Saturday, April 10, 2010

Roast, Detroit MI

In planning our dinner before the finals of the Frozen Four I looked high and low, steak and seafood, Italian and Chinese – in the end I went with an unlikely choice because I felt obligated to give Michael Symon a second chance. With the rave reviews continually surrounding Lola I figured my experience at Lola could have been an aberration – the bad service, the miniscule portions, the uncomfortable chairs - I mean, the food was good, right? Having heard nothing but good things about Roast despite Symon’s growing empire I booked reservations for three during the earliest dinner slot on a Saturday in order to make it to the Game 1/2 mile away at Ford Field by puck-drop. Arriving and finding the $5 bargain valet we quickly made our way into the hotel-lobby and were led seamlessly to the hostess stand at Roast. Dressed casually (we, and many others were going to a hockey game) we were greeted pleasantly and led to a great table in the main dining room – surprisingly the place was packed despite the early hour.

Taking out seats and presented with the heavy (really, they’re made of copper) menus we were left to review while our waters were filled by the prompt and courteous ancillary staff. Browsing around the room I was quite taken by the large windows, white tablecloths, and modern décor – even the bar was very stylish and attractive. Tables wonderfully spaced across the long room I found the noise level at Roast “just right” – energetic but not too loud, refined yet casual.

A short time passed before we were greeted by a server – a tall man with short red hair who asked if we’d had “time to look at the wine list.” Stating we weren’t wine drinkers he said “oh, well….okay then” and then went on to describe the roast beast (suckling pig) and lamb special before excusing himself with “one of my associates will be over to help you in a few moments.” Attempting to ask what charcuterie was present on the board he recited it in a flippant manner as walking away. Somewhat distressed that this would be another Symon service debacle we waited for his “associate.”

Arriving after only a minute the successor to our arrogant first encounter was an extremely pleasant young lady named Laura who would care for us for the rest of the evening. Providing accurate descriptions and detail, amusing anecdotes and great recommendations throughout the meal I will note that from the moment she took over the service was vastly superior to that at Lola and exactly what I expect from a contemporary restaurant like Roast. (As a side-note, throughout our meal we watched the red haired man schmooze other well-dressed, wine ordering tables and there is no doubt he was the type of server I’d prefer not have and I was glad he’d dismissed us as unworthy of his time – watching him re-explain the concept of charcuterie to a table who asked “why would anyone pay $12 each for lunchmeat” was top notch.)


With orders placed our meal began with a pair of breads and an excellent sweetened whipped butter from the kitchen. While I personally preferred the hearty and nutty Cracked Wheat bread both my aunt and mother fancied the white bread which was slightly sweet with an excellent crumb and crunchy crust. Ordering heavier fare and learning a lesson from the night prior at Greenhouse Tavern I used the bread mostly for mopping up sauces while my mother, not typically one to over consume bread, ate far too much.

Although I was disappointed that the sweetbreads listed on the online menu was not available on the evening’s menu, a suitable substitute was easily found on the evening’s pork heavy menu – the Crispy Fresh Bacon with Haloumi, Pickled Tomato, Almond. Featuring pork belly fried till crispy on both sides but still melting soft inside the savory protein was very well complimented by sour pickled tomatoes and crispy almonds while the authentically sourced Haloumi (apparently from Detroit’s Greektown) was only slightly browned and added a degree of creaminess. Not expecting the family to enjoy this I was surprised when both mom and aunt requested a taste – and then another – stating it was “delicious.”

Opting against the side dishes as ordered by my companions I instead selected a salad to accompany my main course – an excellent choice and amongst the best salads I’ve ever had. Entitled Warm Spinach Salad with Fried Egg, Mushrooms, Bacon, Crispy Pig Ear, Balsamic the dish featured a lightly warmed (but not wilted) base of spinach absolutely saturated in a sweet fig balsamic. Topping the dish were pan seared and woodsy mushrooms, a sunny-side farm egg, chopped bacon, and small bits of intense smoky pigs ear. Certainly heavier than the average salad given the protein and fat content this dish was and is a must order.

Arriving shortly after the bacon and the salad, a mere 50 minutes after we were seated (they were aware that we had plans after dinner) were our main courses and sides – each presented nicely by Laura and her team. For my aunt the selection was a Filet Mignon, well done as per her liking. Served in a rather austere manner with only a drizzle of olive oil she stated it was great – I did not taste it. As a side with her steak my aunt selected the macaroni and cheese – a combination of goat cheese, brie, and heavy cream with subtle notes of rosemary and parsley over well prepared al dente pasta topped with crispy buttered bread crumbs. An ample portion, certainly warranting the $7 price tag, and a great paring to her steak though not quite as wowing as the less refined version at Slow’s down the road.

For my mother’s dinner selection the choice for the evening was chicken – in this case Pan Roasted Chicken with Ramps, Morels, Tarragon Pan Sauce. Featuring early season ramps and morels the kitchen clearly knew what they were doing in the preparation of this dish as the smooth pungency of the ramps balanced well with the heavy earth tones of the morels. Not a fan of tarragon in general I found its use in the dish quite restrained and the overall potency of the pan sauce was tempered by sweet vegetables – carrots, peas, a slice of sweet potato. Not to be outdone the chicken was a fine example – crispy skin, succulent meat, not quite as good as that at Forest Grill, but excellent just the same.

Ordered along with her Chicken my mother went with a side she frequents at restaurants in recent memory – the polenta. Recalling the miraculously creamy polenta at Symon’s Lola (served in a Shrimp n’ Grits combo at that location) I was excited when I saw this on the menu and it certainly lived up to my memory. Made with mascarpone, cream, and I believe a touch of thyme the amply portioned side was toothsome without being heavy, creamy but slightly sweet, smooth like a pudding but with more body – think creamed corn meets a fine risotto.

For my entrée the choice was difficult – the roast beast of the day was a hearty sounding suckling pig – but the Duck was calling my name. After much indecision I eventually decided on the duck because my other 3 dishes contained pork – I don’t know what the pig tasted like but I can definitely attest to the quality of the Duck Leg Ragu with Pappardelle, Parmesean, and Caramelized Vegetables. With a thick ragu topping flawless al dente hand-torn pasta as thin and transparent as latex I fell in love with this dish on first bite and only came to appreciate it more with subsequent tastes. Hefty and aromatic duck – stewed until the point of nearly falling apart was complimented nicely with the tastes and textures of peas, carrots, peppers, and morels while the flavors were only heightened by sharp notes of shaved parmesean. Filling but worthy of every bite this pasta was “rustic” at its best.

After the surplus of bread, polenta, and chicken my mother tapped out – she actually had no room for dessert…my aunt was full and myself – finishing mom’s polenta and aunt’s Mac – I could have been persuaded to skip dessert, especially after the lackluster tastes at Lola – I could have been persuaded until I saw the menu. Making a selection without hesitation my aunt was also wowed by one of the nightly presentations and prevented me from looking like more of a glutton than was obvious by ordering a dessert herself.

Waiting approximately 20 minutes before our desserts arrived my aunt opted for her standard – Crème Brulee – in this case a Peanut Butter Chocolate version that tasted like a creamy and crunchy (and substantially portioned) refined Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. For myself, continuing the porky trend for the evening (save my duck – drat, should’ve got the suckling pig) my dessert selection was the Bacon Doughnut Sundae with Maple Bacon Ice Cream and Cherry Bourbon Sauce. Anchored by a steaming hot cinnamon doughnut similar to those at Zingerman’s in taste and texture the pastry was subsequently topped with a savory maple laced ice cream, chunks of crunchy bacon, and a drizzle of boozy cherry reduction. Delectable, ample, multi-textured and profoundly nuanced this was a standout dessert, both for restaurant itself and on the grand scale of “wow” desserts I’ve tasted anywhere.

When the meal was complete we settled the bill, just over $40 per person with tax and tip, and made our way to the valet stop after a fond farewell from Laura and the receptionist. Collecting our car rapidly we navigated the short half mile to Ford Field and watched the BC Golden Eagles win the NCAA Championship in a blowout. Having become a bit of an NHL Snob in recent years I was pleased to find pleasure in the college game again – but not nearly as pleased as I was to have given Symon a second chance, it was a great choice.

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