A Tribute to the American Middle West

Takashi Yagihashi Farmington Hills, Michigan – As maitre d’ Mickey Bakst likes to say, “I wanted people to walk away from our restaurant feeling as though they had never been to Detroit.”

By all accounts, Bakst and the restaurant Tribute’s chef, Takashi Yagihashi, have succeeded royally.

The mission was to bring a luxury restaurant to the Detroit suburbs, where automakers could wine and dine their customers in splendor. But the elegant, eclectic, electric spot situated at the crossroads of a suburban highway (wedged between a gas station and a mom and pop pancake house) draws more than deep pocket guys from the industry. The restaurant, opened in 1996, has received just about every restaurant accolade one can garner in the US, as it is listed as one of America’s 50 Best Restaurants by Gourmet Magazine, and in the year 2000 chef Yagihashi was named one of America’s Ten Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine.

Americans always believe that if you sink enough money into a project, you can make it work. Restaurant Tribute – created with a huge, blank check – tends to prove the point. But there is more than money behind the restaurant: There is also passion, serious forethought, a love for blending the classic with the modern in both design and in the kitchen, and a lot of strong personalities to tie it together.

Bakst and Yagihashi, along with pastry chef Michael Laiskonis, have created a true gastronomic haven with a lot of soul. So Andy Warhol art is framed in thick gilded frames, and Asian Bouillabaisse appears on the table. The result is the best of both worlds, carried out with care and calculation.

The wine cellar, of course, is astonishing, with more than 1,000 top world wines on the list, including plenty of welcome half bottles and a healthy selection of wines by the glass.

A recent meal there showed up their special talent for pairing wine and food. A delicate, vibrant and clean-flavored first course of big eye tuna and fluke sashimi, teamed up with geoduck clams and sweet onion-soy dressing, was a dreamy match for the deep-flavored, golden Champagne Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1993.

But the star of the meal was unquestionably the chef’s brilliant Asian Bouillabaisse, a welcome version of the often tired bouillabaisse imitations found around the world. Here, the chef offered a full palate of fish and shellfish – from clams to mussels, to rich meaty lobster – and bathed it all in a fragrant, tangy kaffir lime foam. The full pleasure of the dish was achieved with the pairing of the rich Zind-Humbrecht 1999 Riesling Clos Saint Urbain. Here, the much ignored Riesling grape seemed to do a little dance, happy to play its role by adding spice, acidity, balance and a refreshing counterpart.

A main course roasted loin of lamb (cooked to a perfect rareness) was paired with a measured portion of Hudson Valley foie gras, a fricassee of spring vegetables, and a most welcoming spring pea custard, all tied together with an understated (but oh so evident) red wine and rosemary sauce. The 1996 Italian Barolo -- the Bricco Rocche from Brunate – was in perfect company.

Pastry chef Laiskonis stepped in with energy and clarity, offering a soothing French melon soup with a Sauternes gelée; and a quivering buttermilk pannacotta flanked by a ginger-citrus gelée and a rhubarb-blood orange compote. But the grand finale --- a chocolate caramel egg shell anointed with just a few grains of fleur de sel – brought the house down. In happy company was the 1997 sweet white Bonnezeaux, Chateau de Fesles.

31425 West Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334.
Tel: 248 848 9393.
Fax: 248 848 1919.
Email: tribute@earthlink.com Internet: www.tribute-restaurant.com
Open for dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday.

Nothing beats the anticipation of returning to a restaurant you have loved for years. A recent dinner at one of my preferred restaurants in the world – Rick and Deanne Bayless’s casual Frontera Grill and more formal Topolobampo – found the owners, their kitchen, and dining room, in top form.

As ever, the food was full of dense, intense flavors, with dishes that both offered surprises and that essential security net, familiarity. Most of us did not grow up with palates weaned on banana leaves or crunchy jicama, poblano peppers or pasilla chiles. So Rick and Deanne do their best to add touches of familiarity, both visual and gustative. A case in point is their new tostaditas de Tinga, crispy tostadas topped with home-smoked organic chicken, roasted tomatoes, smoky chipotle chiles, avocado and cheese. The simple addition of a tiny tangle of frisee salad seemed to tell us all, it’s ok, it’s familiar. I could have easily had three servings of these delicious tostaditas. In fact, a fellow diner actually had two!

Other dishes were no less appealing, and included very smooth and tender shrimp tamales steamed in banana leaves and served in a bright-flavored ancho-arbol sauce and a tang, cooling pea shoot salad.

Pork is back in America in big way, showing up on the best menus all over the nation. Chicago is no exception, and the Bayless’s offered roasted Maple Creek Farm pork loin cooked to a welcome rareness, much as one would cook a loin of lamb. The meaty, tender pork was accented by a complex, rich (but not at all heavy) sauce that combined hazelnuts, pine nuts, and pecans in a mole of ancho and pasilla chiles. The accent was almost French in the accompanying braised organic spinach and garlicky bread pudding.

445 North Clark, Chicago, Illinois.
Tel: 213 661 1434.
Chef’s tasting dinner, five courses, $70 ($100 with wine.) A la carte, about $45 per person, not including service or wine.