Friday, August 21, 2009

Michael Symon's Latest Venture, In Detroit No Less!

Last night, to celebrate my husband's birthday, we decided to try Michael Symon's newest restaurant called Roast. My husband Johnathon likes to watch Iron Chef America on occasion and enjoyed watching Dinner: Impossible when Michael was the host instead of Robert Irvine. So we were quite excited to see that an Iron Chef opened a restaurant here in our ailing city.

Roast is in the Westin Cadillac Book Hotel in downtown Detroit. When you walk into the restaurant, the first thing you notice is what a large space it is. Tables are not crammed together and there is lots of room to walk around without having to play pinball around tables like you generally have to do at many other restaurants. Making the space even larger is a separate bar area that is away from the dining room and even that room is big enough to be its own restaurant. The dining room and bar are decorated with dark woods and amber glass tile accents giving it an intimate feel despite the cavernous space. There is a very large open viewing window into the kitchen (the largest I have ever seen at any restaurant) and because of the acoustics, it's even possible to, on occasion, hear conversations in the kitchen. This must be an extremely difficult pill to swallow for the cooks and chefs given a kitchen staff's general penchant for obscenities (at least that's what anyone who's read Kitchen Confidential would surmise anyway).

When we were seated at our table, the first thing I noticed was how heavy the menus were. Part of them are made of metal and I was constantly worried that I was going to drop it onto my glass of water and end up with a wet lap. While aesthetically pleasing, these large, awkward behemoths made me just a tad nervous.

Our waitress for the evening was very helpful in answering any questions we had about what's on the menu and came by frequently to check on us to see how we were doing. With the restaurant being such a large, open space, the waitstaff are all very visible and easy to spot if you need to flag them down for any reason.

But you're probably waiting for me to talk about the food, aren't you? I resisted the urge to take pictures of the food like I normally do because I just wanted to focus on the meal itself and have a wonderful evening with my husband rather than thinking about what I would later write about it (though in the back of my mind I was thinking that too).

For an appetizer we chose the day's charcuterie selection which consisted of a few things that I could not recall what they were. I remember that there was proscuitto because I love proscuitto, and frankly, a charcuterie plate is not complete without some proscuitto on it. There was also a Tuscan salami and a few other things I could not recall in great detail: a lamb something or other that tasted as if it had a hint of cinnamon in it, a pressed duck something or other that had the texture of a hardened pate with pistachios and cherries running throughout it. There was also some crostini, whole grain mustard, and pickled hot peppers and red onions to complete the plate. I certainly had no cause for complaints about any of the selections on the board, but I did think that $24 was a bit steep for this selection given that I probably could've eaten the whole thing myself (and they price it based on the number of people eating) which is saying a lot considering how little I tend to eat when you compare me to the amount of food my 6'5" husband consumes.

After the appetizer Johnathon was brought out a lobster broth soup with a sea scallop placed in the center. He said it was good, but I'll just have to take his word for it because I hate most seafood and even the smell of the broth made me want to gag. But this has to do with my own aversion to seafood and is not a commentary on the quality of the dish - I want to point that out right away. I chose to order a salad instead of soup and I decided to play it safe this time, choosing a basic green salad with red wine vinaigrette instead of the salad with crispy pig ear that I just couldn't muster the courage to order. I told the waitress that I would be more daring next time. The green salad I ordered, however, was overdressed, so much so that it burned my stomach a bit within a few minutes of finishing it. I'm generally someone who prefers more dressing than less, but I thought this salad was verging on too much. Maybe I should've had the crispy pig ear after all.

When our meal came out, I immediately wished I had ordered what Johnathon had ordered because it not only looked delicious, but it tasted way better than my dish. I ordered the braised short ribs and while it wasn't repulsive by any stretch of the imagination, the sauce was so incredibly rich that I could only eat a few bites before it felt like a lead balloon in my stomach. Johnathon, on the other hand, ordered probably the most delicious burger I have ever tried. It was roasted (because, after all, this restaurant is called Roast) and it came out on an English muffin with bacon, pickled onions, cheddar cheese and a poached egg. I actually ended up eating more of his dinner than mine.

The side dishes that we had with our meal were creamy polenta and rosemary fries. The fries came with the burger, but we had to order the polenta separate because no side dishes accompanied my dinner. When the fries arrived at the table, they came in this very large metal container that almost looked like something DQ uses to make milk shakes, and as soon as it was set down, the aroma of the rosemary was what took these fries from ordinary to extraordinary. Then the polenta was so sweet and creamy that it was like being wrapped in warm comfort with every single bite.

We chose not to get dessert because we were so full, but our next visit we plan on skipping the soup and salad so we can try the beer and pretzels dessert: Guinness ice cream (that's what I said) with chocolate and caramel covered pretzels. Now I don't like Guinness to drink, but I have a feeling it will be surprisingly good as an ice cream. I have been playing with unusual flavors with my ice cream maker this summer (like olive oil and basil) so I'm always game to try something that on paper sounds like it should be abhorrent, but in reality is surprisingly delicious.

My overall impression of Roast is favorable and definitely worth visiting again. There were certainly some selections we made this time that we will be passing up next time, but on the whole, it was an enjoyable experience. Johnathon and I have now eaten at three Iron Chef restaurants (Mario Batali's Otto and Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill are the other two) and I'd have to say that Roast still comes in second to the delights of Batali's Otto in NYC. Still, given the fact that this restaurant is only 30 miles from my house as opposed to Otto which is a two hour flight, there's a higher likelihood that we'll be eating at Roast more often than Otto.

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