Detroit "Dining Duo" Debut

 


Culinary couple celebrates classy cuisine:

Coach Insignia @ the RenCen.

 


Follow the continuing exploits of the dining duo (thedetroiter.com contributors Stacy Muszynski and Vince Cavasin) as they explore Detroit's finest eateries (and perhaps a few not so fine ones). This time out it's the Coach Insignia at the RenCen. Watch this space for the next installment of fun and fine dining with Stacy and VInce.


Stacy

I have to admit it: when Vince asked me to go on an actual "date" with him after nearly two years of going out and staying in and hanging around, I was charmed and amused. I thought, How quaint! A touch of cute and a whole bucketful of thoughtful. Then he said, "I thought we should go to the new Coach Insignia at the top of the RenCen."

Ooh - and sophisticated.

But wait.

I have to admit also that Vince likes awful fads. Take the mullet. (He once thought it was appropriate-and fashionable.) And take his desire to try out the new Seldom Blues--but that is a story for another article….Let's just say Chris Collins' performance was really great --albeit loud--the night we were there.

"What do you think?" asked Vince. I could hear his grin through the phone line. "Coach Insignia Thursday at 9pm?"

"Can't wait," said I.

"It's a steakhouse," assisted Vince, the guy who can't leave Texas without compromising his flight home because of his last minute unquenchable appetite for reeeeeeal Texas BBQ.

"Great. Can't ever eat too much steak," said I. Hm. Less than a month after the doors of a new steakhouse open to little, or no, fanfare…. I planned my snack at home an hour before reservation time--just in case the newest RenCen legend turned out to be more tourist trap than taste bud tantalizer.

It didn't help that I had heard the floor was boringly, stodgily, rooted in place--unlike its predecessor's slowly whirring masterpiece. I remember the Summit. (At eight years old, some things are, as Lucinda Williams croons, too cool to be forgotten.) I was a little petulant about this new-and-improved that seemed so old-and-usual. No sweep around the city… Detroit River and Canada (even if I do detest that light-infected casino), more Detroit River, Belle Isle, city-city-city, and back to Ambassador Bridge. So if you want to see it all you have to walk around it all. Strike One.

I'm happy to say--and I don't say it too often--despite my suspicions and a couple minor league strikes against it, despite the floor that does what most floors do--sit there without moving--I was wrong. Dining at Coach Insignia was an education (surprise of surprises!), an excellent-if crazily eclectic-meal, and well…fun.

First, the food.

You know the story--restaurant sits atop the RenCen on the 71st and 72nd floors. You know it's named after the Fisher Body logo used by the California vineyard run by Fred Fisher II, a grandson of the founder of the auto company. You know that its prices are as high as the restaurant itself (entrées run $18-45).

But you may not know that Vince is a wine snob and although I never got a peek at the wine list, it is stocked with--rumor has it--600 selections. And boy did Vince have himself a ball perusing and chatting and taking advice from the grand-and gracious-Madeline Triffon herself. Without saying much more than "I'm filling in tonight for our hard-working sommelier staff," she stepped in close and peered at the list over Vince's shoulder." No mention that she's a Master Sommelier (one of only eight Americans and two women in the world to have gained the title when she did; now there are upwards of 60). No mention that she's the wine and beverage director for all of Unique Restaurant Corp., the 24-year-old baby of co-Coach operator Matthew Prentice.

At the prospect of helping two willing as-yet-unnamed albeit hungry (late from work I never got my "snack") candidates, she was a-bubble with enthusiasm. She brought us a taste of a light and splashy little sparkling white (gotta ask the wine snob if you want to know more about its characteristics) to perfectly accompany what we eventually settled on for our appetizer: the Coach Trio--sashimi tuna spring roll, jumbo lump crab meat timbale and seared tuna sashimi. Light and fresh and wide-open flavor-even if Jason, our amazingly attentive waiter considering he was working his way toward the tail end of a double shift, didn't include it on his list of faves.

Entrées quickly ensued and we really got to eatin'. Vince, I may have implied earlier, is a meat-eater. Steak Tartar runs through his veins, and so you can bet he got something that recently moo'd. I on the other hand let the fresh fish and "heartland" honeys duke it out. Would it be the Grilled Wild Alaskan King Salmon with its "warm heirloom tomatoes, Michigan sweet corn sauté & fresh basil garlic butter sauce"? The Butter Poached Australian Lobster Tail with "creamy shrimp and brie risotto," more of the Michigan sauté and "carrot ginger emulsion"? Or Prosciutto Wrapped Kurobuta Pork Loin and oh-who-cares-what-at-this-point-I'm-in-love-with-this-sexy-menu, Provimi Calves Liver with-and I don't even like liver if it's not pate!; Or the Coriander & Ginger Rubbed Rack of Lamb with something braised and something else glazed.

Oh somebody help me.

I went with consistency. Fish for app so fish for entrée. Swordfish it was. Complete with lump crab, pecorino polenta (who knew you could turn mountain fare into an elegant edible), smoked tomatoe coulis and spinach.

Against Vince's argument (ha!), I gave him the first bite. Because he wears his heart on his face, if the taste was bad I'd know before I'd have to try it myself.

One bite and he was in love too. Except for the pesky coulis which he hated and therefore I rather enjoyed. It offered enough of a contrast with the swordfish to remind you why you'd come. Bite of fish, dab of coulis (can you tell I like this word?).

Madeline (we quickly moved into first-name basis) had Vince wrapped around her pinky finger and had us drinking a California red--Littorai's Hirsh Vineyard 2001, Sonoma Coast-before he could sputter something pompous about Alsace blah blah blah. He listened and learned. It was nice, too.

I remember dessert because of how little I got of it--Vince took way more than his fair share. Just ask for chocolate heaven on a plate. They'll know what you're talking about. Kudos to go Exec Corporate Chef Jim Barnett; Corporate Chef (and assistant) Frank Turner and Coach's Executive Chef Joe Bachman for dreaming up the menu.

Second, the scene.

I heard Matt Prentice say, "This is a serious restaurant. It's not a tourist trap. We're not going to serve froo-froo drinks here. We have a beautiful wine list. We have incredible food-the best quality of everything that money can buy."

Yes, yes, but I have to argue about the table lighting (Strike Two). While I like kitchy-cool as much as the next guy, I have to pout about the "candle." There's no romance to a tabletop plastic dome-shaped LED-light thingamabob that you hit a button to turn on. Even if it is a subtle paean, like the rest of the place, to the auto industry.

I like the idea of it. I want to like the it of it. I just don't.

Let's talk décor. Designer Ron Rea hit a home run as far as I'm concerned with the bad-ass, whimsical yet somehow sophisticated oversized "Edith Ann" chairs, inspired by the one and only Lily Tomlin. If you can resist the urge to jump up on one of these things, you completely skipped childhood and you are doomed to repeat your life until you get it right. The ultrasuede tall-backed seats are ultracool. Add to this the brushed, bent and twisted metal wall hangings and fem-urban auto-based artwork and timeline, you've got yourself one helluva huge luxury interior. And while some may really like the shimmering two-story stainless steel bead curtains (again, mimicking assembly process--all car all the time), I'm reminded a bit of space travel and another bit of Fishbone's ubiquitous plastic necklaces (Strike Three, but who's counting).

All in all, though, Coach Insignia is a lot like Vince's offer for a "date": A touch of cute and a whole bucketful of thoughtful. Not to mention great, great taste.

Rating: (soulmate)

 

 


Vince

I must admit, I approach this restaurant review with a bit of trepidation.

It seems that the role of food critic requires at least some measure of attention to detail; a decent memory probably wouldn't hurt either. I have been accused of lacking both.

However, given the details that stuck with me from my dinner with Stacy at the new Coach Insignia Restaurant (affectionately referred to as the CIR hereafter) at the top of the RenCen, I think I'm up to the task. Here's what stuck with me.

1. This was one of the Greatest Dining Experiences of My Life. [And Totally Unexpected In Detroit.].

Yes, I'm a cynic. For my original Freshman Food Critic Effort, I proposed to Nick a rant entitled "Why Detroit is Doomed," focusing on the trailer-trash elements that confronted Stacy and me when we visited that other recently opened "fine dining" establishment in the RenCen, "Seldom Blues." I never followed through on this proposal, due mainly to one of my other vices, work. I am also, as I'm sure Stac will be quick to point out, prone to hyperbole.

And while for a brief time I traveled fairly extensively and ate fairly extravagantly as a result of lucking into a fortunate toe-hold on the dotcom bubble, I can't claim to know a lot about Detroit's fine-dining offerings.

But compared to the several $250+ tab joints I've stumbled out of in cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, New Orleans, and Miami, the CIR ranked easily in the top three.

Why? Well, allow me to explain.

2. The Service was outstanding.

Having dealt with countless Detroit waitstaff that knew less about the menu than I did after reading it for the 20 minutes it took for them to notice I was sitting in their restaurant, Jason, our CIR waiter, blew my mind; he basically became one of our best friends over the course of the evening. And this after he had worked a double shift. Jason always appeared when we needed him, intelligently answered every question we asked, and seemed to actually enjoy his job.

But Jason was just the tip of the iceberg.

Madeline Triffon, the Master Sommelier (that means she's attained a level of wine knowledge shared currently by only about 60 other people in the U.S.) for CIR's parent company Unique Restaurants, treated us like we were the only couple in the restaurant.

She magically appeared after I had made my first pass through the CIR's impressive list of over 600 wines. But the real miracle was that, despite my trying to demonstrate (like a high school astronomy student trying to impress Stephen Hawking) my pathetic knowledge of wine, she actually engaged Stacy and me in a conversation about what we were ordering, what we were looking for in a wine, and how much we wanted to spend. She ended up bringing out two bottles-a French-style Shiraz from New Zealand and a California Pinot Noir, which we ended up going with. For good measure, she supplied a couple glasses of a delicious, slightly fizzy Italian white from Veneto to go with our appetizer. The Burgundy was perfect and-there goes that attention to detail thing again-I'm kicking myself for not writing down the name of either wine.

Backing up both Jason and Madeline was the kitchen staff, which had everything we ordered ready at seemingly exactly the right time. Which leads me to point number 3…

3. The Food was amazing.

We started with the Coach Trio-a sashimi tuna spring roll, seared tuna sashimi, and jumbo lump crab meat timbale. The spring roll was as God intended it-crispy and densely stuffed, seasoned with fresh mint that didn't impose upon the even fresher tuna. The seared sashimi was likewise perfect on the palette--and the eye, with a surface seared to a barely perceptible depth surrounding the reddest fish flesh I've ever seen. As for the lump crab timbale: I'm still not sure what timbale is, but I'm here to tell ya, it was damn good timbale.

For the main course, Stac ordered the Grilled "Block Island" Swordfish and I the Insignia, which included a petite tenderloin, seared fois gras, and butter poached lobster tail.

Yes, seared fois gras. I wasn't aware you could sear it either. Stacy is apparently really impressed with it because she's making me italicize it. She was an English major, you know.

My dish came with the fois gras covering the steak, and the lobster to the side. The steak was sublime, and I swear that's not hyperbole; steak like this makes you seriously contemplate investing in a 1700 degree oven and whatever apparatus you need to age your own steaks.

The lobster, too, defies thesaurus.com's list of adjectives for "perfect".

But the real mind-blower of the trio was the seared fois gras. I had (here's that attention to detail disorder raising its ugly head again) forgotten that it was part of my dinner, and, from the outside, it suspiciously resembles the similarly sized fillet. I assumed that it was therefore another piece of meat.

When I bit into it I realized this wasn't true; then things got weird. You bite into a steak-looking thing and the texture immediately tells you it ain't steak; in fact, it resembles fat. Of course, that's exactly what it is for the most part. But the flavor is what truly boggles the mind; fat doesn't taste like this. This tastes like…well, if you had a decent memory for what you read on the menu 30 minutes and a couple glasses of kick-ass wine ago, you'd say it tasted like fois gras that's been seared. But such a concept is so foreign to your little typical-Detroit-restaurant-inspired palette that it never enters the equation. So for a brief moment, you're thinking this is the best fucking steak fat I've ever had in my life.

Of course, the next thing you do is offer a bite to your fat-detesting girlfriend. Taste this, baby, you say.

And she does, and you see the entire saga of ecstasy, confusion, and ultimately, rationality-induced disgust (e.g. this is fat! red meat fat!) play out on her face, before she discretely spits out what's left of the chunk and puts it back on your plate.

By now more comfortable with the ecstasy component of your tongue's reaction to the thing, you briefly consider not letting that morsel of this divine gift go to waste. But, given the high-class surroundings, you put the thought out of your mind. At least until you've eaten everything else on your plate, including the truffle whipped potatoes, which despite the fact that they are going to fuck up your Atkins® Diet for a week, you inhale like the carb-starved Atkins Poseur you are. [There she goes with the italics again.]

Of course my fork wandered over to Stacy's plate a few times too (actually she forced me to eat half her dinner as she always does, in an attempt to make me fat and therefore unattractive to other women). Here I can put away thesaurus.com; her swordfish wasn't my thing. The fish was impeccably fresh and cooked to, ah, flawlessness, but the tomato coulis that topped it was too sweet for my taste. However, the smoked lump crab that also topped it was lovely, and the pecorino polenta beside it was, despite my warnings to Stacy about the carb content…well, it was sublime.

For desert-again my memory limitations prevent me from recalling the exact name-we had some kind of chocolate tort. Between the now several glasses of wine and the endorphin rush of the aforegushedover meal, all I can remember was that there must have been at least four distinct flavors and textures of chocolate in this thing: a hard outer shell, a cakey base, a moussey layer, and a couple little medallions on top.

As I've proven here, sublime is an overused word. But I implore you, my friend, this desert was the closest thing to a religious experience that my lips have ever encountered, excepting, of course, the kiss of my dining partner.

4. The View & C.

Forgive me if I've spent too much time raving about the CIR's food; as may be apparent, it really blew my skirt up, so to speak.

But this review wouldn't be complete without a mention of the view, which, on this gloriously clear Thursday evening, was sitting there taking our breath away through the persistent sublimity of appetizer, entrée, and desert. From 800-some-odd-feet--by far the highest point you can sit in a chair in Detroit and the second highest restaurant in the U.S.-the view is enough to convince you that Detroit is Not Doomed, despite the best efforts of a certain fiddle player and his pretentious notions of ear-splitting cool downstairs. Detroit's past spread out panoramically in front of our table-from the building's skeleton, built during the mid-'70s renaissance, to the River Place buildings that helped usher in the current renaissance, and back to the gem of Belle Isle, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted over a century ago. Looking at this world-class history, eating a world-class dinner, pampered by world-class staff, my cynicism about the city became a whimpering bitch, beaten down by one undeniable fact: at this particular moment, there's no place I'd rather be.

Rating: (soulmate)


Briefest briefs about Coach Insignia:

The Who's
General Manager: Michelle DeHayes
Executive Chef: Joe Bachman
Sommelier: Patrick Peterson

The What's
The main dining room, on the 71st floor, seats 220; the 72nd floor features cocktail seating for 50 with martini booths for 30, plus two private dining rooms for groups of eight and 14. Banquet and meeting space is available for up to 110 guests.

The Wine
Three wine cellars house a $250,000 inventory of the finest wines from America and around the world.

The Where
71st and 72nd floors of the GM Renaissance Center, downtown Detroit. For reservations and more information, call (313) 567-2622. Enter through the Wintergarden entrance on Atwater Street behind the RenCen. Take escalators to Level 3.

The When
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; 4-9 p.m. Sun.

For more info, click here

 

Rating Scale

Our rating scale incorporates quality of service, food, and atmosphere. We have chosen a rating theme that we believe will be intuitive to our readers. (S&V)

(beer goggles): looks interesting from a distance, but you don't wanna go there.
(one night stand): seemed like a good idea at the time, and you may even tell your friends about it, but you won't be going back.
(booty call): nice, likeable, comforting. You don't want to eat there every night, but once in a while it's nice.
(committed relationship): you'll keep this place around, at least for a while.
(soulmate): till death do you part.

Stacy Muszynski talks, writes -- and eats -- a lot. She likes to explore new faces and new places. Often, she argues with Vince. You'll be hearing more about their exploits in the epages of thedetroiter.com.

Vince Cavasin is a management consultant, amateur chef, wine enthusiast, wannabe poet, and armchair philosopher, not necessarily in that order. By day he counsels clients on matters of leadership and business strategy; by night he spends his time alternately doting on, thanking god for, and arguing with Stacy.

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