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Restaurants recently reviewed in Metro Times
Published: November 3, 2010
Mae's 24060 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-548-5355; $$: With knee-to-ceiling windows on the north and west walls, a wealth of natural light washes across the white counter and the vibrant aqua vinyl stools and chairs. Mae's is quite clean and decent and suggestive of a fairy-tale era where young love is measured in baseball euphemisms and cigarettes aren't yet bad for your health. Open until four p.m. every day except Mondays, Mae's menu is naturally focused toward breakfast and sandwiches. The butter burger is a good bet for lunch: two well-seasoned, hand-formed patties come various ways on a generously buttered bun. While the buildup toward Mae's opening might have initially brought a few people in, it's the quality food, mood and reasonable prices that are going to bring them back.
Moti Mahal 411 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-298-3198; $$: Ullah Abdul has 27 years experience with Northern Indian Cuisine in London, Montreal, Windsor, and metro Detroit. Hamtramck residents may remember him from the Bengal Masala Café on Conant, and his new venture retains many of the specialties he served there, with his emphasis on British preparations that can be hard to find here (such as balti). He is known for affordable prices, heaping portions, artful breads and value buffets. This new endeavor, opened just months ago, is worth a look. Some diners may be disappointed that most of the dishes are labeled "mild"; the kormas are "very mild." Spice levels are easily adjusted, though; just ask. Our waiter offered to go all the way with a tindaloo, not on the menu, "if you want to cry." I sampled a vegetable vindaloo that was indeed "very hot" and a "medium hot" Madras curry that was at my outer limits for still being able to taste the food itself.
My Sisters and Me 17410 E. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-343-0493; $$: Lois Hattaway, who long ago emigated from Pine Hill, Ala., says that her mama had to work when her nine children were young, so they weren't allowed to have friends over. They had to learn to play with each other and get along. Fifty years later, six of the siblings — Annie, Bettie, Lois, Martha, Sadie, and brother Ester — run My Sisters and Me on the east side. They attract big Sunday groups looking for "nourishment for the spiritual and physical body," as the menu explains. The luxury dish is ultra-tender beef short ribs for $11.35, no knife required, swimming in gravy. A half-slab of pork ribs is also tender, but it comes drenched in sauce — no chance to add it to your taste. Southern-fried pork chops are nice and peppery but, like the catfish, they curl up in the pan. My Sisters and Me does a thriving carryout business, but there's plenty of space to sit down in comfortable booths, with caricatures of the sisters on the wall. It may be the only restaurant in Detroit that's open later during the week than on weekends: 4 p.m. till 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Neehee's Indian Vegetarian Street Food 45490 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-737-9777; $: What a kick to discover you can get Indian street food in Michigan! There's no street, of course — this is Michigan, and we try not to populate our streets unless we're in our vehicles. Neehee's is, in fact, selling street food in a strip mall, an irony that seems to bother the multitude of Indian families who flock there not at all. Our reviewer counted 96 dishes for sale at Neehee's, not counting the drinks and house-made ice creams. It's a bewildering array, incorporating street snacks from all over the subcontinent. You could just stick with the familiar samosas, dosas and pakoras, but we advise you to read the big posters around the room that describe the different dishes and their origins, and go from there.
Pizzeria Biga 29110 Franklin Rd., Southfield; 248-750-2500; $$: Biga is a pizzeria plus — pizza is the only main course, but Del Signore's menu includes home-fashioned charcuterie and cheeses from Bacco, six attractive salads and a handful of small-plates palate-teasers. Among the salads ($5.50 to $9.50), navel orange is a keeper, with orange sections floating in oil accompanied by olives, onion, and parsley. The more familiar chop salad with tidbits of hearts of palm, artichokes, egg, tomato, cucumber, onion, gorgonzola and ceci beans bursts with freshness. All of this is the prelude to the pizza and its fermented starter dough (biga) composed of a carefully calibrated blend ("an ancient method") of flour, purified water and sea salt, all kept at 68 degrees. The resulting dough serves as the foundation for 12-inch ($9-$14) and 18-inch ($14.50-$22) round, thin pizzas that can be selected from a dozen house creations, as well as a nearly infinite number of self-designed pies, with toppings as exotic as duck prosciutto, lardo (pig fat), rapini and vinegar peppers. Those who are red-sauce-averse will be happy with the white-pie options.
Prickly Pear Café 328 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-930-0047; $$: Prickly Pear which has been serving Southwestern grub since 1991. (Southwestern in this case means Tex-Mex plus.) Perpetually crowded, the café takes no reservations but will outfit you with a pager so you can stroll along Main Street until your table is ready. Many of the main dishes are familiar Tex-Mex items, such as burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and empanadas, which, as with all the entrées, come on a heaping platter full of tomato rice and baked black and pinto beans and salsa. Vegetarians will again be pleased with the nicely blended spinach and Chihuahua cheese enchilada while the empa�ada stuffed with chicken is enhanced with a toasted-pumpkin-seed cheese sauce. Nine Mexican beers, along with just as many from other countries, eight tequilas and, of course, regular and "gold" margaritas are what most sots select with their meals. However, the decent wine selections, many of which do not crack the $20 barrier, are another option.
Pupuser�a y Restaurante Salvadore�o 3149 Livernois Ave., Detroit,; 313-899-4020; $: A main reason to eat a pupusa is the outsides — more, in my opinion, than the filling. This Salvadoran national dish is a thick, handmade corn tortilla stuffed with cheese or more. A handmade tortilla is night-and-day different from the thin floppy kind from the factory. Options are any combinations of queso (cheese, the simplest and best), beans, chicharron (ground pork, not the fried pork rinds usually called chicharron in a Mexican restaurant), bright-green squash and loroco, a flower. It helps to know Spanish here, but it isn't essential. There's much more than pupusas on the menu, of course, for Central Americans seeking a taste of home or for Mexicans or gringos who want to branch out. Standouts are tamales of chicken, spicy pork or corn.
Rub BBQ 18 W. Adams St., Detroit; 313-964-0782; $$: The stars are the meats, of course, and Rub does better on those that on its sides. Fabulously tasty is an appetizer of "pig wings," though they come with the sauce cooked on instead of letting the diner choose. These petite pieces are braised shanks, with a slightly crisp exterior and a bit of maple flavor. There's only a tiny bone, which isn't visible till the meat is gone, so it looks a little unmannerly to pick them up and eat them out of hand. Prominent in each booth is a six-pack of squeeze-bottle sauces. Also pleasing are the pulled items, both mellow pork and smoky chicken, moist as can be. A big drawing card is the 29 drafts — from PBR to Bell's Two-Hearted Ale — and the 42 domestic and 38 international bottles of beer.
Saltwater inside MGM Grand Detroit, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 313-465-1646; $$$: Away from the chiming of the casino floor, Saltwater is an oasis of tranquility. Exceptionally skilled servers — affable and well-informed — take good care of you. And the food is marvelous. The menu was designed by San Francisco chef Michael Mina, whose official title on Saltwater's website is "celebrity chef," and Mina does his best to bring the ocean's delights inland. Starters include shrimp cocktail (which comes with a mix that includes avocado, cr�me fra�che and lime juice), ahi tartare, New England clam chowder and mussels steamed with fennel and absinthe. The entrées don't disappoint either, and fans of San Franciscan cuisine will enjoy the cioppino, a shellfish stew that's more like seafood with sauce at Saltwater, every bite sublime: giant garlicky shrimp, clams and mussels, salty buttered toast to absorb the spicy broth. Also excellent are the simply grilled swordfish, a lobster pot pie. In addition to the pricey, ambitious wine list, the house-made desserts are delightful. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111; $$: A few steps above the street, the raised patio offers diners a bit of respite from the foot, bike and car traffic criss-crossing downtown Ann Arbor. You can still see it, but when you open the menu, the rest will be put on hold. The eclectic dishes change weekly and range the globe (from Ethiopian to Mexican, Indian to Italian), converting traditional meat-based fare into vegetarian or vegan: Summer favorites include the "Enchilada Calabaza" (a summer squash baked with spicy enchilada sauce on top and cream cheese), a low-fat Thai salad with a peanut-cilantro dressing and gazpacho available only during the season. They also offer a full bar and juice bar, smoothies and cocktails (all juices fresh squeezed, right down to the margarita lime), along with an extensive wine list. But these all-house-made offerings come at a moderate price: the most expensive entrée is just less than $14. Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays; half-priced wine on Tuesdays.
Sidetrack Bar and Grill 56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1035; $$: Linda French, owner of Ypsilanti's spectacularly popular Sidetrack Bar and Grill, is proud to have brought her bar "out of the Budweiser era and into the microbrew." She and daughter Jessica are emphatic that the Sidetrack is not a hangout for student swillers from Eastern Michigan University — though their prices would be appropriate for a college crowd. (Linda notes that at happy hour a customer can get 25 oz. of Guinness and a cheeseburger for less than $10.) Their specialty, rather, is interesting beers: 16 drafts, including nine Michigan craft brews on tap. Beer in bottles includes raspberry and cherry beers from Belgium, Bell's Stout, and Delirium Tremens, also Belgian, 9 percent alcohol and named "Best Beer in the World" at the 1998 World Beer Championships. And Stroh's. The Sidetrack is beloved by Ypsilanti-ans for its history and ambience. The building, a pebble's throw from the Amtrak tracks, has been a bar since 1850, according to French, a former antiques dealer, and it still uses the original, elaborately carved, dark wood bar. There's a tin ceiling and lots of taxidermy, including a snarling bear cub; fresh flowers are quite welcome if a bit incongruous in the bar-rish setting. The undisputed star of Sidetrack's extensive menu is the burger. Five years ago, GQ magazine called it one of "the 20 hamburgers you must eat before you die," nationally.
Tallulah 155 S. Bates St., Birmingham; 248-731-7066; $$: This wine bar in Birmingham may be the best in our area. From its cool cream walls and ceilings, whose main decoration is a large mature grape vine from her vineyard, to the first-rate open kitchen to the knowledgeable and efficient servers, to the exciting collection of 150 varietals, this is all one could ask for in the increasingly competitive genre. Aside from a seasonal vegetarian main and one or two specials, the rest of the entrée roster is brief. The most expensive dish on the menu is $24. While oenophiles most likely will opt for the traditional cheese platter to end their gastronomic adventure at Tallulah, the cheesecake and key lime pie, made in-house, are sublime.
Toasted Oak Grill & Market 27890 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-277-6000; $$$: The menu is mostly meats, as generally demanded by the traveling businessman on account — St. Louis ribs, flatiron steak, filet mignon, lamb sirloin, beef brisket, a burger on a pretzel roll, steak tartare, house-made kielbasa — but also includes mussels, salt cod croquettes and calamari, a cheese board, and a few fish and pasta dishes, plenty for the non-meat-eater. Some come with hand-cut fries ("frites") and others with mashed skin-on fingerlings, which are swell. Most dishes feature interesting sauces and some venture into unfamiliar regions of the taste buds. An excellent example of sauced meat was a Black Angus skirt steak, chewy, as expected, but the longer chewing time welcome because of the excellence of the adobo marinade and the chimichurri (a sauce of Argentine origins, oil and vinegar, onions, garlic, herbs). But what you should really take advantage of is Grostick's expertise in charcuterie, including a terrine of the day, a chicken liver and foie gras paté, rillettes of smoked salmon and pork, and a market charcuterie plate with house-pickled vegetables.
Tongue Thai'd 32166 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-4112; $: Despite its flippant name, Tongue Thai'd, Royal Oak's newest Thai restaurant on Woodward just north of 13 Mile Road, is serious about serving up quality food. Much of the menu is handmade in-house and it shows. The tiny dining space is located in an unremarkable Woodward strip mall, but this won't be a problem once you are preoccupied with the food. Soups only come in large $5-$8 sizes, but if you're in the mood, they are superb. There's an impressive list of salads, and Tongue Thai'd's pad thai is cleaner, has more depth of flavor and is lighter on the palate than most. The heat-scale runs from one to four. (Go for a level two.) Tongue Thai'd is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Vivio's 2460 Market St., Detroit; 313-393-1711; $$: For more than 40 years, the Vivio family has been pouring suds and dishing out thick burgers to an unusually wide variety of neighborhood characters, tailgaters (shuttles provided) and produce shoppers from their venerable building in the heart of Eastern Market. Erected in 1892 to serve as a German community center, it soon became a tavern, placing it among the oldest structures in Detroit to continuously host a watering hole. Virtually all of the familiar items on the long menu are less than $10. Among the appetizers are five mussel choices, the most renowned of which float, along with celery chunks, in Bloody Mary mix, vodka and garlic sauce. Bottles of Vivio's secret-recipe mix, which certainly perks up the sweet little mollusks, are available for purchase on-site as well as at specialty stores, along with their house-made mustard. They serve dinner-sized salads and heartier fare, including burgers — cheese, bacon, Santa Fe, Cajun, bleu and the healthier salmon, veggie and buffalo — that come with a mound of slightly undercooked fries.
Wah-Hoo 536 Shelby St., Detroit; 313-324-8700; $$: Wah-Hoo has two dining rooms that seat 75 and the mezzanine that offers privacy to an additional 15 patrons. The small plates and salads, which average around $7, feature crisp and succulent pork-stuffed potstickers lightly spiced with chili-sesame sauce, interesting crab-and-cheese won tons and a pleasantly chewy rendition of seaweed salad awash in sesame oil and rice vinegar. Spring and egg rolls, lettuce wraps, Shanghai calamari, an especially eggy egg-drop soup, wonton, and a hot-and-sour laden with vegetables and krab reflect the attempt to appeal to Western palates. Wah-Hoo offers eight lunches ($7-$9.50). The mains are divided into Garden, Sky, Ocean, and Land, including sesame chicken, scallops in oyster sauce, miso salmon, fried eggplant, Mongolian beef, and shrimp with lobster sauce. Wah-Hoo also boasts a handsome wraparound bar with the requisite colorful island drinks, a handful of reasonably priced bottles of wine, sake and bottled beer.
Zazios 34977 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-530-6400; $$$: Zazios (a made-up name) is a 10,000-square-foot glitzy, swirling interior with large windows looking out over Woodward Avenue. When possible, executive chef Matt Schellig, who previously worked at the Rattlesnake Club and Shiraz, uses local produce and meats, as, for example, is the case with the fresh lamb he obtains from a farm in the Thumb. Plus, Schellig performs nightly in front of as many as 24 patrons at his Chef's Table. His private kitchen-amphitheatre features five cameras and six flat-screens so there is never a problem seeing what is going on. Or hearing, since he is on a mic and eager to respond to questions and comments from the foodies before, during, and after he is assembling any one of the five courses that constitute his dinners.
Zyggyz Grill & Chill Indo-American Fast Food 28505 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-796-7234; $: Zyggyz is a sit-down place, quite informal, where you order from a menu and a server brings your food. The best deal is the $5.95 combo plate: two items from a list of four vegetarian and three meat dishes, plus rice; add naan or paratha for $1.25. Most delicious, though, is samosa chaat: cut-up samosas covered in chana masala (chickpeas cooked with tomatoes, red onion and cilantro, in this case), onions and yogurt sauce. It sounds like a muddle, but it's very fresh, so each flavor stands out to great effect. Zyggyz is attracting a mix of Indian and non-Indian customers. Spice levels are pretty low, but requests for adjustments will be honored.
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