by Mel Small
Urban legend has it that Grosse Pointe has never been much of a restaurant town, allegedly because most of its residents are satisfied to dine on beef Wellington and Dover sole at their private clubs. Over the years, as the Pointes have been invaded by the sort of people who are not necessarily interested in club membership, the restaurant scene has picked up, although it still is underdeveloped compared to upscale communities on the west side of town.
The opening of City Kitchen four months ago should help to put to rest that hoary urban legend that relegated Grosse Pointe to the unenviable status of a culinary wasteland. Quite simply, Chick and Amy Taylor's seafood-dominated establishment is the best new restaurant I have eaten in this year. From partner and chef Michael Trombley's bustling open kitchen to the friendly and professional servers to the tasteful setting in a former shop on Kercheval, just about everything at City Kitchen merits praise.
One might quibble a bit about the price of the appetizers ($9 average) in terms of portion size and when compared to the more reasonable price structure of the entrées, but it is difficult to quibble over their quality. Especially attractive is the open-faced smoked salmon sandwich, redolent of Copenhagen, served over pumpernickel and garnished with boursin, capers, red onions and chopped eggs. Although there isn't enough of it, the seared rare tuna with edamame and a sprightly tomato relish is commendable, as are that virtually obligatory starter these days, flash-fried calamari with an even sprightlier red-pepper sauce.
Other firsts include oysters, roasted mussels, bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin medallions and salt-and-pepper bread constructed from pizza dough ($2.25). Although crackers and breadsticks are available with the appetizers, if you want bread with your meal you'll have to purchase the pizza-dough variation. The individual pizzas themselves, baked in a wood-fired oven, are well worth a try, considering their crunchy crusts and creative combinations such as goat cheese, roasted peppers and pine nuts, or shrimp, pesto, Parmesan and oven-dried tomatoes.
According to my salt-sensitive dining partner, the otherwise admirable large bowl of thicker-than-usual, rich lobster bisque ($6.75) may be a trifle on the saline side. An alternate might be a grilled asparagus salad with vella jack cheese and roasted red peppers in a mustard vinaigrette ($6.75). Grilled asparagus are also available as an extra side with the mains.
As for those generously proportioned mains, most of which are priced in the low 20s, the fire-roasted Lake Superior whitefish an unusually thick fillet with a subtle pesto crust that's accompanied by oven-dried tomatoes and Cajun rice is a splendid, sweet-nutty rendition of a standard. Equally impressive is the halibut, with garlic spinach, beet coulis and whipped potatoes, and pecan-crusted pickerel, cleverly adorned with dried apples and cherry butter. All three are more succulent than the often dry and bland fish dishes turned out by lesser kitchens.
Succulent as well are the large pan-seared sea scallops that come with those welcome oven-dried tomatoes and a mushroom risotto. Salmon, shrimp, perch, swordfish, and fish and chips, most of which are served with creative pairings of vegetables and starch, are among other maritime offerings on Trombley's short but ambitious menu. And all of his aesthetically conceived plates appeal to the eye as well as to the taste.
The eleven or so fish preparations are balanced by three beef dishes, ribs, chicken breast and even an Angus burger ($7.95) for the budget-conscious.
The wine list, which begins at $17 for a barely marked-up Grand Traverse semi-dry Riesling, contains many good values for less than $30, although some might question the dominance (ca. 40 percent) of chardonnays and cabs. For those "patriots" like Bill O'Reilly, still furious at Jacques Chirac, virtually all of the bottles come from our West Coast.
It is difficult to resist desserts at City Kitchen, with a tangy and smooth Key lime pie ($4.75) and a warm chocolaty truffle cake ($5.25) among the crowd pleasers.
Although City Kitchen first strikes one as just another "fancy" place in the Pointes with its dim lighting, white tablecloths, upholstered booths and conservative fittings it is not the least bit intimidating or formal. I don't know how the Taylors have accomplished this feat, but it is clear that those who work with them, from the maître d's to the servers to the busboys, all help to maintain a light and unpretentious atmosphere.
Along with Trombley's cutting-edge kitchen, this is just the formula to make this new hot spot on Kercheval a destination not just for east siders but for Detroiters and west siders as well. Even now it is difficult to score a table if you don't have a reservation. Alas, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, City Kitchen may be getting to the Pointe where "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."
Mel Small teaches history at Wayne State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.