Did you ever wonder what it would be like to dine with a Professional Chef? Maybe a little like playing ‘catch’ with Justin Verlander? Thrilling, daunting, educational…sure! And, overall, just downright fun!
Well, we’ve asked Chef Tom (Tom Teknos, Executive Chef and co-owner of The Hudson Café) to give us his picks from the menus of restaurants participating in this year’s Detroit Restaurant Week! While this Classically Trained French Chef won’t be there to pass the bread, we thought it would be fun to have him guide our choices on what seemed like a daunting task of picking just one selection per course.
It didn’t start off real helpful.
“Dang, all this stuff looks so good,” was Chef Tom’s first comment after a perusal of the menus. Gee, thanks, Master of the Obvious. Even we knew that…which was why we went to him for advice in the first place!
But then he got down to business. And let me tell you, for a professional chef, reading menus is serious business.
24 Grille. Chef Tom said he would definitely start with the Thai Mango Salad, which is prepared with sugar vinaigrette, mango, cashew and sprouts because “the acid of the mangos will go well together with the sugar.” (Who knew there was actual science behind ordering?!) While we only asked Chef Tom to pick one item from each menu, he zoomed right on to the Hand-stuffed Walnut Ravioli, served with artichoke, lemon, brown butter and Pecorino because “he loves Mediterranean” and “always goes for it.”
Andiamo. The Suppli al Telefono, which is seasoned Italian risotto rolled and filled with mozzarella di Bufalo and topped with tomato sauce, was his first pick because it is “cream on cream.” But, wait, don’t take that plate menu away yet…we were ready to move on to the next restaurant, but Chef Tom began explaining to us that he would also choose the Involtini di Melanzane, which is grilled eggplant rolled with roasted vegetables, fat-free ricotta cheese and herbed tomato sauce because it reminded him of Greek Mousaka. This was all beginning to sound a little like Greek to us (which was the reason we thought of going to an expert like Chef Tom in the first place) when suddenly he said something we understood perfectly. “And the Homemade Cannoli…because my mom loves cannoli and you can’t go wrong with what mom likes!” (Awwww! And, yep, we agree!)
Angelina Italian Bistro. Chef Tom’s reason for his choice here made total sense to us too. The Fresh Mozzarella Appetizer, which is housemade and served with Mediterranean olives, arugula salad and balsamic glaze because he “doesn’t know too many places that actually make fresh mozzarella.” It was like we had donned a tall white hat ourselves…we don’t know anyone who does that either!
Atlas Global Bistro. The Amalfi Crab Cake, a jumbo lump crab cake, tarragon oil, blood orange, fennel and shaved onion would be Chef Tom’s choice because he “loves when people infuse their olive oil.”
The Caucus Club. Chef Tom’s choice of the Balsamic-marinated London Broil, which is broiled beef flank steak served on toasted rye with Cabernet mushroom jus and lyonnaise potatoes, because “you don’t see too many places that have London Broil anymore” led to a very interesting discussion about the reasons for marinating meat (especially pork or a thin steak) in vinegar or lemon (or something else he named but we have forgotten that had acid in it) because the acid breaks down the muscle and tissue and makes the meat more tender. This was actually interesting in only an intellectual capacity as we have no intention of cooking our own London Broil…but we are definitely on-board with ordering it! (Why we love Detroit Restaurant Week!)
Cliff Bell’s. The Duck Confit Crêpe, prepared with wild mushrooms and fresh herbs, was selected by Chef Tom because he “loves the fact that it’s something different.”
Cuisine. Here, Chef Tom reversed course and went not with something different, but with one of his favorite foods, skatefish. More specifically the Brioche-breaded Skatefish, which is served with blood orange butter sauce and English peas.
The Whitney. Gazpacho. “It’s seasonal” and Chef Tom “loves spring soups.” We were too humbled to ask what exactly a spring soup—other than Gazpacho—is, but it doesn’t really matter: The Whitney had us at ‘avocado-lime crème fraîche’…which is what their Gazpacho is served with…
Mosaic. Chef Tom returned to his Greek roots here and chose the Yemista, which is Greek Stuffed Vegetables: tomato, zucchini, and eggplant stuffed with rice, raisins, rosemary and feta. It’s his “favorite Greek dish in the world.”
The Rattlesnake Club. Thus far it has been Chef Tom saying he “loves that…” This time, we want to be the first to say we love the reason he gives for his choice. Chef Tom would order the Spring Michigan Asparagus, prepared with soft Brie, frisée and spiced pecans and white balsamic reduction because he “loves everything made in Michigan. We support local growers and producers at The Hudson Café…I like to support them elsewhere when I can too.” Did we mention we love this reason?
La Dolce Vita. Here again, we learned something. And at first it kind of creeped us out. We are a fairly daring diner, but every once in awhile we have a line we just aren’t sure we’re ready to cross. Apparently Mahi-mahi Cheeks Piccata Grand Marnier actually refers to literal ‘cheeks.’ Not a cheeky, smart-aleck fish. Not a way of filleting a fish that is just called the ‘cheek’ by whoever names what things we eat are called. But actual little fish cheeks. First, we didn’t know fish even had cheeks. (And we think everyone under the age of 10 would delight in this visual almost as much as we did.) Then we realized that La Dolce Vita, a restaurant we love, was asking us to eat little fish cheeks. But this is where we learned something. The cheek of any animal is the “tenderest meat,” which Chef Tom went on to describe as “you can literally cut it with a spoon.” After just a few more minutes spent listening to him explain more about we are also now fully on-board with this selection and can’t wait to try it. (As well as ‘wow’ our friends with our knowledge of cooking and food-anatomy!)
Opus One. Maine Lobster Tail with Grilled Shrimp and Sea Scallop, served with angel hair pasta and haricot verts, finished with lobster Champagne sauce was a homerun because Chef Tom noted “it is a trio of fish” and he “loves the fact that you can get all three.”
Michael Symon’s Roast. More fun food facts we didn’t know: “the fat when you make sausage from lamb just makes it that much better”…so Chef Tom would definitely choose the Grilled Lamb Sausage, served with lentils, grilled peppers and onion at Roast.
Iridescence. Here we got to learn something about what Chef Tom cooks for Chef Tom. He would choose the Sautéed Lake Superior Whitefish, which is prepared with saffron-braised Yukon Gold potatoes, creamed spinach, prosciutto di Parma and sauce beurre rouge because “saffron and fish go well together” and when he cooks fish for himself, “fish is the only thing I’ll put with my saffron.” It was at this point we realized Chef Tom was referring to a caliber saffron we ourselves had probably never seen on our own kitchen shelf. We’re now very excited to go experience the true and full flavor of this spice at Iridescence.
Detroit Seafood Market. Chef Tom chose the Lobster & Shrimp Hush Puppies, which are served with pink dipping sauce because he “loves Hush Puppies” and “hasn’t seen them on a menu for probably 20 years.” This brought a slightly nostalgic look to our guiding chef’s eyes—and we were quite pleased to discover that professionally trained chefs, with all their skills, still sometimes order something based on emotion not knowledge—as he went on to reminisce about “a place I used to go called Seafood Bay…it’s not there anymore…but we’d get their Hush Puppies…that’s a favorite in my house.”
We had one last menu to ask Chef Tom about. But we apologize in advance. His answer here will be of no help to anyone.
Fountain Bistro. Chef Tom looked at it, looked up, and said decisively, “I would eat all of this…just because of my French background.”
Hmmm. But wait. Maybe there is something to this once. What if we looked at it a bit like a Double-Dog Dare. All of it? Every item on the three-course menu? Yep. We think we just might be able to do it. It may take the help of a friend or two, it may involve some sharing of plates, and it may require multiple trips to Campus Martius, but we’re all good with that. Because that is why we love Detroit Restaurant Week: sitting down with good friends to eat a delicious dinner and having the chance to go to our favorite restaurants…again and again…