Detroit "Dining Duo"

Congressional Debate:
Yes, Even Here Bad Things Can Happen In A Good Republic


Follow the continuing exploits of the dining duo ( 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 Congress Restaurant and Lounge. Watch this space for the next installment of fun and fine dining with Stacy and VInce.

So Stacy and I went to Congress a couple months ago. It was on their one-year anniversary, sometime between mid-November-when we finally turned in the Texas versus Michigan barbeque piece-and mid-December, when I promised Nick that despite starting my first actual job in over two and a half years, we'd finish the Congress piece within a week.

So I underestimated the new job.

Stac: Congress restaurant and lounge is comfortable. Not entirely certain of its decorating style, its long bar, quiet corners and coupla couches are, at the end of the day, a little lived-in looking. It's appointed with the new-fangled do-it-yourself carpet squares you mix and match yourself-not unlike those you might find at your local CVS.

Having made our way down from street level I told Vince, "Hey, I feel like we're entering the set of "Cheers." And while there was no Norm or Cliff Claven, there was Marvin our waiter. Suave as Sam, cute as Coach, he was the best part of our meal.

Vince: Not that he had a lot of competition from the décor, the crowd or the food.

Congress is one of those places that seems to be walking a fine line between apologizing for being in Detroit and trying to be Detroit. The décor was sort of a trailer-trash attempt at New York cool; no doubt highly appealing to the same crowd who thinks it's cool to pay $300,000 for a 1200-square-foot "rehabbed" downtown loft.

Marvin was certainly an oasis of true cool in this barren wasteland, and he was fairly attentive. I'm just wondering if he's the one who was responsible for my $50 steak sitting on the counter till it was basically a few degrees above room temperature.

Stacy: What was hot was the couple I could see over Vince's shoulder. They turned my "Cheers" reverie into "Real World Detroit"-all Kenneth Cole clothing, giggly whispers and body glitter. Off our shoulder starboard was another couple-first date. He looked stuffy, she uptight. She kept pointing out that he looked stuffy. (Agoraphobes and claustrophobes, take note: for a more intimate dining experience, opt for the soundproof-paneled booth because tables are close, and there's no guarantee you won't go home knowing a little too much info about your neighbors.) The party of ladies in said cubby, portside, gave me hope. They were digging into their meal, laughing loud and living large. I bet the panels did wonders for their conversation; it didn't do much for ours, however. Vince had to up the decibels to order, and, after moving through the vodkas not represented, Vinny and Marvin finally got a nice martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives ordered and to the table. We had officially jumped in and apps were on their way….

Portabello al Forno. Nice enough to look at and the warmest thing we were served all evening if you don't count Marvin's smiles. Shortly thereafter, my salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing arrived. The dressing is a winner if you like yours with a definite bouquet and a taste of far more raspberry than vinaigrette.

Vince: Blue cheese olives notwithstanding, Congress could learn a thing or two about bar stock from the folks over at Green's barbeque; Grey Goose was the only premium vodka they had. How completely un-New York.

The wine list was also disappointing, with maybe a couple dozen selections. Pinot Noir-our typical pick on these review dates due to its versatility-was especially poorly represented. We chose Lincourt Vineyards' Santa Barbara County Pinot, which at $45 was the only one on the menu in our price range, and it was about what you'd expect from a $45 pinot: in a nutshell, drinkable with a few nascent hints of complexity.

The Portabello-when it got to us-actually got our hopes up that the food would compensate for the service.

But then-well not exactly then, more like then, a half hour later-our entrees came.

If you've read this column before, you know that I'm not exactly what you'd call a vegetarian. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Congress served a carnivore's holy grail: a Kobe beef fillet.

For those of you who don't keep up on the state-of-the-beef-arts, Kobe beef refers to beef from the Kobe region of Japan. The Wagyu cattle raised there have been selectively bred for centuries to produce the most extreme marbling in their flesh-far above any other breed. Also, as the cattle grow up they are fed a diet of beer and grain, and are raised in a stress-free environment that includes daily massages. The result is reportedly the tenderest beef known to man, and also the most expensive, with prices approaching $300 per pound in Japan.

Recently, however, American companies started raising Wagyu cattle in the Japanese tradition and selling the beef as "American Kobe Beef." This-in the form of a $49.95 filet mignon-was what caused my heart to skip a beat when I saw it on the menu.

Now Congress was my first (and so far only) experience with Kobe beef, so maybe it's just too good for my simple Texas barbeque-loving taste, but after doing a little research, I tend to think that my disappointment with my steak was probably due to its being improperly prepared.

According to my research, Kobe beef has so much embedded fat that the only way you can cook it is to quickly sear the outside and leave the inside raw; allow the heat to reach the inner marbling and you end up melting all that fat-turning the steak into a gooey mess.

My filet at Congress wasn't so much a gooey mess, but it certainly wasn't seared on the outside and raw inside, despite my request that it be prepared rare. All I can figure is that they cooked it more slowly, like you'd cook that $10 steak you picked up at Kroger, taking it past gooey to a point where it was cooked throughout. The coup de grace was, as far as I can figure, letting it sit for 10 or so minutes before serving it to me, as it was literally almost cold to the touch when I got it.

Friends, this kind of treatment of this kind of steak is absolutely criminal.

Stacy: Literally.

(oh, I joke)

Vince's filet came to the table dressed to kill. So did my Chilean Sea Bass, a house specialty according to Marvin. But there can be a million miles between looks and quality: I mean, Frederick's of Hollywood can have all the best intentions, but it ain't Valentino.

While the fish itself had a nice light and zesty flavor, thanks to fresh herb sprinkled atop like magic dust, low temperature killed the mood, obliterating what could have been a good thing. And the basket full of piping hot rolls…like Vince said with his mouth full: "Wonderbread buns."

Taste notwithstanding, the meal was as filling as the entertainment so we skipped dessert. And aside from the hard-to-avoid eavesdropping, Marvin is the only thing I miss about our trip to Congress.

Vince: Oh-the sea bass! I almost forgot. Its sauce was trying harder than the décor, to be what I'm not exactly sure. It completely overpowered the fish.

My bottom line on Congress: it should take a recess. Rating: one night stand.

Stacy: Oh how hard I try hard to avoid such necessity, alas…one night stand.


(one night stand):

(one night stand):


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.

Briefest Briefs about Congress Detroit.

Congress Restaurant & Lounge
(313) 964-4500
211 W Congress St
Detroit, MI 48226

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

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.

Want to learn more about potential dining destinations in Detroit? Check out:

© 2002