Last weekend, Logan and I found ourselves with an actual day free. No, really - a WHOLE DAY, all to ourselves, and neither of us were sick for once! So we went to Ikea, and then we drove into Detroit to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (well worth a visit, especially if you like art that is of the contemporary variety).
But 5 o'clock rolled around, and we were thrown out of the museum, so... what to do with ourselves? We sat in the parking lot, not quite ready for dinner but not wanting to drive back to Ann Arbor, either. After some poking around online, and a brief drive through Detroit's beautifully historic, yet empty and oft boarded-up downtown, we stopped in at Atlas Global Bistro and bellied ourselves up to the bar.
Honestly, with their 1990s era hotel chain logo and seemingly haphazard menu, we weren't expecting much. Certainly not what we found, which was a comfortable hideaway where the cocktails are crafted with homemade syrups, infusions, and bitters, and the food pulls just the right amount of inspiration from major global cuisines without feeling muddled.
We started out with a round of drinks. Surprise...
My summer julip, on the left, was basically a traditional mint julep (Maker's, fresh mint, simple syrup) but this one had the added medicinal kick of house-made eucalyptus bitters, which really complimented and played up the mint. Great idea. Logan ordered a vieux carre (Sazerac rye, Henessey, Benedictine, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Lemon, Peychaud's and Angostura) which he enjoyed, though it was a little sweeter than he'd expected. Still a very well-made drink, and we had a great time sipping and chatting with the bartender, who seriously knows his stuff.
We were starting to get a bit peckish and placed an order for a bar snack. These are "Mediterranean Beet Lollipops and Beer. Petite Purple Beets. Beer Batter, Horseradish and Cream." I was kind of expecting a fritter for some reason, but that's not what we got.
No! We got perfectly fried dense little nuggets of completely solid beets, in a delicious batter that was very much like that you'd find on a corndog. The mild horseradish cream was exactly right to cut the beets' sweetness. Plus, they were so fun to eat!
We move from the bar to a table after the jump:
After we polished off our beets and aperitifs, we were seated at a very pretty corner window table with a terrific view of the light-filled restaurant.
After some debate, we decided to stick to the appetizers and salads portion of the menu. We asked the waiter if he could please course our selections, and he said he'd be happy to.
But first, bread!
Er... does anyone else think something's a little off here? I mean, a PLASTIC ramekin? Aren't porcelain ones like 59 cents at the local restaurant supply joint? Odd. But, hey, the bread was nice and warm, and the butter wasn't a solid sphere of ice, so in the end no biggie.
The first dishes to arrive were "Indiana Duck Leg Confit: Maple Leaf Farms Duck Leg. Pecan Buckwheat Blini. Espresso Demi-Glace." and "Seared Essex County Mushrooms: Griddled Wild Mushrooms Deglazed with Soy Vinegar. Water Chestnut and Wilted Pea Tendrils." We were a little confused by this coursing choice, since these two appetizers were much heavier than the others we'd ordered.
The confit was very nice, rich with a perfectly browned skin. I enjoyed the blini, which were studded with meaty pecans, and the espresso demi-glace with its slight bitterness from coffee was a good counterpoint to the rich duck.
The mushrooms, perhaps unsurprisingly given the menu description, had a strong Asian influence, so of course I found them immensely enjoyable. They were big, earthy bites, sweet with a bit of sourness. The crunch of the water chestnuts was welcome.
The next appetizer course came out soon after. Here we have "Vodka and Oregano Baked Bulgarian Feta: Mediterranean Goat's Milk Cheese. Roasted Sweet Pepper Piperade. Sherry. Lemon." and "Vietnamese Fried Noddle & Spicy Sausage: House Made Sausage. Egg Noodle Strings. Micro Herbs. Dip."
I don't know if it was because I was already filling up from our heavier first appetizer course, but I didn't like these nearly as much. The baked feta was adorable in its little paper bag, but between the salty cheese, the salty caper-filled piperade, and the lemon, the overall effect of this dish was just too salty. Unfortunate, because each of the components were really tasty by themselves.
The Vietnamese meatballs, on the other hand, suffered from a bit of blandness (though that might just have been in relation to the salty feta). I liked their little nest of noodles, but sausage meatballs themselves didn't have much flavor. Ah well.
Atlas had a special that night that we just had to try - popcorn chowder. It came out with our last course, the oddly named "French Moroccan Marinated Greens. Leaf Watercress, Romaine Heart, Orange, Hazelnut Bressline, Petite Basque, Spice Vinaigrette." When we ordered, Logan asked the waiter the obvious question - are the greens marinated? He looked at the menu, confused, and said "Uh... that must be a holdover from a previous salad". Huh.
See what I mean here about the coursing? Unless the waiter meant for us to have the salad as a dessert course because he thought we looked French or something, doesn't this seem exactly backwards? Starting with duck confit and mushrooms, moving to a cheese and sausage course, and THEN the salad?
Anyhoo, I was solidly back in love territory with these dishes. The popcorn chowder was a thick sweet corn soup, with chunks of corn and potato. The popcorn topping added a nice crunch. Logan thought that the soup should perhaps have been pureed so the different texture of the popcorn really stood out, which I agree would be a good idea.
The salad was light and delicious, with candied hazelnuts and beautifully formed flowers of petite basque, a semi-soft piquant cheese that's one of my favorites. The greens were so nice and fresh!
I should tell you that all of these dishes went really nicely with our wine, the L. Mawby Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes actually grown in northern Michigan. Yay, bubbles! L. Mawby was mentioned in a recent Food and Wine article about Michigan's wine country, and I was excited to see them on the wine list. The blanc de blanc was very good, all tartness and apple spice. We were ridiculously thrilled to be given bottle 0001 of 3660, too, though I don't think our waiter truly grasped the awesomeness of the situation.
But we weren't done there, no sirree! On to dessert!
I, uh, didn't take a picture of this, but Logan and I are fairly sure that it's champagne sorbet with berry pearls and toasted juniper. This light coolness was just right to end our meal. The combination of the slight alcohol taste of the sorbet and the juniper combined to create the sensation of drinking a gin and tonic! The little tart berry pearls were very cute and added a bit of a party vibe. Unless the party was compliments of the sherry...
The bottom line? I'd love to go back to Atlas. Though I didn't love everything we tried, the menu was full of intriguing selections. And that bar! I can't wait to go back and sample more of their housemade bitters and infusions. Too bad they're a half-hour drive away!
Atlas Global Bistro is at 3111 Woodward in Detroit, MI. Phone 313.831.2241.
Thanks for showing us a great time, Detroit! We'll be back.