Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Iridescence, Detroit MI

On 05/27/08 my mother had yet another birthday and for the first time in my life (yes, medical school takes a tad longer than people think) I had the financial ability to take her out for some true 'fine dining.' As mom lives in Toledo and there is a dearth of quality options available, I told her to browse Detroit and make a selection for breakfast and dinner. For dinner she selected Iridescence at the Motor City Casino. Having eaten at many higher end restaurants, both at casinos and independent, I browsed the online menu and was impressed despite the relative lack of reviews. I was additionally wowed by the impressive photos since the recent move to swanky settings high above Detroit. Reservations for three were made for 6:30pm on a Tuesday.

Arriving early, we decided to check out the MCC first and similar to what I’ve read, we were modestly impressed by the unique setup, but mostly underwhelmed as compared to MGM Detroit or any number of Vegas options. After approximately an hour we asked a security guard how to find Iridescence and were told to head over to the hotel. Arriving at the hotel we were greeted by a young lady who confirmed our reservations on the first floor and were then walked to another individual who guided us to an exclusive elevator that whisked us to the 16th floor of the hotel. Stepping off the elevators we were greeted again by another friendly man who guided us past the beautiful glass bar to the enormous dining area with 40+ foot ceilings and windows, open kitchen, spacious tables, and marble and silver as far as the eye could see. While Detroit may not be the attractive city, the view was almost breathtaking and the ambiance perfect.

Upon being seated at a nice half-moon booth facing the window, one of our servers stopped by with a bottle of Pellegrino and broken-English. When informed that we would prefer tap water, the waiter pressured us and when we declined again simply sauntered off, returning approximately 5 minutes later with water. I do not believe he spoke to us the rest of the evening, but he did keep the glasses filled appropriately. In similar fashion, another waiter appeared with the bread basket approximately one minute later and once again, his command of our language was poor at best. We were each given two options of the six fantastic breads (sourdough, raisin toast, parmesan cheese, garlic herb, 8-grain, olive and rosemary) as well as cold butter and olive oil with balsamic and these were replenished repeatedly after a single request to our main server. Our main server was fortunately well versed in English and pleasant, although perhaps a bit too “professional.” While she knew the menu and was very helpful, I do not believe she smiled during the first hour and a half of the meal, or at least up until she sang Happy Birthday to my mother during dessert.

Menus were soon delivered and much to my disappointment, two of the items from the website were absent: The Cinnamon Lavender Pheasant and the Applewood Wrapped Cornish Game Hen. I realize the menu changes with the season, but I was very much looking forward to the pheasant. Similarly, the Red Snapper listed on the menu (and ordered by my mother) was out of stock and replaced by a Chilean Sea Bass. Similarly, three of the desserts listed on the website were conspicuous by their absence. While these are minor gripes as the replacement dishes were quite excellent, it is my opinion that attention to detail matters. After selecting our appetizers and mains, our server returned with a fantastic amuse bouche consisting of Heirloom tomatoes, brioche, 25yr Balsamic, and onions. Explosive in flavor and pretty in presentation, this item should certainly be added to the menu as a bruchetta on the tapas menu.

Appetizers arrived in short order, along with more bread, and everything was unique, appealing, and plated creatively. For the three of us we shared the Goat Cheese Croquttes with Basil and Oregano reduction, the Study of Crab 4 Ways, Chicken Peanut Sate with Spicy Peanut Sauce, and Soup flight with sandwich consisting of Yellow Tomato Bisque, Lobster Bouillabaisse, Coconut Melon Parfait, and a Foie Gras Panini with Eggplant and aged Balsamic. Standouts included the Spicy peanut sauce, the baked saffron and truffle section of the Crab, the Foie Gras Panini, and most of all the Coconut Melon Parfait which was warm, creamy, and salty sweet in perfect balance. Misses included the Lobster Bouillabaisse which tasted far too briny and the cilantro inundated selection of the crab study. Dunking a Foie Gras Panini in Yellow Tomato Bisque was divine and the leftover peanut sauce spread on the raisin toast would make a great tapas item, as well.

For our mains, I selected the Applewood Organic Chicken with pan sauce, Shallots, Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Creamy Brie, and Morel Pilaf which arrived in impressive fashion as the server removed a tie from the cornhusk wrapper in which the risotto was baked to reveal the amazing scent of fresh morels and saffron. As expected, the pilaf stole the show and was the best rice dish to ever grace my palate. It truly is unfortunate that morels are only available for limited parts of the year. Like the risotto, the vegetables were delectable, fresh, and expertly prepared while the soft chunk of brie, although out of place, was wonderful both with the vegetables and spread on a piece of sourdough. With all the accompaniments the chicken was almost overlooked, but in reality it was perfect and tender with a wonderful apple tone, but the skin served on the side was a little too salty for my taste.

My mother, not normally a fish eater, selected the Blackened Chilean Sea Bass with Asparagus, Crab Grits, and Micro Greens on my recommendation and was very impressed with the dish from top to bottom. Fortunately I was given an opportunity to taste and can certainly say the bass was stellar with hints of olive oil and spicy/earthiness that complemented the mild natural flavor. The Asparagus was similarly delicious and expertly prepared while the crab grits were good, albeit somewhat flavorless aside from the large chunks of crab (not a bad thing, but why not give the grits some potency of their own?) All told, mom was very happy and that is what matters.

My Aunt opted to go with the Iridescence Caesar (Baby Hearts of Romaine, Reggiano Black Pepper Tuile, Fried Quail Egg, Roasted Tomato, Caesar Dressing) and a Jumbo lump crab cake with leek Fondue and fire Roasted Red Pepper Coulis for her main and was thoroughly content with her option. While I am not a Caesar fan, I will admit that the size and quality of the salad was impressive and the Tuile was stellar. The crab cake too was sizeable, delicious, and contained nearly no filler while the leek fondue was perfect and nearly managed to steal the show from the crab with its creative and aromatic presentation.

Feeling quite stuffed already from the impressive portion sizes and number of dishes, we all still made room for dessert and were richly rewarded. While I was disappointed that the Michigan apple dessert and Key Lime Soufflé from the website were absent, there is no doubt that the Iridescence Pastry Chef Tricia Nash has earned her title of 2007 Pastry Chef of the Year. Along with dessert I opted for coffee which I can say without any hesitation was the best I’ve had at a restaurant ever. While the pricetag for the individual French press was steep ($9) the coffee was served with an ounce of high quality chocolate shavings, two spun sugar stirrers, cinnamon stick, and cream. While the coffee itself was amazing, the addition of chocolate and cinnamon was delectable.

The desserts selected included mom’s “The Lantern” with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Mousse, Lavender Crème Brûlée, Champagne Peaches, and Raspberry Sherbet (complete with happy birthday sign and song,) Aunt’s “Iridescence Sampler” with Obsession Layers, Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich, Chocolate Cheesecake Lollipop with Raspberry Sauce, Warm Chocolate Cake, and Vernors™ Milkshake, and my Chocolate Fritters with Marinated Cherries and Peanut Brittle Ice cream.

As we were all quite full, desserts were shared around and sampled by all. The standout items of the desserts were the ice-creams in all three cases, the Vanilla bean Mousse, and the Warm Chocolate Cake. Regarding the ice cream, the peanut brittle version is amongst the best flavors I’ve ever experienced with its wonderful balance of salt and sweet resting atop crumbled nuts. Similar in presentation, the raspberry was served on a bed of crumbled cookie/nuts and formed a frozen cobbler of sorts with a great textural balance of crunchy and smooth. The ice cream sandwich was also amazing and tasted like a frozen Andes’ mint wrapped in a soft cold oreo. The only disappointment of any of the myriad options was the Chocolate fritters themselves which were raved about and purchased on the waitress’s recommendation…I personally found them uninspiring, small, and merely an accessory to the wonderful ice cream and cherries….the cake on the sampler was better, by far.

After the meal we sat, talked, and digested for a while and gazed at the skyline. As I finished my coffee the check ($190 for 3 people, not bad at all) was delivered along with 3 petite fours (Coconut Chocolate cookie, Butterscotch caramel, mini biscotti roll.) Prior to leaving our waitress snapped a family photo with my camera and wished us a wonderful evening and we were escorted out in a similar manner to our arrival.

All said, Iridescence is a 5-star chef and pastry chef preparing meals with 5-star ingredients in 5-star surroundings foiled from perfection by a less than stellar and far too serious support staff, a little too much seasoning in some dishes and not enough in others, and an online menu bait-n-switch (of sorts.) While not QUITE perfect, the evening was wonderful and the vast majority of the foods were on par with any fine dining experience I’ve had. I would certainly not hesitate to recommend this restaurant to anyone in Detroit or visiting for a great meal at a great price in beautiful and elegant surroundings.

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