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Review: New Gather chef pivots toward seasonal fare 

click to enlarge Confit sweet potato, pickled pearl onion, maple and brown sugar aioli, nori dust, sesame seed.

Tom Perkins

Confit sweet potato, pickled pearl onion, maple and brown sugar aioli, nori dust, sesame seed.

A lot and very little has changed since we first reviewed Gather in July. Prices are still low enough to make the place your go-to weeknight or weekend treat. It maintains a minimal decor, with communal steel tables that promote fellowship. On a full night, you still must shout across said table to make yourself heard. Service remains heart-meltingly sweet in a way that feels genuine.

The changes are that reservations are now accepted — and that a new chef is cooking a completely new menu, which she promises to reinvent at least quarterly. In contrast with former chef Nate Vogeli's focus on the wood-fired grill, Jessie Patuano, who's worked at Chartreuse, Torino, Bacco and the Root, is centered on local purveyors, and the seasonally changing dishes such a relationship requires.

"If we can get it locally, we'll have it," says co-owner Kyle Hunt. "We're not going to go get tomatoes from California when we can't get them from Detroit. Sustainability is a big focus for us, and putting it back into the city."

click to enlarge Kale salad - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Kale salad

For example, the autumn menu has lots of fall vegetables, such as pumpkin, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes. As those products get used up, the bill of fare will give way to a more meat-and-potatoes vibe. Patuano says she's turned her attention from the produce farmers at Eastern Market across the street to the animal farmers in metro Detroit.

When Patuano cooks a vegetable, though, it's no afterthought side dish; it's sizable and comes with its own accessories. If you order the smoked new potato, for instance, it might come with black olives, hard-boiled eggs, feta, arugula and a sauce of preserved lemons.

I devoured the pumpkin gnocchi, representing fall in all of its glory, where the firm little pillows, the orange-brown butter, the roasted squash, sage, chili, and Parmesan all blended in a festival of umami. A big mound of Brussels sprouts roasted with hazelnuts was an inspired pairing, with raclette cheese both bringing it all together and gilding the lily.

Firm carrots are served with their tops alongside orange segments, carrot agrodolce (a supremely simple glazed recipe with sugar and vinegar) and "dirt," a mixture of coffee, coriander, pumpernickel bread crumbs, caraway seeds, black cardomam, and cocoa nibs — "aromatic but earthy flavors," as Patuano says.

click to enlarge Terrine grilled bacon wrapped pork terrine, country bread, smoked apple butter, plum mustard, pickled pepper relish, fresh greens - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Terrine grilled bacon wrapped pork terrine, country bread, smoked apple butter, plum mustard, pickled pepper relish, fresh greens

Her thick golden beet soup, with just a touch of heat, is perhaps the beetiest I've tasted — she hasn't felt the need to gussy or disguise it, though the crunch and salt of toasted pepitas are decidedly additions, not distractions.

And baba ganoush on glistening house-made flatbread could compete with that of any Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn — and likely win. It's darker, more subtle, supremely smoky, and generous.

Which is not to say that Patuano's meat dishes aren't stellar too. One of my very favorites was a warm sandwich of bacon-wrapped pork terrine on house-made country bread. I swear I could taste each of the other elements — smoked apple butter, plum mustard, pickled pepper relish — separately. (Regular readers know that one of my criteria for excellence is that a dish not be all one taste.) In December, Patuano began offering a lamb terrine on focaccia with labneh and muhammara, a roasted red pepper and walnut spread.

A trio of little chorizo empanadas seemed as cheesy as meaty. They're served with a first-class, complex salsa with a base of tomatillos.

The ice cream machine was down the week I visited, but a warm oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookie baked and served in a skillet filled the gap well. What could better say "cold weather be damned"? My friend and I ate it with a spoon.

click to enlarge Potato with smoked new potato, black olives, hard boiled eggs, feta, arugula, preserved lemon sauce - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Potato with smoked new potato, black olives, hard boiled eggs, feta, arugula, preserved lemon sauce

The wine and beer list is simple, with just two reds and two whites planned, and one beer each in five broad categories. Cocktails follow the seasonal theme, with spiced cranberry vodka, bourbon with maple syrup, and even a whiskey cider slushie. Happy hour is 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

I feel compelled to mention again the service at Gather, which was so warm and attentive I wondered if I'd been spotted as a reviewer, but my companion, who had a better view of the scene, assured me that everyone was getting the same treatment.

Also, sweetly, Gather's placemat menu urges customers to check out the competition — nearby restaurants — as well as Gather's own purveyors. "The farmers are selling produce on the weekends so we can tell people where they are, which shed," says Hunt. And it actually seems plausible that diners would be so turned on by Patuano's fabulous food that they would ask for the farmer's number.

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