(Find photos of Standard Bistro & Larder's excellent dishes here.)
There's really not much in southeast Michigan's suddenly exciting dining scene like the Standard Bistro and Larder, chef Alex Young's new French restaurant. For all the flavors that you couldn't find here a decade ago, this is the only spot where one can discover the range in France's cuisine, and get it all made from scratch.
Does Young offer pot-a-feu, housemade boudin blanc, a deep wine list, pappardelle pulled in house, lamb hand-butchered in the kitchen, and Marseille bouillabaisse for which the complex base takes two days to build? Yes, and that's all presented in a manicured and tasteful restaurant in a commercial district on Ann Arbor's outskirts.
If Young's name sounds familiar, it's because he won a 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef In The Midwest during his Zingerman's Roadhouse stint, and he was the last Michigan chef to win in that category.
But this is his next thing, and while Detroit has several young, gifted chefs on their first restaurants — and they're receiving a lot of deserved attention — we don't see in these parts many chefs of that caliber who are a bit older and more experienced. Imagine what your favorite star Detroit chef will be doing in 20 years. That's Young and Standard. He's been cooking French food for 43 years so there's nothing clumsy in his operation, and there's refinement that's hard to achieve at your career's outset.
Standard is highly labor-intensive partly because that's what French cuisine is — the process, the technique — and partly because everything — mayo, sauerkraut, bread, pasta, preserves, sausages, olives, and so on — is made from scratch in Standard's kitchen. Most of the meat and produce is sourced from local farms, though the lamb for the merguez sausage, for example, comes from the reputable Jamison Farm in western Pennsylvania.
About half of Standard's menu is seafood, owing to the long Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines that offer France a bounty of bivalves, salmon, and more. Also, Young previously worked at a California fish market, so he's got some deep knowledge of seafood, and presents dishes like whole sea bass provencal with fennel, roasted tomato, capers, and preserved lemon; and a lobster-saffron farro ravioli.
The Marseille bouillabaisse — a dish native to Marseille on France's Mediterranean coast — offers a mild-but-complex broth driven by saffron, orange zest, and leeks. The soup holds shrimp, fish, crab, clams, mussels, and a crostini smeared with a red pepper and garlic-anchored rouille. It's a recipe Young learned 27 years ago while working at a California French restaurant, and that's the base that takes his team about two days to build.
The mussels frites — which can be ordered as an appetizer ($15) or a second plate that's larger and includes pomme frites ($25) — hold a deep, rich buttery broth with acidic bites of yellow preserved lemon, hunks of deep red roasted tomatoes, white beans, and small discs of spicy, earthy merguez sausage. The latter is a lamb sausage native to North Africa that's popular in France and tasty with harissa, cumin, coriander, and other spices. Those bob among big, plump, buttery mussels sourced from Maine's Blue Hill Bay. The sum is a bright and flavorful composition that Young says is the restaurant's most popular dish.
In the first plates is a Vietnamese salmon cake, a small puck built like a crab cake over greens ringed by crumbled peanuts, coconut shreds, and lime.
Back on land, the boudin blanc is a white sausage that's cool and smooth, and traditionally made in France's northeast border near Belgium and Germany. It's also made in Young's kitchen, and is prepared with cream, which, coupled with its emulsification, provides the relatively smooth texture. Young serves the sausage — which he describes as elevated knackwurst — under a tangled pile of sauerkraut and dijon aioli on a big, crusty baguette.
Standard's chicken fricassee is a homey dish with a huge portion of boneless chicken set among artichoke hearts, large hunks of shiitake mushroom, dark green artichoke sprigs, and bright green parsley. That's all served in a salty brown sauce that pops from a hit of dry vermouth and plenty of garlic.
One thing that might jump off the menu is the number of Italian dishes. Young notes that in France's bistros you'll find everything from curry to Italian fare. The bolognese has some personal meaning, as it's the first dish that Young's mom taught him to make years ago, and his take on porchetta is excellent.
Another of the menu's bright spots is the duck confit crepe appetizer. A soft, thin pancake is folded around a generous amount of super tender, flavorful duck. That's wrapped with green and purple greens and creamy, pungent taleggio cheese that oozes out of the package.
An equally exceptional first dish is the saffron emmer pappardelle, a dish of housemade, wide, flat, yellow pasta that's zapped with a green ramp pesto, red tomato concasse, and big crumbles of soft, white farm cheese.
The menu also offers a short selection of French salads that French food novices will recognize, like the jardiniere, a mix of greens, carrots, red bell peppers, roasted asparagus, and a soaking of punchy, mustardy vinaigrette.
For dessert, the fruit tart is a mix of fresh strawberries, raspberries, kiwi in a cup of vanilla pastry cream — the presentation is beautiful, and the built-in Rorschach test is a fun way to end an impressive meal.
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