Over the last few months while I poured all of my time and various fluids into the making of (the soon to be epic) Scre4m, Girlie has been doing a kickass job with the blog. She's kept the corners swept and a steady supply of fresh words fluffed and primped for your reading pleasure.
But now, as God intended, I am again an unemployed house husband while the missus is out in the rat race earning the benjamins to keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed.
Unfortunately for you that means you'll be subjected to more of my crass food/travel/awesome yammerings as I attempt to pick up the slack and carry on the good show. But if you just relax and breathe into it you may enjoy it all the same.
Let's not delay the inevitable - come with me if you will on a little time warp back to merry ol' Michigan.
In between our crazy travel and work schedules, we had been trying to check out what was happening in the local restaurant scene. I was somewhat shocked and unduly excited to find out that Brian Polcyn, the meat magician who co-authored Charcuterie with the epic Michael Ruhlman, had an eatin' establishment less than an hour away from our place. Mandatory roadtrip.
With the innocuous name of Forest Grill I wasn't really sure what to expect from the menu other than heaps of cured animal parts. Speaking of which I'll take this opportunity to apologize for the impious if accurate title. It's not like the Saudis were gonna let me into Mecca anyway. Sigh.
Dressed and combed we piled into the Fit one festive Saturday and headed northeast. We made our way to the little village of Birmingham, Michigan that at first blush had a slick, nouveau riche, blandly antiseptic vibe. While I'm sure it has lots of history, it seemed to have been freshly assembled.
Our first glimpse of Forest Grill didn't help matters. The restaurant occupies the back lower section of a new mixed use development. When we pulled up, I wouldn't have been surprised to walk into a successful title company or perhaps a nice opthomology appointment.
The place was fairly busy, bustling with a decidedly older crowd that sported a touch of dusty formality.
We were early so we (naturally) headed to the bar. The cocktail list was uninspiring so Girlie ordered a pastis. The bartender carefully explained that she had no idea what that was. With a quick side shuffle Rachel shunted to Lillet. Which turned out to be Lillet Rouge but that was ok because my Cointreau turned out to be Cointreau Noir. At least they have a theme.
While I didn't love the bar I was still excited about the food. First order of bizness- charcuterie please! The waiter arrived with a lovely spread of coppa, lomo (possibly lonza but the two are so damn similar I don't know the difference) and guanciale. They were perfect. Each slice was interestingly and subtly seasoned while still showing off deep pork flavor. Plus they did that thing where if you hold a piece up to the light it looks like a stained glass window. I love that.
We had confirmed with the waiter that the prosciutto was most definitely on the charcuterie plate. When he realized it in fact was not, he awesomely brought us out a nice little side plate of it. Prosciutto! Polcyn's version is lovely- it's short aged and has great fat layers which combine to make it particularly smooth and mouth melting. It has an appealing rosy tinge and a rich savory finish.
While not strictly neccessary, the accoutrements of cornichons, celeriac and remoulade salad and roasted heirloom beets were all quite nice and certainly didn't detract from the meatfest.
Following that top-notch appetizer we had white corn agnolotti with black truffles and corn foam. Despite being known for their more carnivorous dealings, Forest Grill also excels on the vegetable front. This dish was just sick. Each little pasta packet burst with mouth coating, sweet and salty, slightly grassy velvety filling. The truffle added a bit of funk and the foam a little bit of tickle.
Best dish of the night after the jump.
While I thought that might be as good as it was going to get, the next dish of braised pork belly, pickled ramps, crispy duck egg, and frisee salad determindedly kept the bar high. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm pretty burned out on pork belly. Through some malominous pact, every chef everywhere was required to put it on the menu at the same time. However, it is still tasty and I happen to be a total sucker for ramps and duck eggs so I really couldn't pass this up.
This dish could be a mandatory test to become a chef. A bearnaise, bright and unified; a fatty cut of meat caramelized and braised to a pinpointed tenderness; a salad of bitter greens judiciously dressed with just the right touch of sweetness for balance; ramps pickled just so to highlight the wild onion with a pop of salivatory acid; a turnip puree that's silky and only hints at bitterness; a deep and viscous demi-glace, and finally a fresh duck egg immaculately soft boiled and then delicately peeled, dusted with panko and fried to a crisp golden brown all while leaving the yolk a buttery fluid gel.
I wanted to applaud. Food like this is no joke and it sure as hell ain't easy. There is some serious talent holed up somewhere in the back of Forest Grill.
After licking that plate clean, we bounced back to the vegetarian side with parisian gnocchi, spring vegetables and wild mushrooms. While not as impressive as the previous dishes (or anywhere near as pretty) the gnocchi were light and toothy with a piquant cheese undertone. The vegetables maintained a bit of snap and the mushrooms held all their appropriate earthiness.
I should mention that while we wouldn't mind seeing the bar overhauled, the wine list was quite nice. The bottle selection was well chosen with an approachable range of prices. They were out of our original selection but the waiter recommended a delightful 2006 Gérard Bertrand Minervois. It's a solid value Rhone blend that's all plum and black currant upfront. It has enough minerality to stop it from feeling jammy and then it finishes with a fun smack of dark chocolate. We've run into a lot of Gérard's wines recently and he's rapidly making my go-to list.
If I have to find a food flaw at the FG, our dessert was the weak link. We ordered the malted milk chocolate veloute with macadamia nut pate sable briton, black cherry soup, and tahitian vanilla bean gelato. Phew. I had to order another drink just to help me through all the adjectives.
The dish was ok. I'm not sure why they called the cakey thing a veloute and I wish that the bottom hadn't been totally burned but the malt flavor was nice and I've got no complaints for the fruit showcasing soup. Overall, I think the idea is sound, they just need to tweak the execution.
As we where leaving, a very amiacable line cook gave me a tour of their antique, hand cranked, sexy as hell Berkel slicer that I had been secretly mind-fondling all evening. The thing is pretty impressive, from the red enameled body to the concave blade that limits heat transference to the delicate meats.
We also had the good fortune to run into sous chef Joe Olson as he emerged from the curing room cradling a lascivious pair of lomos (lonze?!). I tried angling for a behind the scenes tour but, "blah, blah, health code violation, blah, blah blah, slippery floor, blah, don't appear trustworthy around pork products, blah." I'm not sure why it didn't happen, I wasn't really listening.
Regardless, Forest Grill was most definitely a bright spot on our Michigan sabbatical. We returned several more times for equally delightful experiences. If you live anywhere near this place, ignore the Stepford Wives environs and get your ass over there for some serious food made by people who love food. And maybe mention they should work on that cocktail program.
Birmingham, MI 48009(248) 258-9400