Best fork first 

Ah, the pleasures of the table. Few things are more satisfying than casting off our worldly cares and sitting with kith and kin, breaking bread and sharing nourishing food and spirit-raising drink. That's definitely the attitude that informs our 10,000-word culinary flyby of the metro Detroit dining scene. And, from chili fries to chateaubriand, we've got your back. Having written about more than a thousand restaurants over the last few decades, Metro Times has long aimed to help you dig in intelligently, whether with fork, skewer, chopstick or inerja. And, in a volatile local restaurant scene, between the Big Three on the ropes, company accounts in decline, and plain ol' faddish American tastes, it's increasingly hard to keep track of what's out there, as eateries open and close like flowers in the springtime — which often leaves us double-taking that tasty corner place to see if it's even still there!

The good news, though, is that the choices in this stubborn old meat-and-potatoes town are constantly broadening, as diners seem increasingly willing to challenge their palates and cross pesky borders in search of new flavors. As diners, metro Detroiters seem more interested than ever in putting a premium on getting exactly what they want, whether that means enjoying haute cuisine without donning a blazer or snarfing coneys downtown in a ball gown.

But the carefree pleasures of putting on the feedbag come with a familiar warning: Caveat emptor. Be sure you get the best you can with advice we cherry-picked from our foodie insiders.

Interview the restaurant — Assuming you want more than a one-size-fits-all dining experience, don't be shy about calling ahead and asking lots of questions. Assaggi co-owner Josie Knapp advises that the best restaurants will be the most hospitable to even the most detailed inquiries. "When you call to make your reservation, you may have certain things that you need. Do you want to be seated at a certain table? Do you have any special dietary requirements? Do you want a certain waiter? Is there a birthday? See how the restaurant accommodates all your concerns."

Early birding — If a place looks like dinner is out of your budget, explore the options for lunch or take-out.

Book review — We're not naming any names, but it's worth calling on the day of your reservation to confirm your spot.

Call your number — Just because you're going someplace atmospheric doesn't mean you're going to be right in the heart of it. It often happens that the first seats offered are in busy traffic areas, near the restrooms or entrance. It's worth asking yourself if the first table you're offered is best for your party. And don't be shy about making your call.

No special surprises — Hear a special off the menu that sounds enticing? It's worth it to ask the price: Often, these entrées are much more expensive than the prices on the menu would suggest.

Split dishes — Mixing and matching with your dining partners can heighten the variety and keep your palate from tiring quickly.

Ban the bottle — Don't order bottled water, and not just because of the petroleum-based bottle. It's often the item with the biggest markup.

Bill and fare — One way to avoid flagging down a waiter later: Ask for the check to be brought with the last thing you order.

Call for your bowl — How about that restaurant where it's impossible to get reservations? Since this is Detroit, try reserving a table on Super Bowl night. If you can forfeit bowl-mania, you'll have the best seats in the house.

Christmas presence — Remember, on Christmas Eve, that Chinese place is most likely open, just like in the movie.


THE DINING GUIDE

Go green!
Restaurants with vegetarian options

Counter culture
Delis, coneys and lunch counters

All good eggs
Omelets, fritatas, scrambles and quiches

Tray bien!
Belly up to the buffet

Mideast feasts
Why feel awful when you can falafel?

Sound bets
Feed your ears as well as your belly

Class acts
Restaurants for a romantic evening out

Get baked
Breads, cakes, coffee and more

Flank right
Claim your steak at these meat-lovin' joints

Ciao down
All your italian favorites

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. Send comments to mjackman@metrotimes.com

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