(one visit February, 2005)
I felt bad. My friend looked haggard and beat from an apparently grueling day of work. But, our reservation had been set for over two weeks, and two other friends were as determined as I to risk a life-threatening dodge-and-weave through high-speed traffic in a deluge of snow to get to Jeremy Restaurant in remote Keego Harbor, Michigan. Still, I felt selfish and looked pitifully at my tired friend, who was nice enough to act as our brave chauffeur. It had better be good; I prayed.
Having been terribly disappointed with my visit to Five Lakes Grill, named the Best Restaurant of 2005 by Sylvia Rector, the Detroit Free Press’ restaurant critic, I was a little more than skeptical about her pick for the winner the year before. Oy, I reminded myself, this was the exact same group that I had dragged out to Milford the year before for that deflating meal… this had better be really really good; I prayed even harder.Turning off of I-696 onto Orchard Lake Road, I briefly entertained the idea of commandeering the car and pulling over at Tribute for a predictably decent meal. I desisted and a good fifteen minutes later, famished from worry, arrived in the unassuming little cottage of a restaurant on Cass Lake Road.Inside, a warming glow welcomed us. A cloyingly upbeat hostess took our jackets and led us past the small crowded bar into a small, half-filled dining room. A mostly middle-aged crowd had braved the blistery weather for a meal – no doubt from the nearby upper-class enclaves of the Bloomfield Hills district.Much to my disappointment, our hostess tucked us into the darkest corner of the already dimly lit room. When asked whether we could move to another empty table in a brighter part of the room, the hostess said that the other tables had already been reserved… and, indeed, as the evening progressed, more middle-aged upper-class parties came out of the woodworks, undeterred by rapidly deteriorating conditions outside
Aided only by only by a forlorn candle on the table, my friends fumbled in the dark through the wine list. Each found a suitable glass to order – all served in stem-less ware.
Most of the items on the rather extensive menu are self-explanatory but intriguing. In fact, there were so many delicious sounding curiosities that I toyed with the idea of picking an assortment from the starter, salad and the “Casual Dining” list. These simpler and less pricey items included a tempting Jeremy Char-Grilled Burger with balsamic onion jam and hand cut salt & pepper fries ($12)… but then again, who wouldn’t be curious about Chipotle Barbequed Duck Quesadilla ($10), or how about Beer Braised Barbequed Ribs, with a Flageolet bean “Casserole” and Applewood Smoked Bacon ($16)?
In the end, I decided to find out what Chef Jeremy Grandon had to offer in the way of “Serious Dining.” And, so did my companions. We each ordered a beginning course and entrée, leaving the dessert for later negotiation.The biggest disappointment in the meal came early. Foregoing the Winter Greens ($8), a refreshing-sounding salad of Fuji Apples, soy-ginger cider vinaigrette, pickled red onion, goat cheese, and five-spice pumpkin seeds, I went with our server’s suggestion and ordered the Roasted Beets salad ($8). A generous mountain of large cubed sapphire-red beets and apples hid a core of crumbled Salem Blue Cheese.
While the apples were sweet-tart and crisp, providing the perfect textural and flavor counterpoint to the pungent and salty cheese, the beets were bland and watery. From the size of the cubes, I suspect the beets had been (overly) mature large ones that hadn’t been sufficiently roasted to properly concentrate the natural sugars (beets, after all, being the sweetest vegetable on earth). The hero of this salad was the cider-crème fraiche dressing which laced the different elements together with a bright tangy creaminess.
My friend fared better than I with Bruschetta ($8). Fluffy scrambled eggs with chips of Applewood Smoked Bacon and tender Shiitake mushrooms tumbled over three grilled slices of baguette. Garnished with white truffle oil and chives, this starter was a wonderful knife-and-fork haute breakfast food.
Better yet, another dinner companion’s “Soup for Today” should be the “Soup for the Year” – an earthy puree of roasted turnips, rhutabaga and milk with a touch of honey and cider vinegar ($6). This beautiful creation was poured hot, over a little tangle of fried leeks and then topped with a dab of white truffle oil and cognac. The sweetness of the caramelized root vegetables and the undercurrent of honey and cider vinegar hit the palate first. Then, slowly, the creamy earthy root vegetables crawled in along with the slight hint of musky white truffle.
While not deafening, Jeremy buzzes with conversation, service, and jazzy background music. That the lively bar sits just around the corner, within both eye and ear shot, and indeed, within an arm’s length of some diners, doesn’t help bring down the noise level. If I weren’t in the right mood, I could imagine being a little annoyed by the atmosphere. But, on a frosty wintry night, the convivial excitement seemed endearing.
In my opinion, the two fish entrées were the clear winners among the four we tried. My Roasted Chilean Sea Bass was excellent ($29). (I had struggled briefly with the ethics of ordering this protected fish, but decided to trust that Grandon operates prudently in this regard.) An ethereally delicate filet of translucent sea bass came lacquered-over with a sweet soy glaze.The flavor of the glaze was echoed in a soy ginger broth that lovingly coddled a mélange of bright green broccoli florets, Shiitake mushrooms and carrot sections. I just wished that the server had thought of providing a spoon for the broth before I had to ask. Two seafood wontons – could that be minced shrimp inside those wonderfully silky pockets? – completed the successfully executed Asian theme.My friend’s Pistachio and Horseradish Encrusted Salmon was also very good ($25). Minor disappointment with the temperature of the fish (ordered “medium,” but ended up more like medium-well) could almost be forgiven after tasting the wonderfully nutty and hair-raising crust. I’m a sucker for zingy mustard roots. The potato and carrot pancake was nicely crisped on the outside and moist and hot on the inside – a novel hybrid of latke and hashbrowns.
Personally, I wished that Grandon’s Five Spice and Soy Glazed Beef Shortribs had more umph ($25). To be sure, the meat had been lovingly cooked until it was literally melt-in-your-mouth tender and appropriately served piping hot. But, the glaze was weak – especially next to the peppy wasabi mashed potatoes.
The Winter Risotto was punchy with Parmesan ($19). Though creamy and toothsome, unfortunately, the sharpness of the Carnaroli porridge obscured the rather dull duck confit that I expected to be the life of the dish. Instead, I found the duck dry and tasteless. And, while offering a textural contrast, the natural flavors of glazed winter root vegetables, brussel sprouts and bits of sweated leeks were also lost in the heady mix of cheesiness – the problem compounded by wide shavings of the strong-tasting aged cheese that canopied this dish.
I was the only one who ponied up for a side-dish. While the Mushrooms with Garlic and Leeks ($5) sounded the most appealing of the five choices, the server pushed me toward the Braised red chard ($4). Failing a second time to impress (the beets being the first detour), his suggestion materialized in a mass of earth-tasting chopped dark greens. I can’t be sure, but I think the chard had been braised in a tomato-based stew, which did help minimize the mustiness.
I can’t say from the two desserts that we tried that Jeremy’s forte is in the sweets department. I preferred the Orange pound cake with chunks of pineapple and a scoop of very good vanilla ice cream ($8). (I will admit, I’m partial to anything with ice cream). The pound cake, served room-temperature had been moistened with orange syrup. Having also soaked up the accompanying pineapple juices, I think the cake by itself would have tasted too sweet if not for the tart pineapple chunks and icy vanilla cream which helped cut through the saccharin.
While it made for an appealing read on the menu, I’d have to say that the poached pear-stuffed French toast was rather unappealing in the mouth ($8). Sandwiching slices of poached pears and unfortunately grainy ricotta cheese, the toast inhaled all of the moisture of its contents like a sponge, resulting in a soggy lukewarm mass of mushy “eggy” bread, limp pears and grit. I’ll pass. My friends loved it though. Go figure.
Service could have been better. A well-prepped but somewhat absent staff mixed-up drink orders and relegated us to a rather long wait for the check – during which the hostess, unaware that we had already requested the bill attempted to woo us into the bar for free drinks in exchange for our seats. Needless to say, our check came promptly thereafter. And, although our coats were checked upon arrival, we found ourselves rummaging through the small closet on our way out.
Looking back on my experience, food is definitely the focus at Jeremy Restaurant. Despite gaps in execution – like the over-done salmon, soggy French toast or under-roasted beets – and a few seasoning issues – dull confit and pedestrian five-spice glaze – every dish was thoughtful and beautifully presented. Given a measured hand and better balance, I could easily see how any of Grandon’s dishes could be just as devastatingly good as the best ones we tried, like the sea bass or the roasted root vegetable soup.
A decibel or two lower and a few watts higher, I could definitely see myself working Jeremy Restaurant into my rotation of nights out. All in all, my friends, including our once-wilting driver, seemed pleased. My prayers were answered. Thanks Ms. Rector, you picked a winner.
Jeremy Restaurant ***
1978 Cass Lake Road
Keego Harbor, Michigan
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?
* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
*****Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong.
****** Speechless: ‘nough said. Nothing short of magical.