, red and yellow pepper coulis)
Potato Skins
(Duck confit, brandy, smoked cheddar)
Tomato Mozzarella Salad
(Chef’s Zimmer’s olive oil, Thai basil, heirloom tomato, balsamic reduction, prosciutto crackling)
Spring Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan and Prosciutto
(Cherry balsamic dressing)

Spring Pea and Shiitake Risotto
Shrimp Scampi
(Grand Traverse Riesling, fresh herbs and paperdelli pasta)
6 oz. Seared Filet
(Green peppercorn and mushroom pan sauce, rosti potato, Stilton bleu fritter, baby vegetable)
Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken
(Seared and finished in its own sauce of, blood orange, white balsamic vinegar
and fresh baby mint, arugula, baby vegetables, almond rice pilaf)
Seared Halibut
(3 tomato, caper and olive salad with fresh basil and Chef Zimmer’s olive oil,
roasted fingerling potatoes finished with a baked prosciutto chip)

Key Lime Pie
Chocolate Decadence
(with pistachio and raspberries)
Caramel Flan
(with fresh berries)

Real Detroit Weekly: The Traveling Fork

"The Traveling Fork, located inside the Radisson Hotel in Livonia, is named for its cross-cultural traveler appeal. 'This menu is driven towards good American cuisine from different parts of the country,' says Gary Bradt, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage for the hotel.

'Being housed in a hotel presents its own unique set of opportunities and obstacles alike. On the one hand, you have a built-in customer base, so you must also be able to cater to a wide variety of tastes and budgets. On the other hand, it can be difficult to separate your identity from that of the hotel. In a built-up suburban monolith like Livonia, surrounded by a shopping center, competing hotels and countless big-budget monster corporate chain restaurants, forging that individual identity is a challenge..."

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

DRW Dining Guide Inside the Metro Times

File under: Why didn't I think of this.

This week's issue of the Metro Times has a GREAT 8-page insert which gives you everything you need to know (aside from what I tell you) about Restaurant Week. Complete menus for all 17 participating restaurants as well as bios on EVERY chef at every restaurant give you a great insider's look at each venue, and may assist you in making your dining decisions. Or make them more difficult. Yeah, that could probably backfire.

Pick it up on newsstands now before it's gone on Wednesday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

DRW Preview #5: Wolfgang Puck Grille

Wolfgang Puck Grille inside the MGM Grand Detroit consistently exceeds my expectations. On my first visit, when I had the chance to sit down with Executive Chef Marc Djozlija and chat about restaurants and Detroit and Detroit restaurants and Detroit people (thanks to the 2 degrees of Detroit we were fast friends), I went in with the poopy-poor attitude of it being a celebrity chef venture and so it will likely be lackluster at best. Like so many other self-important food snobs I sneered at the concept of the "celebrity chef" in general, and bristled at the mention of names like Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray. This was my perception walking in, before I met Marc, before I tasted the food.

Their Spicy Sashimi Grade Tuna Tartare was outstanding, better even than those I've had at high-profile fish markets and trendy seafood restaurants (though I won't name names...awkward pause). In fact, everything was outstanding, from the salad to the pork belly. The ambiance is warm and contemporary-rustic (if there can truly be such a thing), fine dining without a doubt but still friendly enough to appeal to casino-goers and pre- or post-game sports fans. And for those who (much like myself previously) have the stubborn perception that an eponymously-named celebrity chef family of restaurants would take the easy way out and order everything from Sysco, think again: everything at Wolfgang Puck Grille is made in-house, including the sauces, dressings, pastas, breads, and pastries. They also cure and smoke their own meats and sausage. And I can vouch for this--I've seen the kitchen(s) where everything is made and stored (one could easily get lost without a guide or map).

After speaking with Marc, seeing the facilities, and tasting the food, I now sing the praises of Wolfgang Puck Grille. You know what they say about making assumptions! (You do know, right?) And while I still get the occasional resistance from those who perceive the place to be too expensive to visit on a whim, I must also argue that point (they offer $29 prix fixe menus that are updated regularly throughout the year on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays), and then counter with this: Detroit Restaurant Week ($27 all 10 days including the weekend; even better!). My fifth Restaurant Week preview dinner took me to here, where I got to see my new friend Marc, eat some fantastic food, and experience some of the most elaborate, attentive service I've seen in a LONG time.

As the courses were brought out to my dining partner and I, I swear I could hear the "Blue Danube" waltz playing. As two servers (one being General Manager Hicham Farabi) would walk up together and present us with a carefully orchestrated show of simultaneously placing our dishes on the table with expert timing, each dish was then carefully described in detail down to every last spice and peppercorn. Our waters were never empty more than a sip and I think I counted at least 8 different people attending to us. Make no mistake: if it is a fine dining experience you want, you can get it here. You can also just as easily order a burger and beer at the bar.

Our 8-course meal began with the Spring Asparagus Soup with toasted curry oil, crisp parsley, and creme fraiche. The soup was a thick, flavorful puree served hot in a warmed bowl. The flavor of the asparagus wasn't overpowering, and the toasted curry oil gave it a hint of spice and toasted nut flavor while the creme fraiche had a creamy cooling effect. Superb (and in a conversation with another foodie-chef the next day, this sentiment was seconded).

Next we had the Chopped Vegetable Salad with pine nuts, shaved feta cheese, and yogurt sauce. As Hicham explained, a chopped salad like this will typically have about 12-13 vegetables in it. I think I lost count but I do remember tomatoes, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, beets...with the cheese and dressing it was actually very reminiscent of a Greek salad, but in a league all its own.

I have to be honest when I say that I had some trepidation trying the English Pea Ravioli. I greatly dislike anything pea-related so I thought this one wouldn't go over well for me. But the pea puree is mixed with mascarpone and goat cheeses inside the ravioli, then topped with braised pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano. The verdict? Win! I could barely taste any of that horrid pea-flavor I so despise; for me, it was simply a plump, firm ravioli with lots of cheese. I'm so easy to please sometimes.

The entrees were served to us in platters all at once for us to split and share. After the three appetizers I was already getting full, but I certainly couldn't let any of this beautiful food go to waste and besides, it's my job. The Roasted Chicken Breast was served with honey-glazed carrots and garlic potato purée. Tender, juicy, and gorgeous.

The Sautéed Salmon was served with fingerling potatoes, confit bacon and a whole grain mustard sauce. Of the fish I most often encounter (and mind you I don't exactly eat carp), salmon tends to be the "fishiest" of all. Unlike tilapia which can be served with a light white wine citrus sauce, salmon needs a strong flavor to cut its own natural fishiness. As it turns out, whole grain mustard is just the man for the job. The mustard grain has its own sharp flavor, "hot" (though not like a chili pepper) and slightly astringent. This offsets the heavy flavor of the salmon, making it not quite so overpowering. Plus the crispy spice-rubbed skin was fantastic, lending a different dimension to boring old salmon.

The Grilled Rib Eye Steak with wild mushrooms, slightly sweet Cipollini onions and a full-bodied Armagnac sauce was perfectly pink and tender. The Armagnac sauce really highlighted the meat's natural flavors while adding more complexity to it.

Ah, but the Angel Hair Pasta with wild field mushrooms and white truffle oil was what got us most excited when perusing the menu before our visit, and with good reason: the mushrooms are soaked, saturated in butter until their own natural juices explode out, and what you're left with are big, meaty, juicy mushrooms and aromatic, rich truffle butter over a tender pasta. Not the prettiest dish but the best-tasting ones often aren't. This is heavy and is meal enough in itself. But still have dessert.

Well, first you have fries. I did anyway. And they were crispety, crunchety, peanut-oily (NOTE: I don't actually know if they use peanut oil in their fryer but I wouldn't be shocked to hear if it was, as these fries had the kind of flavor and crispness I've come to associate with said oil. Allergic-types may want to inquire.). Too bad I only had room for about 3 of them.

At this point I'm beyond full. I'm actually in pain. My stomach feels like it's been stretched out like the guy's in Se7en who represented "Gluttony" (ooooh...inappropriate?). I hurt. I anticipate an evening at the Opera afterwards during which time I will neither be able to pass gas nor scratch myself, and this concerns me. I've had 7 courses (unless you count the fries? Then it would be 8) and they were sooooo good and I can't possibly ingest another bite or I might actually run the risk of eating myself to the point of digestive arrest.

Then dessert came. New York Style Cheesecake with sable cookies and fresh berry compote. I have to at least try it. The cheesecake is creamy. Rich, and creamy. Not crumbly. Not cakey. But creamy. I can taste the cream cheese and sour cream. The silky smoothness. Cold. Did I say creamy? This is cheesecake like my mom made--now, my mom didn't make much but she sure did make one hell of a cheesecake; it's infamous in my family. Just one bite became just another. And another. Until I was scraping the last plump blueberry around the plate to make sure I didn't miss any creamy crumbs.

Still not sold on the celebrity chef concept? Wolfgang is the name but Marc is the game--he runs the kitchen, creates the menu, and has been doing so with the Wolfgang Puck brand for 17 years now, having opened each of the Grilles across the nation. While he's travelled extensively under the Puck-Man, working in Vegas, Atlantic City, and LA, he originally hails from Madison Heights and has finally, after nearly two decades, come home. Our Prodigal Son returned, and after being so desperate to leave so many years ago, he is happy he has come back and is truly excited about what he sees going on in the city--the great ideas and the great passion he sees in other chefs and restauranteurs.

Marc designed this DRW menu (as well as the year-round prix fixe menu) to wholly represent the restaurant while making the experience affordable. Portions are smaller which allow for a more concise package without skimping on the quality. It’s the same food that is offered on the regular menu, and still represents the Wolfgang Puck brand. “We want this to be a dining experience for people, more than just eating,” he told me. “If you live in Troy you could go to Ocean Prime, so why come here? We’re trying to do something great so this will be the obvious choice.”

Works for me. And eventually my digestive tract recovered. Totally worth it.

Spring Asparagus Soup
(Toasted curry oil and crisp parsley)
Chopped Vegetable Salad
(Pine nuts and shaved feta cheese)
English Pea Ravioli
(Braised pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano)

Roasted Chicken Breast
(Honey glazed carrots and garlic potato purée)
Sautéed Salmon
(Fingerling potatoes, confit bacon
and whole grain mustard sauce)
Grilled Rib Eye Steak
(Wild mushrooms, Cipollini onions and Armagnac sauce)
Angel Hair Pasta
(Wild field mushrooms and white truffle oil)

New York Style Cheesecake
(Sable cookies and fresh berry compote)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

DRW Supper Club at 42 Degrees North

Once again Detroit Synergy’s Supper Club is partnering with Detroit Restaurant Week to bring you some of Detroit’s finest dining experiences at special Detroit Restaurant Week prices.

The inaugural Detroit Restaurant Week event attracted some 27,000 attendees during its first run last September and is back again April 16-25 for the Spring Edition. 17 of Detroit’s finest restaurants are once again offering special prix fixe three-course menus for only $27.00 (excluding tax and gratuity).

Join Supper Club as we visit for the first time Forty-Two Degrees North, the newest dining destination inside the Renaissance Center. Executive Chef Franz Josef Zimmer creates contemporary regional cuisine with emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. On Wednesday, April 21 beginning at 6:00PM, Supper Club will experience his progressive American Midwest cuisine from the Restaurant Week menu in the boldly modern space with a stunning view of the Detroit River.

The menu for Detroit Restaurant Week is as follows:

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
(Pepper jack cheese, chive
beurre blanc, red and yellow pepper coulis)
Potato Skins
confit, brandy, smoked cheddar)
Tomato Mozzarella Salad
Zimmer’s olive oil, Thai basil, heirloom tomato, balsamic reduction, prosciutto
Spring Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan and Prosciutto
(Cherry balsamic dressing)
Four Onion Tart
(Maytag blue
cheese and watercress salad)

Spring Pea and Shiitake
Shrimp Scampi
(Grand Traverse Riesling, fresh herbs and
paperdelli pasta)
6 oz. Seared Filet
(Green peppercorn and
mushroom pan sauce, rosti potato, Stilton bleu fritter, baby vegetable)
Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken
(Seared and finished in its own sauce of,
blood orange, white balsamic vinegar
and fresh baby mint, arugula, baby
vegetables, almond rice pilaf)
Seared Halibut
(3 tomato, caper
and olive salad with fresh basil and Chef Zimmer’s olive oil,
fingerling potatoes finished with a baked prosciutto chip)

Key Lime Pie
Chocolate Decadence
(with pistachio and
Caramel Flan
(with fresh berries)

All attendees will be billed individually at the restaurant; this is not a pay in advance event. We will be meeting at the restaurant at 6:00PM for a cocktail hour, followed by dinner at 7:00PM. Please note that the $27.00 fixed price does not include tax or gratuity; each person/party is responsible for their own check.

For more information about Detroit Restaurant Week, visit their website at Also be sure to visit the official blog of Restaurant Week,, which offers sneak previews of a number of different participating restaurants.

Because we are not selling tickets through the online store, please RSVP in advance. Space is limited. Email to RSVP and with any questions. Please pass this information on to your friends, family, and coworkers, and anyone else interested in Detroit dining!

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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: O'Tooles

"Ever heard of a ghost pepper? Neither had I, until I sat down with Corporate Chef Ed Gorski at O’Tooles in Waterford. Gorski, along with Ben Horner (co-owner of the Waterford location), recently created a new menu for all three O’Tooles locations, which also includes Royal Oak and Farmington Hills. The idea behind the menu was to present a homogenous menu, creating more of a corporate feel with multi-unit branding. Unlike most corporate chains, however, O’Tooles makes everything from scratch, creating menu items that stand apart from average bar fare.

'Take, for example, their pizzas: “You can throw a stone and hit 10 places that serve pizza that’s just dough, red sauce, cheese,” says Gorski, “and we could have done that too — and made it great — but we wanted to make a pizza for people looking for something a little different.” The crust is ultra-thin without being dry or "cracker-y" (a feat in itself), and there is no red sauce used — instead, it is a creamy herbed Boursin sauce, almost like an Alfredo...

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Metromix: Spring Beer Guide 2010

"Spring is in the air; time to drink some beer!

'Well, ANYTIME is the right time to enjoy some of Michigan’s award-winning locally-brewed craft beers, but the changing of the seasons inevitably ushers in a shift in the beer drinker’s (and brewer’s) tastes. We bid a fond farewell to the malty dark ales and head-spinning strongs that kept us warm all through the winter and open our arms to cloudy, refreshing wheat beers; hop-heavy pale ales; and crisp, light lagers. The weather outside is quite nearly delightful; it’s time for some solid patio-drinking!

'Light, refreshing, clean, crisp, citrusy -- these are the characteristics of a Michigan spring beer, and these are the places where you can get them:"

Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

DRW Preview #4: Opus One

In times of such economic uncertainty, when businesses open and close as quickly and quietly as flames flickering in the wind, it can be a relief to see a place that is stable, reliable, unchanging. Such is the case with Opus One, which has been in business since 1987 and has maintained its level of success and notoriety by sticking with the the winning formula it established early on. And, also, the décor.

1987. Reaganomics. Iran-Contra. The Simpsons. The Stock Market skyrocketed (before it abruptly collapsed). Wall Street. Yuppie culture. Ah, those were the days. This was the time Opus One was born: suited to the opulent, affluent, discriminating business types who believed an item's level of quality was in direct proportion to its cost.

Well, times have changed, and Opus One is not the same inaccessibly uppity place it *may* once have been (I say "may" because I was only 6 and therefore can't really make a fair assessment of what it was actually like at the time, relying solely on the stories of others to set the stage for me).

The food is still fabulous--and perhaps it is here that I should note that one of the key components that have not changed over all these years is Executive Chef Tim Giznsky, who has been there since they opened their doors, serving as Executive Sous Chef for eight years and then as Executive Chef for the past 14. If it ain't broke, don't fix it: what Giznsky has created here is a formula for success which has kept Opus One alive and well even during such tumultuous times when so many long-time Detroit institutions have shuttered their doors. It's simple, really: make good food and create a great dining experience, and be willing to change with the times. Opus One offers a variety of game specials, discounted bar and happy hour menus, theatre packages, and prix fixe menus to appeal to a wider audience.

And it is with a tremendous amount of throwback nostalgic glee that I fully embrace the lavish, opulent décor as being firmly, fabulously planted in the year 1987.

For my fourth Detroit Restaurant Week preview dinner, I had the full experience of Opus One's contemporary French and American regional flavors. Last summer I became a hard-line fan of their Pork Osso Buco (seriously, it's like butter) and greatly anticipated what would be in store for the Spring Edition of Restaurant Week. Giznsky decided to create a DRW menu that would reach out to new customers as well as expose them to their regular menu in a way that is accessible without being intimidating.

We began with the Chilled Shiitake Mushroom and Vegetable Spring Roll, served with Ponzu and sweet & hot dipping sauces. The roll itself was delicate and full of bright, fresh spring colors and flavors. From there it got a little heavier: the extra-decadent Lobster Bisque garnished with lobster saffron ravioli and fresh chives. This is a classic menu item here (though not quite as much so as the signature Shrimp Helene), and it is exceptionally thick, creamy, and sweet. The flavor of the lobster is understated (i.e., not overwhelming), nicely balanced throughout with what can only be lots and lots and lots of butter and heavy cream. Diet, schmiet.

Next up was the Chilled Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna served rare with wasabi aioli and pickled ginger. A beautiful presentation (expect nothing less from this place, right down to the gilded plates), with an exquisite high-grade tuna with matching complimentary flavors of sesame and wasabi. The wasabi aioli was the real winner here: creamy and not overly-spicy, it carried the natural flavor of wasabi with the strong heat.

We were served several of the entree selections from the DRW menu. The Pan-Seared Fillet of Arctic Char presented on a grilled vegetable couscous with a spring pea coulis and micro greens salad had a fantastic color thanks to the pea coulis. This dish, along with the mushroom spring roll, really nails the "Spring" concept behind this installment of Restaurant Week, with flavors and colors perfectly representing the season. I am not the biggest fan of peas (think "The Princess and the Pea"), but I do think this dish was a fantastic representation of the spring theme.

For those looking for something a little "meatier" to bite into, you will probably enjoy the Spice Rubbed New York Strip Steak served with a potato mushroom hash, baby green beans and a red wine demi-glace garnished with angel hair onion rings. It's meat and potatoes gone all fancy, and whether the more refined palates among us want to admit or not, this is ultimately very much a meat and potatoes town. Steak lovers will find this perfectly suited to their tastes.

As for me, being one of those "more refined palates" I was talking about, I felt hard and fast for the Grilled Peppered Loin of Australian Lamb served with spinach risotto and a Dijon mustard sauce. Now mind you, I eat A LOT of lamb. I love lamb. I understand and accept the fact that it is often fatty (such is the beast). I love the strong, pungent flavor and the tender, juicy meat, especially when complimented with the right combination of spices (rosemary is always a win). Lamb chops grilled, seared, and even gnawed right off the bone...I'm a happy girl. But this? This was like no other lamb I've ever tasted. Made with a peppercorn rub (which you would usually find on a flank steak) and absolutely free of fat, this lamb loin was like butter in every bite, exceptionally tender, with a mild flavor (so those who tend to veer away from lamb because of its gamey character would actually still enjoy this, like my dining partner on this evening) that was accented well by the Dijon mustard sauce which captured the flavor of mustard seed without being too "mustardy" (I tend to also not be a huge fan of mustard, though with this dish I actually enjoyed it). This is one of the most stellar dishes I've had yet during my Spring DRW previews, and I will recommend it whole-heartedly to everyone. As a lamb lover, I was both surprised and exceedingly pleased. I call this dish a must for all foodies.

Once again, by the time dessert came around I was almost too full...once again, I soldiered through. The Crème Brûlée is the classic baked vanilla custard topped with caramelized sugar and fresh berries, pleasing for any palate.

The Trio Chocolate Mousse three layers of dark, milk and white chocolate with fresh berries and raspberry sauce is made for sweet teeth--I actually loved the thick, tart raspberry sauce best of all. Pour that over simple vanilla bean ice cream and that's a great summer treat!

And finally, one of their signature desserts: Banana Split Flan made with pastry cream, strawberries, bananas and chocolate in a tart shell topped with whipped cream and toasted nuts then garnished strawberry paint. It tasted like a banana split made with creamy custard instead of ice cream. Another spring/summer win!

They've received Wine Specator's "Award of Excellence" for their outstanding wine list (which includes vertical flights of the very pricey Napa namesake) every year since they opened in 1987, and have been a pillar of Detroit's fine dining ever since. But this isn't gelees served on micro-spoons that cost $1,000 per person for the experience (ahem, Alinea); these are big portions full of familiar flavors well-suited to regional Midwestern palates, and just simply damn good food. Giznsky knows what he's doing--and hell, he's been doing it for awhile. If you haven't been to Opus One for fear of high prices or it being too high-scale, this is your chance to reconceive your misconceptions and discover what truly fine dining (and exceptional service) is all about.

PS, get the lamb.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: Town Pump Tavern

It should be noted that I also made a fart joke in reference to the deviled eggs now being served on the new menu. EDITED. Bla-dow.

"Opening Day should be a sanctioned holiday here in Detroit. One of the most popular places for game day revelers to descend upon is the Town Pump Tavern, a long-standing watering hole for locals, sports fans and college kids alike. They’ve also got a great bar menu which they will be expanding just in time for this year’s game day glee on April 9.

'You can expect all the standards in terms of bar fare: pizza, burgers, fries and sandwiches. There are also a few surprises that you won’t find everywhere, including fried pickles, curry sweet potato fries and “Blazin’ Buffalo Breadsticks” (breadsticks loaded up with buffalo chicken, mozzarella and hot sauce). Almost everything is made fresh in-house, including their mozzarella sticks and onion rings. The addition of a deep fryer last year has enabled them to expand their menu to include a whole plethora of fried foods. Their new menu will play with this concept a bit more, including such beer-friendly standards as Loaded French Fries with cheddar, bacon and sour cream..."

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Detroit Restaurant Week Prelude at Iridescence

It's next week! Already! Let the games begin!

This "Prelude" party sounds fab...I'll be there with bells on. (You never know. I might have bells.)

Detroit Restaurant Week festivities begin on Thursday, April 15 at 5 p.m. with a prelude party at Iridescence and Amnesia located on the top floor of the MotorCity Casino Hotel to benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan.

“We wanted this year’s prelude event to be a party with a purpose,” said Detroit
Restaurant Week
Executive Director Jason Huvaere. “The partnership we have
formed with Gleaners Community Food Bank and the Nino Salvaggio
International Marketplace
will help to provide less fortunate individuals
and families from our region with nutritious foods.”

Entry into the Detroit Restaurant Week prelude party is FREE, however attendees are encouraged to either make a monetary donation to Gleaners upon entry, or bring canned food items to donate.

Upon entering Iridescence guests will be treated to much more than just the reathtaking views of the Detroit skyline, they will be greeted by models in custom-crafted chef coats restyled by FEMILIA, emerging Detroit couture fashion designers, and enjoy the sounds of the John Arnold Trio.

Guests will immediately be drawn to the four avant-garde food installations. These works of art will be the centerpiece of food stations that will offer party-goers an array of delicious appetizers. The visually stimulating installations will be:

1. A massive Spring onion tree delicately arranged with spring onion flowers.
2. Carrot curls submerged in water and set off by flickering candles.
3. Layers of asparagus covering oversized vases wrapped in leather, lace metal chains and safety pins.
4. A 3-foot POP ART themed artichoke log studded with industrial metal scales,
incorporating both sand art and candlelight.

“We have an ongoing relationship with Gleaners Community Food Bank,” said Rhonda Cohen, COO of MotorCity Casino Hotel. “We value them as a community partner and this event was another opportunity to help advance their mission. We didn’t hesitate to get involved for such a great cause.”

Next door at Amnesia guests will find a fifth food station devoted to decadent desserts, all of which are hand crafted by the 2007 American Culinary Federation’s Pastry Chef of the Year, Patricia Nash.

Soft drinks and warm beverages will also be available along with a cash bar. The menus for each restaurants participating in the 10-evening dinner promotion will
be on display for party-goers to review. Guests should RSVP to and put “DRW Prelude” in the subject line. Each guest will also receive a small take home gift while supplies last.

Donations to Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan

Party-goers will be encouraged make a donation to Gleaners upon their arrival -- by
cash, check, credit or debit card. The donation amount will be left to the discretion of the guest. Donations will then be processed by Gleaners and the order will be placed with the Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, which will deliver the items to a designated Gleaners location.

“We are pleased to be part of Detroit Restaurant Week – an exciting event that celebrates what Detroit has to offer,” said W. DeWayne Wells, president of Gleaners. “Many of our neighbors still struggle to put food on the table, so we are especially grateful to DRW, Nino Salvaggio’s and MotorCity Casino Hotel for stepping up to help those in need.”

Guests may also bring canned and dry goods for donation. Gleaners suggests the following items because they are nutritious, easy for their clients to use, and
continuously requested by their partners for distribution:

Tuna Fish
Dry Beans
Canned Meat
Noodles, Macaroni
Beef Stew
or Baking Mixes
Meat Soups, Hearty Soups
Canned Spaghetti or
Pasta Cereal
Granola Bars
Peanut Butter
Jelly (in plastic jars)
Canned Beans (kidney, pinto, green, yellow, refried or black

Sunday, April 4, 2010

DRW Preview #3: 24grille

The look of Detroit's fine dining scene has been rapidly changing over the past few years, and there are no two more welcome additions to it than the offerings inside the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel: Roast and 24grille. Both have independently become THE go-to spots for business types and the trendy social elite, though 24grille tends to get a bit overshadowed by its boisterous big brother down the hall. But to miss this place would be a huge mistake on your part. With a uniquely different look and vibe than Roast, it is equally as trendy and elegant though with perhaps a little less pomp. Roast may be where all the business types flown into town for conferences may converge for dinner meetings, but the bar at 24grille is where they'll end up afterwards. The ambiance is just a little younger, a little hipper, a little more loosen-up-your-tie-and-have-fun.

The interior is best described as modern industrial chic. A narrow space with two full walls of windows make it constantly flooded with natural light, which illuminates the flawless blonde wood floors and the intricate hand-blown glass sculptures. The plush upholstery is all done in warm chocolate hues while the space itself is accented with exposed ductwork and iron columns, giving it an urban chic loft-like feel. A granite bar and fireplace complete the look along with glittering rectangular chandeliers. The effect is stylish and sleek, visually impressive in every minute detail with something to catch your eye wherever it may wander. No small wonder then that the clientele tends to be equally as eye-catching--this is a great place for savvy singles to mingle and for doe-eyed dates to flirt.

For my third Detroit Restaurant Week menu preview, I got to visit 24grille, and as one of the places that I felt really went above and beyond with their DRW menu selections last year I was very excited to see what they have in store for the Spring Edition. It was a gorgeous day outside so we enjoyed our meal on the patio (lovely but for the ruins of the former Lafayette Building).

We started with the Roasted Tomato Caesar salad, served with a dried tomato slice and parmesan. Not as heavy as a classic Caesar, the roasted tomato was an interesting flavor to add to a salad that has become a bit boring by overexposure--a refreshing new twist on a stale dish, and perfect for the lighter spring season.

We then sampled the Crab Cake as the Chef's featured appetizer of the day, though this will change regularly throughout Restaurant Week and thus may not be the same. The flavors of jalapeno and citrus were great compliments to the dish, though the red sauce was a little heavy.

For the entree selections, we enjoyed the tender, juicy, perfectly-cooked (not charred, dearGOD how I hate char) filet mignon, served with zip sauce, cipollini onion and garlic confit, and Yukon Gold potato purée. The filet was prepared to the ideal temperature, brown on the outside and pink on the inside, and the zip sauce was all the salty, buttery indulgence you should expect when devouring such a fine piece of tender beef. As the old steakhouses of Detroit have slowly disappeared the art of the zip sauce seems to have been nearly forgotten, but rest assured there just simply is no better way to enjoy a filet.

We also got to taste the Frenched Berkshire Pork Chop, served with garlic potato puree, braised apples, and a cinnamon-infused cognac sauce. There's a reason why pork chops and applesauce are staples in many households, and that's because the pork and apple just go so tremendously well together. The chop is bone-in, big and meaty, and the sauce is full of colorful warm cinnamon-apple spice that compliments the pork. As an adult with a more experienced palate, it is always a unique treat to rediscover a simple dish from childhood such as this with all-new eyes (and tastebuds). And it should probably go without saying that this isn't quite the pork-chops-and-applesauce that mom used to make, either.

For dessert we sampled a selection of 24grille's house-made ice creams and sorbets: (left to right from top) Pomegranate, Blueberry, and Strawberry Sorbet as well as Double Chocolate, Banana Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream. The vanilla bourbon was mild with just the slightest hint of warm bourbon spice; the double chocolate was double-rich (and ultimately mixed well with the strawberry sorbet; don't judge); the blueberry sorbet was the most amazing shade of deep, electric purple-blue and had the most exceptional natural flavor. (Note that these selections will also change during Restaurant Week.)

Executive Chef Jason Gardner has once again devised an outstanding menu for the Spring Edition of Detroit Restaurant Week, and has even included information in the menu itself (see below) regarding the origins of the items used so diners can see just how much of the meat and produce is sourced locally.

Roast may have the finest happy hour in town (it's true), but 24grille just this February launched a competitive happy hour of their own: every Monday-Friday 4:00-6:00PM enjoy half-off wine and appetizers. Mondays are "Moet Mondays" when all glasses of Moet champagnes are $10.00; Tuesdays are half-off all bottles of wine all night. They also launched an $8.00 lunch sac menu Monday-Friday which includes a choice of sandwich with soup, cookie, and a pickle (try the BBQ Pulled Pork with Smoked Gouda).
For the more chichi types, visit the Champagne Bar for an endless array of champagnes to toast any special occasion (or just the fact that it's Wednesday).

24grille oozes style, but it also has substance and has earned its reputation as one of Detroit's top dining destinations. If you've never been, Detroit Restaurant Week is the ideal time to test it out with a menu that exceeds expectations and impeccable service that is welcoming and just the right mixture of formal and friendly. Before or after dinner, be sure to enjoy a cocktail at the bar: the "fireplace" is not to be missed.

Roasted Tomato Caesar [Benny Evola & Son Produce – Grosse Pointe]
(Romaine hearts, shaved Parmesan, oven dried tomato, roasted tomato dressing)
Soup du Jour
(Chef’s selection of daily specials prepared with local, seasonal ingredients)
Featured Appetizer
(Chef’s daily creation)

Airline Chicken [Peacock Family Amish Farm – Troy]
(Roasted chicken jus, heirloom baby carrots, Yukon Gold potato purée)
Frenched Berkshire Pork Chop [Central Market – Detroit]
(Garlic potato purée, braised apples, cinnamon infused Cognac sauce)
Filet Mignon [Creek Stone Farms – Arkansas]
(Zip sauce, Cipollini onion and garlic confit, asparagus, Yukon Gold potato purée)
Himalayan Cabbage Rolls [Benny Evola & Son Produce – Grosse Pointe]
(Himalayan red rice, root vegetables, wild mushrooms, elephant garlic sauce, grilled tofu)

House-made Ice Cream
(Chef’s daily variety)
(Chocolate anglaise, almond chantilly cream)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do Detroit DRW Promo Video...Starring ME!

If you haven't seen this video yet, you must not be my Facebook friend. PS, you should be my Facebook friend.

Atlas Global Bistro, Iridescence, and the Whitney all allowed us to barge into their restaurants with cameras and eat all their pretty food for the latest Do Detroit TV "Nikki Does Detroit" promo video on the Spring edition of Detroit Restaurant Week.

Nikki Does Detroit: Restaurant Week Spring 2010 from doDetroit TV on Vimeo.

Don't worry, I won't forget you when I'm famous.

I'd like to give a shout-out to Logan Siegel, Jason Huvaere, James Canning, Maggie Battjes, Dan Maurer, Christian Borden, Derik Watson, Don Yamauchi, Jacquie Woods, Abe Berry, Bobby Megargle, Jesus and ma' moms for making this happen. All true except the Jesus and ma' moms part. Not that I have anything against either, they just weren't that involved in the creation of this video. Unless you're super into the whole Jesus thing, in which case you'll probably argue with me, so we'll just have to agree to disagree. But I digress.