by Elissa Karg
Located inside the Jewish Community Center, Milk & Honey is a gourmet restaurant that happens to be kosher.
The menu is seafood and vegetarian (kosher rules forbid serving milk and meat together), and the restaurant is closed on Friday night and all day Saturday; orthodox Jews do not cook from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. In no other way will you notice that this is a kosher restaurant.
The same is not true in the kitchen. Executive chef Eric Molner says that it has been an education for him. Because the restaurant is closed on Friday and Saturday, Molner says, “The flow of everything is different. It’s confusing.” It took a month to find all the ingredients he needed, and some recipes had to be altered because kosher ingredients were not available. He has learned which brands are kosher; for example, if he orders cider vinegar, it has to be Heinz. Every object that comes into the kitchen has to be blessed, and cleaned by heating it to a high temperature or submerging it in boiling water. The process is supervised by Rabbi Joseph Krupnick from the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Metropolitan Detroit.
However, the food is as good and as varied as at any comparable restaurant. There are six seafood selections and seven vegetarian choices.
The ahi tuna ($20) is perfectly prepared. Seared at a high temperature on the outside, when you slice into it the first few millimeters are cooked, and the rest is deep red and utterly luscious. It is served with whipped potatoes and a sauce of carrot juice, reduced and spiked with ginger.
Just as good was pistachio-crusted sea bass ($19). The crunchy crust contrasted with the delicate flavor of the fish, again perfectly cooked. A sauce of passion fruit, swirled with black currant “paint” was beautiful on the plate and a nice dip for the fish. The bass is accompanied by sweet potatoes, which I thought was odd but it worked. I only wish the trend of stacking the entrée atop the potatoes had been resisted.
Other fish entrées include salmon glazed with hoisin sauce and (for the unadventurous) roadhouse-style perch with french fries.
The selection of vegetarian entrées is enough to rejuvenate the diet of even lifelong vegetarians. We tried two: wild mushroom linguine ($13) and eggplant-and-portobello lasagna ($12). Lasagna was a misnomer because this dish includes no noodles. (“That would be too easy,” says chef Molner.) Layers of eggplant and goat cheese are interspersed with a complex Bolognese sauce of tomatoes, root vegetables and mushrooms. The dish, according to our server, is the most popular on the menu, though I thought there was a little too much going on; it was hard to pick out any distinct flavors.
The mushroom linguine was excellent, with red peppers, red onions and leeks along with the mushrooms; the dish was tossed with a morel cream sauce.
To give you an idea of how special some of these dishes are, I ordered the corn chowder with fingerling potatoes on both of my visits. (I got the co-diner to try the other soup offering, wild mushroom bisque, which was fine but heavy.)
The corn chowder has lots of fresh corn, bits of red pepper, rounds of fingerling potatoes and a little sprinkling of something briny which I believe were pickles. It is sublime.
Milk & Honey is already doing a brisk word-of-mouth business. The restaurant is part of Matt Prentice’s Unique Restaurant Corporation. It is open for brunch and dinner on Sundays, and there is a children’s menu. The attractive, modern room is dominated by a huge bar, with tables around it. Specialty cocktails are offered, such as a “Kosher white Russian,” and there is a small, moderately priced wine list. Plans are to open another dining room in the next couple weeks, which will double the seating capacity. A good thing, as we waited at least 30 minutes each night.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.