Tag Archives: Restaurant Week

Stellafly Recap of Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2014


Restaurant Week
 came to Grand Rapids mid-August, and wrapped up last Sunday, August 24. Every year, Restaurant Week Grand Rapids encourages local restaurants to participate and celebrate the “Art of Dining Out” by offering earth-to-table menu creations from scores of restaurants.

Stellafly sent out a team of willing writers and photographers to check out three different restaurants in the Grand Rapids area that were participating in Restaurant Week: Tre CuiginiRezervoir Lounge and Cork Wine & Grille

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Tre Cugini
Sparkly Stellafly / photos Jason Hite

I had the pleasure of visiting Tre Cugini along with Jason Hite and Leah Bekins to try out their offerings. We were all first-timers at this great spot in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.

In one word: AMAZING.

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If you’ve never been to Tre Cugini, it is located on Monroe Center, across from the Grand Rapids Art Museum. This four-time winner of Grand Rapids Magazine’s Award of Excellence provides a very authentic Italian cuisine experience with Executive Chef Daniel R. Chudik at the helm in the kitchen. This small, intimate space also includes a large space for events such as wedding receptions and the wine dinners that are offered by the restaurant throughout the year.

After being seated we were quickly greeted by our server for the evening, Sara, who provided excellent recommendations, service, and was a true delight the entire time we were there. Tre Cugini offered a 3-course meal for the extraordinary price of $28 during Restaurant Week, and our group tried several of the dishes listed.

Antipasto (Appetizer) Course

Thanks to the recommendation of Sara, all three of us at the table selected the Bruschetta for our appetizer course and agreed it was hands down the best we had ever had. Toasted crostini is topped with house-made ricotta cheese, fresh tomato, arugula, and balsamic vinegar—it was truly extraordinary.

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Secondo (Main) Course

Like the first course, the second course provided equally difficult decisions. The menu was full of wonderful options, from Eggplant Terrine to the Four Cheese Ravioli. Leah chose the ravioli and Jason and I both selected the Cavatelli Pasta with Sausage and Spinach. All the pasta is made in house as was the sausage. It was evident by the quiet moment at the table that everyone enjoyed their dishes a great deal. Each one was bursting with flavor and it felt as if we were actually in Italy.

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Dolce (Dessert)

It was hard to believe we actually had room to eat dessert after the first two wonderful courses, but we could not resist the house made Lemon Pudding Cake (me), house made chocolate Gelato (Jason), and Sicilian Cannoli with sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chips (Leah). Each of these was the perfect way to end our delicious meal.

On behalf of all of us, I would like to say Bravissimo! to Chef Dan, Sara, and the entire staff of Tre Cugini for the amazing dining experience. We will most certainly be back.

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Be sure to visit Tre Cuigini on their website: trecugini.com

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Rezevoir Lounge
Eve Gardner / photos Bryan Esler

The community of Grand Rapids continues to come together to put on events that are enticing to every demographic in this growing city. Most recently, I had the opportunity to experience Grand Rapids’ third annual Restaurant Week. And, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect – two days before the Michigan Titanium Triathlon.

As an endurance athlete, I sometimes feel as if there is not enough food that can fit on one plate – or three – to replace the number of calories I intentionally burn each day. While dining with a friend at the Rezevoir Lounge, one of the local businesses participating in Restaurant Week this year, my expectations were exceeded. The three courses I chose were all delicious and seemed strategically designed to pack a flavorful punch to my appetite – something not easily done!

The over-simplified menu, designed specifically for Restaurant Week, made making the decision of what to order much, much easier. In my opinion, there is nothing more damning than attempting to choose just one plate to enjoy when the menu is chocked full of mouth-watering entrée options. With only three plate options for each of the three courses included, I felt confident in each of my choices while simultaneously never feeling as if I was sacrificing the other options on the menu. Furthermore, having specific options for Vegetarians, Vegans and even those with gluten allergies was reassuring; as a Vegetarian myself, I didn’t feel excluded from this community-wide event.

My dinner included a Kale salad with a toasted fennel seed and agave vinaigrette,  a Spicy Vegetable Alfredo and Brown Rice Penne and concluded with the French 75. The Kale salad was nothing short of delicious or interesting – the agave vinaigrette dressing balanced each bite, not-too-sweet and not-too-tart.  The Spicy Vegetable Alfredo was a step above any other pasta I have tasted, especially for an Alfredo-type pasta. The jalapenos add the perfect kick to the dish while the noodle-to-sauce ratio was spot on – I didn’t feel as if I was eating a bowl of Alfredo soup and noodles, like normal. And, the French 75 for desert was … well, my taste buds freaked out in excitement in a way that I would never be able to put to words. The tartness of the sparkling wine gin sorbet and the sweetness of the Michigan cherry syrup made the perfect pairing – I almost licked the martini glass when I was finished.

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It’s not often I finish a meal at a restaurant perfectly satisfied, both in taste and in volume of food. Thankfully, the Rezevoir Lounge met and exceeded every expectation I had. And, while the food was appetizing, the atmosphere was equally enjoyable. From the lighting to the hand-crafted beer selection list and the exposed brick wall, the establishment gave off a vibe that emanated a laid back comfort. Although a bar setting, families were warmly welcomed.

Rezevoir Lounge on the web: rezlounge.com

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Cork Wine and Grille
Nancy Agrillo and Michael Meilock / photos Michael Meilock

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Every plate was wiped clean- and not just because we are 2 soon-to-be Ironman triathletes fueling up for a race. The food was delicious.

Cork Wine and Grille’s menu for restaurant week combined some standard favorites with surprising creations. The Watermark Salad blends mixed greens with a flavorful medley of dried cranberries, strawberries and candied pecans. The Stone Fruit pizza, however, took the first course to a whole new stratosphere. Who would have thought a combination of apricot, peaches, plums and olive oil on a crust would result in such delishousness? And then there’s the impressive wine selection.

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Servers Aaron and Dani recommended the perfect wine choices, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Malbec. The main course of Southwest Chicken with fingerling potatoes pleasantly surprised with the touch of black bean puree. The Peach Bourbon Glazed Trout, slathered in a sweet glaze, paired nicely with the bacon and spinach accompaniments.

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The Cane Berry Cheesecake would impress even a cheesecake snob (which I am). Server Dani recommended the Peanut butter Pie. Its luscious peanut butter filling topped with chocolate ganache was reminiscent of a top shelf Reese’s peanut butter cup.

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Cork Wine and Grille on the web: corkwineandgrille.com

Doug Small is an Unapologetic Foodie.

BY :: BRIAN VANOCHTEN
PHOTOGRAPHY :: TIM MOTLEY

The culinary education of the 51-year-old leader of Experience Grand Rapids began in childhood while he watched as his mother kept whipping up creative solutions in the kitchen that somehow managed to satisfy the appetites of all eight boys and six girls in their not-so-Small family.

“I grew up in a family of 14,” he said with a laugh. “My mother could make hamburger 60 different ways.”

His interest in food ultimately led him to experiment in the kitchen himself.

Small started to express his passion for cooking after he and his wife relocated to Palm Springs, California. in 1993. He found an endless supply of fresh and locally sourced ingredients that became part of a nightly ritual of stopping off at the market on his trip home from work to select items to prepare for dinner.

“I’m the cook in the family,” Small said. “I’d stop at the market when we lived in Palm Springs and I’d pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s where I discovered the importance of farm-to-table ingredients.”

It’s not uncommon for him to whip up a full meal for family members.

He has been known to create| an Italian feast for 20 people upon visiting his brother in Ohio. He’ll prepare pasta with fresh herbs and sauces, plus a signature Caesar salad with grilled hearts of Romaine and a scratch-made dressing he insists would make him a “million bucks” if he bottled and sold it.

“I entertained thoughts early in my career of opening a restaurant,” Small said. “I just love the creation of food.”

He has lifted that passion to new heights since coming to Grand Rapids.

“I brought the idea of ‘Restaurant Week’ with me from Denver,” said Small, who was senior vice president of Visit Denver before being hired as Experience Grand Rapids‘ president and chief experience officer four years ago. “It’s such a vibrant food scene here that celebrates locally sourced foods.

“But there was no one marketing or promoting it.”

Small supplied the inspiration and imagination for launching “Restaurant Week” in Grand Rapids, which has shifted from a pre-Thanksgiving spot on the calendar in each of its first two years to a summer celebration Aug. 15-25 that shows off fresh local ingredients at the peak of harvest this year.

Finding the right fit

Initially, Small had doubts about changing the dates.

The concept — offering diners a three-course meal for $25 at participating establishments — had been such a huge success that he wondered if it might disrupt the momentum of the event in its third year.

He reflected back on his passion for fresh farm-to-table cooking.

“I was probably the most reluctant of our committee to move it into summer, but the more I thought about it, it made sense,” Small said. “When you get to that first part of August, people are starting to stay home, they’re back from vacation and they’re preparing for kids to go back to school in the fall.

“It also puts more of a ‘locally sourced foods’ focus on it. Local ingredients aren’t as plentiful in November.”

The impetus for altering the dates for Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids happened as a result of booking the Society of Automotive Engineers convention at DeVos Place, which, in turn, forced Small and his staff to shift the popular Beer & Wine Show to a different spot in the November lineup.

After considering its options, Experience Grand Rapids consulted with chefs and restaurateurs throughout West Michigan and decided the ideal fit for Restaurant Week would be mid-August.

“I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” Small said. “We had been chasing the Society of Automotive Engineers for a while. Our mission is booking conventions. It forced us to find another spot on the calendar for the Beer & Wine Show since it had followed Restaurant Week the past two years.

“It just made the most sense to move Restaurant Week into August. The local chefs and restaurants agreed with it. The fresh produce and ingredients are at their peak in the first week of August,” he added

“Our plans are to keep it there.”

Any remaining doubts about the switch faded when Small looked at the results of a Grand Rapids Magazine readers’ poll that named Restaurant Week as the second-most anticipated event on the local scene.

“We finished second behind ArtPrize, of course, but ahead of everything else, including Festival,” Small said.

Keeping it fresh

The concept for “Restaurant Week” is bigger and bolder this year.

There are more than 60 establishments participating and the geographical range includes more eateries along the lakeshore. A dollar from each dinner helps fund the Culinary Institute at Grand Rapids Community College, which has been the recipient of $40,000 in donations the first two years.

The event is sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority, Sysco, Great Lakes Wine & Spirits, Founders Bank & Trust, Founders Brewing Co., national wine sponsor Trinchero Family Estates and Bacardi.

“We’re going to spread our wings and market more to the lakeshore this year,” Small said. “There’s a lot of Illinois license plates along the lakeshore during the summer months and this is an opportunity to get a lot of those people to experience what the dining scene in West Michigan has to offer.”

The same rules apply as last year.

Each participating restaurant offers a minimum three-course meal for $25 per person, although some places offer as many as five courses. Most eateries offer more than one option per course.

The participating bistros and brew pubs offer three-course dinners for two people for $25, since those establishments are a lower price point on their menus. Most offer more than one option per course.

The “Grand Cocktail Contest” presents a new twist on the proceedings.

In addition to meals, the mixologists at 18 local establishments are participating in a competition to see who is able to come up with the most unique cocktail surrounding the international launch of two new liqueurs — Grey Goose Cherry Noir Vodka and Bacardi Oakheart Rum.

A panel of judges and on-line input from diners will determine the winner.

No Small appetite

Small is salivating at the menu options this year.

He personally reviews each of the participants’ menus and then plans his gastronomic adventures for the week around those establishments putting an emphasis on locally sourced fresh ingredients.

“I averaged five nights out the first two years,” Small said.

“I look at every single menu. I chose restaurants that do local first as much as possible, have a creative new dish not normally found on their regular menu and those that give me more than one choice for each course.

“I think this is the best year I’ve seen for creativity. There’s some real surprises out there.”

One final surprise: Small said Experience Grand Rapids is planning an announcement immediately following “Restaurant Week” about an forthcoming event in the winter involving local restaurants. He insisted it isn’t a second “Restaurant Week,” which has been speculated in the past.

“It’ll be along the same lines,” he said. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Be sure to check out Experience Grand Rapids on the web: http://www.experiencegr.com
Experience GR on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/ExperienceGR
Restaurant Week Grand Rapids on the webhttp://www.restaurantweekgr.com/
Restaurant Week Grand Rapids Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RestaurantWeekGR