As things begin to green up in our town, another green has sprouted in the New Center area—a culinary one.
And it’s ready to blossom.
Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails has officially graced the Detroit’s Cultural Center landscape.
Likewise, the proliferation of so many new restaurants of late has sprouted a sub-culture of foodies who anxiously attend each opening like Trekkies who dress up as their favorite characters and stand in long lines at the box office.
Foodies, however, don’t wait in front of restaurants dressed up as their favorite protein; they instead make reservations on-line and bring their favorite plastic cards. Having said that, they still tell everyone where they went, what they ate, and what they thought of the whole darn experience.
This epiphany occurred on my visit to Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, located at 15 E. Kirby at the corner of Kirby and Woodward (just north of the Detroit Institute of Arts in the former Rodin restaurant space). It was their first Saturday open to the public, only days after their official opening on May 19th.
Like others, I’d seen Chartreuse’s previews and trailers in the form of Eater Detroit updates, pop-up dinners, one of which I attended at (revolver), and recent practice dinners to train their staff.
I’m not at Chartreuse for even an hour, yet as I look around the room, I see a lot of familiar faces. These aren’t regulars (yet), but they’re regulars alright—regular foodies.
“Didn’t I see you?”
Later, I run into others from my visits to The Top of the Ponch, Gold Cash Gold, Selden Standard and Republic.
I think I’ve seen this movie before.
Not too dissimilar from what it takes to produce a motion picture, it takes an enormous amount of effort, time, and money to open a new restaurant like Chartreuse. And while restaurants offer you a seat and a beverage or an appetizer as a prelude to their feature presentations, if they instead ran an opening title sequence, Chartreuse’s would look something like this:
Executive Producer & Director
Sandy Levine playing the youthful and energetic owner, also the owner of The Oakland in Ferndale
Doug Hewitt as the chef (Last role as Chef of Terry B’s in Dexter)
Kaytee Querro (Beverages) Also late of The Oakland
And a strong supporting cast.
Original Menu By
Chef Doug Hewitt
Set Decorations & Art Provided by
Living wall by (Chris Best)…The Rust Belt Market founder and Tiffany Best, Artist and Owner of Lady Lazarus
Dried flower partition by Lisa Waud of Pot and Box
Floral mural depicting plants from the Chartreuse Mountains in France by Louise “Ouizi” Chen
Sandy Levine, Chef Doug Hewitt and Management
An eclectic mix of Motown classics, Nuevo pop artists and the likes of others that you’ll have to ask the management to divulge because I was just too busy eating to remember to ask.
The Oakland, Ferndale, MI
RecoveryPark (Local farm-to-table garden provisions), Detroit
Tantré Farms, Chelsea, MI
The Shrimp Farm Market, Okemos
If you speak food, you’re speaking their language.
As you enter this narrow restaurant from its Woodward Avenue entrance, windows are to your left and right, framing 80 seats. There is an 18 foot high exposed, blackened-beam ceiling, warmly lit with pendant lighting. An additional 20 stools at their elongated L-shaped bar, plus a casual, almost indoor patio-like space, featuring high-back lounge sofas in various shades of green with coffee tables, complete their dining options.
Together, the capacity of Chartreuse is approximately 125 seats.
The bar sports handsome wood bar stools with rattan seats, 6 of which overlook Chef Hewitt’s exposed 12’ x 12’ kitchen and his personal plate-up and expediting area. Six stools face Kaytee Querro’s domain, featuring her craft cocktails made from homemade sodas and syrups and her carefully selected beer, wine and aperitifs.
Finishing the entire look is a 4″ thick black-polished concrete counter, all resting on a well-worn plank wood floor with black trim accents.
Now, a residential kitchen of 12’ x 12’ might sound spacious to you. I suppose if you’re feeding a family of 4, it’s adequate. However, serving a family of 150 gourmet food every night? That’s crazy talk.
They say that sometimes good things come in small packages.
To find out, I chose a bar stool right in the middle of the action with a panoramic view of the lounge, bar, cold food station, and the chef’s kitchen and expediting area. Everything was tight and efficient.
One of the things that first struck me is that Chartreuse is not over-logoed. There’s no grand signage at the entrance, no etching of the glasses or printing on the plates, just plain ole white china, blue-striped bar towel napkins (don’t get me started), and a simple menu with literally EVERYTHING printed on one side of a standard sheet of off-white linen paper, including cocktails, appetizers, food and a small wine list. Less is more.
It would seem that the thinking here is, if the food is memorable, you’ll remember where you had it.
Reviewing a restaurant solo has its pluses and minuses. A plus is that it allows me the time to walk away between courses to get the lay of the land and get to know the players. A minus is that I usually only have the room for about 3 or 4 dishes. Here I had 6, plus coffee, and (of course) Chartreuse (they have 8 to choose from). I’m still recovering.
You had me at bread…
I must first say that I’m a bread snob. I know and love great Artisan bread, and if it comes with a great butter, I’m a hyperactive puppy with a new chew toy. That I was served slices of awesome bread (Avalon) with a Roasted Ramp Butter was just unfair. That I still managed 6 courses afterwards should qualify me for some kind of an award.
The menu has very simple headers, COLD, featuring 5, including Lamb Poke (traditionally defined as a Hawaiian raw fish salad) with lamb, mango, avocado cilantro, sweet chili potato chips, a Spring Pea Ricotta on Olive Bread and the dish I chose to begin with, Grilled Spanish Octopus which was served with fennel, pickled onion, cucumber and chili. It was fork tender and evenly charred. The flavors worked very well together, making it a good start.
If you like vegetables, you’ll love Chef Hewitt.
The VEGETABLES header (also home to their vegetarian offerings) had 5 choices this evening, including titles such as Warm Red Cabbage, Tantré Farms Potatoes a Spring Vegetable Caesar, and the intriguing RecoveryPark, a daily selection of farmed products from the Detroit-based nonprofit RecoveryPark Farms. RecoveryPark Farms recovers land (and people) from blighted neighborhoods, turning them into thriving prosperous farm businesses. Its local restaurant clients include Bacco, The Root, The Stand, Torino, Wright & Company and now Chartreuse.
The 6 offerings under HOT got my attention from the beginning. I think I could have ordered every dish there (and almost did) and would have been completely happy. What I did have was the Duck Confit on barley risotto with grilled mushrooms (oyster and shiitake), the Spare Ribs with raw potato/seaweed salad, togarashi, soy mirin glaze and cilantro, and the New Bedford Sea Scallops on coarse polenta with charred choy and an organic grapefruit Campari gastrique.
Each dish was superb, but I’ll particularly recommend their Asian-Style Spare Ribs (the raw potato & seaweed salad beneath was amazing), and it really doesn’t get any better than Seared New Bedford Sea Scallops. Trust me on this.
By now, I’d made new friends with my server, the cooks working the cold food station directly in front of me, and my hosts, owner Sandy Levine and Chef Hewitt.
Seeing that I was thoroughly enjoying my meal (and my bread), the chef couldn’t let me leave without trying a dish I hadn’t ordered yet, his Potato Leek Vichyssoise. The dish was vivid Chartreuse green from the ramps he adds. It was a silky smooth puree, accented with morel and shiitake mushrooms, slices of marinated trout and a hint of fresh dill. Like all the dishes that came before it, it was imaginative, well executed and delicious.
Then, Sandy insisted I HAD to try the Vanilla Puddin’ (I’ll take a deep breath to recover my appetite), which came in a short glass and was topped with a crunchy cookie and fresh blueberries. If you can close your eyes and imagine the best vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had in a pudding form, you’re getting close. It went amazingly well with my coffee and a glass of Yellow Chartreuse, an herbaceous anisette concoction only those crazy French Monks could have concocted. There’s NO better way to end a meal here…
Considering I stopped in only a few days after their official opening, I’d have to say that while Chartreuse (the liquor) may be green, its staff was anything but…
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF: 4.0
The dish titles are simple, but as talented chefs want to do, they gush about things like ramps, tendrils, locatelli, togarashi and gastriques that make it special. Of course, they’ll explain if you ask, or you can install The Food Lover’s Companion on your Kindle, hide it under the table, and pretend to be just as smart as they are.
If your friends (or date) think that whatever you’re wearing is suitable to be seen in public, you’re good to go.
The Crowd: 4
Yuppies, foodies, art geeks (remember where you are) and some fair-weather Tiger fans down the street that thought leaving the game early to get an even better table at Chartreuse was probably their best bet for a truly winning evening.
Parking is available in the Park Shelton garage next to the restaurant (they’ll validate it for you at the restaurant, so you won’t have to pay). There are also lots elsewhere nearby and some limited metered street parking. Please note that the new M-1 light rail line is making a mess of Woodward. Give yourself a little extra time on weekend nights.
Bang for the Buck: 5
Chartreuse will save you a lot of green (couldn’t resist). Appetizers are $8 to $10 and entrée’s $13 to $22. The portions are reasonably sized too. Moreover, it’s the quality bang you’re getting for the buck.
Food Stuff: 4.5
Chef Doug Hewitt’s menu reflects his interest in many different tastes, styles and presentations. With less than 150 sq. ft. of kitchen to work with, Chef Hewitt covers a LOT of ground.
Energy, Vibe, & the Cool-Wow Factor: 3.5
Not surprisingly, Chartreuse green tones are everywhere, but with handsome hardwood dinner tables and chairs, the overall feel is actually quite country farm like. The bar staff’s attire in black, cooks in grey and chef in white the evening I attended added a soothing respite.
They accept all the usual plastic cards and are wheelchair accessible right off the street. However, I would say that while everyone is welcome, the current menu and environment in general is not particularly child oriented. Also, I’d give them a head’s up if your group is larger than 6.
It’s not easy being green, but so far, they’ve pulled it off.