Zin Wine Bar & Restaurant
555 Forest Ave., Plymouth
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
The former owners had a cuter name — Grape Expectations. The new name came about because the owners' wives like Zinfandel, according to chef Justin Vaiciunas. Open under new ownership since last fall, Zin has a more ambitious menu — with sections disconcertingly named "Land," "Sea" and "Pizza" — and a wine list was constructed by Joseph Allerton, the sommelier for downtown Detroit's Roast. It's set up for tastes, $2.50-$4.50 for 2 ounces, and designed not to break the bank.
I let my wine buff friends order (one of them is a joy to eat out with, invariably pronouncing at least one dish "the best I've ever had"). We were all delighted by a creamy Argentinean Malbec and a Spanish Tempranillo. OK, and also by a Valpolicella and a Napa Cab. Less so by a Sangiovese and an Oregon pinot noir. (No Zinfandels were ordered.)
The crowd was younger than you usually see in a restaurant where Land and Sea range from $16 to $25, but maybe they were all eating pizza.
Every dish we ordered at Zin's dinnertime was excellent, and the brunch dishes were not far behind. One cavil about brunch is that the menu is limited to eggy fare, though the hours extend to 3 p.m. (You can get a lunch menu if you're pushy.)
The small plates list steps out of the usual with "sushi-style" short-rib roll and a crab Japanese pancake with Japanese mayo, two of the most popular orders. I was suspicious of soybean hummus, but I have never tasted such intense wild mushrooms as in Zin's "Forest Mushroom Pot." A small jar of the fungi are topped with a quail's egg; the flavors, achieved by sautéing in apple cider and adding cinnamon and cloves, are like mushrooms multiplied. A fig bruschetta was fine but would have been better with more fig purée. Shrimp with sriracha aioli and house-marinated olives are other possibilities.
After a brief debate over whether to order "Michigan Spinach Salad" ("It's a cliché," "But they'll probably do it well"), hopes were justified. It was the pears that made the difference — there are no cherries! — and the chèvre was applied in a smear rather in chunks, as a subtler addition. Smears on the plate seem to be a favorite of Vaiciunas (as is truffle oil), and they're not always nice to look at, especially when brown.
That was my only criticism of the Brussels sprouts, cooked perfectly and served with white beans and roasted onions, a lot of flavors going on and pervading each other. Both were dishes to order again, and only $8.
Equally fine was a large rainbow trout, prettily pink, totally moist with a thin crust, cooked with cilantro and chard and truffle oil: exquisite and unusual flavors. Pork tenderloin was more standard but served atop some hash browns that were thoroughly imbued with juices from roasted carrots and garlic.
Salmon and duck confit risotto are the most-ordered items — the latter a surprise when New York strip and tenderloin tips are also on the menu. Vaiciunas promises at least a half-pound if you order the $25 scallops.
I tried the duck confit in a brunch frittata, and it was abundant and succulent, served on the same excellent hash browns, surrounded by a semicircle of cream cheese and radish slices.
My companion's huevos rancheros were more omelet-like than huevos-like, but smoky and generous. A seafood frittata was munificent with scallops and shrimp. Cheese grits were tasty but kind of weird: They had the good gritty texture of grits with none of the usual flavors, which was only to be expected when the menu said "port wine reduction, wild mushrooms, truffle oil." No hint of cheese.
Desserts: When the restaurant was Grape Expectations, its crème brûlée was the best anywhere. This is from me, not my enthusiastic friend. Our server would not promise it's as good now — but it is. Just the right degrees of crackliness, barely burnt flavor and creamy insides, and a lot of raspberries atop.
Vaiciunas has signed on to the liquid nitrogen craze pioneered by chef Ferran Adrià of elBulli in Catalonia (elBulli has closed, couldn't make a profit). I ordered my chocolate mousse subjected to this treatment, and it came to the table a large, irregular, pale brown mass, not pretty. The server then poked a hole in the top and poured in more of the vaporous liquid (-321° Fahrenheit). The point (besides just playing around) is to change the structure of foods in ways that don't happen at normal temperatures. The mousse had the texture of dense ice cream, and a dense chocolate flavor too. Certainly delicious and not too far beyond the other desserts, at $9.
Zin has a lovely patio on the sidewalk. If you go for lunch or brunch, you'll be able to visit Old World Olive Press a few doors down and buy flavored oils and balsamics.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.