I never thought it was a good idea to give your restaurant a word that people don’t know how to pronounce. Why introduce any hesitation into their decision to tell their friends? Few Americans, myself included, can pronounce this quintessentially French word (“coeur” means “heart”) well – but that doesn’t seem to have slowed the restaurant’s success in the slightest.
Actually, Metro timetable readers voted Coeur, open since August, the best new restaurant (Oakland) in this year’s Best of Detroit poll. How Ferndale changed, when none of the Yelp reviewers thought the prices were worth mentioning. I’ll follow their lead without grumbling and just say that my party of two stayed off the high end of the menu, ordered two starters, two entrees, a dessert and a glass of the cheapest wine and spent £162. $74 including tip.
Another night I went with the $89 five-course tasting menu and left stuffed and happy.
The food was pretty great, although I absolutely can’t wait to tell my friends about it. The portion sizes are reasonable and there are a plethora of smiling, dancing waiters; on the evening of the tasting menu, it seemed like each dish was delivered by a different person. The restaurant’s description emphasizes informality—waiters wear plaid flannel shirts—and the decor is minimal, with bare tables but a gorgeous glass sculpture hanging from a corner ceiling. On each visit, the waiters were eager to say that their new stylish menu holders had just arrived from kyiv.
Among my favorite starters was a mushroom velouté (“velouté” actually means velvet), a soup with five kinds of roasted mushrooms. A milk bun for dipping was also stuffed with mushrooms, surprisingly cold. Chef-owner Jordan Smith, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, says the restaurant gets them all from Stony Creek Mushrooms in Eight Mile and Pinecrest.
The ethereal potato and Comté croquettes were light as a cloud inside, lighter than cotton candy by far, with a light crust to match and a burnt leek dip the color you wouldn’t expect. not often seen in food: stone gray. These were worth eating just for the feeling of insubstantiality and the unusual spiciness of the dip.
I thought maitake mushrooms, also called chickens of the woods, were less successful. The tempura was perfect but there was little mushroom flavor. A squash with honey nuts, dish No. 2 on the tasting menu (which changes according to Chef Smith’s desires), had the texture and taste of a sweet potato pie and garnished with pomegranate and persimmon seeds – it felt like a lot of things were happening, in a good way.
Dish #3 was moist potato gnocchi in lobster bisque, high praise for its texture, and I have no problem with two soups in one meal when they are of this quality.
For main courses, I put the tom kha broth that accompanied the black cod on my list of “best things I ate this year.” The kohlrabi and carrot were good and the tiny white beech mushrooms as cute as can be, the fish quite plain. But that rich, silky broth! It’s coconut milk, and a reminder to eat Thai again ASAP.
Other mushrooms accompanied the teres major steak – you feel an autumnal theme here – and of course were nice complements, a similar type of umami. The large round is a shoulder cut that its proponents say gives plenty of movement, therefore blood flow, and therefore a complex flavor, while lacking the connective tissue that causes toughness. It was indeed tender as can be, which was not the case with the rapini that accompanied it, which I chewed for a while without much result. Potato cobbler requires an awful lot of careful work with the humble spud, and in this case it wasn’t worth the hassle of slicing and layering with such precision.
A short rib was tough, although tasty, and its side dish, potato rosti, was much better. The creamed greens topped the kohlrabi that night; I like Smith to use whatever kind of green he has on the cutting board, if it works with the dish.
For dessert, I have no complaints (I rarely do), only a sweet tooth satisfied. A pear tart with a hazelnut crust was sublime, surrounded by little drops of yogurt mousse. I could have had a pumpkin spice semifreddo latte (!), but I chose a slightly salty “Almond Snickers”. You can see the resemblance; A real Snickers has caramel, peanuts, and nougat underneath the chocolate, but here you see what a masterful pastry chef can do with top-notch ingredients. Dulcey is a “blond chocolate” from Valrhona, which has been described as “somewhere between white chocolate and milk chocolate” and “like dulce de leche but more toasty than too sweet.” Next come the candied cocoa nibs and the salted caramel cream, as well as the toasted almonds on top. A child would love this and so would you.
Because it was November, I tried the newly arrived Beaujolais Nouveau; small but powerful. (Have you ever noticed that the size of your wine is proportional to the size of the restaurant? I was reckless enough to order wine at a dive bar and had enough in a $6 glass to last me put on heels for the night. At an upscale location will make sure the bottom of the glass is covered.) That night, a west Michigan supplier was advertising its own offering as a “new” alongside of the French version. It was served quite cold, a practice meant to enhance a new wine, but I thought this hid the wine’s qualities.
Smith and his team take wine seriously. Once a month, sommelier Sean Crenny chooses a region or grape variety to highlight and teaches a class on Sunday afternoon. New Year’s Eve will see a Seven-dinner of dishes with food and wine pairings.
Coeur is open for brunch on the weekends, with such delicious dishes as brisket hash, babka French toast, almond crepe with charred milk caramel, and fall panzanella.
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