The story of Feng Taste in suburban Farmington Hills begins in downtown Detroit at the famous Joe Muer Seafood. The high-end eatery set out to reclaim its legendary status back in 2011 when it reopened inside the Renaissance Center. Chief among the changes to its menu, was the addition of sushi, expertly made by veteran master sushi chef Yue Feng Cao.
While there, Cao — who had spent a decade honing his skills at places like Benihana in Troy and Fishbone's in Greektown — prepared several critically acclaimed designer rolls, including the signature Joe Muer Roll: salmon, shrimp, cucumber, and avocado rolled up and topped with tuna, spicy mayo, and crunchy tempura batter. (Back when we reviewed the place in 2012, the Joe Muer Roll went for $14.) Fans loved the beautiful presentation of his work, the perfect stickiness of the rice, and the excellent quality of the fish.
With that sort of applause, Cao could have comfortably ridden out the rest of his culinary career downtown, now a confirmed dining hotspot. Instead, he wanted to leave a legacy of his own, for his four children. So he made sure his team at Joe Muer was well-equipped to carry on without him, and, last fall, quietly opened the doors to his own restaurant, situated on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Orchard Lake Road. True, it's not as sexy a location as Detroit center would be, but what it lacks in a hip ZIP code is more than made up for with his creations at the sushi bar. And this time, he can offer his expertise at much less intimidating price.
Feng Taste sits in a strip mall in the former New Sahara Middle Eastern restaurant. Cao spent eight months rehabbing the entire interior. He had carpet ripped out, and replaced it with tile, tore down walls to expand the kitchen, and got rid of a pizza oven to make room for the sushi bar. Multicolored lamps dangling from the ceiling, dark wood tabletops, and touches of Japanese and Chinese decor give the space a modern, yet simple look.
In the first four months in business, the place seemed to us on our two visits to have yet to attract a big crowd; most of the tickets appear to come from carryout orders. The light traffic, though, offers more familiar service when dining in. Cao and his one or two front-of-the-house staff are quick and gracious about taking your order.
The menu draws inspiration from both Cao's years of sushi training and his Chinese roots — with nothing over $12. Appetizers are heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine, with several tempura offerings, pork gyoza, a number of salads, soups, and small nigiri and sashimi plates. We started with the gyoza, miso soup, and ebi su (a cucumber and seaweed salad). Our dining partner also tried the wonton soup. The first thing we noticed was portion size. They are decidedly large. The gyoza, whose outer dough was nice and crispy and pork filling lightly seasoned, came out six per serving. The soups were not in the usual dainty cup, but rather decently sized bowls so we can really enjoy the flavors a bit longer. The ebi su, consisting of thinly sliced, almost translucent cucumber and seaweed, was soaked in ponzu sauce, with delicately cut pieces of shrimp for a fanciful garnish, and again served in a sharable portion.
Our dining partner indulged in Chinese-American favorites: on one occasion the General Tao's chicken, with broccoli and white rice, another time, a lunch special of Szechuan chicken. Both came out bountiful, with more than enough to take home and enjoy the next day. The General Tao's was rich in that tangy sauce and the skin crispy, not overly fried. The pieces of broccoli were quite large and also had a crunchiness to them, suggesting freshness. The Szechuan chicken had just the right amount of heat, but was not tongue-burning. As for that wonton soup, the dumplings were like savory pockets of goodness, made more so with the soothing broth.
While we were intrigued by several sections of the menu, including a few hot noodle soup selections, we wanted to test Cao's sushi-making skills. We opted for several nigiri pieces (diners have the option to select nigiri-style sushi that comes on top of a ball of rice or sashimi, without rice) and special rolls. The freshness of our raw fish selections of yellowtail, red snapper, salmon, and scallop was apparent. There was nothing dry about it, and the rice was nice and sticky. As for the rolls, Cao rebranded some of his most popular Joe Muer creations with names fitting his new suburban environs. What he had called the Renaissance Roll downtown, has been tweaked and is known as the Orchard Lake Roll ($9). Prepared with spicy tuna, tempura shrimp, cucumber, white tuna, green onion, and then torched with special sauce, the Orchard Lake is an unabashedly lavish feast in roll form.
Perhaps just as appetizing as the variety of classic Japanese and Chinese comfort food is the great care Cao takes in preparing his meals. On one occasion, we sat at the sushi bar and watched a calm come over his face as he pieced the rice together, sliced the fish with precision, and added artful touches with the sauces and torch. Clearly, he is most at ease when he's behind that counter, and we're excited he has found a space of his own to please fans for years to come.