The odds are high, in chef-owned restaurants, that the kitchen talent is sizable, the food can be quite creative and prices are often moderate. Its a genre that rarely fails to please. Chefs Cuisine, owned and operated by Michael and Cathy Hall, is in the majority.
Chef Michael, a graduate of Schoolcraft Colleges culinary arts program, has worked in many acclaimed restaurants and hotels. He opened this little place with his wife, and with help from three sons: Andrew as a server, Gregory in the kitchen and 14-year-old Oliver pitching in as a dishwasher. Weve all put our hearts and souls into this place, chef Michael says.
Its a long drive from Detroit, but a very pretty one (there are three state parks in the area). The 44-seat restaurant is a surprising lime-green on the outside with hand-painted grapevines around the front door. Inside, the single dining room has a classic feel, with long floral curtains, candles on the tables, comfortable wooden chairs and white-on-white embossed linen.
With most entrées priced at less than $20, including a choice of soup or a lovely house salad garnished with dried cherries and pine nuts, the menu includes both old favorites and some very unusual dishes, all presented with a sophisticated flair. All entrées include hand-cut, freshly steamed seasonal vegetables. One evening the soup du jour was watermelon gazpacho. The recipe was true to the tomato base of a traditional gazpacho a cold Spanish soup made of finely diced uncooked vegetables and to its traditional spiciness, but lightened and sweetened by the watermelon. The soup is garnished with diced Granny Smith apples and cucumbers.
Walleye is offered in two forms: sautéed with leeks and served with a fricassee of lobster and crab on pasta. I chose the simpler preparation: encrusted with herbs and pine nuts. Here the walleye is deboned and pan-fried until the crust is crisp, making it the perfect foil for the mild, buttery fish. Its topped with brown butter, capers and lemon juice, and served with oven-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. Since I was going with a Great Lakes specialty, I matched it with a crisp and fruity Pinot Gris from Chateau Fontaine, a Leelanau winery.
Eggplant lasagna theres no pasta involved was a favorite at our table. The lack of noodles in no way diminished the quality of this dish. The eggplant, which is coated in panko a Japanese bread crumb thats very dry and produces a very light crust is pan-fried in olive oil and layered with dense tomato sauce, plenty of basil, as well as Parmesan and fontina cheeses, all piled on top of a portobello mushroom.
Another vegetarian entrée used portobellos again, this time finely diced as a filling for ravioli, served with mild cream sauce spiked with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan.
Our one disappointment was the crab cake appetizer. Too much bread overwhelmed the crab. But the presentation was stunning a swirl of three different sauces encircles the crab cake, looking like a jeweled necklace. A balsamic reduction is overlaid with Dijon mustard sauce and sweet red pepper puree.
One of the most popular menu items is sirloin steak cooked a la plancha, on a cast-iron grill. Chef Michael says the grill is heated until super-hot, almost white, then the meat is seared and presented with sautéed mushrooms, shallots and crisp-fried Vidalia onions.
Of specials, a favorite is New Zealand elk tenderloin medallions. The venison is marinated in crushed juniper, garlic, peppercorns and olive oil, and served with red wine-horseradish sauce.
Desserts are all made on site and include warm carrot cake with caramel sauce, chocolate mousse, crème brûlée and an ice cream-filled cream puff.
Chef Michael does not describe himself as a creative soul who chafed at working in other peoples restaurants. His restaurant was born of pure pragmatism.
He was downsized out of a job, and rather than relocate both he and Cathy grew up in the area they decided to open their own business.
Fortunately, there was the talent to back it up.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].