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A recent review of The Whitney, Detroit MI

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Full review with pictures in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/04/w... text as below

…I’d driven by the old mansion countless times during my younger days going to hockey games and concerts in Detroit – to be perfectly honest I’d never known it was a restaurant. With my oldest friend soon to be moving from Detroit to Florida and me in town for the first time in approximately a year I figured it would be a nice, quiet setting where we could meet, eat, and catch up. With the rain pounding down and the streets of Detroit largely empty I arrived in front of the elaborate old home around 6:15pm, just prior to our 6:30 reservations – the valet was free but the run from the car was still enough to dampen my shirt.

Greeting my pal at the front door we exchanged a handshake and made our way in – collecting on the reservation we were quickly led to a small two-top in one of the seven downstairs dining rooms with a full view of Woodward Avenue through the enormous bay windows – to be fair we couldn’t have asked for a better seat. Greeted promptly by our server we were presented with the nightly menu, wine list on the back, and offered drinks – for my friend a cabernet and for myself water. Left to peruse the menu it didn’t take us long to make our selections and with orders placed we sat and chatted for quite some time while browsing the room.

Seated for nearly 25 minutes before my water was finally refilled (at my request) an ancillary server next arrived with a basket of hot bread – two relatively uninteresting and dry butter rolls plus two substantially more moist, flavorful, and tasty garlic poppy seed rolls. Served without butter but instead with a benign and flavorless olive oil we ate the first basket over the course of the 45 minute wait for our appetizers and requested a second to go with our mains – unfortunately we were told they were “out” of the garlic poppyseed and we were instead brought 4 of the butter rolls – three of which went untouched.

Prior to the arrival of our appetizers I excused myself from the table with the excuse of the restroom and browsed the 1894 home at length. Given its location in a relatively run-down part of the city I was quite impressed by how well kept the home was, how all of the tables were kept ready and waiting for guests (even though the restaurant was less than 1/4 filled,) and how out-of-place the whole scene was in downtown Detroit. Making my way back to the table only moments before our appetizers arrived I was glad to have browsed around, it is certainly a Detroit landmark worthy of being seen.

For our first course my friend received the Crab Cake which was served along with wantons similar to a Crab Rangoon. Overall he said he liked the dish, but that he’d had better. For myself the choice was the Duck Confit and Cherry Fritter served with Spinach, Caramelized Onions, and Goat Cheese Vinaigrette. Unlike any other Duck I’ve previously experienced this dish reminded me very much of a hush-puppy with a hint of duck. Tasting the cherries more prominently than the bird the overall texture of the dish was rather doughy while the accompaniments were mostly overwhelmed by the sweet and pungent onions.

Appetizers complete and both of us largely underwhelmed it was only a short ten minutes before our main courses arrived – for my friend an excessively priced Filet Mignon, cooked medium rare, that he stated he could have done better on the grill at home. For myself I opted against the chicken (my first choice) due to my love of gnocchi – a big mistake to say the very least. Adequate in portion the dish was presented attractively – gnocchi large and plump, sliced tomatoes aplenty, and a thin sauce mingling with the onions and spinach. Taking my first bite I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth manner in which the dumplings melted in my mouth – but after the initial texture there was nothing….and I mean nothing. I realize early spring isn’t the best time of the year for vegetables in Ohio, but for a sauced dish to receive the majority of its flavor from Ricotta is hard to believe. Bland onions (you’d think they would be the same as those with the duck, but that was not the case at all,) wimpy tomatoes, and a sauce that lacked nuance or flavor even with the addition of multiple shakes from the salt shaker. I don’t know why I didn’t send it back – I should have, it was really that bad.

Thoroughly annoyed with the food but enjoying seeing my friend for the first time since Vegas in September I decided to give The Whitney a chance for dessert – browsing the menu I saw my friend’s eyes light up at the Lava Cake (which we were told would take 20-30 minutes to prepare) while I was instantly drawn to the White Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding with Butterscotch and House Made Vanilla Ice Cream (or at least that is how it was described.) Ordering a coffee while we waited my buddy elected for another glass of wine – I hope his wine was better than the coffee, a bitter and acidic blend that did not take well to sweetener but livened up a little bit with cream (something I never use.

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When our desserts did arrive I was happy for my friend – he loved the lava cake and deemed it “well worth the wait.” My dessert, on the other hand, did not fare as well. Topped with what I can only assume were canned pears poached in a strong port the bread pudding itself was dry – it was also luke-warm. Tasting nothing like cherry and only slightly of white chocolate the pudding was poor but I will admit the ice cream was delectable, especially when paired with the creamy caramel/butterscotch sauce…perhaps a cup of the sauce would have helped the dish as a whole.

When it was all said and done our bill was about what one would expect at a mid-to-high end restaurant in Detroit while the food and service fell far short….far short even before our sever suggested we “need to settle the tab now because I have to go get my kid from the babysitter”….at 8:45. Paying and hanging around to finish our drinks (and conversation) we made our way to the door around 9:00pm and waited while the valet ran through the worsening rain to collect our cars. Bidding farewell to my friend we promised to get together again before the move – but most certainly not at The Whitney.

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The Whitney
4421 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

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  1. Interesting. Having never been to the Whitney myself, this doesn't exactly bode well. I take it that your friend's dessert was their famous Ugly Cake? They're apparently well-known for it.

    I do have to take exception with one point you've made, though, about the filet mignon: I honestly can't think of *any time in my life* when I've had a steak at a restaurant that I couldn't have done better myself at my own home. Never. It's really too high a bar to set, IMHO. I've no qualm with you criticizing the price point, the time it took to receive it, the sub-par service, etc. On this point, however, I've got to wave my hand a bit. That's quite the excessive threshold for them to meet, and I'd bet that no place can reach that pinnacle...it's sort of the nature of the beast.

    And yes: you should have sent the gnocchi back...I've got to put that one on your shoulders, too. The place should have been given a chance to make it right before you said something here.

    There is no excuse, however, none *at all* for the server's behavior. Really? You have to go get your kid from the babysitter? At this hour? And this is my problem...how? Do you even *like* gratuities?

    Thanks for the review.

    2 Replies
    1. re: boagman

      Cheers - I don't eat beef, so that is on my pal. I will note, however, that this is a guy who orders beef every time we hang out and the last time we ate - Craftsteak in Vegas - he stated it was the best steak he'd ever eaten.

      The cake he ordered was their "Chocolate Lava cake - Made to order, Whipped Cream, Raspberry Coulis, Mocha Creme Anglaise."

      Having dined at Forest Grill, Zingerman's, and Roast in the same trip (and Bourbon Steak, Saltwater, and Iridescence in the past) I can say I definitely have no reason to return to The Whitney.

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      Forest Grill Restaurant
      735 Forest Ave Ste 100, Birmingham, MI 48009

      1. re: boagman

        It is all about how hot you can get your cooking surface. Many homes can not get to the 700+ degrees that a good steak should be cooked/seared at. Most seasoning on a skillet starts to beak down at 600+ degrees.

        I a huge fan of a very hot seared steak. Look toward your grill for a good solution.