Tannin, Okemos

Tannin had been on our radar for quite some time, and we zeroed-in last week to eat at the Okemos restaurant. Tannin was my 41st new (to me) restaurant of the year.

I liked the wooden paneling and canned lights surrounded by corks and the pictures of Detroit above our table. Seeing pictures of Detroit usually makes me glad I’m not there. (No offense people who live there.) Service that night was a little slow, but the waiter did have a lot tables, and he was hustling. He reminded me slightly of Zak Galifianakis, a name I was nowhere close to spelling correctly the first time. For the record, he did not slip us roofies, so it wasn’t a “The Hangover 4” situation. And he made a good wine suggestion for Andrea which made her happy. I made a nice choice of white, and I was happy. We were both winning at life.

But when it came to the food, there was only one winner. That winner happened to be me and the choice of champons, chicken carbonara. Though its gray-colored pasta shells didn’t look appetizing (they looked like undead button mushrooms, a food I dislike weather a member of the undead or just a normal fungus), but the taste made up for that. it was cheesy with super tender chicken, and though not among my favorite pasta dishes in Lansing (Red Cedar Grill’s mac & cheese and Bravo’s braised beef ravioli come to mind), it was a decent dish.

Tannin

Tannin

Andrea ordered the hard-to-pronounce amatriciana. I had considered ordering the same, but I have a thing where I don’t like ordering what my wife orders. It’s nothing personal, I assure you. The problem with her pasta was the taste, which is kind of a big thing for a meal. The red sauce seemed like plain tomato paste, and there was an overwhelming amount of it. It had plenty of flavor, just not a good one. Perhaps they were trying to cover up the underwhelming noodles. There were a lot of those noodles, but a lot of something you don’t want isn’t much of a deal.

I’m torn on a return visit. The wine selection looked strong, and the appetizers also looked appealing even if the pasta didn’t impress. There was more on the menu than just pasta, and that would be my target dish. Service and ambiance were positive, it just fell a bit flat on the food.

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Gilbert & Blake’s, Okemos

Mother’s Day had come, and that means I cook. And when I say “I cook”, that means we go out. We made the not-long trip to Okemos to visit Gilbert & Blake’s. We don’t go there often, not because of the food, it’s just not in our normal sphere of restaurants. We tend to reserve G&B’s for special occasions, like birthdays and solar eclipses.

It was a tough choice. I intended to order fish, since I consider G&Bs a fish restaurant (that’s just me). I was considering three options, but I decided on the Honey Mustard Rainbow Trout. It narrowly beat out the Jalapeno Salmon, but since by wife ordered that, it was a win-win. The perch was also in the running, but rainbow trout makes me think of “The Rainbow Connection”, and who doesn’t like singing frogs? Follow that logic? Me neither.

When they first brought it out, I wondered who put the hang glider on my plate. It nearly covered the entire plate. Though the fish is fileted, and was fairly thin, it was still a lot of fish. And it is covered in a heavy honey mustard sauce. I didn’t taste much of the fish because the sauce was so overwhelming. But luckily, the sauce was good, with a nice balance of honey and mustard, so I didn’t mind. But if you don’t like mustard, you need to stay away from this meal.

Gilbert and Blake's

Gilbert and Blake’s

Gilbert & Blake’s doesn’t have a huge draft beer selection, but they had a few good offerings. I went with the Sam Adams Summer Ale, because it was close enough to summer. There were a few IPAs to choose from, but I bypassed the hoppy beers for something, well, better. And I poured some beer on the floor for my homey, Damon’s, which this particular G&B’s used to be. Those four big murals at the back of the restaurant? Those were TVs. Consider yourselves informed.

You don’t need to wait until holidays are exciting astronomical events to go to Gilbert & Blake’s. Both Gilbert and Blake are fantastic people, and would love to see you any time of year.

Les Halles, New York City

We were fortunate to be in New York City for our anniversary last year. The hardest part of being in NYC, as far as food goes, is the enormous amount of choices. Coworker suggestions, websites, guidebooks – all have suggestions on where to go. I’m sure had I talked to one of the many people who were talking to themselves on the streets of New York, they would have had helpful suggestions as well.

I chose Les Halles, which I did for several reasons. First, it was in Lower Manhattan, about a ten minute walk from where we were staying on South Street. Second, it was French, and we don’t have French restaurants in Lansing. Third, it was where Anthony Bourdain worked, and I was a fan of his “No Reservations” show. And finally, I like to say “Les Halles” – I feel so cultured when I do.

Les Halles

Les Halles

My big fear was that it would be touristy, filled with people like me – wearing Michigan State hats (Go Green), carrying Macy’s bags, and bumping into things because they weren’t watching where they were going. But I didn’t get that sense at all. Talking to the people at the neighboring table – and you can do that because the tables are quite close – they hadn’t heard of Mr. Bourdain, and were there because their hotel had recommended it. The other couple were Russian, and they kept banging their shoes on the table and yelling “We will bury you!”

The restaurant was quite busy, but the service was polite and efficient. We didn’t feel rushed or crowded despite how many people were there, so that is a compliment to the servers of Les Halles.

So many good things were on the menu, but I decided on the steak and frites (French fries), which I had eaten in Paris last year. The meal also came with bread and a salad, and it was all good. The steak was cooked perfectly (medium, bien sur) and the fries were the perfection that comes with just a little crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I know, it seems odd to go to a nice restaurant and have fries, but the French do it, and so should you. You should not, however, strike at random and leave tourists stranded, making it difficult to catch their train back to London. I’ve heard that is inconvenient.

Steak and frites

Steak and frites

Andrea also steak, the bavette au bleu, which is skirt steak with blue cheese sauce, which she enjoyed quite a bit. We shared a bottle of Chateau Haut Courey Bordeaux, and it tasted even better because it was half price. Was that because it was Monday? Could be.

For dessert, Andrea had le mousse au chocolate, and I had puff pastries made with vanilla ice cream. We were both happy with our choices. The pasties were not overly sweet, and they came with a little jug of chocolate sauce which I used to thoroughly drown the pastries. And just check out the little plate decorations made of chocolate  – that is some serious drizzle skill. Or, as Snoop Dogg would say, snizzle my drizzle. I hope that wasn’t dirty, but it was fun to write.

Pastries

Pastries

Our choice of anniversary restaurants was a good one, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Les Halles to friends, family, and random people on the street.

Reserve, Grand Rapids

After a day of horseback riding and walking through Meijer garden, it was time for dinner. We tried a new (to us) place, Reserve, in beautiful, mysterious Grand Rapids. Reserve is a small plate – big plate kind of place, where you can get regular sized entrees, not-quite regular sized entrees, and not even close sized entrees. Or mix and match, like we did. And had I not used my camera phone,  you would see some pictures to show all the glorious food of which I am about to describe. But you’ll just have to use your imagination this time.

Reserve, Grand Rapids

Reserve, Grand Rapids

We started nicely with a plate of mixed meat and cheese from Reserve’s “Pick 3” menu. You can also “Pick 5”, but we didn’t have that much room – there was a lot of food coming. The waitress was helpful in describing the types of meats and cheeses, because I hadn’t heard of most of them, and if their meat – cheese menu was online, I could tell you what we had. I know there was some tasty gouda and some duck pate, along with a third that sounded vaguely holy, like St. Antoine, or something like that. In any case, no stinky cheese touched our palates, and we were most happy with our selections.

The highlight for me was the Vanilla Bacon. They had me at bacon, but add in vanilla, and I knew we had a winner. And who doesn’t love Ugandan vanilla the most? Boy, I sure do, not like that Kenyan vanilla, which is just awful and smells like socks. The bacon was thick-cut and not the least bit chewy, full of that great pork flavor that your favorite childhood pig tasted like. Add in the vanilla sweetness with the bacon bacon-ness, and you have something truly wonderful to behold. And eat – don’t just look at it.

The plate I was most looking forward to was the one I liked least. The smoked rabbit ravioli sounded and looked great, and wasn’t terrible, but there wasn’t much flavor. It was bland rabbit, not the bunny I was hoping would just leap off the plate. (See what I did there?) it was tender with a nice texture,  it just needed something else to make it stand out. Perhaps my palate isn’t refined enough to detect the intricacies of whatever the chef was trying to do – that’s possible, too.

I would definitely visit Reserve again. And I didn’t know this until we got there, but there is outdoor seating upstairs, if it’s that week in Michigan where the weather is not too hot, not too cold, or it’s not raining. An interesting menu and an impressively large collection of wine are the big draws, but don’t forget the odd-looking light fixtures and cool-vibe feel to the place.

Upstairs at Reserve

Upstairs at Reserve

The English Inn, Eaton Rapids

There aren’t many fine dining options around Lansing, and unfortunately The English Inn in Eaton Rapids is often forgotten because of it’s location away from the bustling center of culture that is the capital city. But thanks to Groupon, we were reminded of this wonderful place on M100.

What is now “The English Inn” was originally built for an executive of Oldsmobile, which you can read about on the website. I’m here to give a food review, so let’s get to it…. after a brief commentary on society. For those of who are a little clueless on manners, if you watch loud videos on your phone in a nice, classy, quiet restaurant, you should probably be eating at a sports bar, or maybe just stay at home and eat your Hungry Man dinners in the privacy of your own frat house. Losers.

The English Inn

The English Inn

Where was I? Yes, food. The croissants which were served first were soft and tasty and tasted like croissants. Go figure. The star of my show was the bacon-wrapped trout. It smelled fishy, but tasted excellent. Very flaky, very tender, just about perfect. I was wondering, however, how they tricked the trout to swim into the bacon trap they set. Curious, but whoever it was that thought of that genius idea, hats off. Because bacon makes everything better, including trout.

Bacon-wrapped trout

Bacon-wrapped trout

For dessert, I had the cheesecake, which was delicious. It was small, but for cheesecake, it was the right size. The Groupon included a salad, entrée, and dessert, so I got to have my own, non-chocolate dish. I love chocolate as much as the next guy, but I’m a fan of cheesecake, and when I split dessert with Andrea, non-chocolate is not allowed.

Cheesecake!

Cheesecake!

Don’t wait for a Groupon to head south of the city. Eaton Rapids is the place you need to be for a nice dining experience.  And with warm weather returning shortly, it’s a perfect time for stroll in the gardens behind the inn.

Gracie’s Place, Williamston

Williamston is the place to go for nice restaurants around Lansing. For me, who lives on the east side of town, it’s an easy trip, but even if it were a hard trip (in snow, uphill, both ways), it would be worth it. Tonight’s target was Gracie’s Place, and to make the trip even better, there was a jazz band that night.

But bring out the food. I decided on the braised beef, or as the receipt read, “Scott Bloom Braised Beef”. I didn’t know they named cows, but the one I was eating shared my first name, which was a little disconcerting. (Yes, I know Scott Bloom is a farm.) But besides that, the beef was very tender – it fell apart when I used harsh language, so there was no need for a fork. The little potato grenades that guarded the meat were even better that their carefully-protected treasure. I would even choose them over McDonald’s French fries, if that tells you how good they were.

Gracie's Place

That Gracie has some nice beef.

Wednesday night was one of those beautiful times called “half-price wine night”. I didn’t know that going in, but now armed with that knowledge, I feel emboldened  to go to Williamston and drink more. We chose a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo that started slow but really came alive when the food arrived. If I had to describe it (and I don’t, but I’m in that kind of mood), I would say it was shy 15-year old going to their first dance, but then just busting out when the DJ plays “Party Rockin’. Or, as my daughter calls it, “Potty Rockets”.

The mousse cake was not large, but it was rich. If you didn’t get enough dinner, then the portion should be just right. If you’re stuffed but have no self-control when it comes to chocolate, then there is enough to share. If you’re into that sort of thing.

RiverHouse Inn, Williamston, MI

The bread and butter were both fantastic, but the butter was the star of the show. I savored and saved it, and I used every last bit that I could scrape out of the plastic tub for two nights worth of rolls at home.  I hope they eventually sell it.

Getting bread before a meal is not unusual, but the quality of it at The RiverHouse Inn in Williamston was outstanding. The RiverHouse was a place we had wanted to go for a while, but for whatever reason, it never came up when the time came to choose a restaurant for date night. So this was  our first visit, one initiated by a Deal Chicken coupon I had bought months ago and saw lurking about my computer.

Out of kindness to those people who wish to remain anonymous, I have blanked out the license plates for those cars closest to me as I took the picture. So you people going to a discreet rendezvous don’t have anything to worry about. But next time, I’m turning you in.

The RiverHouse Inn

The RiverHouse Inn

We were seated by the fireplace in the bar. It had a nice view of the river behind the restaurant, and Andrea and I both wanted to return in the summer when we could enjoy the patio in all its Williamston glory. The RiverHouse had several rooms for seating in the converted house, but the bar area was my favorite. I don’t like to be too far away from the booze, after all, and I could envision the previous owners hanging out in the den watching TV or planning world domination. Because if I had a den, I would be constantly thinking about taking over the planet.

On the topic of beer (not world domination), Thursdays are half-off beer, which is music to my ears. Equally pleasing – they had Founder’s porter on tap. Great, cheap Michigan beer – you had me at “beer”, but the other adjectives were appealing, too. And it was the beer so nice I bought it twice, and it would have been thrice, but I had to drive.

My entree was the “Roasted Red Pepper Alfredo”. The title left out the most important ingredient, grilled chicken. When my dinner was set before me, the first thing that I thought was “It’s the cheesiest”. There was a lot of cheese sauce, and the chef was very generous with the chicken. All this was over linguini, and it tasted wonderful. And in case you missed it, I liked the bread and butter.

Some cheesy chicken and pasta linguini

Some cheesy chicken and pasta linguini

For dessert, Andrea and I shared a warm chocolate cake topped with vanilla ice cream, and the whole thing was drizzled with chocolate sauce. There wasn’t any oozing chocolate erupting from the center, but the cake didn’t survive our onslaught. Chocolate cake is my favorite dessert, beating out even Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes, so I was happy to have some of the good stuff.

We were both happy with our RiverHouse Inn experience, and it will be a place we go back to. It’s easy to miss, tucked in on Grand River Avenue, but try it out – you will enjoy the experience.