|« Friday Foodporn: Black Bass from North Pond||Restaurant Closure Roundup: La Creperie, Marquette Inn, Frida's »|
Restaurant Fri Aug 23 2013
It took about two seconds of perusing 676 Restaurant & Bar's menu before I took them up on their offer to dine there. I'm a sucker for places with a farm-to-table ethos and 676 has a convincing one. In May, Detroit native Joshua Hasho returned from the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey to take the reigns of Executive Chef at 676 and has continued to build up the restaurant's relationship with local farms, where as much as 80% of their purchased food comes from. Their herbs, edible flowers, and strawberries are grown in the restaurant's own rooftop garden.
The location, on the fourth floor of the Omni Hotel on Michigan Ave., far above the Cheesecake Factory and Chile's and all those pizza places, makes 676 a nice spot for a meal downtown. The full, east-facing windows overlook Michigan (I had a prime view of the Apple Store), which the restaurant wisely let do the brunt of the lighting, creating a soft ambiance in the restaurant. The downtown bustle, plus the activity in the open kitchen served as focal points, the primary "decor" so-to-speak, since no one would pay much attention to any fine art with so much movement going on. "Date night" spot, yes, but the elegance in the dark woods and chrome-colored upholstery make it the sort of place you'd take your parents, visitors, or a group of friends for a nice meal (nice, read more pricey than a typical weeknight bite).
The menu's odd ingredient pairings also piqued my interest: brussels sprout flatbread; veggie meatballs, squash noodles, romesco, and basil. I knew full well that whatever image I sketched of, say, squash noodles would barely outline what appeared on my plate. Faced with all these options, I couldn't decide what to actually order. So I did what anyone else would do: asked someone to pick for me. Ditto for the drinks, where my companion and I asked for wine pairings with our three courses, plus coffee with dessert.
676 offers 19 wines by the glass, in addition to a red-dominated bottle list, cocktails, and a range of Midwest and Chicago craft beers. That drink menu, presented in a soft leather binder, was one of several small rustic touches that came throughout the evening, though I found the rotating selection of plateware a touch gimmicky: square wooden cutting boards and metal plans, a slate board, and individual-sized metal pitchers for soup.
The meal began with corn chowder, vegetable hash, and brie crouton paired with Meiomi Pinot Noir from Sonoma followed by an heirloom tomato salad with herb mousse and greens from 676's fifth floor rooftop garden paired with heady, floral Conundrum, a white blend also from California. (My friend had house-cured prosciutto in lieu of the tomato salad). I worried the intensity of the aromas and flavors of the wines would overpower the seeming simplicity of corn chowder and tomatoes, but that they complemented each course underscored the quietly complex flavors of the food.
Each dish was a fine balance of discrete parts, each needing the other so one sense wouldn't be over or underwhelmed. The diced peppers and curlicues of kale in the "hash" added a spice and depth to the savory corn chowder, the pickled peppers lent the tomato salad tartness and heat that needed those heavy dollops of herb mousse to stop my mouth from puckering after each juicy burst.
The coup of the evening, though, was the Georgian Bay salmon with white bean, spring squash, and wild onion paired with a lightly crisp Pinot Grigio. The medium-rare salmon was succulent and so moist that a jab of the fork melted the meat apart. The white beans gave the dish a simple, savory element with extra flavor coming from the few wisps of dill and onion. The squash, simply seasoned with salt and pepper added a textural element, and the bright orange droplets of caviar a bit of color.
Though the first two courses were excellent, I was very aware that I was eating something unique that I probably wouldn't have again for a while: corn chowder with a brie crouton, tomatoes with herb mousse. Inventiveness and creativity are by no means bad--that's part of what makes dining out so much fun. It's just that salmon, white beans, and squash are unexciting foods in and of themselves and made exciting by being prepared and paired incredibly well. That showcased not only the chef's skill, but the farm-to-table ethos at its best: fresh, carefully sourced ingredients make all the difference in a damn good meal.
And how does such a meal end? With a refreshing, juicy "fruit cup," of course. (Lemon pound cake, strawberries from the restaurant's garden, mango, lemon, and pistachio). Yum.
676 N Michigan Ave., Fourth Floor