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Why isn't Detroit a Restaurant City?


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What IS a Restaurant City (or town)?

Is it based on a known set of criteria or is it "just a feeling"?

Population?

Income?

White Collar and Creative Communities?

Direct Relation to the Food Industry?

Tourism?

Incoming migration(of any stripe)?

A sense of self(regional identity)?

What inspires folks to move somewhere BECAUSE of the food?

If there aren't critics is the contention that there can be no positive Eating/food scene?

I don't have the answers, but I'd be interested to know other's opinions.

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I don't think NYC can be the standard for what constitutes a restaurant city. I think a better measure is where one thinks Detroit ranks in the nation as a restaurant city. I think almost nobody would argue, for example, that it's in the top ten. I haven't tried to make a list, but I'd guess a reasonable list could be made where it's not top 20. Relative to its size and prominence, the possibility of that kind of ranking is what I think is meant by saying Detroit disappoints as a "restaurant city."

I'd say that Priya and New Seoul Garden are exactly what I had in mind as far as the failings of Detroit as a restaurant city. I eat at both quite often, and I'm not saying they're terrible, but believe me, when I travel out of Michigan, one of the biggest treats for me is to be able to go to non-Michigan ethnic restaurants.

Edited by Leonard Kim (log)
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What IS a Restaurant City (or town)?

Is it based on a known set of criteria or is it "just a feeling"?

Population?

Income?

White Collar and Creative Communities?

Direct Relation to the Food Industry?

Tourism?

Incoming migration(of any stripe)?

A sense of self(regional identity)?

What inspires folks to move somewhere BECAUSE of the food?

  If there aren't critics is the contention that there can be no positive Eating/food scene?

I don't have the answers, but I'd be interested to know other's opinions.

There is no "known set of criteria", everyone has their own personal rules. My personal rule is: Does the place have really, really, really, really, really good restaurants. But, as you may have guessed, my views are the minority view :cool:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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There is no "known set  of criteria", everyone has their own personal rules. My personal rule is: Does the place have really, really, really, really, really good  restaurants. But, as you may have guessed, my views are the minority view :cool:

I don't think your views are in the minority as to the criteria (although I do think most people feel like there has to be a sufficient number and density of good restaurants).

I do think your views are in the minority as to whether Detroit has really, really, really, really, really good restaurants.

--

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Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

I was unconsciously not counting Italian, since Italian restaurants are now ubiquitous enough be considered just "American" (i.e., not ethnic) in my own mind.

I haven't eaten at Mario's. I don't think Andiamo is as terrible as Nathan apparently did, but I would never recommend it to a discerning out-of-town visitor and given a choice, would probably never think to go there myself. But that diatribe aside, there are certainly a large number of high end Italian places on TJHarris' list.

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Interesting fact/statistic: If you look at the first 10 topics on this forum you will see that three of them deal with my beloved region and they represent 381 replies and 21,187 views

Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Another thing I note, and I meant to say this in response to an above post which claimed that ethnic foods are "well-represented" in the area, is the relative dearth of ethnic restaurants on your list.

With our large Middle Eastern population, how is it that we don't have any great Middle Eastern restaurants?  Can't we do better than La Shish?  Look at the threads here and you see recommendations for places like Mr. Kebab, which resides in a gas station.  (I'm not saying it's not a legitimate recommendation, but, c'mon, can't the area do better?)

I can't think of a single truly notable Thai, Korean, or Indian place, even though I know that some affluent suburban schools in the area have an almost comical proportion of Asians.  Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.  (Who am I to argue, but I had a laughably bad experience the one time I went.)  Japanese is fairly well-represented, I guess, though I suspect on a national level there isn't a really outstanding example.  It seems to me Mexican is a joke in the area, outside of Mexicantown.  Ditto Greek outside Greektown (and maybe within too.)

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category.  I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

"multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level"...Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

Andiamo is a mediocre "greatest hits of Italian-American cooking" type of restaurant.

but anyway.

since coming back to the U.S. I've lived in five American cities besides New York and Chicago. every single one of them has local boosters and media who purport that it "has the greatest diversity of ethnic and fine dining outside of New York and Chicago." my guess is that every city in America over a million people (and probably under) claims this. they can't all be right.

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Another thing I note, and I meant to say this in response to an above post which claimed that ethnic foods are "well-represented" in the area, is the relative dearth of ethnic restaurants on your list.

With our large Middle Eastern population, how is it that we don't have any great Middle Eastern restaurants?  Can't we do better than La Shish?  Look at the threads here and you see recommendations for places like Mr. Kebab, which resides in a gas station.  (I'm not saying it's not a legitimate recommendation, but, c'mon, can't the area do better?)

I can't think of a single truly notable Thai, Korean, or Indian place, even though I know that some affluent suburban schools in the area have an almost comical proportion of Asians.  Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.  (Who am I to argue, but I had a laughably bad experience the one time I went.)  Japanese is fairly well-represented, I guess, though I suspect on a national level there isn't a really outstanding example.  It seems to me Mexican is a joke in the area, outside of Mexicantown.  Ditto Greek outside Greektown (and maybe within too.)

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category.  I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

"multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level"...Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

Andiamo is a mediocre "greatest hits of Italian-American cooking" type of restaurant.

but anyway.

since coming back to the U.S. I've lived in five American cities besides New York and Chicago. every single one of them has local boosters and media who purport that it "has the greatest diversity of ethnic and fine dining outside of New York and Chicago." my guess is that every city in America over a million people (and probably under) claims this. they can't all be right.

Why not?

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Another thing I note, and I meant to say this in response to an above post which claimed that ethnic foods are "well-represented" in the area, is the relative dearth of ethnic restaurants on your list.

With our large Middle Eastern population, how is it that we don't have any great Middle Eastern restaurants?  Can't we do better than La Shish?  Look at the threads here and you see recommendations for places like Mr. Kebab, which resides in a gas station.  (I'm not saying it's not a legitimate recommendation, but, c'mon, can't the area do better?)

I can't think of a single truly notable Thai, Korean, or Indian place, even though I know that some affluent suburban schools in the area have an almost comical proportion of Asians.  Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.  (Who am I to argue, but I had a laughably bad experience the one time I went.)  Japanese is fairly well-represented, I guess, though I suspect on a national level there isn't a really outstanding example.  It seems to me Mexican is a joke in the area, outside of Mexicantown.  Ditto Greek outside Greektown (and maybe within too.)

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category.  I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

"multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level"...Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

Andiamo is a mediocre "greatest hits of Italian-American cooking" type of restaurant.

but anyway.

since coming back to the U.S. I've lived in five American cities besides New York and Chicago. every single one of them has local boosters and media who purport that it "has the greatest diversity of ethnic and fine dining outside of New York and Chicago." my guess is that every city in America over a million people (and probably under) claims this. they can't all be right.

Why not?

cause the statement is, by definition, an exclusive one. (besides, last time I checked, both San Francisco and L.A. were part of the U.S.)

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Another thing I note, and I meant to say this in response to an above post which claimed that ethnic foods are "well-represented" in the area, is the relative dearth of ethnic restaurants on your list.

With our large Middle Eastern population, how is it that we don't have any great Middle Eastern restaurants?  Can't we do better than La Shish?  Look at the threads here and you see recommendations for places like Mr. Kebab, which resides in a gas station.  (I'm not saying it's not a legitimate recommendation, but, c'mon, can't the area do better?)

I can't think of a single truly notable Thai, Korean, or Indian place, even though I know that some affluent suburban schools in the area have an almost comical proportion of Asians.  Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.  (Who am I to argue, but I had a laughably bad experience the one time I went.)  Japanese is fairly well-represented, I guess, though I suspect on a national level there isn't a really outstanding example.  It seems to me Mexican is a joke in the area, outside of Mexicantown.  Ditto Greek outside Greektown (and maybe within too.)

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category.  I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

"multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level"...Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

Andiamo is a mediocre "greatest hits of Italian-American cooking" type of restaurant.

but anyway.

since coming back to the U.S. I've lived in five American cities besides New York and Chicago. every single one of them has local boosters and media who purport that it "has the greatest diversity of ethnic and fine dining outside of New York and Chicago." my guess is that every city in America over a million people (and probably under) claims this. they can't all be right.

Why not?

cause the statement is, by definition, an exclusive one. (besides, last time I checked, both San Francisco and L.A. were part of the U.S.)

Metro-Detroit (Dearborn,actully) has the largest Arabic community in this country. Shouldn't that make people think that maybe we have really,really, really,really good Middle Eastern restaurants, 'cause we do :wub:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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This discussion is quite entertaining.

I think whether Detroit is a "restaurant city" or a "national restaurant city" or a "destination restaurant city" may be more a matter of semantics than anything else. Obviously there are some excellent restaurants (of all kinds) in the Detroit area. And just as obviously, there are only a handful of cities in the country with a national reputation for their restaurants. So it's all a matter of what you compare it to, and how you describe that.

Here's some food for the discussion (so to speak), following up on some of the points made above. I'll note once again that I'm not familiar with the restaurants in Detroit, but I am familiar with those of some other cities around the Midwest (including Chicago, where I live, with which most of you are undoubtedly familiar). Maybe this can help put Detroit into some perspective.

My expectations for restaurants in a city are formed, in part, based on the size of the city. I expect a lot of choices, including some excellent ones, in a major metropolitan area. I don't expect as much from a smaller city, let alone a small town.

I am a frequent traveler to Toledo, just down the road from Detroit. It has about a tenth the number of people as the Detroit area (600,000 vs 6 million). They don't have a lot of outstanding restaurants, but they have (and have had) a few. Erika Rapp is turning out some excellent food at Diva, downtown. I haven't been to Fifi's, as I don't usually have the attire they require. They had another excellent contemporary restaurant called Matthew's Creative Cuisine, but it closed. They have a very good, longtime steakhouse, Mancy's, which has spawned offshoots, mostly Italian. There are a lot more places I haven't tried. The sheer quantity and quality are not overwhelming, probably due to a lackluster local economy, but they're okay. What helps is the newspaper, the Toledo Blade, has restaurant reviews and searchable restaurant listings and ratings, which gives them big props in my eyes (even if their five-star rating might be the equivalent of two or three elsewhere). I would rate Toledo as "okay" in terms of being a restaurant city, not overwhelming, not a destination, but with enough choices to make life interesting for the 600,000 people who live there.

I am also a frequent traveler to Indianapolis (1.7 million people, about three times the size of Toledo). You would expect more places from a city that size, and indeed that's true. However, you would also expect a higher level of quality, and by the definition of having "really really really really good restaurants", I've been disappointed there more often than not. I've tried most of the places acclaimed as the best in town, and I've just been disappointed way more often than I would expect from such a large city. Lately I've found a couple of places I like a whole lot (The Oceanaire and 14 West), some that are reasonably good (L'Explorateur), and some that I found really disappointing (Tallent, in Bloomington, as well as several other highly-touted places over the years). Also, the Indianapolis Star may have reviews, but they don't link to them or have any subjective information in their web listings, which to me is a big disappointment. I would rate Indy as "below average" in terms of being a restaurant city, with some decent places but less than I would expect in a city that size, and not a whole lot of apparent appreciation of really, really, really good food. (Maybe this is what some of you are saying about Detroit...?)

Then, there's Louisville (1.1 million). Here, they seem to have more than you would expect. I've had some excellent meals there, at Lilly's and at Le Relais, just to name a couple of the top places. They also have excellent online reviews on Robin Garr's website (I don't know whether or not this is affiliated with the local media, but it serves the same purpose). I consider Louisville to have more than I would expect in a city that size.

Similarly, Grand Rapids (1.2 million) has more than you would expect, including the top places in the Amway downtown, Leo's, a local seafood place that I adore, Bistro Bella Vita, a great Italian place downtown, and a chain called the Gilmore Collection which has a dozen different places (different names and menus), and the three I've tried are all very good indeed. I'm not aware of a review website in their media. But I am always impressed when I visit Grand Rapids, and I look forward to going to the restaurants there. So again, I consider Grand Rapids to have more than I would expect in a city that size.

There are also certain small towns that just seem to attract a local restaurant industry out of all proportion to their size. Ellsworth MI (Tapawingo, Rowe Inn) is probably the most familiar of these to Michiganders, but Sheboygan WI is another small town with absolutely amazing food (Margaux, Biro, and lots more).

I don't know how many of you are familiar with these other cities and towns, but maybe all of this helps put things into perspective regarding Detroit.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Another thing I note, and I meant to say this in response to an above post which claimed that ethnic foods are "well-represented" in the area, is the relative dearth of ethnic restaurants on your list.

With our large Middle Eastern population, how is it that we don't have any great Middle Eastern restaurants?  Can't we do better than La Shish?  Look at the threads here and you see recommendations for places like Mr. Kebab, which resides in a gas station.  (I'm not saying it's not a legitimate recommendation, but, c'mon, can't the area do better?)

I can't think of a single truly notable Thai, Korean, or Indian place, even though I know that some affluent suburban schools in the area have an almost comical proportion of Asians.  Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.  (Who am I to argue, but I had a laughably bad experience the one time I went.)  Japanese is fairly well-represented, I guess, though I suspect on a national level there isn't a really outstanding example.  It seems to me Mexican is a joke in the area, outside of Mexicantown.  Ditto Greek outside Greektown (and maybe within too.)

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category.  I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

I was about to get medieval on your argument until I got to the last paragraph, which I'm afraid I cannot argue with. I cannot think of a single US city that outsiders would call a "restaurant city" that has only a great common-fare scene and not a great fine- (or finer-)dining scene. As I said about Philly, I think on this discussion, nobody would be calling this city a restaurant town if all we offered were cheesesteaks, hoagies, banh mi, pho and taquerias, fine examples though they are of outstanding street food.

"multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at  or approaching the fine dining level"...Mario's and Andiamo fill that requirement.

As has been noted already, both of these are Italian. When Olive Gardens are everywhere, Italian no longer qualifies as "ethnic." Tex-Mex has also crossed this border, even though there is no such thing as really good Tex-Mex outside Texas.

Interesting fact/statistic: If you look at the first 10 topics on this forum you will see that three of them deal with my beloved region and they represent 381 replies and 21,187 views

Well, this does prove that either (1) Detroit has enough people who care about eating well to become a "restaurant city" if the planets align or (2) like so much else about Detroit, it is so anomalous that it attracts the curiosity of non-Detroiters.

This discussion is quite entertaining.

I think whether Detroit is a "restaurant city" or a "national restaurant city" or a "destination restaurant city" may be more a matter of semantics than anything else.  Obviously there are some excellent restaurants (of all kinds) in the Detroit area.  And just as obviously, there are only a handful of cities in the country with a national reputation for their restaurants.  So it's all a matter of what you compare it to, and how you describe that.[...]

My expectations for restaurants in a city are formed, in part, based on the size of the city.  I expect a lot of choices, including some excellent ones, in a major metropolitan area.  I don't expect as much from a smaller city, let alone a small town.[...]

I am also a frequent traveler to Indianapolis (1.7 million people, about three times the size of Toledo).  You would expect more places from a city that size, and indeed that's true.  However, you would also expect a higher level of quality, and by the definition of having "really really really really good restaurants", I've been disappointed there more often than not.  I've tried most of the places acclaimed as the best in town, and I've just been disappointed way more often than I would expect from such a large city.  Lately I've found a couple of places I like a whole lot (The Oceanaire and 14 West), some that are reasonably good (L'Explorateur), and some that I found really disappointing (Tallent, in Bloomington, as well as several other highly-touted places over the years).  Also, the Indianapolis Star may have reviews, but they don't link to them or have any subjective information in their web listings, which to me is a big disappointment.  I would rate Indy as "below average" in terms of being a restaurant city, with some decent places but less than I would expect in a city that size, and not a whole lot of apparent appreciation of really, really, really good food.  (Maybe this is what some of you are saying about Detroit...?)[...]

I don't know how many of you are familiar with these other cities and towns, but maybe all of this helps put things into perspective regarding Detroit.

Indianapolis and Kansas City (1.9 million) are roughly comparable in size. One swallow does not a summer make, but the one non-barbecue meal I ate out on my trip back for my 30th high school reunion, the catered fare at the reunion itself (from a highly regarded local restaurant whose chef is a close friend of a classmate who runs a catering and event-planning business), and the presence of frequent, knowledgeable discussions of Kansas City restaurants on this forum suggest to me, again as I've said upthread, that it has become a "restaurant city," albeit one of a regional rather than a national stature.

Oh, and one more piece of evidence in this regard: There is a running "Kansas City Food Media Digest" topic in this forum. I see no such animal pertaining to Detroit. That alone tells me something. It says at the minimum, as you note above, that there is an insufficient amount of writing devoted to the appreciation of really, really, really good food, or even really, really good food, in Detroit, and as has been suggested here also, media attention can serve as a proxy for public interest. I can't think of a "great restaurant city" that doesn't have lively, or at least extensive, reporting on food and dining in its news media.

P.S. If you want to see what the Kansas City eGers did to accommodate me on my first trip back home in almost 20 years, read this topic.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Should I assume that you agree with me on this point i.e. when talking of Detroit, one must speak of the Metro(TriCounty)area?Or, am I the only local who feels this way?

i have thought this as well (as have most of the 'detroiters' i've spoken to. this includes oakland, macomb, and wayne counties (ann arbor is washtenaw county). i have no idea the mileage of this area, but it is huge, and (as it's been noted on this thread) many people include ann arbor in the detriot area, too. in my opinion, thoough it should just be the tri-county area.

Some of the places, Cameron's, Mitchell's, I would designate as "chains" even though they are undoubtedly expensive high end places. Just look at the websites for these places.

i believe, though owned by cameron mitchell, mitchell's steakhouse in birmingham is the only one of its kind. this should be counted according to the wikipedia definition. plus its a good restaurant (or at least it was when i was there a couple years ago)

Yet I'd say these [steven starr] places contribute to both Philly's roster of great restaurants and its rep as a great restaurant city and thus would belong on any local list like the one for Detroit above.

the steven starr element in the philly dining scene is fascinating to me. in the year i've been here almost everyone i've talked to has a subtle disliking of the starr restaurants. i can only attribute it to their one common quality- mega trendiness. steven starr's restaurants are all about "chicks and vokka"- that is an actual quote from him. all of his restaurants are very very popular though and i am totally convinced that the dining landscape in philadelphia is far better because of the steven starr restaurants

Andiamo basically sucked

there are now several andiamo's, all with slightly different concepts. i've found that i really enjoy andiamo west. all of the others i've been to once and doubt i will ever go back.

There are however no shortage of restaurants around the country that do little more than reheat frozen Sysco product, plate it, and deliver it to the customer.

none of the restaurants on tjharris' list do this.

Houston covers 600 square miles. Considering that all of Wayne County covers 672 square miles, it's hard to argue that Detroit has "more spread out suburban areas" than Houston (I would argue, rather, that if they become any further spread out than Houston is, they're no longer "suburbs").

the metro detroit area covers 3 counties, not just wayne. it is hard to define what's detroit and what's not becuase the suburbs keep going and going and going, in some cases until you hit another city (ann arbor, flint, saginaw)

Can't we do better than La Shish?

i love pita cafe.

Hong Hua seems to be the only candidate on most lists for best, or at least fanciest, Chinese in the area.

mon-jin-lau & pallas are both great chinese. does house of hunan still exist?

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category. I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

i disagree. outside of nyc, aren't most cities' ethnic restaurants less-than-fine dining? a restaurant doesn't seem mexican, thai, indian, ethiopian, etc if it is fine dining. i've lived in detroit, san francisco, and philadelphia, and the vast majority of ethnic restaurants i visited were

not fine dining (actually i can't think of any)

when I travel out of Michigan, one of the biggest treats for me is to be able to go to non-

Michigan ethnic restaurants.

you should try eating ethnic food in philly- (aside from italian of course) what little selection there is does not compare to places like new seoul garden, pita cafe, passage to india, and the blue nile (sorry philadelphians).

What IS a Restaurant City (or town)?

Is it based on a known set of criteria or is it "just a feeling"?

one thing i think i might have alluded to in the beginning of this thread is that in Philadelphia (where i live now), it seems that almost everyone in the restaurant industry knows everyone else in the restaurant industry. the 'degrees of separation' seem to be far far fewer among restaurant people in philly than in detroit. Even the people outside of the industry seem to be more knowledgeable here than in detroit regarding restaurant news (openings, closings, chefs or managers leaving restaurants, etc). there seems to be far more interest among the public in restaurants. Though detroit does have several full time restaurant reviewers, none of them have achieved the celebrity that craig leban has (he used to be a critic in detroit). when any given story runs about restaurants, it seems to me that it is bigger news in Phillly than it is in detroit. that's why it seems to me this is more of a restaurant city. i think if all of the restaurants in the tri county area were in one county we'd have a great restaurant city, but because they are spread out geographically without anything to connect them, interest wanes among diners.

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

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Good Morning All- I should really learn how to do multiple quotes :huh: .It would save a lot of time.Inspite of that I will try to do my best :shock:

nsxtasy:Your last comments were very interesting indeed. I have a question -In your opinion(sp?) what would be a reasonable per capita ratio between population and really, really really, really good restaurants? How many places per person, or how many people per place. This type of figure would make alot of sense. We who love Detroit eateries could generate a list of appropriate length and then debate its merits, sort of like the list we have but with a less arbitrary number.

MarketStEl:Italian Food- In Naples, one of the most popular restaurants makes only two items...And they are both pizzas :cool: My point? It doesn't matter how common or overdone a style may be, quality matter. If it is really,really,really,really good, then it is...

Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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i believe, though owned by cameron mitchell, mitchell's steakhouse in birmingham is the only one of its kind.  this should be counted according to the wikipedia definition.  plus its a good restaurant (or at least it was when i was there a couple years ago)

Mitchell's Fish Market, per their website, has 17 locations, including 3 in metro Detroit. Cameron's Steakhouse has 4 locations. I think both should be considered chains, though I don't doubt they're good. There's no inherent contradiction between fine dining and chain restaurants, and I think we'll only see more of this phenomenon.

mon-jin-lau & pallas are both great chinese.  does house of hunan still exist?

Sure, Mon Jin Lau should (and does) make the list according to TJHarris. I've always understood it to be (and it is self-described as) "nu-Asian and sushi" so I wasn't thinking of it in my Chinese comment. I haven't been to Pallas, and will keep it in mind. FWIW, the Metro Times review thinks Hong Hua is better and more authentic, and Hong Hua has overall been more recognized I think, winning the Hour Magazine Restaurant of the Year (but so what.) Actually, the best Chinese meal I've had in the area was in Ann Arbor -- thing is I don't remember which place it was -- it's one of those places on Stadium west of the city. I actually mixed them up on a "return visit," went to the wrong place, and ended up with nothing special.

i disagree.  outside of nyc, aren't most cities' ethnic restaurants less-than-fine dining?  a restaurant doesn't seem mexican, thai, indian, ethiopian, etc if it is fine dining.  i've lived in detroit, san francisco, and philadelphia, and the vast majority of ethnic restaurants i visited were not fine dining (actually i can't think of any). . . .

 

you should try eating ethnic food in philly- (aside from italian of course) what little selection there is does not compare to places like new seoul garden, pita cafe, passage to india, and the blue nile (sorry philadelphians).

Sure most. All I said was I think Detroit would have a better argument if it also had several examples of ethnic restaurants with greater ambition. You brought up Stephen Starr -- just looking at his restaurants, I see Cuban, Mexican, pan-Asian, Japanese, tapas, in addition to more conventional themes.

I can only speak anecdotally. When I visited San Francisco, my friends took me to a Thai restaurant -- I didn't research or choose the place, and it's not like they were trying to wow or impress me -- it was just dinner out, and it was just in a different league than anything I've had in Detroit. One thing I'm trying to convey is that I don't think it's enough to serve the usual suspects (pad thai) in a nice-ish room (Rexy's Bangkok Cuisine comes to mind.)

Or take Mexican -- when I visited Denver a couple years ago, I happened to have lunch at Tamayo. I didn't even think it was that great, but I'm not aware of anybody in the Detroit area attempting something like this. Or, if I want chicken mole, a hackneyed dish anywhere else, where can I go (in the suburbs)? As far as I know, I either get a chicken mole burrito at Qdoba or drive to Canton to Mexican Fiesta II, which is no great shakes and far too far to drive for such a common dish. (Somebody please help me here.)

Another anecdote -- in Hour magazine, the chef at Streetside Seafood in Birmingham recommended, among other places, Grand Azteca Mexicano. Streetside Seafood isn't a bad place, so you'd think you could take these recs seriously. Grand Azteca is also cited as a "outstanding bargain" in the Detroit News. I've been twice now, and it's ridiculous: Chi Chi's bad. The Metro Times reviewed it recently, for some reason, and was, I think, much more on the mark: if you want Tex-Mex, don't want to drive to Detroit, and need nothing more than fajitas and the like, this place is "OK."

http://www.metrotimes.com/guide/restaurant...ew.asp?id=10258

The other recommendation by this chef was Grecian Place in Madison Heights which she called, "the best Greek outside Greektown." Well, to me it's a family restaurant, not a terrible one, but no better than that. Sure we have places like this in the area (Anita's Kitchen is another example that comes to mind), but this does not a restaurant city make.

Thinking a bit more about TJHarris' list (which is a very good one I think) -- both have their detractors, but I think objectively the Beverly Hills Grill and Sweet Lorraine's belong.

Edited by Leonard Kim (log)
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Or take Mexican -- when I visited Denver a couple years ago, I happened to have lunch at Tamayo.  I didn't even think it was that great, but I'm not aware of anybody in the Detroit area attempting something like this.  Or, if I want chicken mole, a hackneyed dish anywhere else, where can I go (in the suburbs)?  As far as I know, I either get a chicken mole burrito at Qdoba or drive to Plymouth to Mexican Fiesta II, which is no great shakes and far too far to drive for such a common dish.  (Somebody please help me here.)

If you're willing to accept the recommendation of a guy who hasn't had your particular dish, but has tried said restaurant *lots* of times, Chef Ed's Weekday Cafe in Eastpointe serves Chicken Mole, and they do it from scratch, just like they do everything else. I'm not a real "bean guy," so Chicken Mole doesn't really appeal to me on any real level. However, most everything I've eaten at Weekday has been very, very good. They do so much right at this little mom and pop joint that I'd be very surprised if the Chicken Mole wasn't good as well.

I could continue to elaborate, but there's no need: just go and try it. Take someone with you, and enjoy! Chef Ed's Weekday Cafe is on 9 Mile Road about 1/4 mile east of Gratiot. With only 16 seats, it's small...but worth any wait you'll have to endure. Soups are all made in-house (right down to the stocks), they roast their own turkey breasts every day, when Ed gets bored he makes the house-made desserts, etc.

Just go! :biggrin:

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I wanted to put me two cents in on this. Being a restaurateur, all I do all day long is try to figure out how to get more butts in seats and what’s wrong if I don’t. I have never been to Detroit so all I can tell you is about KC.

KC has always been known for BBQ and Steaks. Because of that I think when people come to KC eating is one of the things they always want to do. The problem with that however is it “typecasts” us. I have often stated that this city isn’t diverse enough when it comes to food. Sure we have some great ethnic restaurants but not very many and I think that’s because other then Hispanic, we have very few concentrations of ethnic neighborhoods. Maybe this is same thing in other cities. When people go to Detroit is there one overwhelming food that everyone wants? Same with Cinci, or Indianapolis? I know Philly is about cheese steaks and St. Louis has the hill. It just seems there is some historic link to food that makes these cities “restaurant cities”. You all may think this sounds simple or trivial but think about it. As for high end fine dining, I think there are only so many diners to fill this segment. KC has plenty of wealthy people but everyone is constantly competing over the exact same people. I have been open for three and a half years. I can go 10 miles south of my restaurant and no one has ever heard of it. I can go to San Fran for example and meet 5 people that have. WTF?! I don’t know why this happens but it does. :angry:

“Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own." - Sydney J. Harris

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Of all the lists mentioned, I have yet to have a meal in the Detroit area that is a must return. I see lack of creativity and use of quality products.

The best simple and clean flavors have been at the Rugby Grille. But still seem to be catering to that blue plate crowd.

Also with that said, the fine dining scene is awful, the best in Detroit does not even compare to mediocre of Chicago, SF, LA, NYC, Seattle, Boston, Philly.

Having worked in Kitchens across the country, all Mobil 4-5 star, Detroit needs to step it up.

Is it the audience or the restauranteurs?

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In my opimion, Traffic Jam & Snug could stand up against any restaurant in Chicago or NYC.But that is just my opinion.

Leonard Kim- Have you tried Happy Sushi in Novi? They do the classic presentations. :cool:

Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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In my opimion, Traffic Jam & Snug could stand up against any restaurant in Chicago or NYC.But that is just my opinion.

Leonard Kim- Have you tried Happy Sushi in Novi? They do the classic presentations. :cool:

How on earth can a restaurant with a menu like this be the best place in town? I've got no reason not to believe that the food there is well prepared and delicious, but saying that it compares favorably to the best you can find in Chicago and NYC can't possibly be accurate.

If the best place in town is serving Nachos then it seems impossible to dispute that Detroit is a culinary backwater.

Hopefully, this isn't the best the city (and it's surrounding 50 miles) has to offer.

Edited by melkor (log)
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In my opimion, Traffic Jam & Snug could stand up against any restaurant in Chicago or NYC.But that is just my opinion.

Leonard Kim- Have you tried Happy Sushi in Novi? They do the classic presentations. :cool:

where exactly have you eaten in Chicago or New York?

you're not really entitled to an opinion on the subject until you've eaten at the best of both cities.

I mean...this looks like a decent truck stop diner menu:

http://traffic-jam.com/menu.html

have you ever eaten at a real restaurant?

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Houston covers 600 square miles. Considering that all of Wayne County covers 672 square miles, it's hard to argue that Detroit has "more spread out suburban areas" than Houston (I would argue, rather, that if they become any further spread out than Houston is, they're no longer "suburbs").

the metro detroit area covers 3 counties, not just wayne. it is hard to define what's detroit and what's not becuase the suburbs keep going and going and going, in some cases until you hit another city (ann arbor, flint, saginaw)

That goes directly to my last point. Ann Arbor is not a suburb of Detroit. No place that is an hour's drive away is a suburb. It takes longer to get from Detroit to Ann Arbor than it takes to get from NYC to Rye, New York. And you know what? Rye is not a suburb of NYC.

The reason I made my "comparable list of 50" from NYC is that density is also important. Are there as many outstanding restaurants in the whole state of Michigan as there are in New Orleans? Well... no, actually, there aren't. Bad example. But the point is that Detroit can't be a "great restaurant city" if you have to expand your area of consideration to 2,000 square miles in order to fit in a reasonable number of good restaurants. Especially when you consider that, for example, a good restaurant city like Philadelphia has a larger number of great places to eat in only 369 square miles. Phoenix is 515 square miles. Los Angeles is 498 square miles. New Orleans is something like 350 square miles. Chicago is 234 square miles. Madison is 219 square miles. Portland is 145 square miles. Seattle is 142 square miles. Las Vegas is 131 square miles. DC is 68 square miles. Miami is 55 square miles. San Francisco is 47 square miles. Manhattan is 23 square miles.

Density matters.

In my opimion, Traffic Jam & Snug could stand up against any restaurant in Chicago or NYC.But that is just my opinion.

I hate to join in the piling on, but are you seriously suggesting that this menu at Traffic Jam & Snug or this menu from Andiamo West even remotely begins to stand up to this menu from Blue Hill, this menu from Babbo, both in NYC, or this menu from Charlie Trotter's in Chicago? It's hard to know how to respond to that, except to say that if that's Detroit's idea of a first-rate restaurant that would make Detroit a "restaurant city" then it's little wonder that it doesn't have that reputation.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Yet I'd say these [steven starr] places contribute to both Philly's roster of great restaurants and its rep as a great restaurant city and thus would belong on any local list like the one for Detroit above.

the steven starr element in the philly dining scene is fascinating to me. in the year i've been here almost everyone i've talked to has a subtle disliking of the starr restaurants. i can only attribute it to their one common quality- mega trendiness. steven starr's restaurants are all about "chicks and vokka"- that is an actual quote from him. all of his restaurants are very very popular though and i am totally convinced that the dining landscape in philadelphia is far better because of the steven starr restaurants

I'm not surprised to hear that at all. However, when Striped Bass landed in his lap, he did manage to refresh that place without glitzing it up, and gimmicks like the $100 cheesesteak aside, Barclay Prime is also relatively restrained.

As I've said elsewhere, Steven Starr is the man who put the theater into fine dining in Philadelphia. His theatricality and humor -- I actually burst out laughing when I saw the dessert menu at Jones, and of course I ordered the item that produced the laughter -- are something that set him apart from the crowd. You can overdose on it, and I think that undercurrent you detect comes from that, but it adds a different sort of vitality to the city's restaurant -- and social -- scene.

What it boils down to, for me, is that it seems almost all of the "recommended" ethnic places in the area fall under the unusually good cheap eats category. I think a true destination restaurant city, in addition to the quality cheap eats, needs to have multiple examples of ethnic restaurants at or approaching the fine dining level.

i disagree. outside of nyc, aren't most cities' ethnic restaurants less-than-fine dining? a restaurant doesn't seem mexican, thai, indian, ethiopian, etc if it is fine dining. i've lived in detroit, san francisco, and philadelphia, and the vast majority of ethnic restaurants i visited were

not fine dining (actually i can't think of any)

when I travel out of Michigan, one of the biggest treats for me is to be able to go to non-

Michigan ethnic restaurants.

you should try eating ethnic food in philly- (aside from italian of course) what little selection there is does not compare to places like new seoul garden, pita cafe, passage to india, and the blue nile (sorry philadelphians).

I'm not sure you've eaten at enough ethnic places in this city yet. More below.

one thing i think i might have alluded to in the beginning of this thread is that in Philadelphia (where i live now), it seems that almost everyone in the restaurant industry knows everyone else in the restaurant industry. [...]

One thing I've noticed about Philadelphia in the quarter-century I've lived here is that that statement -- "everyone knows everyone else" -- applies across the board, no matter what community or sub-community you're talking about. It gives this city a weirdly small-town feel, but it does help promote the various communities, as you have discovered.

i disagree.  outside of nyc, aren't most cities' ethnic restaurants less-than-fine dining?  a restaurant doesn't seem mexican, thai, indian, ethiopian, etc if it is fine dining.  i've lived in detroit, san francisco, and philadelphia, and the vast majority of ethnic restaurants i visited were not fine dining (actually i can't think of any). . . .

 

you should try eating ethnic food in philly- (aside from italian of course) what little selection there is does not compare to places like new seoul garden, pita cafe, passage to india, and the blue nile (sorry philadelphians).

Sure most. All I said was I think Detroit would have a better argument if it also had several examples of ethnic restaurants with greater ambition. You brought up Stephen Starr -- just looking at his restaurants, I see Cuban, Mexican, pan-Asian, Japanese, tapas, in addition to more conventional themes.

I can only speak anecdotally. When I visited San Francisco, my friends took me to a Thai restaurant -- I didn't research or choose the place, and it's not like they were trying to wow or impress me -- it was just dinner out, and it was just in a different league than anything I've had in Detroit. One thing I'm trying to convey is that I don't think it's enough to serve the usual suspects (pad thai) in a nice-ish room (Rexy's Bangkok Cuisine comes to mind.)

Or take Mexican -- when I visited Denver a couple years ago, I happened to have lunch at Tamayo. I didn't even think it was that great, but I'm not aware of anybody in the Detroit area attempting something like this. Or, if I want chicken mole, a hackneyed dish anywhere else, where can I go (in the suburbs)? As far as I know, I either get a chicken mole burrito at Qdoba or drive to Canton to Mexican Fiesta II, which is no great shakes and far too far to drive for such a common dish. (Somebody please help me here.)[...]

Sometimes the same restauateur offers a "downscale" and "upscale" version of the same experience in this city. For instance, Tierra Colombiana up in the "Zona del Oro" -- the Puerto Rican/Latino neighborhood centered on upper North Fifth Street -- is generally regarded as serving some of the best Cuban/Central/Latin American fare in Philly. For those unwilling to brave the wilds of West Kensington, the same folks serve similar fare in a classier environment at Mixto on Pine Street near 12th in Center City.

Which brings me to my quibble with san. Besides those upscale Steven Starr interpretations of ethnic fare, there are loads of other good ethnic eateries here, some of which have been discussed (to death, even) on the Pennsylvania board: Szechuan Tasty House, Rangoon, Kabul, Cafe de Laos, a whole bunch of pho shops along Washington Avenue, Ba Le (bakery with excellent banh mi ["Vietnamese hoagies"]), Plaza Garibaldi, Taquitos del Pueblo, Fatou & Fama (West African), Vietnam, Dahlak, Sabor Latino, the aforementioned Tierra Colombiana, Picanha Grill, Jamaican Jerk Hut...the list goes on and on. I don't think you've even scratched the surface of ethnic dining in Philadelphia yet.

I wanted to put me two cents in on this. Being a restaurateur, all I do all day long is try to figure out how to get more butts in seats and what’s wrong if I don’t. I have never been to Detroit so all I can tell you is about KC.

KC has always been known for BBQ and Steaks. Because of that I think when people come to KC eating is one of the things they always want to do.  The problem with that however is it “typecasts” us. I have often stated that this city isn’t diverse enough when it comes to food. Sure we have some great ethnic restaurants but not very many and I think that’s because other then Hispanic, we have very few concentrations of ethnic neighborhoods. Maybe this is same thing in other cities. When people go to Detroit is there one overwhelming food that everyone wants? Same with Cinci, or Indianapolis? I know Philly is about cheese steaks and St. Louis has the hill. It just seems there is some historic link to food that makes these cities “restaurant cities”. You all may think this sounds simple or trivial but think about it. As for high end fine dining, I think there are only so many diners to fill this segment. KC has plenty of wealthy people but everyone is constantly competing over the exact same people. I have been open for three and a half years. I can go 10 miles south of my restaurant and no one has ever heard of it. I can go to San Fran for example and meet 5 people that have. WTF?! I don’t know why this happens but it does.  :angry:

(emphasis added)

Okay, folks, there's solid evidence that Kansas City has become a restaurant city. When the folks in the established dining capitals pay attention, you've risen to a different level.

I agree with your statement about "typecasting," but it seems to me that barbecue is KC's entree to a higher level of dining -- like cheesesteaks here, it is an Everyman food tradition that has become the point of departure for bigger and better things, and without that base, those better things might not have caught on.

Some other member has a Ferran Adria quote in his .sig to the effect that "A very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster." What I'm suggesting here is that Kansas Citians' experience with barbecue, and Philadelphians' with sandwiches, gave those cities' residents an understanding of what constitutes excellence in food in at least one category. Having developed it there, the skills could easily be translated to other culinary areas.

That goes directly to my last point.  Ann Arbor is not a suburb of Detroit.  No place that is an hour's drive away is a suburb.  It takes longer to get from Detroit to Ann Arbor than it takes to get from NYC to Rye, New York.  And you know what?  Rye is not a suburb of NYC.

Rye not a suburb? News to me. It's in Westchester County, right over the line from the Bronx.

Now New Haven, Connecticut, on the other hand...or for that matter, Trenton, N.J.....

Your other comments here are spot on. There are always outliers, though, and Kansas City may be one of those exceptions that proves the rule. I await tomorrow's New York Times with bated breath.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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