Artful entrees

Jan 13, 1999 at 12:00 am

A lady in a funny hat came by to say hello, perhaps a little shyly, on New Year’s Eve.

"Hi," we said back, faintly surprised, and a passing waiter informed us, "That’s Lorraine."

Lorraine Platman, former art history major, now the creative director of Sweet Lorraine’s, puts her personal stamp on all the dishes that come out of her long-lived and perennially popular flagship kitchen in Southfield.

"Food as art," says a former busboy, which is as good a summary as any.

Sweet Lorraine’s excellent food borrows from a host of cuisines. Take the Jamaican jerk steak — even my co-diner, who usually claims to care more about quantity than quality, was making those involuntary happy squeaky noises.

The strip steak is smoky and peppery, with crisp fat and an excellent black bean/onion/pineapple chutney.

Or consider the shrimp-chicken-sausage gumbo. One mark of the artist as cook is the ability to keep separate flavors distinct yet complementary. Too many gumbos and stew-type dishes taste all the same throughout. But in Lorraine’s gumbo the flavors change depending on which particular shrimp or baby corn you’re chomping.

For the same reason, I found the Long Island duck, a New Year’s special, somewhat disappointing. Despite a long list of ingredients, one of which was a tangerine and green peppercorn glaze, everything tasted pretty much like an orange. (This dish came with a flaky puff pastry "box" on the side.)

A wild mushroom cassoulet tasted simply of red wine. But the white and green asparagus that came with it, in two elegant bundles tied with a scallion, were quite simply the best I’ve ever had. The waitress investigated and reported that they were topped with the same dressing as used on some salads, a mustard vinaigrette with white wine and tarragon. These are the sorts of recipes that make me ask why I don’t do this at home.

The BLT pizza sounds hearty but isn’t. It’s mostly bacon, on a super-thin whole wheat crust — and superb. Next time, I’d like to try the basil-mascarpone pasta or lobster ravioli, and friends swear by the salmon with dried cherry salsa.

Another fabulous salad dressing is the balsamic roasted garlic vinaigrette. In fact, there’s a goodly list of dressings, befitting the excellent salads. Even the modest "garden" includes walnuts and interesting greens, and "Lorraine’s special" uses pears, blue cheese, hazelnuts and dried cranberries.

One soup hit, one missed: Excellent, buttery, thick potato-leek puree, and then overly sweet Thai corn chowder.

Desserts are out of this world. An English trifle embraced cherries, blueberries and whipped cream.

I turned up my nose when my daughter ordered a brownie — but Lorraine calls it an "adult brownie." Crusty, drowning in Kahlua syrup, and who would have thought vanilla ice cream could be so good?

Lorraine offers a long list of wines, fancy drinks and beers (I counted at least 11 beer countries, including Jamaica and Australia).

There’s one very odd and false note at Sweet Lorraine’s. It’s odder than the mannequins seated at tables suspended above the first floor, and so odd that I asked a staffer, are these businesses for real? They are. At seated eye level on the walls in the ladies’ rooms, small posters advertise such establishments as a Southfield tanning parlor; Super Spy, Inc. (for surveillance), and a collection agency. My favorite was a Livonia diet doctor touting injections that will lose you a pound a day.

"Oh, they’ll put up advertising just about anywhere nowadays," said the staffer. "You’re a captive audience." If you can think of anything tackier than paid restroom advertising, let me know.

That aside, one Sweet Lorraine’s regular says he likes it because they pay just the right amount of attention to the food. Yes.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].