Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: New Year's Eats

7 in West Bloomfield

To celebrate its one-year anniversary (they opened 12/1/2010), 7 in West Bloomfield is offering an all-inclusive evening of dining and dancing for only $60 per person (and that includes tax and tip). The four-course meal runs from 9 to 11 p.m. (limited seats are available). The upscale appetizer buffet will have shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, oysters Rockefeller, sushi, assorted cheeses, fruits and vegetables and a gourmet salad display.Options for the sit-down entree selections include filet mignon, pan-seared Chilean sea bass and lemon chicken piccata, all served with loaded whipped potatoes and a vegetable medley. And, of course, be sure to save room for dessert. There will also be party favors, a champagne toast and balloon drop at midnight, late-night snacks and a DJ spinning all night long. Cash bar; VIP booths and bottle service available. Call 248.737.9777 to reserve yours in advance.

Bookies Bar & Grille

Downtown Detroit's favorite entertainment destination bar, Bookies Bar & Grille, will be popping bottles precisely how you'd expect them to: with lots of music and booze. For their New Year's Eve party they are offering a $50 ticket, which includes an open bar from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. (four hours to drink $50 worth of booze? EASY) as well as a late-night coney dog buffet, champagne toast and balloon drop at midnight, and three floors of the hottest hip-hop, dance, house and top 40 mash-ups featuring DJ Technician and DJ Salvador Rivera. Watch the ball drop in Times Square on their HD TVs and 16-foot projection screen. Reserved seating and coat check is available, and a four-course prix fixe dinner menu is also offered for an additional $30 (not including tax or tip). Tickets can be purchased at


If Greektown's Monroe Street can substitute for the raucous French Quarter in Virgin on Bourbon Street (you'll only know that movie because it was filmed in Detroit, and not for any other reason), then Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe is a wholly acceptable fill-in for the candy-colored hedonistic Creole vibe conjured by Mardi Gras. Fishbone's is a Detroit-styled homage to the voodoo jazz of the Bayou, complete with plastic beads and krewe masks. If you're looking for a New Year's Eve that requires a little less planning and preening — something as easy as, well, the Big Easy — head to Detroit's own Fishbone's. Enjoy their usual selection of fresh seafood and sushi as well as steaks, pastas and Creole cuisine, then kick back when the Brian Sheehan Band kicks off at 10 p.m., playing classic rock, new wave and original cuts on what is rumored to be a "sparking" guitar.

Gaucho SteakHouse

The only authentic Churrascaria in metro Detroit, this Brazilian steakhouse offers the kind of dining experience you won't get anywhere else. Your meal is presented in the Brazilian and Portuguese "rodizio" style where "gauchos" (meat carvers) bring a seemingly endless stream of fire-roasted skewered meats to the table (16 in all) and shave off unlimited portions to your pleasing — use the green and red chips to signify when you're ready for more or when you're throwing in the meat towel. Beef ribs, baby back ribs, lamb leg and chops, rump roast, bottom and top sirloin, chicken, sausage, pork tenderloin and more await you, along with their gourmet 30-item salad bar with accompaniments such as smoked salmon, salami, asparagus, and grana padano (a hard cheese similar to parmesan). The prix fixe menu is always $43.99 per person, and they will be open until midnight on New Year's Eve.

Bourbon Steak inside MGM

There are few other restaurants in metro Detroit that come even close to matching the atmosphere of sophistication and distinction of Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak inside the MGM Grand Detroit. This is not the kind of place you visit unless you have extra money you don't want anymore; that being said, the exceptional staff ensures that your experience is well worth the splurge. If you're after something a little more champagne and charcuterie and a little less bump and grind this New Year's, Bourbon Steak's indulgent tasting menu is calling to you. This special menu is $100 per person with an an additional wine pairing available for $50 per person (tax and tip not included). Start with an amuse bouche of caviar parfait, first course choice of lobster bisque or steak "Oscar," entree choice of prime rib or curried lobster thermidor and a Knob Creek malted milkshake with chocolate ice cream sandwich and salted bourbon caramel for dessert. Truly spectacular wine pairings include Moet & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1992 and Louis Carillon Puligny-Montrachet Burgundy 2006. Dinner service is offered 5 p.m. to midnight and reservations are required.

Sangria Tapas Cafe & Sky Club, Metro Detroit Salsa, and Cuatro Cirios Tequila are bringing you the kind of New Year's Eve celebration you can step, twirl and cha-cha your way through with Salsa Explosion. Sangria Tapas Cafe and Sky Club will be doing what they do best: creating a sexy-as-hell culture of Latin food, music and dance in downtown Royal Oak. Four DJs will be spinning salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaeton and top 40 tracks to keep your pulse pounding and your hips swinging until 4 a.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or $15 in advance or with dinner purchase, and include continental breakfast. Three-course dinner packages include one tapa, entree and dessert and range from $30-50 (paella for two is $70 and includes two tapas and two desserts). Prix fixe dinner packages do not include tax or tip. Make reservations for one of three dinner seatings at 248.543.1964; tickets for the party afterwards are available through and

Tom's Oyster Bar

As luck would have it, New Year's Eve falls on a Friday this year. For those of you out there unfortunate enough to have to work that day, never fear: your after-work happy hour is continuing as scheduled at Tom's Oyster Bar in Royal Oak. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. enjoy $4 martinis, $3 calls, $3 pints and $1 oysters. And since you're already here, stick around for their NYE lobster specials: an a la carte lobster tail dinner and a surf and turf with lobster tail and prime rib (specials will run 5 p.m. to midnight). They will still have the full board of fresh fish that they're known for, as well as their namesake selection of six different cold water raw oysters. They — you know, THEY — do say oysters are an aphrodisiac ... and who doesn't want someone to kiss at midnight? Just some things to keep in mind. You're welcome.

Andiamo on the Riverfront

The tricky thing about New Year's Eve is all too often trying to enjoy it safely. This year Andiamo on the Riverfront is offering guests a package that will allow them to pop bottles without worry and let the booze flow like water. Guests will start with a four-course dinner at Andiamo and afterwards enjoy the evening doing all of the pure and innocent things people do in hotels, such as play Yahtzee in a deluxe room at the Marriott Renaissance Center. Enjoy its stunning views of Detroit and Windsor, all for only $279 per couple (tax, tip and alcohol not included). Call 313.567.6700 for reservations. RDW

Originally printed here.

The London Chop House Returns; So What Should We Expect?

The London Chop House is one of the most storied establishments of Old Detroit, perhaps second only to the J.L. Hudson's building in its infamy. People still tell stories about it to this day -- nearly anyone with any interest in Detroit history and/or dining culture can tell you that this was the place Chef Jimmy Schmidt cut his teeth before opening the Rattlesnake Club, or that this place was so popular that the Caucus Club was opened merely to contain its spillover (with another interesting sidestory that the Caucus Club was where Barbara Streisand got her start -- true, if only down to the actual letter of the phrasing). It was one of the top-ranked restaurants in the country from the 1950s into the '80s, collecting top honors from a variety of publications as well as a James Beard Award along the way. It was a revelation in painstakingly detailed tuxedoed service at a time when this kind of service was still very much in vogue, far exceeding other establishments in its committment to its customer experience.

When a guest made a reservation, he would arrive to find his table with books of
matches and a reserved sign all imprinted with his name, as well as a card with
a coin in a slot reimbursing him for his phone call. Alpha types jostled for
table #1, while regulars glowed with the knowledge that their suavely jacketed
waiter had remembered how many ice cubes they liked in their
(Famous in its Day)

The Chop House was a hallmark of Detroit's former grandeur, the very embodiment of wealth, power, and prestige that local industry afforded high-powered businessmen. To look at some of the old menus now reveals a steakhouse that is mostly unremarkable save for comparisons to anything other than a steakhouse, but this was the kind of place where the food played second string behind the concertmasters that were image, image, image. The London Chop House meant money, and diners may just as well have eaten their hundreds pan-seared with garlic and white wine for the privilege of being seen in a place imbued with such illustriousness.

But that Detroit is gone.

I'll spare you the hand-wringing over That Which Once Was; that time has passed and most of us who "reminisce" about it today weren't even alive to see it. The London Chop House is the preferred go-to reference point of how great Detroit once was, much as Slows is the contemporary go-to reference point of how great it can be once again. (Conversely it is also an fitting analogy of how far Detroit hath fallen; read this piece on its imminent closing, printed three years before it actually shut its doors, in the New York Times.) Anyone who has spent any length of time writing about food and/or history in this town has spilled their fair share of Internet ink waxing nostalgic on the Chop House (self included). So the news that leaked last week -- news that may have been a bit overlooked in the course of all the holiday hubbub -- that the London Chop House would be reopening after nearly 20 years was met with surprising quiet.

Or maybe it isn't so surprising. At a time when every new high-profile venture in Detroit is met with much fanfare and the usual suspects doing backflips months in advance of its opening on the Craig Fahle Show, the re-opening of the London Chop House has been shrouded in secrecy. The few who do know any significant details about it -- whether garnered by legitimate means or through the grapevine of legitimate hearsay -- aren't at liberty to talk about it.

Here's what CAN be said: the restaurant that is opening is under the ownership of the Gatzaros family, local restaurateurs responsible for the Fishbone's chain as well as the fairly-new Wah-Hoo (an upscale Chinese restaurant in the Central Business District). It is being called the London Chop House & Cigar Bar. It will be located at 155 Congress St. in the lower level of the Murphy Building, the same location as before.

Aside from its name and location, any other similarities between the old Chop House and this doppleganger have yet to be revealed. The owners are extremely tight-lipped about it (like, legal action tight-lipped ... like, this might be my third law suit threat tight-lipped), and while it is supposedly scheduled to open in about a month there is almost no information available about it.

The secrecy may serve it well: sometimes the best way to build interest in something is to say absolutely nothing about it. But this lack of buzz early on may also not bode well for the new business: it is possible to be so secretive that no one knows about it, and thus no one cares. Perhaps they want to test the waters and get their feet wet before striking up the band and setting off the fireworks -- a prudent move for such a high-profile venture. Or should I say re-venture. The Gatzaros family have a solid enough track record with their successful chain of Creole-styled seafood restaurants (whether you think Fishbone's is a particularly good chain of restaurants I'll leave up to you), though this would be their first foray into true fine dining. If, indeed, that is the track they're pursuing, which is merely assumed by the namesake.

The question I'm left asking is: why? In my cautious and hesitant nature (some would say sarcastic ... some would say worse), I can't help but wonder if this reincarnation is less about living up to the former incarnation's glory and more about simply capitalizing on it. But let's just say the efforts are sincere: can it live up to the reputation of THE London Chop House? ***THE*** London Chop House. It would be like Rome trying to call itself the Holy Roman Empire again. Only, you know, on a much smaller scale.

The truth is, it can't be what the London Chop House once was. That ship sailed with the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. That level of impossibly proper service is not just a thing of the past here; it's a thing of the past everywhere. Where fine dining establishments once tried to out-grandiose each other, now they struggle to downplay their own fine dining nature to appeal to a wider clientele. "Sure, plates may be $30 on average and that's without any sides, apps, or dessert, but we're TOTALLY a place for the Every Man, just look how bright our walls are!" They call themselves "bistros" and design their spaces to look like renovated lofts with exposed brick and pipes. Very specific cultural shifts have occurred since the time that kind of dining with the burgundy leather wingback chairs in the cigar lounge and middle-aged male waiters with white gloves and 1965 Rothschild wine on a business lunch was popular; such visible flauntings of excess are no longer desired or admired (you can spend the same amount of money on your total bill, so long as you're wearing jeans and your server is more chummy than formal). The Chop House was very much a symbol of its time and place ... neither of which exist anymore.

Reopening the London Chop House is akin to trying to resuscitate the former glory of Detroit. But Detroit has changed. The world has changed. Spew all the pro-Detroit rhetoric you want--Slows is not the London Chop House nor is it meant to be. There are a lot of great things about Detroit, not the least of which being self-made opportunities for people who, say, got an English degree and then floundered for a few years and then decided "Oh, hey, I want to write about food now" and actually get away with it. I'm not complaining over here.

But to have the bravado to re-open an INSTITUTION (in the true sense of the word) such as the Chop House--that's going to be a very difficult scale to balance. On one hand you'll have the inevitable detractors who will eagerly proclaim that it isn't "the same;" on the other hand you're faced with the quintessential impossibility of making it so. There is also the added burden that anything reopening under the same name with the same expectation of standards will only tarnish the memory of the original place by not living up to them, forever tainting that image, image, image. Perhaps the secrecy is due to the fact that they haven't quite figured out the balance themselves yet. Or maybe it will just be so mind-blowingly awesome that we just have to wait and see.

And so I guess we wait and see.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Real Detroit: Pizzeria Biga (Extended Cut)

Pizzeria Biga
29110 Franklin Rd., Southfield
248-750-BIGA (2442),
Hours: Sunday through Thursday11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Satuday 11 a.m. to midnight

What does James Beard Award-nominated chef and restaurateur Luciano del Signore do when he’s not creating exquisite nouveau-Italian dishes at Bacco Ristorante? He makes pizza, naturally! “It was pure selfishness,” Luciano says of his latest venture, Pizzeria Biga in Southfield. “[I opened Pizzeria Biga] due to the fact that there isn’t a true hand-crafted Neapolitan pizza in metro Detroit. I couldn’t just go out and buy it so we decided to create it!” And as luck would have it, it turned out to be the right kind of business for the current economy.

The dough has exactly three ingredients: milled wheat flour, purified water and a touch of sea salt, with no commercial yeast, which makes it much easier for your body to digest and thus healthier (Luciano also just perfected their new wheat crust, which is even healthier). The majority of their 57 toppings sound like items you would find at il mercato di Campo de’ Fiori rather than in a pizza joint in Southfield, Michigan. The name refers to an ancient form of leavening called biga used in Italian breads such as ciabatta. The pre-fermenting process is laborious but the long process pays off; the dough is light and airy and can cook very quickly. At Biga the 100% wood-fired brick ovens are fired at 900 degrees and they have perfected the 90-second bake time for their pizzas. This is the way Italians have made pizza for centuries. “Why mess with perfection?” Luciano posits.

They take the time to make things other places just don’t offer. Prosciutto di Parma, besaola, speck, lardo, grana (aka charcuterie and imported cheese) … charcuterie that isn’t imported is made in-house, like the duck prosciutto and bresaola, and many of their items are also prepped in the oven before going on a pizza -- oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes, etc.

The same is true of their house made gelato, which is made fresh daily as it is in Italy (freezing affects the flavors so today’s gelato was made today, tomorrow’s will be made tomorrow, and so forth). They use all natural milk (hormone- and antibiotic-free) from local Guernsey Farms Dairy blended with fine Belgian chocolate, their own macerated fruits and Italian espresso to flavor their rotating selections of gelato and sorbetto.

Whet your appetite with a charcuterie plate of house-made duck prosciutto and creamy caprino (Italian goat’s milk cheese). Then try the wood-roasted beets salad with olive pesto, walnuts, arugula, onion, balsamic, olive oil, parsley, goat cheese and a variety of the woefully underappreciated slightly-sweet beet. Follow that with the prosciutto pizza with arugula and grana (hard cheese) on their wonderfully delicate, chewy crust and finish it all off with luscious crema gelato. All you’re missing is the warm al fresco Mediterranean dining!

Hand-crafted products and gourmand-friendly toppings aren’t the only things that set Pizzeria Biga apart. They offer carry-out and delivery -- pretty standard, really -- but they do it with a little more panache. Curbside pick-up allows you to order online or from your iPhone app (yes, there’s an app for that), park in the designated pick-up spots and call the phone number posted on the sign at the space to tell them you’re there, and they then bring your pizza right to your car with a hand-held credit processor so you never have to leave your car.

Once you get your pizza home -- which you can order to-go in 12’’ OR 18’, though only 12’’ is served in the restaurant because it is the ideal size to enjoy it -- you will find an uncut pizza with instructions to rebake and cut along with your very own Pizzeria Biga pizza cutter (if you’re a first-time customer). They do this because it allows you a better at-home pizza experience, allowing the crust’s natural moisture to stay balanced until you’re ready to enjoy it. They also deliver within a four-mile radius and get this: beer and wine is also available for carry-out and delivery at LESS THAN retail cost, cheaper than you would find in any store because you’re not paying for any overhead. They also focus on small-batch, hand-crafted wines and beers to be consistent with the theme of their menu.

If you’re dining in, enjoy a free soup or salad and soft drink with your pizza or pasta during the Biga Lunch Break Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Glass pours and draft beers are half off during happy hour Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the bar, and Sunday through Thursday after 8 p.m. the house pizza is only $2 with your drink purchase.

AND: they’re open Christmas Day. I KNOW. Luciano decided when they opened in June that they would be open every single day of the year for their first year, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Thanksgiving was pretty quiet but Christmas promises to be a little more lively, as the area has many non-Christian residents. New Year’s Eve also promises to be a more low-key affair than your usual high-ticket “swanky” events (which almost always disappoint, am I wrong?).

Fans of the AAA four-diamond Il Posto, which formerly inhabited this space, won’t even recognize it. When Luciano acquired the building, he had it taken down to the studs. The only thing salvaged was the common brick wall which creates archways around the dining area. But if what you liked most about Il Posto was the authenticity, you won’t be disappointed -- the whole identity of this place has been re-imagined from stuffy old-world formal Italian to breezy, casual, stylish yet equally refined nouveau Italian. It’s pizza … but it’s not “PIZZA,” at least not how we understand the pepperoni-grease-soaked with gobs of melty mozzarella (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT) pizza here in ‘Merica. Pizzeria Biga offers a true taste of how the Italians do it, and this is why everything in Italy is better. (Except the narrow city streets common to ancient European cities that made those silly-looking dinky little cars popular. Of course for every Fiat there's a Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo -- oh yeah, and Lamborghini -- soooooo ... everything in Italy is still better. Including but not excluded to pizza and sports cars.)

Read the article as it originally printed here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar

Photo used with permission from Marvin Shaouni Photography.

Note: this event is tomorrow night, FRIDAY 12/10, 7pm-midnight, at the Whitdel Arts Center.

"You may recognize the name Noelle Lothamer from her popular cooking blog Simmer Down! Or maybe you know her from the Detroit-based Americana rock band Scarlet Oaks, in which she sings and plays guitar and keyboard (and previously drummed). Maybe you've viewed her photography on Flickr. Hell, you might have even bought vintage clothes from her. But now Lothamer is adding a few more titles to her repertoire: small business owner and event organizer.

'In July 2010, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law a bill freeing Michigan's cottage industry businesses from what she called "unnecessary regulation." This means that small food businesses grossing less than $15,000 annually and produce non-potentially-hazardous foods (think pies, popcorn, bread, jellies) can make and sell their goods to the public without the previous commercial kitchen requirements. Shortly after that, Lothamer — along with fellow foodie-turned-business partner Molly O'Meara — launched Beau Bien Fine Foods. The brand debuted at a Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) fundraiser in early October with a selection of inventive preserves (like Strawberry Black Pepper Jam). They are now expanding to include baked goods and candy..."

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Metromode: Metro Detroit's Pitmasters

"Okay all you self-styled 'chefs' out there, here's a recipe for you to try: take one stylishly rehabbed vacant old building, add a smoker or two, throw in some mixed-bag barbecue from the major American south BBQ regions (Texas, Memphis, the Carolinas, Kansas City), emphasize locally-sourced products, tout the variety of Michigan-brewed beers on tap, and let simmer, stirring occasionally. The idea is that you will ultimately end up with an unprecedentedly successful restaurant which will get you bags and bags of money as well as many stories in the New York Times et al.

'I kid, of course, but there certainly doesn't seem to be a great mystery behind the current metro Detroit BBQ trend.

'Far from being a matter of astounding coincidence with like-minded people having the same idea at the same time à la the crepes expectations, the current trend of upscale barbecue eateries (three opened in July and August 2010 alone; two are only 0.8 miles apart) certainly didn't happen in a vacuum. Ever heard of a place called Slows?..."

Read the rest of the article here ... and you definitely should because this is the best article yet written about metro Detroit's BBQ craze that has nothing to do with the food and only a little to do with Slows. In my own humble opinion, of course.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Real Detroit Weekly: Sangria Tapas Cafe

"Even the windows sweat at Sangria Tapas Cafe and the upstairs Sky Club. Come dancing during the cold winter months and the sheer amount of body heat steams the windows up so much, they drip.

'Sangria was really the first tapas restaurant/salsa club of its kind in metro Detroit, and at 12 years, it is arguably the oldest. Owner Luigi Cutraro hails from Sicily. He said he decided to open a tapas restaurant because 'the tapas format is not your everyday restaurant with soup-salad-entrée, which I find very boring,' he explains.

''In a tapas bar you order six, seven, 10 different tapas; sometimes order things you would never order like the octopus, which is only $6.95 and if you don't like it, you give it to your friend. The tapas format is more fun!'"

Read the rest of the article here.