A2P Foodist: Restaurant Week in Detroit—Two Picks For Great Food @ Great Prices
April 1-10 is Restaurant Week in Detroit. The irony of beginning any Restaurant Week on April Fools Day is, in many ways, perfect. Restaurant Weeks are imagined fantasies by both restauranteurs and diners. The restauranteur imagines money coming in during what would be a slow time of year. Diners imagine (or are led to imagine) great food and great deals. As we’ve seen with Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, the hype doesn’t always translate into universally great bargains (or great food) for diners.
Does it in Detroit? The fixed price multiple course meals are set at $28 per person, taxes, tip and beverages not included.
Detroit Restaurant Week began on Friday with 18 of the city’s dining establishments offering diners $28 three-course dinners. This season’s restaurants include 24Grille, Andiamo Detroit Riverfront, Angelina Bistro, Atlas Global Bistro, Caucus Club, Coach Insignia, Cuisine, Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille, Detroit Seafood Market, Iridescence, Mosaic Restaurant, Opus One, Rattlesnake Club, Roast, Roma Café, SaltWater, the Whitney, and Wolfgang Puck Grille.
So should you make the trek? Yes, but choose carefully. Here’s are the top two spots to sample:
Start with Roast.
Here’s the description from the Restaurant Week web site:
Meat is the heart of the menu at Roast, a Michael Symon Restaurant! The menu focuses on the art of sourcing and preparing artisanal and heritage meats, including wood-fired, dry-aged steaks, rotisserie meats and charcuterie. Roast also offers fresh seafood. Totally American but with signature Mediterranean flavors and textures, Roast is an upscale flavor house that highlights Iron Chef Michael Symon’s unique ability to blend old and new into cutting-edge cuisine! Named 2009 Detroit Free Press“Restaurant of the Year.”
Beware. It’s called “Roast” because it’s a restaurant with a menu devoted to meat. If you’re a vegetarian, and choose Roast, no whining. Eat your green salad slowly, and be prepared to eat fish or pasta. A three course meal at Roast, without a Restaurant Week reservation, will set you back $50-$70 per person. At Ann Arbor’s Grizzley Peak, when I wrote about Ann Arbor Restaurant Week 2009 lunches that were being hyped as “deep discounts,” amounted to less than $1.00 over the regular menu prices, at Roast you will be saving big bucks, as much as 50 percent, depending on what you choose from the restaurant’s special Restaurant Week menu.
That menu includes beef, pork, fish or a pasta entree, salad, soup or a selection of charcuterie, and a lemon bar for dessert. Is the food worth the trip?
Let’s check in with some of the 155 reviews of Roast posted to the great food site Yelp.com. With 4.5 stars, Roast is the highest rated of the participating Detroit Restaurant Week eateries. In Ann Arbor, there was not a single 2011 Restaurant Week spot that had more than 4 stars on Yelp.com, and some had three stars. In short, Yelpers are a reliable bunch, who can be tough to please, just the kind of people you want to talk to before you drive an hour into Detroit, and drop some major cash on dinner for two.
Recent positive feedback on Roast from Yelpers:
- “I would recommend this restaurant to anyone in the area looking for a laid back atmosphere with great food and wine.”—5 stars
- “Overall, this is a high end restaurant and a very satisfying fine dining experience. This certainly isn’t how I would eat every day, but for a special night out it was great.”—5 stars
- “Very pleased with our experience, would go back for sure!”—5 stars
- “I love this place. If you’re in the mood for some hearty fare with an excellent glass of wine, look no further than Roast. Outstanding quality ingredients, highly attentive wait staff and an exceedingly professional kitchen all make for a wonderful meal.”—5 stars
Not so positive feedback from Yelpers:
- “First off. This is DETROIT. Not the culinary scene of NYC, Chicago or LA, or hell,—even Cleveland for that matter. Not even Philadelphia. What does Roast have to compete with? Forest Grill? Meats,—Michael Symon’s Roast does a great job. But desserts? Eh, not as much.”—3 stars
- “Overall, I enjoyed my night. I wish they stepped it up to Restaurant Week a little bit more but, oh well. I would recommend for big meat eaters and I hear their cocktail hour is rockin. I will go back but not after making some rounds at other places.—3 stars
Even those who gave Roast not-so-glowing reviews had something good to say about their food. This is a place where you’ll find something you like, even if the meal isn’t perfect (which it should be, mind you).
Angelina Italian Bistro. If you go for Restaurant Week and can’t find something on the menu you like, you’re tougher to please than you should be. The menu for Restaurant Week is varied and includes beef, fish, chicken and pasta. The third course (dessert) ain’t no lemon bar. You can choose from cannoli, cheesecake or even flan (a traditional Italian dessert from the border of Italy and Spain, I imagine).
Here’s the description of the Bistro from the Detroit Restaurant Week web site:
Angelina Italian Bistro is steeped in the traditions of Italy, yet with a refreshingly modern attitude. Located in the Madison Theater Building recently purchased by Quicken Loans, this smart and contemporary Italian eatery features house-made hand-crafted pastas, choice beef, organic pork, free-ranged poultry and the freshest seafood. The dining room is enclosed in floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Grand Circus Park, the Detroit Opera House and Comerica Park. The full bar highlights Detroit’s own Motor City Brewing Works and other local breweries. A large selection of wines from around the world, including several from Michigan complement the 40 seat bar.
A quick look at the regular menu shows that the dishes offered during Restaurant Week add up to between $30-$40 per person. So, the $28 fixed price isn’t as great a deal at Angelina Italian Bistro as it could be. This is a typical Restaurant Week hoodwink. Caveat Emptor, epicurians. A varied menu doesn’t mean the food is going to be good, or that the service will be worth getting on the car and trekking downtown. Should you give Angelina Italian Bistro a try?
Yelpers say yes. Reviewers on the site have given the restaurant a solid 4 star rating. Here’s some recent feedback:
- “LOVED this restaurant….Will definitely go back.”—5 stars
- “Service was great….The food is still spot-on and wonderful.”—4 stars
- “Love this place, excellent food, great service.”—5 stars
- “They have a great and friendly staff and the food was excellent!”—5 stars
Not so positive feedback from Yelpers:
- “Thought the prices were a little steep for the quality and portions served. Would return. Service was a little slow.”—3 stars
- “I would recommend this place if you’re downtown and want to get in easily for some great food, but I’m still not sure I’d go out of my way to eat here.”—3 stars
- “I got a the sweet potato gnocchi which was sort of bland. In all, there is some real potential here and I will give it another chance.”—3 stars
Again, even those who gave Angelina not-so-glowing reviews had something good to say about their food and most would go back.
The majority of the other restaurants participating in Detroit Restaurant Week didn’t have a solid 4 stars from Yelpers. Few of Ann Arbor’s Restaurant Week eateries have earned 4 stars from Yelpers. Main Street restaurants Real Seafood Company and Gratzi, both of which participated in the most recent Ann Arbor Restaurant Week ($25 dinners), are both rated just under 4 stars on Yelp.com, for instance, and have garnered some pretty colorful descriptions of over-priced food and poor service.
The Detroit Restaurant Week web site doesn’t have much of the Ann Arbor Restaurant Week hucksterism. In fact, it’s pretty clear that the restaurants are participating to generate revenue and drum up customers during tough economic times. This comes from the Ann Arbor Restaurant Week web site: “Now is your chance to discover new restaurants and enjoy favorites at a discounted price. Make reservations early at participating restaurants. Tables fill fast during this gastronomically great event.”
At least after A2Politico first wrote about Ann Arbor Restaurant Week in January 2010, a piece that generated a bit of anxiety on the part of folks from the Main Street Area Association, they dropped the “deep discount” malarky. Now, it’s the technical truth, “discounted.” At some restaurants, however, the “discounts” are less than 5 percent off of the regular menu prices. It’s gimmicky.
One of the best aspects of Ann Arbor Restaurant Week is the two for $12 lunches. Detroit Restaurant Week isn’t about lunch. Detroit Restaurant Week is not about “discounts,” either. It’s described thusly on the event’s web site:
This year’s spring edition of Detroit Restaurant Week will be the fourth time the promotion has been offered since the fall of 2009. The three previous promotions saw participation from more than 85,000 diners while generating nearly $1.5 million in sales for the participating restaurants.
The honesty is refreshing. So’s this: in the week preceding Detroit’s Restaurant Week, the sponsoring groups footed the bill for a series of Happy Hours at some of the participating restaurants. Participants RSVPed, and then showed up for complimentary appetizers and drink specials at participating eateries. It’s a fantastic idea, a generous gesture, and a clever way to get people excited about the upcoming Restaurant Week at the participating restaurants.
Ann Arbor’s next Restaurant Week begin in June 2011.
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