Thursday, October 21, 2010

Corez Wine Bar, 919 Cherry St - 10/13/10

Update: Corez will be closing 11/13/10. The restaurant was purchased by the owners of The Green Well & Bistro Bella Vita and will be re-opening in a few months.
Tucked into a refurbished law office building across the street from The Green Well, Corez is easy to miss with its low-key facade. Walk in and you will find a modern restaurant with minimalist decor, open ceiling, contemporary art, and overall a very stylish ambiance. The room is divided into two sections, and the bar runs along one wall with a wooden slat ceiling arching over it. Tables and chairs fill both sections and there is a small outdoor patio out front for nice weather days. When it’s crowded, the restaurant is noisy due to lack of carpet and close proximity of tables. However, today for lunch we were alone for most of our meal.

The menu, small and innovative, changes with the seasons. One may pick from nibbles, sandwiches, pizzas, small plates, and not so small plates. We chose moules frites to start. The mound of mussels was steamed in garlic, white wine, and cream. They were excellent and the wine sauce was an exquisite complement. Hand-cut fries accompanied the mussels and did provide a nice balance. But they were too heavily salted.

Since the mussels were good, our first sandwich selection was the crispy whitefish. The server returned immediately to inform us that the whitefish delivery had not yet arrived for the day. Although this was disappointing, we were pleased by the fact that the seafood was delivered daily. The pulled chicken sandwich was ordered instead and it made a fine substitute. The sandwich arrived covered in a mustard barbecue sauce with white cheddar cheese, house made pickles, and fresh greens. The barbecue sauce blended well, enhancing the flavors rather than overwhelming them. The greens were decidedly fresh and served with a subtle dressing.

Our next dish was the honey and chili glazed pork ribs. The small ribs were beautifully presented over a carrot and raisin salad. The ribs were tender and flavorful, but this dish was not well thought out. The overall taste was too sweet, particularly when combined with the salad. We expected more heat to balance out the sweetness and the honey flavor simply overwhelmed everything. The dish is far from a failure but it needs some conceptual work before it can be considered excellent.

The servers are knowledgeable and helpful. The executive chef (Chad Miller) is also the owner of Bloom, another restaurant serving wonderfully innovative food. One of the owners (Mike Dombrowski) is the former sommelier at the Chop House and former wine buyer for Art of the Table. The bartender creates his own drinks and offers house infused spirits. The wine cellar is extensive and servers are happy to recommend pairings. Years of experience and knowledge spill over into creative, fresh, and delicious food and beverages using local and/or house made ingredients.

Our tab was around $35.00 and menus are online. This restaurant ranks among our favorites and you shouldn’t miss it.           
Corez: Neighborhood Eatery and Bar on Urbanspoon

The Chez Olga, 1441 Wealthy St, SE - 10/6/10

Remember Rafav’s Mexican Restaurant in that crazy building where you had to struggle to find the door because it was disguised as a tree? It now has a new tenant, The Chez Olga. The restaurant opened in July and is run by a couple from Haiti who immigrated to Grand Rapids in 1993. After a failed clothing store, they started a catering business that evolved into the current restaurant. Featuring Caribbean and Haitian cuisine, they invite you to “feel the heat.”

It’s not a large restaurant and the configuration is close to how it was as Rafav’s but the decor has changed and is simplified. A few booths remain and there are about 12 tables filling out the restaurant.

We checked out the appetizers and decided on pate with chicken. This is described as a Creole pastry, fried or baked, and filled with chicken, beef, or vegetables. We ordered them fried, with beef, and they arrived very hot and quite greasy. Similar to empanadas, these were better with more flavor. However, they were not served with plates so it was messy eating with grease dripping everywhere.

The Chez Olga signature dish is the gumbo shrimp and chicken served with rice, so we had to try it. Rice arrived in a large bowl accompanied by a small bowl of gumbo in red sauce. Our second dish was the Chez stir fry, a blend of onions and peppers with beef. It arrived in the same manner as the gumbo and they looked almost identical. The chef who served them to us was confused as to which was which. We sorted it out and enjoyed both dishes immensely.

When our order was first taken, we were asked by the very charming Olga to select our spice level, which ranged from 1 to 10. Having never been there before, we played it safe and chose 5, but it wasn’t hot enough. If you like your food quite spicy, 7 or 8 would probably be more appropriate. Overall, everything had big, bold flavors making Chez Olga an interesting option and something different in Grand Rapids.

The website contains their menu along with opportunities to make donations to Haiti.
 The Chez Olga on Urbanspoon

Tokyo Grill & Sushi, 4478 Breton Rd SE - 9/29/10


Located in a half-alive strip mall at 44th and Breton, the restaurant opens up into a large room that greets you with a sushi bar. The room is lined with booths against two walls and the rest of the place is filled with roughly 20 tables for two or four. At the front and back of the room there are two private dining areas, each of which contains the low, Japanese table-style dining. These rooms require reservations and prohibit shoes.

The booths and the private rooms offer a semblance of privacy but otherwise you’re in an open room dining with everyone else. Because of this, and the tile floor, noise was an issue. (From our booth I could hear voices from the other side of the room.) But all in all, it’s an inviting atmosphere.

Service was prompt but a bit rushed throughout our lunch. However, other posted reviews have indicated the opposite experience. Since there were very few people in the restaurant, we did not expect to be pushed as much as we were.

We started with wasabi sumai. The wasabi flavored steamed pork dumplings came with a house dipping sauce. They were tenderly prepared and quite delicious. Before it arrived, we were served miso soup, which was not as good as what we’ve had elsewhere.

Our first main dish was beef hibachi. Broiled marinated beef came with homemade sauce, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and broccoli. It was a very tasty combination of flavors and well prepared.

Next up was the shrimp tempura lunch box. This was a most impressive presentation and a great way to sample more offerings. It arrived with California rolls, vegetable dumplings, chicken katsur, salad, rice, deep fried shrimp, and vegetables. Overall, the lunch box was great. Unfortunately, the shrimp, perhaps the weakest part of the dish, was overshadowed by the California rolls and dumplings.    

Lunch and dinner menus are online. The restaurant was clean, the food was fresh, and the staff was friendly and helpful. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Tokyo Grill & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bentham’s, 187 Monroe Ave NE - 9/22/10

Located in the Amway Grand Hotel, Bentham’s is an older restaurant on the river’s edge. It’s long and narrow, three rows wide and about ten tables long. There are two menus, breakfast and lunch/dinner. It’s a classy, casual setting, complete with cloth napkins and live flowers. There is no outdoor seating but you can sit at a window table and see the river and people walking by on the river walk.

Service was quite prompt and attentive, in the beginning. The appetizers contained nothing out of the ordinary except for the pan seared seafood cakes, served with mango chutney and basil chive oil. Beautifully presented, the mango chutney combined wonderfully with the seafood and basil.

Our first main dish was the 16-hour smoked barbecue beef brisket, served open faced on a kaiser roll with pepper jack cheese and red onion. The beef was very tender and essentially required no chewing. The sauce was adequate but didn’t really stand out.  Thankfully the brisket was good enough to offset this, creating an average sandwich.

The second dish was beef tenderloin tips: sauteed with wild mushrooms in red wine sauce, tobacco onions, and whipped potatoes. Potatoes, mushrooms, and beef were good overall but a tad salty. And three pieces of beef had to be discarded due to gristle. There is no way to remove meat from one’s mouth gracefully or surreptitiously. This was a major fail on the kitchen’s part.

The service fell completely apart toward the end of our meal and it took forever to get our check. Menus are online and there are small wine and beer lists. It might be worthy of a breakfast visit as that menu is a little more extensive. It’s a nice setting but a little pricey and more than likely designed to service hotel guests. With all the other downtown options, this is not a recommendation.  
Bentham's Riverfront Restaurant on Urbanspoon