I keep asking myself….”Why me”?
Why would a group of professional chefs and dedicated food snobs ask me to be a member of their secret society? I am not a particularly accomplished chef, (although I make a mean omelet). And while I do have a fairly discerning palette, so do many others. I have eaten in some fine and not-so-fine restaurants but that hardly makes me special. So I guess it must be the fact that I’ve spent the last 25 years as a commercial interior designer and have designed and overseen the construction of some 75-plus restaurants and food service projects. Some of these projects you may have heard about: Zingermans Roadhouse (Ann Arbor), Copper Canyon (Southfield), Rocky’s Rotisserie (Novi), Edamame Sushi (Madison Heights) and The Stage & Co. in West Bloomfield, just to name a few.
My focus is not where the food is being prepared but rather where it is being consumed, otherwise referred to as ”the front of the house”. That is where my unique perspective comes into play and that, I believe, is why I have been shown the secret handshake and taken the vows.
I recently had the pleasure of participating in two Rogue Estate dinner parties, one at the home of good friend and fellow Rogue Ian Malbon and most recently at my own home as it was my wife’s turn to host and lead the preparations. Both evenings were memorable for the food consumed, beverages sipped and level of banter overheard. Chefs, it seems, are a bawdy and profane group. And I mean that as a positive -it was very entertaining!
It was at the last event that I was asked to participate and thus offer my first blog to Rogue Estate.
My Restaurant Philosophy
I have a fairly simple criteria for judging restaurants: Is the price paid for your meal a pleasure to pay or a burden?
Take this example. Tribute, one of my all time favorite restaurants which is sadly now defunct was an ornately designed monument to gastronomy and was very, very pricy. However, both times my wife and I dined there we had amazing meals. The food, service and decor were of an extremely high caliber and paying $150.00-$200.00 for our meal did not offend me in the least. Conversely, I clearly recall walking out of Morton’s Steakhouse in Southfield before even being served. In a boring, pedestrian and clichéd setting, it took over ten minutes for the waiter to even stop by, water our table and take our drink orders. By then, we were getting antsy. He then proceeded to take another ten minutes to bring us our drinks, which were totally incorrect and had to be returned. It was at this point I asked the hostess for another server and while we waited many more minutes for our new waiter to arrive we glanced at the menu and saw the entrée prices ranging from $40.00 to $75.00. It was at this point, with a high degree of negativity in the air, that we got up and excused ourselves, much to the chagrin of the flustered hostess She made valiant attempts to get us to stay, even at one point offering us her first born but alas, it was too late! Our evening was already ruined before it even began. Whatever we would have paid would have been too much!
As a designer I like high quality design, but that alone cannot save a place with poor food and poor service. With that said, a “dump” with excellent food and service can survive and even thrive……go figure. Restaurant gestalt is a delicate balance between atmosphere, service and food preparation, and if any one of these elements are out of whack the entire endeavor can come tumbling down. A great example is my all time favorite Detroit restaurant, Roma Café in the Eastern Market. It’s an unremarkable looking place, and looks as if it was decorated by somebody’s grandmother in the 1950’s. However, with excellent food, service and prices (not to mention singing waiters), I have eaten there many times and have never been disappointed.
To summarize, no matter how good a restaurant looks, if the food sucks word will get out and people will not come. Good food trumps all else!
In the coming months I hope to share some restaurant reviews, general thoughts on design and other restaurant related insights with you and my fellow Rogue Estate members.
Until then I bid you adieu.