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...