Thursday, November 22, 2007

Small plates, big pleasure

We certainly enjoyed an outing to Small Plates the other evening - the new branch in Royal Oak. We got a table with no reservation on a Friday night, but we got there early, just before six.

The idea is that the entrees are small - you order a couple and share. We ordered the Caesar salad, goat cheese empanadas, the cheese and olive plate and the ribs. All of it was nice, none of it spectacular. But the experience was quite pleasant overall, perhaps assisted by a very nice Oregon Pinot Noir (I forget the winery - it's the only PN on the menu.)

The space is attractive and comfortable with plenty of room between tables. The music is louder than it needs to be, but not terribly irritating.

Small Plates has only been open in RO for a couple weeks and their inexperience showed. Things were pretty disorganized - no service for a while, menu items not available or misdescribed. The empanadas, for example, were advertised as having chicken and black beans. They didn't. We ate them, the waitperson took them off the bill and all was fine. In truth the disorganization was completely ameliorated by the cheerful waitperson who apologized for the problems and handled them well.

All in all we enjoyed it a good deal - the experience is fun and the food is more than decent. Next time we go we'll bring a few more friends - the more to share.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend in Stratford

We were looking forward to good food as well as good theater when we planned to go to Stratford from Detroit this weekend. Following some suggestions from, we ate pretty well. Saturday evening, between plays, we ate at Down the Street, 30 Ontario St.

Overall opinion, good food, and exceptional service. This is a bit funky but very convivial and warm restaurant. The owner knew we were new (who new?) and we were taken care of well, with concern and humor.

Appetizers included bruschetta and pork pot-stickers. The bruschetta was OK - the toasted bread was light on the garlic and overall nothing great, the tomato/basil mixture was fresh and bright, but a little watery. Bruschetta doesn't require cheese, but DTS's version includes a small pot of goat cheese - which my co-diner hates. I sort of enjoyed slathering a bunch on the bread before applying the tomato mixture. The pork potstickers came from the "100 mile menu" - all items on it are organic and sourced within 100 miles. Anyway the potstickers were very nice - crispy fried packages of a tasty mildly-spicy sausage-like mixture of local pork But, there were three for $9..way over priced.

My beef ribeye was perfectly cooked and nicely charred on the outside and very flavorful. The accompanying caramelized shallot and mushroom was sweet and lovely, but for some reason was served cold atop the steak. We were told it was supposed to that way. The potato gratin with goat cheese was kind of OK, nothing bad, but not very exciting and not particularly flavorful.

My companion had the crispy duck, also from the 100 mile menu. Skin not so crispy, but lovely flavored and huge hunks of duck. The kimchi slaw was crispy and flavorful with a slow heat. And the pho jus was very pho... which is good. The millet cake was....our first millet cake. I guess it was sort of interesting as an experience - lots of folks around the world eat millet regularly.

We also tried our first Niagara wine - Henry of Pelham Baco Noir. A sturdy, quiet strong wine that supported the steak nicely.

It's not cheap, in fact a bit pricey, but it's a wonderful experience in hospitality and and good food. We'd go back on another trip, and understand it's even better after the plays.

Breakfast the next morning was at Tango, also on Ontario near Downie. We liked it. As at Down the Street, the staff was friendly and helpful as can be. Tango also is proud of their pork - the bacon was thin and little crispy on the edges, the sausage links particularly were really porky - though we aren't sure what that means. They were meaty, not spicy and not particularly fatty. The home fries were crispy chunks, a little spicy and soft and warm inside. Excellent.

One other note - we arrived at the Arden Park Hotel later than we expected, less than an hour before the King Lear curtain. Could they manage a quick lunch for us? They did - a nice club sandwich with real turkey breast chunks was on the table in 5 minutes. I wouldn't have expected a lot from a small hotel dining room. It wasn't the most imaginative menu, but the food was well-prepared from good ingredients, served by cheerful, more than competent staff.

All in all, a nice experience in Stratford. Oh, and Brian Bedford as Lear was truly something special.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Serendipitous Asian Salad

So it was regular Costco visit...heavy on homekeeping goods, less on food items. But, the new Asian salad mix was intruiging. Large bag for under five bucks; finely sliced cabbage, chow mein noodles, dried pineapple, orange sesame dressing. Could have been cliched or blah. BUT, a trip to Trader Joe's yielded the new peanut satay sauce in a jar.

Oh, and we had just roasted two small, juicy chickens. The answer: mix up the Asian Chicken salad, adding some extra sunflower seeds, toss with dressing.

Heat the chunked chicken with the satay sauce--richly flavorful and a bit of heat. Toss the warm chicken over the cool salad.

This was a great meal! Proving you can cook great food, but also assemble great ingredients and make a hit. We all ate leftovers for's good cool/cold as well.

I'll now try and make it without the mix...but it was a great "mentor" for an alternative to lettuce salad. The dried pineapple was really key, as were the sunflower seeds.

You can do it, too!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A new world of salads - scary? or exciting?

Great dinner tonight - distant family visiting, lovely rotisserie chicken from Holiday Market in RO, an interesting wine - Renaissance Reserve cab - Sierra Hills 1998 - perhaps past its prime, but it had the memory within of a decent bottle. The big treat - besides the family - was the salad variety. Start with the corn (fresh off the cob), red onion, chopped tomato, olive oil, balsamic and mustard. A simple salad to be sure but the fresh sweet corn provided a foundation of incomparable light and sweetness. Just perfect.

Now the potato salad is a different story. How to say this? Try this - I am a man of too many years as middle-aged. Can I learn something new still? I think I can. This potato salad included perfectly done spuds and the ideal PS herb - dill. The scary part is the buttermilk in the dressing. Can I handle this? I love buttermilk in so many things - pancakes, biscuits, even greens dressing. But b-milk on potatoes? I'm not there yet, but I will be. I can do this.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Not available in stores!

We had a marvelous dinner tonight, but, alas, the same is not readily available to the general public.

After the big storm Friday, a friend who lost power gave us a partially thawed pork loin. (We are saving 20 pounds of frozen food for her in our freezer.)

We pan-browned the loin, then put it in a 325 degree oven for a couple hours with a maple syrup, ketchup and garlic glaze. We finished the loin under the broiler for a few minutes. The sweet glaze permeated the loin. It was succulent, tender and sweet. Sides included a sweet pepper, cucumber and onion salad, fresh sweet corn from the RO farmers market and new potatoes boiled and then grilled with a coating of olive oil and salt. Dessert was Trader Joe's lemon pound cake with a sauce of fresh Michigan raspberries and whipped cream. All this was accompaied by a modest pinot grigio and Chateau St Jean 2006 Chardonnay. Neither was incredible but both were certainly drinkable; they were not the star of the show - the loin was.

The food was terrific, but as is often the case the company - Tom and Emily - truly made the meal. They are young and interesting and energetic. Our children - Tom is one of them - are smart and kind and have good work ethics amd we are quite proud of them. One exciting side note is that both enjoy good food, can identify good food and often seek out interesting foods and wine. Emily's dad is a food pro and she knows and enjoys good food as well. One of my best memories of my dad is in the years after my brothers and I had left home, when my parents were making decent money, and my dad enjoyed taking us to great restaurants. He wasn't a foodie, but he enjoyed entertaining us and he certainy recognized quality. I hope we and our kids can enjoy similar good times in the next few years.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thank you Marcella

Having picked up some new green beans at the RO Farmer's Market this morning and having participated in making some homemade pesto*, I suggested that we might try a pasta with green beans and pesto dish for dinner. No, no, said the Irish/Austrian roommate, no, no.

OK, says I. I'll just check Marcella Hazan's Essentials to see if she has any green bean and pasta recipes. She does.

"When serving pesto on spaghetti or noodles, the full Genoese treatment calls for the addition of boiled new potatoes and green beans. When all its components are right, there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory."

We collaborated on making the meal and both of us did our jobs well. It was tasty indeed.

*Our pesto was made with fresh basil from the garden, walnuts, parmesan reggiano, olive oil, garlic and salt.

Slow train to heaven

Can you get better ribs around here than Slows? Wow! They're terrrific. We had both the baby back and the St Louis style this week. They don't make ribs better than these. Plenty of flavor, no grease, none of that skinstuff you sometimes get on the underside of ribs. Nothing but juicyness, tenderness, and flavor, flavor, flavor. I cleaned mine all the way to the bone.

I liked the dry rub seasoning. I particularly enjoyed the separate sauces offered on the side. The Michigan apple based sauce balanced sweet apple and a vinegar bite.

The sides are worth noting as well. All were good - the baked beans had a bit of spicy heat. We shared the potato salad, Mama's green beans and the coleslaw. All excellent, though I would have liked larger portions.

Slows is on Michigan Avenus, a couple blocks west of the old Tiger Stadium. The door to Slows is actually the wood horizontal=slatted section of wall next to the big windows. It took me a minute to figure it out.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Such a sausage!

We occasionally pick up some sausage from the Suchman folk at the Royal Oak Farmers' Market. Tonight's dinner was a grill of Suchman's sweet Italian sausage with grilled onions, carrots and peppers complimented by a caprese salad of tomato, mozzarella (fresh tiny balls of mozz' stored in salt water from Trader Joe's) and basil from our garden.

I like this sausage - it's flavorful without being overpowering. My wife thought it was a little too lean, though I thought it was just fine. Darling daughter liked it. All of us thought the flavor was excellent, subtle but clear.

Suchman's usually has a half dozen or so types of sausage and meats at the RO market, including rabbit. It's frozen and our Italian sausage was $5 a pound. They are in the northeast corner of the market which is on 11 Mile, east of Main Street. The Suchman firm is out of Tipton, MI, a bit south of Manchester, south of I-94, west of Ann Arbor.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Amici's Pizza in Berkley

We had a take-out pie from Amici's in Berkley last night. Not bad at all. Ours was asparagus with tomatoes, tomato sauce, mozzarella and feta. The crust is pretty thin, but not a cracker-like "thin crust." The sauce is excellent, not thick, and it has chuncks of sweet Roma tomatoes.

I hate to complain about Amici's because they've been a nice addition to Berkley, but the crust was burned at the edge on about a quarter of the pice. That's my only complaint. Wife and son, however disagreed and said this was a byproduct of the hot oven cooking.

Amici's is on Twelve Mile between Coolidge and Greenfield in Berkley. They have a nice patio and connected is the Living Room, a very low-key bar.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fresh sweet corn

We are always wondering why the best fresh corn we find is at Meijer's in Royal Oak. Their's is consistently sweet, fresh, never mealy or old. Meijer's is consistently better than what we get at the RO Farmer's Market or at Westborn in Berkley. We don't expect such terrific quality from Meijer's usually but there it is.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ribs and Cubanos

We ordered ribs from Lazybones in Roseville. We weren't excited. The ribs were greasy. The taste wasn't bad, but the excessive grease makes them ordinary at best and who needs ordinary?

I had a nice Cubano from Vincente's in downtown Detroit. It was flavorful with crispy bread, good meat and a nice bite from the pickle. The bread had an almost flaky crust. It was a little dry, but all in all, a very nice sandwich. As part of the takeout package Vincente's included a pair of pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the middle. I suspect that's not authentically Cuban, but it was colorful and I like maraschinos.
Vincente's is hard to find unless you know downtown Detroit well. It's on Library St across the street from the lovely little library branch that used to be in the shadow of the Hudson's building on Woodward. Now, the best way to find it is to look behind the Compuware building. You can drive there via Grand River west off Woodward, via Gratiot from the east or via Monroe to Farmer, Farmer being the northeast border of the Compuware Building. There is metered parking on Library.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Meatloaf on a stick

Meatloaf on a stick made its worldwide debut this past weekend at Berkley Days, a carnival/community swap meet in Berkley.

MOAS is a piece of meatloaf squeezed onto a skewer, dipped into a potato/fry batter mixture and deep-fried. Some friends invented this concoction.

The couple who invented this diner's delight are friends and they did it to sell at a booth whose profits support the local library. Hooray for them!

Alas, MOAS doesn't taste very good

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bahn Mi Surprise

So I was in the neighborhood of John R and 13 Mile getting my new specs adjusted. And I knew I was in great bahn mi territory. Unfortunately, Saigon Market (corner of John R and 13 Mile) was out and many of the restaurants on that block close every Tuesday. So I asked a customer and clerk at the market where else I could pick up this tasty sandwich.

On their rec, I headed out to a nondescript strip mall at the corner of 13 and Dequindre and stepped into in Cyber Cafe. It's a grim little space with bare tables and chairs, several Vietnamese men playing a kind of checkers and what is a large karaoke machine in the corner, along with pinball machines. But the lady said, he sells sandwiches.

For $2 I got a freshly made, toasty/crusty bahn mi, with thin slices of pate, and great crunchy juliened carrots, pickle, radish and a big handful of cilantro all tossed in a sweet/salty dressing. The contrast of the warm baguqette and the crunch of the cool veggies contasting to the smooth pate was amazing. After one bite, I just sat in my car and devoured the nicely sized meal.

This is a great little dive with a perfect bahn mi, best I've had in the Detroit area.

Check it out: Cyber Cafe, 13 Mile and Dequindre, Warren, MI

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Gus O'Connor's F&C

Detroit area fish and chips quest continues - this time at Gus O'Connor's in Rochester.

This is a "sandwich' review of a fish and chips dinner. A sandwich review provides a slice of good news bread, the meat of the review and another good news slice of bread. Human resources professional think this makes bad reviews more palatable for employees.

The hostess was quite pleasant and helpful. (That's a slice of good news.)

It's a good thing she was helpful because the establishment certainly wasn't. When I walked in the pub in downtown Rochester I spied a little sign that read approximately, "If you want to be seated, go to the back of the restaurant." At the back there is no hostess podium, no signs that I saw. Fortunately, a pleasant young woman approached me and soon I was seated.

I ordered the fish and chips and a lemonade. Food delivery took awhile - longer than I would have expected. Perhaps they were waiting for the chips to cool down. The chips were no danger to me; I wouldn't burn my fingers on them. They weren't cold; they were warmish, at best.

The chips did not embarrass the fish, though. The fish was hot and greasy. The coating was crispy on the outside and limp and soggy on the inside. When I pressed down on the fish with the side of a fork to cut a piece, little driblets of grease oozed out. I suspect the cooking oil was not up to temperature when the fish was laid into it.

The presentation of the fish was off as well. The fish pieces were laid atop a bed of salad greens. When I forked a piece of fish, salad came along, stuck to the bottom of the fish. There are lots of food combinations I enjoy. Fried fish and lettuce is not one of them.

Tartar sauce, cole slaw and lemonade were fine. The lemonade was quite sweet. I like it that way, but some may not. Dinner of F&C and lemonade with 20% tip was about $18.00. Gus O'Connor's is a pleasant spot - the chairs and tables are of ample size, well-spaced, comfortable, the Irish jukebox tunes were played at a low enough volume to be enjoyable, the view out onto Main St is pleasant. Would I go back? Perhaps for a beer or some more lemonade. Surely not for the food.

That's the meat of the review. Now for the last piece of good news bread.

The hostess was quite pleasant and helpful.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Northside Grill

I took Terrific Son for breakfast at the Northside Grill in Ann Arbor. Not bad at all, I say.

A friendly staff welcomed us and we chose to sit at the small counter rather than wait for a table or booth, though at noon on Sunday the wait would not have been more than ten minutes. I like that they give the waiting customers one of those little vibrating messangers to carry while they wait outside in the spring sun drinking coffee supplied outdoors by Northside.

I had a pancake with eggs OE, hash browns, a biscuit and bacon. High marks for the bacon - thin and crispy and clearly good quality. The hash browns were pretty good. Just potatoes, but very well cooked - crispy on the outside and soft inside. Eggs were fine, properly done with firmish whites and runny yolks and the yolk was filmed over nicely. The biscuit was just ok - a little on the heavy side. I have the opinion that biscuits are wonderful in the first five minutes after they come from the oven. After that, I would stick 'em in a barrel and sell the barrelful to the British Navy.

I ordered a single pancake because I like to make a pancake sandwich with my eggs. This single pancake could have made a meal by itself. I usually make buttermilk pancakes that are very light and fluffy. This buttermilk cake was thick and cakey and covered an entire dinner plate. It tasted fine, though I did not notice a buttermilk bite. It was not the ideal shape and texture for a egg sandwich, but I don't suppose I can fault Northside for that. For those looking for this style 'cake, Northside does a very decent job with these. If you're a light and fluffy sort, order eggs or something else here. Northside offers pure maple syrup for $1.45 extra, which seems reasonable to me.

Terrific Son had the corned beef hash. It was very nice, almost all meat, not greasy at all, and it had some spice to it. He enjoyed it.

I put Northside Grill on a par with Angelo's and The Broken Egg in Ann Arbor. All serve a tasty breakfast in different styles - tho it's easier to make a pancake sandwich at The Broken Egg.

Incidentally, Terrific Son graduates soon with a double major in film and communications. He has not yet selected a job and is still willing to listen to offers. You can contact hm through this blog if you're in need of a terrific filmer and communicator.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Leftovers night

Stopped at LeSoups in Ferndale for a lunch today. I had the crab/corn chowder with some bread. The chowder was pretty good with real pieces of crab in it. It was peppery, pretty potently peppery - I am kind of a wimp with spicy things, but this was peppery enough for a normal person, but not so peppery that I couldn't handle it. The bread was OK, French they said, and it had a crispy crust though the inside was insubstantial. Sadly, when I looked in the bag back at work I realized they put two containers of margarine in there. The bill was about $4.75 for a 10 oz. cup with bread and margarine and a nice bag to carry it back to work in. LeSoups is on the south side of Nine Mile, a couple blocks west of Woodward in downtown Ferndale.

Much of Metro Detroit believes that the Red Coat Tavern in Royal Oak serves the finest burger in the area, in the state! in the world! Knowing this, I stop in there every few years hoping that I will notice what seems so obvious to every one else. I did so again recently. I now believe that Red Coat makes a decent burger. The one I got was rare, though I ordered it medium rare, and the bottom of the bun was soggy. The fries were crisp and hot. Service was competent if not the friendliest. My bill for a cheeseburger, fries and iced tea, with tip, was $16.72. Red Coat Tavern is on the east side of Woodward Ave between 13 and 14 Mile Rds.

Here is one terrific meatloaf recipe I copied off

1/4 lb pancetta, diced
1 cup minced onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2
1-1/2 TBS worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp hot sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 pound ground veal, pork or turkey
3/4 lb 85% ground beef
shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook the pancetta in a skillet until the fat renders. Pour off most of the fat and saute the onions and garlic in the fat until they soften and the pancetta starts to crisp. Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl, add the onion mixture, and mix well with your hands. Form a loaf and place on a rack so it doesn't sit in grease while it cooks.
Cook 40 minutes of so until the internal temp is 155 degrees F.

Note: I used 1 lb of 80% chuck, 1/3 lb ground veal, 1/3 lb ground pork sausage.
Note also: I have one of those electronic thermometers with the long cable so I can watch the temperature rise outside of the oven. Take the meat out of the oven at 155F; if there's a little residual heat temperature rise, it's OK.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fish and Chips at Dick O'Dow's

Another adventure in fish and chip hunting in Metro Detroit, this time at Dick O'Dow's in downtown Birmingham.

(A confession of bias first: I am not a big fan of "Irish" bars. I am plenty Irish - of my 16 great-great-grandparents, 14 left Ireland during the 1840's famine and most of them were, in my mother's words, "peasant farmers." I don't really know what counts as authentic Irish, but I doubt any of my ancestors ate and drank in an establishment like Dick O'Dow's. I'm not really angry about places like this - I just don't see any of my ancestors' lives here.)

Anyway, onto the food. I liked the fish here. The fish quality seemed right up there to me and it was cooked perfectly. The coating is different from most F&C - very thin and not very crispy. The coating came, I'm guessing, from a very thin batter. They advertise Guinness in the batter but it was more subtle than my ravaged taste buds could identify. The serving is more than sufficient - I took the third piece home with me.

The fries exceeded any I have had for a while. Ordinarily, steak cut fries are not my first choice, but these were big, crunchy on the outside, pillowy inside and HOT - and by hot, I mean hot from the fryer, not from the heat lamp. Dandy fries, however they're cut.

The slaw was good, fresh, creamy with a bite of vinegar and a generous serving it was, as well.

The service was OK. The waiter was friendly and helpful; she was just overworked. To be fair, we were there at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, the first warm springlike Sunday of the year. I assume they wouldn't have a huge staff scheduled for that time of day. She had 5 or 6 tables going in the back room, which is a long way from the kitchen and the bar. So the service was slow, but she served our food hot from the fryer and grill (daughter's hamburger) - she got the essential work done right and of course I tipped accordingly.

Would I go back? Probably for a beer and some fries, probably not especially for the F&C.

Our meal was about $25, with tip and soft drinks. Dick O'Dow's serves alcohol; we just didn't have any.

Dick O'Dow's is on the north side of Maple, a half block west of Old Woodward in downtown Birmingham.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Thuy Trang

So, daughter is home for spring break and I'm in need of pho. She's never had Vietnamese food so this is a great day to try. Based on some area Chowhounders, we tried Thuy Trang for the first time. Located in a Madison Heights strip mall, between 12 and 13 mile road that includes Saigon Market, it's a busy and popular place. We were some of the few non-Vietnamese, a good sign.

Lots of specials on the wall, but lacked explanation in English for folks like us, occasional visitors. Interior is strictly utilitarian and isn't made for lingering.

I opted for the pho with beef and meatballs, daughter had the # 37 egg noodles --stir fried chicken and vegetables over crispy noodles. It's got an extensive menu, a lot beyond our experience, but had helpful descriptions.

Service is prompt, but a bit brisk. We started with spring rolls--very plump and generous in its pork, vermicelli, herbs, with a lovely dipping sauce with crisp carrot juilienne pieces and a bit of heat.

The huge steaming pho came in a lovely bowl. The broth was a bit oiler than those I've had other places--more like a chicken soup with "eye" of fat...not unappealing, not what I've previously had. Also the pho had an abundance of finelyy sliced veggies, onions, scallions cooked in the soup. The a generous plate of \ fresh herbs, bean sprouts and lime came promptly to add in. The broth was light, flavorful and totally satisfying. The noodles were very fine, abundant and fun and delicious to slup, with some extra hot sauce.

Daughter's dish had stir fry on a bed of ethereally light, fried thin noodles. Totally surprising in its crispiness, and lack of oil or additional oily flavor. The stirfry had a deep flavored sauce and nice chunks of very fresh peppers, straw mushrooms, baby corn, onion and carrots. Really excellent flavor and neat textural contrast.

Only quibble is we weren't offered tea, just water. Oh, and I knocked over my water all over the plate and floor.

This is a place you come to chow...not to hang. But if you want pho, and sometimes you just do, Thy Trang is fast, reasonably priced and will make your tastebuds happy.

Thuy Trang is located at 30491 John R in Madison Heights, MI

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ah, The Lark

Oh, we had a lovely time at The Lark in West Bloomfield. Deservedly restaurant of the year from Hour for the second time and certainly the best meal we've had in years.

It could have been a disaster - The Lark called Thursday to confirm our Saturday reservation and when I told the caller we were planning on Friday she became it seemed rather flustered and stumbled around a bit before she gathered herself and promised they would manage Friday night. They did indeed and seated the five of us at a nice table overlooking the garden.

The Lark is primarily prix fixe with your dinner including cold and warm appetizers, salad and main course. Dessert and drinks are extra. In addition, we chose the wine bouquet which includes four wines from the by-the-glass menu with both appetizer courses, main course and dessert. It works out to perhaps a bit over two regular glasses of wine for $32.50 each. That worked nicely for us for two reasons: we would be leaving in two cars and neither driver would have had more than two glasses of wine in two-and-a-half hours and the college age folks with us would get a chance to sample a larger variety of good wines (as would I).

From the cold appetizer cart we enjoyed oysters (Maryland farm-raised), shrimp, a slaw, an apple-duck salad and beef carpaccio. Both the duck and the beef had lovely, smooth ribbons of tasty fat. The oysters were juicy and perfectly fresh.

The hot appetizers included pasta with rock shrimp, a thick sweet mushroom bisque with sherry and a sole and scallop grill with a sweet pepper sauce. We shared all of them. The sole-and-scallop dish was marvelous - perfectly grilled with a mild sauce that fit it perfectly.

The salads were greens with incredibly smooth blue cheese and a sweet cashew dressing or greens with artichokes and a sherry viniagrette.

Our main courses included The Lark's signature rack of lamb - rosy, tender, curried; prime beef strip loin with an intense red burgundy sauce, pan-fried lobster with butter and red pepper sauce and a crispy, grease-free roasted duck with a sweet sun-dried plum and Armagnac sauce on braised cabbage. The steaks came with pommes frites which were OK. Years ago at The Lark I had a steak with a delicate, crispy potato dish constructed like a basket. Oh, that dish was wonderful.

Desserts included cherry tart (heavenly-light pastry), cheesecake, blueberries and pineapple, chocolate truffles and a light-as-air lemon cake. Desserts were fine, but we really didn't need them. By the time we got home, I was feeeling a bit fuller than I would have liked.

There was not a loser in any of the wines we sampled. There were:
Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett, Von Kesselstatt, 2004
Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc, 2004
Qupe Block Eleven Reserve Chardonnay, 2003
Pouilly Fuisse, Latour, 2004

Leal Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002
Domaine Monpertuis Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2000
Rancho Zabacco Chiotto Zinfandell, 2001/02

The only issue to be raised with the wines was the waiter's suggestion of the Riesling with the lobster. Not as sweet as most Riedslings, it was nonetheless way too sweet for the lobster and butter.

The Lark is expensive. For dinner with dessert and modest wine consumption, you should count on $150 or more per person. We can't do that on a regular basis, but it is truly worth it on rare special occasions.

The Lark is warm and small, cozy and friendly. Jim and Mary Lark are always there. The service is professional and pleasant. The food is of the highest quality, prepared expertly. And we had no difficulty getting a reservation for Friday night - perhaps a effect of Detroit's dismal economy.

The Lark is rightly recognized as one of the premier restaurants in Michigan and the Midwest.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fly Trap

Ferndale has for a few years been a pretty popular destination for breakfast, at least along the Woodward corridor. Between Club Bart, Toast and The Fly Trap you can mingle with a diverse and representative bunch of Ferndalers, wannabe 'dalers and oughtabe 'dalers, hipsters, used-to-be-hipsters and cheerful folks like us.

We checked out breakfast at The Fly Trap and at least felt right at home with the crowd - except for maybe a irritatingly loud woman a table over.

I had the Boring breakfast - so says the menu - eggs over easy, double slab o' ham, toast and jam, potatoes and coffee. The ham was grilled just right, the coffee was medium strong, fresh from beans ground right before our very eyes. That was the good stuff.

The eggs were OE, but the white was not quite cooked through as you ate from the edge toward the yolk.

The sourdough toast came from what seemed to be pretty good bread. I could tell it was toasted because the edges were the palest of pale gold, though the centers were soft and white. After a swipe of the paintbrush dipped in butter, the toast came to the diner on its own plate, piled high - which of course allowed the bottom slice to sit in its extra generous paintbrush swipe of fat until it was PDS (pretty damn soggy) by the time I got to it. The British have a good idea with those upright toast holder thingeys they use. The raspberry jam that came with the toast was very tasty, almost homemade in its bright flavor and minimal sweetness.

The garlic fried potatoes were only very slightly burned by which I mean it was easy to peel off the burned skin parts. But when you get past the burned parts, imagine this --- imagine pretty good fried potatoes carrying the lovely, smooth sweetness of roasted garlic mixed in with the spuds and onions. Got that taste in your mind? Now imagine that every other garlic clove in the mix wasn't exactly roasted - in fact every other one was damn near raw! If you're in need of a quick wakeup, try biting into a harsh, nearly raw garlic clove with your first sip of coffee.

The waitress was not very friendly.

They don't serve pancakes.

Let's review: potatoes with a raw garlic surprise, toast soggy, ham fine, coffee good, eggs cooked as well as could be expected from the local 8th-graders in their first cooking class, no pancakes, no smiles.

Maybe The Fly Trap calls it the Boring breakfast because the cook got bored with it before he actually learned to cook and serve a pretty basic breakfast of ham, eggs, toast and spuds.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Years ago I met a woman. I liked her. One of the things I liked was that she was willing to try new things. I was very impressed that she went on one of those outdoor survival trips. She liked foods I'd never tried; we explored wines and champagnes; we hiked and camped and explored deserted beaches and hot springs.

I didn't like all the new foods she cooked. She didn't like all of my vacation ideas.

Once on a weekend trip we got up early and explored a 300 year old cemetery and wondered about the lives that were lived here, some as parents who lost children young, some as slaves.

Anyway, I liked her. She liked me too so we married and made some good kids. Perhaps we don't try new things as often anymore. Perhaps we should.

We were watching TV when a commercial came on for KFC Snackers. She said, "I had one of those the other day. I liked it!"
I wouldn't eat one of them if I was starving. But, I don't have to like everything she tries, do I?

Happy Valentine's Day, dear

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thang Long

With all this cold weather, I was craving a big steaming bowl of pho. So, spur of the moment, I called my friend Maggie, and after a nice cold glass of wine and a handful of Fritos we were off. I'd been to Thang Long before and enjoyed everything I've had. It's located in a nondescript strip mall on John R in either Troy or Madison Heights. It offers an extensive array of Vietnamese food, with w hole section just for pho --beef or chicken---noodles, etc. I order the beef and tendon pho, my dining partner ordered the chicken pho. We started with very crispy and hot spring rolls with a savory dipping sauce. We should have ordered more than one order (2 per order)--they were slightly addictive.

The pho came in generous bowls. Maggie's chicken in a larger and more ornate bowl--seemed a larger portion than mine. The beef/tendon pho offered beautifully clear, flavorful broth with nicely portioned beef. The tendon aka as cartilage was chewy and gelatinous--I still can't decide if I loved it or disliked it, a totally new mouthfeel for me. The chicken pho was as beautifully clear, a little less emphatic broth flavor, but that's the nature of the chicken broth. The only wrong note was that the herb/beanspour plate was a little skimpy, we could have used double of both.

Service is pleasant but businesslike--this isn't a place where you really want linger. While the meal was good, it didn't meet the high levels of presentation and flavor that I remember from previous visits. Maybe an off night or fatigue from all the cold days.

I will go back, maybe this week. That broth is a magnet during a Detroit winter.
Thang Long is located at 27641 John R, Madison Heights

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips

Stopped into Scotty's for a take-out fish and chips tonight. I eat fish and chips for the fish with its crispy coating and Scotty's is the best I can remember since the heyday of Susie Q on Woodward in Royal Oak. Scotty's coating is thin, crisp, flavorful and not greasy at all. The fish seems to be of good quality. This is the real thing - I can't recommend it highly enough.

The cole slaw is pretty good, just cabbage with a mild, not-too-vinegary coating, the non-creamy kind. The tartar sauce is not great in my opinion. I think it tastes of Miracle Whip. Three minutes at home to make a Hellman's and relish sauce is a better idea. The chips didn't make it home successfully. They appear to be fresh-cut spuds but after 20 minutes in the car they were just limp and soggy. They're probably better in the restaurant.

Finally, the cook is a pretty hands-on guy. I didn't mind too much that he barehanded the fish fillets through the batter and into the frier. I did think that using a ice cream scoop and a bare hand to make a mound of cole slaw is a bit much. And the cole slaw is in a bowl on the counter and he uses his index finger to wipe down the inner sides of the bowl. Then he handles money with the same hands. He does wear a clean towel around his waist and wipes his hands often on it.

The tab was $9.75 for a large piece of fish and three smaller ones (good! more coating!) with chips, cole slaw and tartar sauce. Next time I'll just get the fish and probably the cole slaw. The menu also offers perch and chips. That might be worth trying.

Scotty Simpson's is at 22200 Fenkell, a couple blocks west of Lahser, in Detroit, on the north side of Fenkell. 313-533-0950. Tu-Th 11 - 8. Fr 11 - 9. Sa 2 - 9. Su 2 - 7. Closed Mondays. The restaurant seats about 15 or 20. The menu features, for a good reason I'm sure, a leaping marlin on the cover.

Note that the Blarney Stone on Woodward near 11 Mile serves fish from the Susie Q recipe. They do a good job, but not what I remember of Susie Q. I think the Blarney fish is a little greasy and the fish is maybe not as high quality as I'd like.

Breakfast at the Cafe Muse

It's been a few weeks since I breakfasted at Cafe Muse in Royal Oak and much as I'd like to gtive them plenty of stars, I can't. We went on a very cold weekend day and found a parking spot directly in front of the cafe on Washington (north of Fourth). A tiny front dining space inside the front door was our home for the next while - three tables in a space plenty large enough for two tables. Our table, in the corner, was tiny, tiny and both daughter and I are reasonably large people. It might have been a tight fit, but -- this is why I liked the place -- the other patrons in the front room shuffled and scraped chairs around until we all had just enough room to breathe and to move the arm attached to our fork. A couple at the table to our west smiled and greeted us while the young family at the third table allowed their twoish-year-old to entertain us all with his happy banter. The greeter and seater was cheerful and pleasant, the waiter equally so. All in all, Cafe Muse was comfy, warm, inviting, friendly on a terribly cold day. The day was sunny.

The food was certainly decent - quality ingredients well-prepared as far as I could tell. Daughter had raisin French toast and she enjoyed her meal. I had pancakes with a bit of pear compote on top. The pancakes were fine - fairly thin and large, good flavor and texture. Everything would have been fine except

a) the pear compote had been sitting atop the cakes so long that the compote nearly soaked its way through the cakes and
b) the cakes are nearly the diameter of the plates which meant there wasn't much room for syrup, some of which tries to drip off the plate.

Here's what I think of the Cafe Muse:
very good food (perhaps a bit pricey)
friendly, warm cafe and staff
too tiny a space
some kind of disconnect between the stove and the table that designs plates too large for the tiny table, food too large for the plates that are already too large for the tables and leaves juicy fruit on top of waiting pancakes when it could have been easily and more successfully added at the table

I enjoyed the meal, I enjoyed hanging out with my delightful daughter. It's just all these little irritations that shouldn't be there in a 20 dollar breakfast for two...