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Michael Laiskonis

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Michael Laiskonis

  1. We have a kitchen table in our restaurant...

    The table seats up to eight and is located a mere eight to ten feet from the 'passe', and another eight to ten feet from my pastry area. Anything 'undesirable', like the dish area and service station are hidden from view. Our kitchen is 'open' though situated on the lower level, directly beneath the dining room. For example, we have additional seating for groups up to tewnty-four on the other side of my area, and the restrooms are located on this lower level as well. Guests are often given tours or encouraged simply to take a look on their own.

    As for the 'chef's table', when the chemistry is right, it can make for a great evening, for both guests and kitchen staff as well. The menu is conceived earlier that day, taking into account frequency of visits and any allergies/requests (these are asked for well in advance). Most often we are given complete freedom. We have, however, seen it all... vegan, only raw food, only cooked food, celiac, no carb diets, etc... Cost for food starts at $125 per person, a bargain! Wine is chosen by the guest/host upon arrival- we house reds and whites in separate glass-walled rooms that flank the entrance to the main dining room (the meal begins with a full tour of the wine rooms). From there, guests are led down to the kitchen. The meal generally follows as such:

    -Amuse or flight of three to four amuses

    -A caviar or sashimi dish

    -A cold, usually fish or shellfish, course

    -A hot course- foie, for example

    -An intermezzo- sorbet, foam, cold soup, etc.

    -Fish Course

    -Occasionally a hot/cold salad

    - The "Main" course

    -Assortment of cheese, usually French, with a few Spanish or domestic. We don't do a rolling cart; I simply choose from the day's assortment and serve it plated. On a few occasions, I've done a composed cheese course, but I think guests enjoy the description of several cheeses- where they are from, how they are produced...

    -Dessert starts at four courses, though, if the feeling is right, I'll feed them all night!

    -A 'pre-dessert' in the form of a soup, a pannacotta-type custard, etc.

    -A cold or warm fruit based dessert

    - 'The egg'... never on the menu- a little VIP/repeat diner/chef's table treat. An empty egg shell filled with a milk chocolate creme brulee, warm liquid caramel, caramel foam, maple syrup and fleur de sel.

    - A warm or cold chocolate dessert

    - Mignardises. Five to seven little bites...

    While the table has its own server, each course is served and descibed by a member of the kitchen staff (apart from executive chef, we have three sous chefs, each responsible for a portion of the kitchen). With the table's proximity to the 'passe', interested guests can see all of the food as it is finished. Same goes with pastry. All of the table's desserts are plated fully in view. In addition, it is not uncommon for people to get up, walk around, and ask questions. We emphasize a degree of informality (take off the jackets and ties), and the sense that they are joining us in the heart and soul of the restaurant,

    We are lucky in that, more often than not, the table attracts serious food lovers, though we do get the occasional corporate/ business dinner or non-foodie big spender. Overall it gives us an opportunity to create some off-the-menu fare and share some meaningful interaction with the guests. For me personally, it requires my staff to have discipline in cleanliness, demeanor, etc., but it also has polished my table service, my public speaking skills, and well, I've had the opportunity to taste a lot of amazing wine to boot!

    Le Bernardin's table is indeed separate from the kitchen, as is Tru's. I'm trying to picture the table at Citronelle- is the glass between the table and the rest of the dining room, or betwwen the table and the kitchen?

    Would I be interested, as a cook, in such an experience? I think it would depend on the restaurant and the menu format. My guess is that Cerutti would be doing off -the -menu stuff for the table at Louis XV. I would do that in a heartbeat. But would I want to see/hear Ramsey or Trotter yell at some poor cook? That might be uncomfortable.

  2. On the Lawson/Batali show... This weekend's "Splendid Table" on public radio featured interviews from the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen a couple of weeks ago. Batali said one special with Lawson and one with Bourdain were in the works. Can't imagine what either pairing would look like!

  3. I did in fact confirm Yosses' longtime affiliation with Bouley. Both Bistrong and Yosses appear to have pretty amazing credentials.


    I didn't see any apparent Japanese influence in his resume- but the sushi bar dessert menu appears well informed and interesting. I happen to share his view on dessert's context within a meal, and it is nice to see a restaurant (or at least what I can glean from the menus) that demonstrates some dialog between chef and pastry chef.

  4. Does anyone know the statistics regarding American-born chefs and Michelin stars? Would anyone speculate that one possible motive behind the London operation would be, in fact, to receive the one honor not possible in North America? I can't see him undertaking such a project, only to produce a "brasserie" or "canteen".

  5. Surprised no one has mentioned Louis Outhier's (L'Oasis) little hérrison de foie gras, or foie gras hedgehog... a quenelle of foie gras mousse was garnished with bits of black truffle for the eyes and sliced almonds for the spines!

    If anyone has the old "Great Chefs of France" by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe (Galley Press, 1978), you'll find a picture on p.124. Great book profiling all the Nouvelle guys; sadly, long out of print.

  6. Sounds nice, Steve. I think I'll have to make a trip to the Japanese market tomorrow for the tea/toasted rice combo!

    Interestingly, I've found the worst examples of green tea ice cream in Japanese restaurants- grassy, astringent, over-extracted, etc.- usually not all that subtle. Kind of runs counter to the assertion that it fits into the context of a Japanese meal... I remember reading a description of a Kaiseki meal that ended simply with a glass of just-squeezed, room temperature tangerine juice. That, to me, is thoughtful context.

    Of course, the best green tea ice cream I've tasted is....MINE! :raz:

  7. Steve, do you have a preference betweeen the use of an infusion vs. matcha? For me, using the powder in a custard base or non-fatty base(I've done both ice cream and foam) allows for a 'cleaner' flavor and predictable/consistent result. Yes, it will provide that characteristic pastel green, but color/presentation for me is usually secondary.

  8. Assaggi Mediterranean Bistro in Ferndale has received some good reviews, but there has been a rapid rate of chef turnover in recent months... might want to wait and let things smooth out. People on the inside have hinted at some ugly owner-chef 'disagreements'....

    Ferndale, about as central as you can get ... 5-6 miles up the main drag (Woodward Ave.) from Ferndale lies Birmingham, one of the more exclusive Detroit suburbs. Forté, mentioned in earlier posts, is in Birmingham. Solid food from a young chef transplanted from Chicagoand former Tribute sous chef. Pastry chef (chef's wife, also from Chi., also ex-Tribute)is also very good. Michael Korn (formerly of Emily's- see my last post) runs the front- lots of fun bottles lurking amid the ever-growing wine list. Forté chef Tim Voss was on the opening team of David Burke's Park Avenue Café in Chicago- definately an experience that continues to influence his cooking even now...

  9. coolranch,

    These days the western Detroit suburbs have pretty much extended themselves as far west as Ann Arbor, but yes, distance can be an issue... have your recommendations included Emily's, in Northville (roughly halfway between AA and Detroit)? Chef/owner Rick Halberg does what he would dub 'contemporary French-inspired Meditteranean' food- think Provence and Piedmont- in a cozy, but updated, Victorian home. I haven't been there in a while, but Rick is pretty consistent...

    Have not been to either recently, so I hesitate to mention, but in the area...

    Common Grill, in Chelsea, southwest of AA... Craig Common, chef/owner is a nice guy, has a cookbook, has done a dinner at the Beard House... but I wouldn't expect anything too fancy.

    Five Lakes Grill, in Milford, north and a little east of AA... Chef/owner Brian Polcyn may be best known for his pursuit of the Certified Master Chef title, one of three stories in Michael Ruhlman's "Soul of a Chef" (Michael Symon of Cleveland and Thomas Keller are subjects of the other two). Brian is a super guy and one of the most respected chefs in the area (forgot to mention him earlier), but now that he is teaching, his chef de cuisine Chris Brown is running the kitchen. I think Chris has the potential to elevate the foundation that Brian has already put in place (Chris spent a few years at Tribute). Oh yeah, the food... an emphasis on Michigan products when possible, with a sprinkling of global influences. An esoteric and aggresive wine program was in place, but with the departure of sommelier Ron Edwards for Tapawingo (way up north), I'm not sure where the list stands at the moment.

    I must second the mention of Sharaku... fairly traditional, a little expensive, but very good!


    What would I like to see...

    I would simply like to see just a few more serious upscale restaurants offering challenging cuisine (savory and pastry, coherent tasting menus) a) for a little friendly competition, b) to attract more outside talent or at least keep the already up-and-coming here, and c) I want a nice place to eat! But on the other end, I'd like to see a lot more casual, moderate-priced places. Examples that come to mind...Spring and Blackbird in Chicago, No. 9 Park in Boston, are just the first that pop up. Can you believe we don't have any decent simple French bistro-type places in the city? I think a Balthazar-Pastis-Buchon style restaurant would be perfect in Royal Oak or Birmingham! I think it is in this area that Detroit suffers the most, and what does exist is owned by Matt Prentice.... And as we've already discussed, a more attentive local food media wouldn't hurt. Curious what ideas you are thinking of pitching to the papers!

    While decent bread is finally in abundance (Zingerman's, Avalon, to some extent Cantoro), another black hole is that of retail pastry. I'm thinking and thinking, but no one really merits any mention. What I would really love to find is some good French breakfast pastry- croissant/ pain au chocolat/ etc. and real baguettes! The only traditional French pastry shop I know is OK, not great- but the French owners of the humble little place are super cool and I'll give them my support no matter what... Restaurant pastry is chugging along, but, in my opinion, not keeping up with the pace of the industry at large. Exception- Tanya Fallon, PC at Forté is good.

    So while it is difficult to say what I want, it is harder to come up with a solution. As I stated earlier, major changes, mostly economic, have to come before we see changes in the way we eat out.

    It is most frustrating for highly motivated/goal-minded cooks (OK, me!) who feel that they will eventually out-grow the market and be forced to move elsewhere to achieve those goals...

  10. Chef's Secret Garden

    A quick scan of the article confirms my memory...



    Links to the major daily newspaper food sections. I don't think Hour has much of an online presence, but I will investigate...

    I do think food writers are sensitive to accusations of impropriety... whether dining in a professional capacity or merely for pleasure. Also, the market here is small, and through, as you say, purposeful avoidance, I get the feeling that editors are perhaps wary of plugging any particular chef or restaurant too much. As for advertising, I dont see that influencing content- mostly local grocery stores and their weekly specials...

    Three years ago the Free Press began a Restaurant of the Year Award; Tribute recieved the initial nod, The Hill (never knew of its existence until that ran- safe continental cuisine...I remember a photo of a dish garnished with the old potato-cut -to -look-like-a-little- mushroom... what decade are we in?!) was named the second time. This year, Cuisine (interesting ideas poor execution), which had been open only six months or so, received the honor. You now see the slim pickings we're dealing with!

    I have never questioned Sylvia Rector (chief Free Press food writer) either about content or review policies.. one hates to bite a hand that, if only occasionally, feeds. At the end of the day I think Rector and Kate Lawson at the Detroit News have good intentions, but have limited space and limited fodder to work with.

    Well, this is getting kind of heavy, and ChocoKitty, it appears as if it's just you and me (no offense Steve!)... where do you like to eat, north or south of the River? I admit I haven't been to Windsor in years. Have you been to this new restaurant Noa? Looks promising. Is it the expense only that keeps you out of fine dining places?

  11. Sorry, I've been away...

    Regarding local food media... I think Rick Bohy of Hour Magazine (slick local monthly for 20-30 somethings) does the best job. Good coverage of consumer-related issues (cookbook reviews, wine reviews, features on ingredients and equipment) and a fairly decent supporter of local restaurants. I don't always agree with his tastes, but his reviews are in-depth and well written. (I miss Joe Vaughn's food photographs- probably one of the best food photographers in town. He's now doing his own thing. He shot Keith Famie's book, but don't even get me started with him...!). Some food scene "gossip" each issue. No real reporting outside of Detroit-Windsor. I do wish they would revisit more often listings in the Restaurant Guide. Some read very outdated.

    As for the daily newspapers... not much difference between the coverage in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. They both pay a good deal of attention when prominent out-of-town chefs make a local appearance (only one restaurant consistantly hosts such chefs). Once in a great while, an interesting article will pop up that explores issues or people that are influencing the food community- recent examples: depletion of over-fished species ('Chilean Sea Bass', swordfish, etc.) and a visit to Chef's Garden in Ohio. The Chef's Garden piece, however, was disappointing in that, to my recollection, no mention was made of any Detroit restaurants who use their produce! I know there are at least a few of us! And to mention them in the same breath as Charlie Trotter or Alain Ducasse, also customers, would have been a nice boost to those locally who also insisit on high quality! Articles from wire services make up a sizable chunk of the food section every week- so again, no real local coverage. For the most part, there is a strong emphasis on healthy eating and seasonal cooking (grilling in the summer, what to do with those apples in the fall, etc...). I'm critical of the Free Press in particular for their restaurant review policies. Stars are awarded based on how a restaurant performs in relation to it's intent. Under those standards, a 'joint' dishing up coney dogs can earn four stars, and a contemporary fine dining restaurant can rate the same. I see that as potentially confusing to some readers. Ray and Eleanor Heald have great palates and connections; they write locally in a small suburban paper (tiny circulation), but also contribute with regularity to national food and wine (mostly wine)magazines. I don't know, I hate to be too critical of the local media (I've benefited from their coverage and some I consider friends); I guess they only have so much to work with. But as to their capacity to raise awareness or educate... all I can say is that I pay more attention to the New York Times on Wednesday mornings...

    Rosie, if you are thinking of The Wine and Food Library, that is in fact Jan Longone. She runs the operation from her home, so she prefers to work through catalogs, but I know appointments can be made to view her collection.

    ChocoKitty, will the state of dining improve in the next 10 years? For the last 30 years, haven't people been asking that same question about the economic, social, and cultural situation of the city? Only when problems in those broader areas are solved will we see it expressed in things like dining. A core downtown would foster a food scene, but new stadiums and casinos will never really accomplish that. It would take a rebirth on a neighborhood level to get people to move back in. Again, how long have we as a city been trying to figure that one out?

    I just don't see evidence that many local chefs are looking outward or challenging themselves the way chefs do even in Chicago, just a couple hundred miles away. I don't want to be so negative- some people are doing good food or at least their hearts are in the right place. Stuart Brioza up north at Tapawingo is surely a rising star, as is Tim Voss at Forté in Birmingham. Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute and Rick Halberg of Emily's, while stylistically quite different, are of the few producing refined cuisine with a clear vision and awareness. Eric Villegas of Restaurant Villegas in Okemos, near Lansing, is one of the most passionate chefs I know, and he may just be more of a food geek than I!

    Jimmy Schmidt of the Rattlesnake Club, or the Lark, I feel, are simply resting on laurels they might have received ten years ago. The Whitney, the Golden Mushroom, should't even be on the radar. Some others may have good ideas, but fail in execution. I won't even approach the state of pastry in this city...

    What would I like to see more of? A place where I can eat on my night off!!

  12. I haven't really been into the steakhouse thing in Chicago or elsewhere for that matter.... But has anyone checked out Keefer's? It's run by John Hogan, formerly of Savarin and Park Avenue Café. Great guy, great chef- I was kinda surprised he went the steakhouse route. Does anyone know what kind of spin he might be giving it?

  13. :wink:

     Surprised to see one, I hereby make my eGullet debut on a Detroit thread...

     ChocoKitty is right, Holiday Market is great. Living in Royal Oak and shopping there weekly, I find a sense of community that rarely exists anymore, anywhere.

     I am in the restaurant business in the Detroit area, and well, I don't have many good things to say about the state of dining here. As to the proliferation of food trends, I think most chefs here are completely oblivious. Harsh, I know, but most of what people consider fine dining in Detroit wouldn't be taken seriously anywhere else.

     Luckily my job enables me to travel around the country at least once a month to either cook or simply to eat, and it becomes painfully obvious how far gone the city is. I say that not with malice, but with sadness. I think there are some of us that have a bit of a global culinary viewpoint, but not enough of us to have any national relevance.

     Yes, Zingerman's can be a great resource. Few probably know of Jan Longone, also in Ann Arbor, who is one of the country's foremost food historians and cookbook archivists. The metro area is also rich with ethnic markets and restaurants, but they are all too often hard to find if you're not in the know.

     I'd love to hear any feedback either from locals or out-of-towners who have visited recently. What image does the city reflect to those who don't live here?

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