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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Stacy: Oh how hard I try hard to avoid such necessity, alas