Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Heaven is in the details

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The Century Club is a stunning place, a glorious mission-style building with impeccably restored woodwork, gleaming brass, leaded glass, ornate chandeliers and glowing Pewabic tile. In our tear-it-down-and-build-something-cheap-in-its-place society, thanks must be given to developer Charles Forbes for restoring the Gem Theatre and Century Club, and moving it five blocks, out of the reach of Comerica Park’s wrecking ball.

The dining room, in rich red hues, has a hushed elegance with upholstered chairs and thick carpeting. It was raining very hard the first evening we ate there, and I ran inside while my date parked the car. When he came in, he draped his wet raincoat over an extra chair and sat down. Our server glided up, handed us menus, then – without a word – picked up the soggy coat and spread it out so it would be dry when we left.

"Thank goodness it was a Burberry," said my dining companion. No one needs to know that he bought it secondhand for $10.

Chef George Hamiel describes the food at the Century Club as "upscale American." He and executive chef Shirley Robertson came up with a menu culled from their years of experience.

"We wanted hearty, not arty," Hamiel laughs.

The menu features solid favorites, heavily weighted toward meat-lovers, as well as vegetarian crepes and two fish entrées.

What sets it apart is the attention to detail. Pats of butter are molded in two different flower designs. Lemons are wrapped in yellow cheesecloth to strain out the seeds. Crumbs are brushed from the table before the dessert tray is presented.

We began our meal with an appetizer of crisp crab cakes served with chipotle-seasoned mayonnaise. A bowl of rich potato soup helped to soothe my companion from his encounter with the weather, while I ordered a perfect salad of baby greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

My choice of sea scallops was not a high point, served on a bed of sautéed greens that could have been my salad, with balsamic-dressed angel-hair pasta.

The Jack Daniel’s ribs that my co-diner ordered, on the other hand, were outstanding. I was trying to save room for dessert when he insisted I try the coleslaw hiding under the ribs. It was fantastic, a mix of red and green cabbage with a rich nutty flavor that I couldn’t quite place.

Later chef Hamiel generously shared the recipe. It was toasted coconut and a can of Coco Lopez cream of coconut that accounted for the unusual flavor.

When our inscrutable server, Sikandar, arrived with the dessert tray, we chose a cake basket filled with fresh berries, topped with a stripe of whipped cream that appeared to be the basket’s handle. Later he asked me, very seriously, "What would you do to improve it?" It was already perfect – not an overboard dessert, just a lovely ending to a lovely meal.

We returned on a Sunday morning for brunch, which was also a lovely occasion and much less expensive, with the priciest entrée at $11.

A warning: There are two theaters in the same building (the Gem Theatre and the Century Theatre), which can jam up the reservations desk especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

(George Hamiel, the Century Club's chef de cuisine, shares his Caribbean Coleslaw recipe with Metro Times readers.)

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