Sweet and Downtown

Jan 14, 2004 at 12:00 am

It’s about time Lorraine Platman decided to grace downtown. This is her fourth restaurant in the area, so what took her so long? (A fifth restaurant, in Ann Arbor, closed in 2000.) Platman’s new location is in the Courtyard by Marriott in the Millender Center, her second collaboration with the hotel chain.

Sweet Lorraine’s is an area mainstay that deserves its longtime popularity. Although the newest location experienced some opening-month glitches and the food is not quite as fabulous as I remember in the burbs, the new place should be well on its way to improving the quality of lunchtime life for the thousands of GM employees across the street, as for the rest of us.

The new spot’s decor combines some of the whimsy of the Southfield location — cool tiled columns at the entrance and a giant mural of orange and yellow fruit — with what must be leftover decoration from Marriott’s former restaurant there.

“It’s very airport,” said my companion, though I would call the booths’ upholstery more like airplane. (Platman: “It’s a challenge mixing two cultures.”) Of the music, let’s just say it’s mixed in genre and quality.

As to service: It doesn’t upset me when the server can’t remember who ordered what — there are worse sins — but be forewarned, this could happen to you at Sweet Lorraine’s downtown. As I queued at the rest room, two other parties discussed the cluelessness of their server, and I hoped they were talking about mine, since two would be too many.

As for fare, Platman has brought her customers’ veteran favorites downtown, such as maple-cured salmon, pecan chicken and “Lorraine’s special salad” with Gorgonzola, pears, hazelnuts and cranberries. She continues to offer a generous array of specials.

What’s more, she’s susceptible to pressure. Platman told me, “I get e-mails that say, ‘I saw you on TV and you said you put something back on the menu because customers wanted it, and I want this dish with lemon and peppercorn sauce and Havarti cheese, and could you PLEASE do it?’ And I’m reading this and thinking, ‘Sure!’”

I mention this in order to orchestrate a groundswell for champagne shrimp bisque, which I ordered right before New Year’s. Definitely one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted: somehow the delicate champagne taste is not smothered; it’s rich without being heavy, and the alcohol kick with seafood is out of the ordinary. So call before you go, and if it’s not being offered, offer to wash Platman’s car if she’ll put it on the menu.

A tomato cognac soup, on the other hand, is creamy and fine, but the cognac is not evident, and a turkey-rice soup is just spicy.

I know a former Sweet Lorraine’s busboy, Lee, who is now a Sweet Lorraine’s regular diner (he’s come up in the world). Lee says that Platman’s hallmark is to “pay just the right amount of attention to the food.” She calls her food “World Beat,” with appropriations from a multitude of cuisines: Jamaican, Japanese, Creole, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and American. The American is found in the sandwiches, steaks and mashed potatoes. Cranberries and cherries are prominent in many dishes, so if you don’t like fruit with your entrée, choose carefully.

“We’re not subtle. We like to knock people’s socks off,” Platman says, and that is evident in dishes like the very sharp Caesar salad and the Traverse City smoked chicken and cherry pasta, where the sweet dried cherries compete with Gorgonzola and spiced walnuts. It’s a bit much.

Platman steps back a bit with mikado salmon, a pretty, sushi-inspired dish. Pink salmon and white crab are coiled around each other inside a shell of crunchy Japanese nori, and the dish is sublime. Similarly, crab wontons have a delicate and creamy filling, and six make a generous appetizer.

Also delicious is a humongous portion of broiled tilapia brushed with aioli and served on garlic mashed potatoes — you’re better off sharing here. The sweet baby carrots are good but don’t go with the rest of the dish.

Bright red ravioli are used in a vegetarian dish with a mild porcini mushroom flavor. This dish has a gravy-like sauce, unusual for vegetarians, that is good at the table but doesn’t survive carryout. Lobster ravioli is pleasant enough, with a spicy tomato sauce, but the lobster taste is just not there. More successful is a tortellini entrée with portobellos and eggplant — two rich, sexy flavors in one.

I like the “red, white and greens” salad with its perfect spinach leaves, Gorgonzola, bacon and, yes, cranberries. And as long as the season lasts, ask for eggnog cheesecake for dessert. The nutmeg flavor is well served by the cranberry marmalade that makes up the sauce.

Read more at www.sweetlorraines.com. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s likely to be mobbed for the auto show, but only parties of six or more can reserve.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].