Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Game between games

Posted By on Wed, Jan 5, 2000 at 12:00 AM

With entrées priced as much as $60 each, do you have the right to expect perfection?

Iridescence is the MotorCity Casino’s top-of-the-line restaurant, promised to be "as fine a restaurant as you will find anywhere in the world." (So sayeth the MCC’s Web site.)

With a name like Iridescence, I expected to walk into a room of shimmering pastels, maybe with an allusion to the Wonder Bread factory — remember those polka dots on the wrapper? But the designer didn’t take any chances with humor. The atmosphere is dark and elegant, with an ivory and black color scheme. Upholstered seating makes the tables as comfortable as the booths, and keeps the noise level low.

The restaurant had been open for a week when we dined, and the staff still had the just-opened jitters, but the service was above reproach. As our server poured coffee, holding the tray just behind my right ear, I could hear the china chattering from her nervousness.

"Not an easy job," I commented. I could hear the relief in her voice as she concurred.

Wild mushroom soup "Foresterier" is served with a little island of wild leek custard, topped with an assemblage of fried leek and parsnip ribbons. The soup is poured from a small pot into your bowl at the table. "Perfect," I thought with my first spoonful.

The foie gras platter presents duck liver prepared three ways: pan-seared (briefly), chilled terrine and as a mousse. The garnishes made this appetizer sublime: kumquat-huckleberry chutney, raspberry-poached pear, and grilled brioche with cassis-currant marmalade. The Vietnamese spring rolls include three fillings: barbecued pork, shrimp and crab.

Executive Master Chef Michael Russell’s menu emphasizes game and fish, and will change monthly. Manager Larry Trosko points out that most casinos have a steak house as their upscale restaurant. "We’re breaking the mold," he says.

Wild boar (not surprisingly, tastes like pork), Muscovy duck and McFarland pheasant are the game offerings. Fish entrées are Chilean sea bass, Maine lobster, monkfish and bouillabaisse.

Angus beef, veal loin and rack of lamb are also served.

My co-diner ordered the duck, which was excellent. And boneless! It was glazed in a ginger-orange sauce, and came with a slice of candied orange and a slice of very mild candied ginger.

One of the neat things about Chef Russell’s menu is that the vegetables are chosen to complement each dish. There are no sides "du jour" here. This attention to detail elevates Iridescence above most fine dining establishments.

I was less pleased with the bouillabaisse that I ordered. I usually love the broth, which is seasoned with tomatoes and saffron, but this was murky and salty, kind of reminiscent of low tide. The shellfish were yummy, especially the Cape Ann sea scallops, but the three gigantic prawns were sadly overcooked. And where was the aïoli?

Desserts, created by pastry chef Tariq Hanna, are showstoppers. I recommend the Key lime florentine, in which tangy lime mousse alternates with sweet, crunchy hazelnut florentines that are like a lacy peanut brittle. My only complaint is that the portions are so modest that one might feel curmudgeonly about sharing with co-diners, and that would be a shame.


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