I first met Brian Polcyn at the Epicurean Classic in 2006. I was getting a glass of ice water when he walked into the room. I recognized him from his photo on the dust jacket of Charcuteriethe book that he wrote with Michael Ruhlman. Our exchange was "Charcuterie man?" "Bones woman?" and so our friendship began. He invited me to Detroit, to his restaurant and to sit in on his classes, he teaches butchery and charcuterie, the two of the great arts. However Detroit was never a place I visited. I kept in contact by email and saw him in 2008 and again this year at the Classic.
The Classic moved to St Joseph, Michigan this year, which meant that Detroit was on my route back to Toronto. At last I could stop off and eat Brian's food. He has two restaurants, a Mexican one Cinco Lagos and the Forest Grill, north of Detroit in Birmingham. We ate at the Grill.
It was a beautiful evening, unlike the cold, windy weather that had plagued us in St Joseph and we walked, a mere 5 minutes from our hotel to this modern, bright restaurant. As we settled into a corner table, my husband ordered a martini, gin of course, and I sipped on a glass of rosé champagne as we read the menu, remember we were walking. The menu reading was only perfunctory, we both already knew what we were going to order. My husband had been lucky enough to see Brian's demo at the Classic where he broke down a pig and described how they confit the shoulder of pork then slice it thickly, deep-fry it and serve it with bone marrow. While Brian and I were sharing the book signing table he described the veal cheeks with gnocchi, well what else would I order? And to begin it could only be the house-made charcuterie platter. The only decision was the wine and my husband chose a pinot noir from the Russian River Valley.
No explanation necessary for this photo - on the platter from left to right was the prosciutto di Birmingham, a green salad, cured duck breast and chorizo.We chose a beet, and a celeriac salad and the cornichons. My favourites were the chorizo and the cornichons, which I discovered were made in house. They were the best cornichons I've eaten for ages.
Then we were presented with a dish of angolotti and fresh corn with truffle and a mascarpone foam. The combination of the corn and pasta was delicious, and I don't even like corn! There was a wonderful aroma of truffle but the foam just reinforced my prejudice against foams.
Now here is a dish that should put a huge smile on your face, it did on my husband's. A magnificent bone filled with creamy marrow accompanied by toasts, and that pork shoulder confit, crisp on the outside and meltingly soft and fatty in the centre with a port wine glaze. Then there is a salad to balance all that tasty fat.
I wasn't disappointed with my cheeks. Served whole, with a rich sauce balanced with acidity from tomato, they were delicious. I love that soft slightly gelatinous texture and I have a weakness for gnocchi especially when they are made with pate à choux. Baby spinach leaves were simply softened by the hot sauce and there was sprinkle of tiny salad greens.
Now I was feeling extremely content and thinking it would be worth driving to Detroit just to eat dinner. The chef, David Gilbert, choose our desserts and I tasted the blueberry sauce but let my husband eat this one - blueberries I can take or leave, he on the other hand loves them. He loves corn too.
This vacherin-style dessert made with Italian meringue was more to my taste. But I wasn't paying attention, I was more interested to chatting to the chef David Gilbert. He has worked at two of my favourite restaurants in France, L'Astrance in Paris and Michel Bras in Laguiole. He has also worked with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, where I hope to eat one day. He knows his onions and has a French sensibility to his cooking that I love.
It was a perfect evening and one I'd repeat soon except that the drive to Detroit is a very long and boring one. Let's hope I'm invited back to the Classic and I stop in Detroit on the way to St Joseph and on the way back then I can eat in both of Brian's restaurants.