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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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