Otus Supply – Fabulous in Ferndale

The ubiquitous owl logo

It started with an Italian grandmother.  Well, not the restaurant, but the chef.

Chef Myles McVay

For Myles McVay, 37, the executive chef at Otus Supply in Ferndale, the interest in cooking began with his Italian grandma, “She was always cooking.” From there, it was a short trip to the neighborhood pizzeria. At 13, he started working there, washing dishes. He moved up to making pizzas, and a career was born.

His career has reached its current apex at Otus Supply, an original concept for metro Detroit. Open since December of 2016, Otus is a 10,000 sq. ft. space: a combination concert hall, craft cocktail/beer bar, and restaurant under one roof. Designed by Alex Morales from SmartMouth Designs, a Chicago-based restaurant design studio, the Otus space features

Down the hobbit hole?

funky lighting, textural walls, and flourishes of owls (“otus” is the genus of owls).

Myles oversees the kitchen, where everything* is made from scratch.  And everything is designed to be prepped from order to table in 10-12 minutes.

The kitchen is large, and it has to be. Otus combines quality and quantity, serving up to 500 patrons on a summer weekend concert night. Guests are treated to a menu that’s difficult to categorize – there’s pizzas and pastas, a number of vegetable dishes, and four or five larger proteins. So Italian, right?

Well, no.

There’s a serious amount of influence from other cultures, from the kimchi used in the cucumber salad, to the complex mole residing under the unctuous beef short rib.

Fusion?  World cuisine?  I’m not sure.  How about if we go with “unique”?

What I do know is this is great food.  In two visits, I was able to sample a number of dishes.

Crispy, charred, bubbly crust

Let’s follow the menu, and start with the pizza.  Pizza is all about the crust, and here, the crust is made daily.  Beginning with “00” flour, the dough is mixed, then allowed to rise in large plastic tubs.  Because of the fineness of the flour grind (the “00”), and the natural leavening, the result is a finished crust that has the crispy exterior, airy, bubbly interior, and just the right amount of “chew”.  I tried the “Our-inara”, the Otus take on the traditional margherita, featuring fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic, and basil.  The crust was perfect, and the sauce spicy, both from the garlic, the oregano, and the generous amount of hot pepper flakes.

There’s a similar care taken with another simple dish, the bread and butter.

“Simple” bread & butter

The bread is a malted wheat sourdough, with a crackling crisp crust, and a light interior.  The bread has a slightly sour taste (hence the name), worth mentioning because of the plethora of  “sourdough” breads sold in the various markets that are neither crusty nor sour, and have no evidence of the required starter.  That is not the case here, with a bread that is heartier than the traditional white San Francisco sourdough, but still features that great fermented taste.

The butter is made in–house, and combined with roasted garlic and Kalamata olives.  It’s tasty.  However, they change the blends often, even going with plain butter now and again.  So the dish will always be a bit different.

The house-made pastas should make his grandmother proud.  They’re cooked al dente, and have the creamy richness that comes from being tossed with the sauce.

Mafalde with pork sugo

The first pasta, the Mafalde, is a different noodle.  Legend has it this pasta shape is named after a princess.  Whether that is true or not, if you took a lasagna noodle, and eliminated 2/3 of the flat noodle in the middle, you’d have mafalde, a long flat pasta noodle with ruffles on both sides.  There’s a lot of texture to this noodle, so the sauce needs to be hearty, to stand up to it.  No problem here, as the pork sugo has the deep taste of slow simmering.  A surprise here is the included hazelnuts.  Yes, they are called out on the menu (no hidden allergen concern here), but it was a new inclusion for me.  This is a dish with wonderful layers of texture:  thick, al dente pasta, crunchy hazelnuts, tender bits of pork.  The dusting of parmesan atop completes the dish.

Squid Ink Pappardelle with Flying Fish Roe and Cured Egg

The second was a squid ink pappardelle, a dish of glistening jet black pasta, topped with cured egg yolk, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, garnished with orange roe.  The flying fish roe appears jewel-like, almost luminescent.  It may be the most beautiful dish I’ve photographed, and the taste?  It’s like eating the ocean.  The dish tastes of rich, salty brine, with a textural counterplay of the “pop” of the fishy eggs. and the chew of the noodles.  It’s tremendous, one of the two signature dishes here.

The third pasta was a root vegetable agnolotti.  On this day, the root vegetable

Parsley Root Agnolotti

in question was parsley root.  The pasta is sauced with brown butter, bits of caramelized apples, and garnished with sage, parmesan, and flavored bread crumbs.  It’s a fall dish, a sweeter sauce with holiday flavors.

Sweet & Sour Cucumber

 

Of the vegetables, the Sweet & Sour Cucumber was delicious and refreshing.  This is a molded cylinder of matchstick cucumbers, sweet corn, and charred lemon bits, topped with feta, a cracker, and black sesame seeds.  It’s light and tangy, either as a salad course, or a substantial palate cleanser before the larger dishes.

The wood fired broccoli is as it sounds, but sauced with a seaweed aioli for a

Wood Fired Broccoli – you can see the chili powder on the sunflower seeds

different taste.  It’s garnished with sunflower seeds and togarashi (Japanese red chili powder).  This is a solid dish.  While certainly vegetarian, vegans will need to ask them to hold the aioli, as it contains egg.  Chef Myles says they’re happy to accommodate requests like these.

Zucchini Fries

I also tried the zucchini fritters.  As you can see, these are beautifully plated and presented, topped with English peas, shaved fennel, and garnished with a bit of parsley mayo (also containing egg).   However, these are zucchini fries, not fritters.  Thin, long rectangular pieces of zucchini are battered and deep fried.  And they largely taste like really fresh, expertly battered, fried zucchini.

Wood-fired octopus

Woodfired octopus was an interesting dish.  Banish thoughts of calamari.  This has nothing in common with the rubbery little circles of squid over-fried in other establishments.  This is a classic Mediterranean dish, tender grilled tentacles of octopus, served over kimchi, garnished with puffed black rice (think “Snap, Crackle . . . oh, I always forget the third one!), dressed with a kombucha and honey vinaigrette.

I expected a heavy shot of funk with this dish, due to the two fermented items.  However, the kimchi had a smooth, mild flavor.  I asked Chef McVay, and he informed me that longer fermentation mellows the harsher flavors of kimchi.  Because of this, it complemented the octopus nicely, rather than taking over the dish.  The overall result was a balanced dish, one I would eat again.

The final dish was a show-stopper, the beef short rib.

Let’s start with size.  This thing is huge.  Otus obtains a special order cut of short ribs, and they average 22 – 24 ozs. per rib.  That’s at least double the size of most restaurant portions, and triple that of some.

So it’s a generously-sized portion.  It’s big enough to share.

Giant beef short rib, the signature dish

You won’t want to, though, as it is cooked to perfection.  The meat is well-seasoned, which, in the case of beef, means it has been properly salted.  The meat also has a solid sear, creating a good crust.   It has been cooked for several hours (braised, sous vide, both?), until the meat is fork tender, rendering the provided steak knife completely extraneous.

The rib is served in a pool of mole, the complex Mexican sauce consisting of 20 – 30 ingredients, including garlic, multiple types of chiles, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, and spices.  Chef McVay’s mole is mildly spicy, but earthy and rich.

The rib is garnished with chimichurri, roasted squash, and crispy shaved carrots.

The beef is richly unctuous, redolent with deep flavor.  It’s grandma’s pot roast on steroids, fork tender comfort food.  In my opinion, it’s their signature dish.  If this is on the menu, order it, and plan the rest of the meal around it.

It’s that good.

Otus Supply is a unique restaurant, and Chef McVay brings a unique vision to the kitchen.  There’s really nothing like either in the area.  You should go.

If you can’t get a reservation, don’t worry.  About 1/3 of the seats are saved for walk-ins, so there’s hope.  Go with friends, order lots of dishes, and share and pass them around.  That’s the best way to experience Otus.

“Owl” see you there.

Otus Supply is located at 345 East 9 Mile Road in Ferndale.  It opens at 5 PM Monday – Friday, 4 PM on Saturday.  The kitchen serves till 10 PM Monday – Thursday, 11 PM Friday and Saturday.  The bar is open till midnight Monday – Wednesday, and 2 AM Thursday through Saturday.  You can make reservations by calling 248.291.6160, or by clicking the button marked “Click Here!” at www.otussupply.com.

*In discussion with Chef Myles, it turns out that the mozzarella is the only item not (yet) made in house.  However, by the time you read this, it probably will be.

Takoi, nee Katoi

 

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

“Same as it ever was.” “Same as it ever was.”

With apologies to Brian Eno, David Byrne, and the rest of the Talking Heads, they never went away.

That’s the message Courtney Henriette wants everyone to hear.

Yes, the restaurant burned.

Yes, they had to close it up for months.

But that time wasn’t wasted.

The ownership team of Courtney, chef Brad Greenhill, and Philip Kafka went back to the beginning.  Back to life as a pop-up.

After the February 17th fire, they established a residency at Frame, in Hazel Park.  The did a number of pop-ups at Mabel Gray, Grey Ghost, and other locations.

And they kept the team together.  About 75% of the previous staff is here.  Many were kept on payroll during the hiatus.

Now, they’re back in the old location, but is it the same as it ever was?

It might even be better.

What’s changed?

Maybe everything.

The decor is different, courtesy of architect Ishtiaq Rafiuddin.  There is a new wing, housed in a shipping container.  

There’s a new patio, surrounded by a fence.

The restaurant interior has been freshened, new booths installed, lighting reworked.

The bar seems largely unchanged, a Blade Runner speakeasy, but now with a serving window to the patio.  

 

The cinder block walls remain, as does the sense of place.  It’s still weird, Detroit.  You’re at Takoi.

The menu has changed.  While still on a single page, the headings have changed, as have most of the dishes.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of trying many of these new tastes.

I started with a new dish, the Melon Salad.  As background, my late mother and I clashed over melon.  She loved all kinds; I thought anything other than watermelon was a waste.  Mom would have loved this salad.  The melon in question is honeydew and cantaloupe, shaved thin, tossed with cherry tomato halves, dressed with Thai basil, lime leaf, and ginger, atop a cashew crema.  It presents beautifully, as you can see.  How good is it?  I wanted to lick the bowl–the sweet of the melon is enhanced with the brightness of the basil and lime leaf, and the cashew crema adds a welcome richness.  This is a must-have dish, and a great start to a meal

The Fried Cauliflower is also a new dish, one a bit on the sweeter side.  Flavored with tamarind, curry powder, and palm sugar, the dish also gets a kick from the pickled chile and fresh cilantro garnish.  I enjoyed this vegan dish (the menu is very vegan- and vegetarian-friendly).  There’s a pleasant crunch to the florets, the hit of sweetness, and the acidic finish from the chile and cilantro.

 

Charred Broccoli is Takoi’s take on the ubiquitous vegetable.  Broccoli ships well, is available year-round, and is a healthy thing to eat.  What’s not to love?  Well, the taste for one.  There’s a reason most Americans associate broccoli with crudite platters and Ranch dip.  Takoi’s version might change this, convincing even little diners to eat their vegetables.  Grill-charred broccoli is dressed with curry rice crispies, atop more of the cashew crema, garnished with scallion shavings.  It’s a simple dish that simply works.

Grilled Corn was my final vegetable. Chef Brad introduces elote, Mexican street corn, to its Asian cousin.  The result is a charred half cob of corn, slathered with a bit of crema (coconut milk base?), garnished with cilantro, lime juice, and toasted coconut.  It’s a quintessential Thai flavor feast:  layers of sweet, acidic, and citrus.  It’s also messy, like all corn on the cob.  Live a little – eat with your hands.  Mess up your face.  If that bothers your date, they’re not the one for you anyways.  Who wants to hang out with somebody who’s that uptight?

 

After paying full homage to the veggies, we moved on to the proteins.  Chef Brad’s Fried Chicken is very crispy, perfectly moist, and a generous portion.  It’s served with what the menu describes as a southern Thai curry, and roti bread.  Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by this dish.  The curry took me to India, with a taste similar to a traditional Indian massaman.  I wasn’t expecting the sweetness found here, expecting more heat and spicy flavor, the Thai version of Nashville hot chicken, perhaps.

Full disclosure – I was wrong.

I researched this dish, and found that many of the southern provinces of Thailand are populated by descendants of immigrants from India.  Thus, the curries and roti of southern Thailand closely resemble the naan and massaman of India.  The dish is in fact a southern Thai curry, with traditional accompaniments.  And I learned something, which is always a pleasure.  In a world where learning is traditionally divided into “visual” or “verbal” learners, who wouldn’t rather absorb their lessons by “taste”?

I think that’s a school we can all get out of bed for!

The final dish was the Crispy Spare Ribs.  Somehow, I had missed this dish in its Katoi incarnation.  I will not miss it again.

Let’s start with what it isn’t.  Banish all thoughts of barbecued spare ribs from your mind.  These have nothing in common with those.

This dish is four meaty ribs, under a pile of peaches, pickled nectarines, and lime juice, glazed with a magic sauce made from fairy dust and unicorn horn shavings.  The menu describes it as a fish sauce caramel, so we should probably go with that.  But it’s magic.  It’s sweet, funky, and crispy.  

Disciplined eaters can enjoy the interplay of the fruits and the sauced ribs with alternating bites.  But they would be wrong, and you should not date them again..   The correct way to eat these ribs is with your hands, like this, making this exact face:

My meals were accompanied by Cha Yen, the brightly-colored Thai ice tea.  It’s a spiced black tea, with sweetened condensed milk, and a color similar to carrot juice.  It’s a bit sweet, creamy, and very refreshing.  I have tried Thai ice tea in other restaurants, only to be overwhelmed by the coconut milk to tea ratio (hint, there should be more “tea” in tea).  Takoi’s version is perfect.  I can taste it now.

However, what really sets Takoi apart is its service.  The team service, where every server passing the table DID something for that table (delivered a dish, took an empty away, filled a glass, asked if drink refills were needed, etc.), was exhibited on every visit.  It is clearly a part of the restaurant’s DNA, a survivor from earlier incarnations.  It’s a rarity in metro Detroit, let alone Corktown.  It is difficult to teach, onerous to manage, and impossible to fake.

Which leads us back to our original question:  Same as it ever was?

While everything has changed, the people have not.  They’re young, enthusiastic, beautiful, and having fun.  They actually seem to be ENJOYING their time at work, and with each other.  How can that be?

One of my friends taught me that you can taste the love in food.  Grandma’s cornbread tastes best, because she put the love in it.  No one else’s will ever taste that good.  And while you might not know the Takoi team, you don’t have to be around them very long to feel the love.

And you can taste it, too.

Takoi is located at 2520 Michigan Avenue in Detroit.  It is open Mon – Wed 5 p.m. till midnight, and Thur – Sat 5 p.m. till 2 a.m.  Reservations are recommended.  Call the restaurant, at 313.855.2864, or you can book a tasting at tocktix.com.

Red Dunn

 

Detroit’s vibrant restaurant scene just got a bit brighter, with the opening of Red Dunn Kitchen, adjacent to the Trumbull & Porter Hotel.

Red Dunn could be considered a hotel restaurant, a fact that usually means you should eat elsewhere.  Especially in a neighborhood like Corktown, where hotspots like Mudgie’s Deli, Brooklyn Street Local, and Le Petit Zinc are within walking distance of the hotel’s doors.

But hotel guests who venture out without eating at least one meal at Red Dunn are truly missing out.

It might be the best restaurant in Corktown.  In fact, I fully expect to see it on all of the “Best of Detroit Restaurants” lists this year.

It’s that good.

Red Dunn Kitchen’s, well,  kitchen is run by Chef Jay Gundy.  

Jay’s an interesting single guy (he made me promise to write that), a local who took a roundabout route into the kitchen.  He started out studying Automotive Engineering, but dropped out when he found something he liked better.  He’d managed a Pizza Hut for four years, and was offered a job cooking pizza (and other items) at the Alcatraz Brewing Company in Great Lakes Crossing.  There he found his calling.  His passion was rewarded with greater responsibility at other restaurants, working his way up Metro Detroit’s fine dining chain:  Forte, Small Plates, Cafe Via, Fiddleheads, and Tribute.  At Tribute, he worked under James Beard Award-winning Chef Takashi Yagahashi.  Jay speaks of that time as when he really came into his own.

In 2011, with owner Jeremy Sasson, he opened Townhouse, in Birmingham.

And now Red Dunn, bringing along Andy Campbell as his sous and pastry chef (more on that later).

Jay and Andy have just finished the menu, with lunch being the last meal added.  Diners now have the option of outstanding cuisine for any meal.

For breakfast, the “Classic” Eggs Benedict is actually tweaked, substituting speck for the Canadian bacon, and adding spinach and tomato.  If you’re a purist, this might trouble you.  You’d be petty, and wrong–it works, and it’s delicious!

 

 

 

However, the Huevos Benedictos is a more flavorful Benedict, one dragged through Southwest Detroit’s cocinas.  Two black bean cakes are topped with chorizo, poached eggs, hollandaise, salsa, and avocado.  This dish will open your eyes, brighten your morning, and make you drink a quart of their good strong coffee before striding out to conquer your morning.  It’s a spicy, rich dish with contrasting textures, and the hits of citrus in the hollandaise and the salsa balance that richness.

Further complicating breakfast choices is the Crab Artichoke Potato Hash, a savory medley of sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes, lump crabmeat, bacon, eggs, hollandaise, and pickled Fresno chilis.  This dish could easily be a flavorless mess with muddled flavors, but in Chef Gundy’s version, the overall sense is one of balance.  No flavor overwhelms the sweet taste of the crab, and the salty crunch of the bacon complements the sweet potato.  The acid added by the citrus and the pickled Fresnos provide a clean finish.

For lunch, the classic cheeseburger is given respect, as you would expect from the Townhouse pedigree.  Here, the house grind of skirt and chuck is dressed with brandy caramelized onions, tomato jam, and raclette cheese, and served on a sesame seeded toasted bun.  The burger is accompanied by parmesan rosemary fries.  If it’s a cheeseburger you want, this burger has it all:  right size, right taste, reasonable price.

However, you’d be missing the Pork Belly Tacos.  That would be a shame, because they’re awesome.  The pork belly is braised in court bouillon (water, white wine, mirepoix, herbs, pepper), sliced, then deep fried for a crispy crunch.  It’s dressed with cilantro, daikon, carrots, kimchi aioli, and cashews for a taste reminiscent of banh mi, the classic Vietnamese sandwich.  These are beautiful tacos, and diners at other tables were openly ogling as I devoured them.

 

 

 

 

 

But as you might expect, dinner is where Red Dunn really shines, both for entrees and Pastry Chef Campbell’s desserts.

Let’s start with a fish, the Roasted Skrei Cod.  Thoroughly blackened, the fish alone is really too spicy to eat.  The blackening spices are a bit overwhelming.  Ah, but remember, we’re in good hands here, and the balance of this dish is to be found in its whole.  The fava beans, the slightly bitter mustard greens, and most of all, the saffron swim sauce all balance out that heat.  In fact, the overall dish tastes refreshing.  The fish was cooked perfectly, flaky, still moist.  Overall, a winning dish, one I would gladly have again.

 

Or you might choose a chicken dish.  After all, Red Dunn is a breed of chicken.  The chicken here is exceptional, and unique.  On the menu as Fried Chicken Roulade, it’s chicken two ways:  a Coq Au Vin chicken thigh, braised until extremely tender, and three white meat roulades.  The roulades are breast meat, stuffed with a Dijon forcemeat, wrapped in chicken skin, and dropped in the deep fryer for a crunchy, crispy exterior.  The dish is plated wonderfully, atop pesto mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, sweet corn, apple salad, garnished with pan jus.

The house specialty dessert is Chocolate for Two, a trio of (gluten free) dark chocolate delights:  a flourless chocolate cake, a dark chocolate macaron, and a pot de creme, with caramelized bananas.  The plate is finished with fresh berries, and mint and raspberry sauces.  The cake is deeply deeply chocolate, rich yet not too sweet.  The macaron has a properly crispy shell, and is filled with a dark chocolate ganache.  The pot du creme is the same dark chocolate, lightened up a tad with the addition of some white chocolate.  The custard is silky smooth, and deeply satisfying.  And because the chocolate flavors in all three elements are so profoundly decadent, this dish really is suitable as a great meal ending for two.

 

There’s a clear influence of French and Asian on the menu, most notably in the overall balance of the dishes.  Rarely does a single element overwhelm a dish.  Rather, there’s a harmony of ingredients building to a greater whole.

For a restaurant that has just opened, it is remarkable Red Dunn is turning out food of this quality.  That’s really a tribute to Chef Gundy and his team, as well as Dustin Walker, Trumbull & Porter’s Food & Beverage Manager.  Service did vary some over the four visits, but the food stayed at the same exceptional level.  I’d suggest you get here now, before it’s fully discovered.

Red Dunn Kitchen is adjacent to the Trumbull & Porter Hotel, located at 1331 Trumbull Street, Detroit, MI.  Red Dunn is open daily from 6 a.m. – 2 a.m.  Reservations are available on their Web Site, reddunnkitchen.com, or through Open Table.

Copyright 2017 by Tim Flucht.  All photos copyright 2017 by Tim Flucht, and are not to be used without express permission.