Restaurant of the Year 2010


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(page 2 of 3)

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Art of jazz musicians adorn the walls.
Photographs by Joe Vaughn

And why not, when such performers as George Benson, Mose Allison, James Moody, Stanley Jordan, Johnnie Bassett, Thornetta Davis,
Wendell Harrison, and others play or sing just a few feet from your dinner table four nights a week?

The one drawback is that you can’t just drop in at will and get a table. Reservations are a must, because dinner is arranged around the musicians’ sets. Seating times are 6:30 and 8:30 each night, plus 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only.

The Dirty Dog is the concept of the grande dame of Detroit’s jazz community, Gretchen Valade, who also owns Mack Avenue Records. A few yeas ago, Valade opened her checkbook to save the foundering Detroit International Jazz Festival. She has also served as board chair of her family’s company, Carhartt, the Dearborn-based maker of rugged work clothing.

While the star-studded entertainment soars from the bandstand at the front of the house, Neimanis and a staff of six to eight orchestrate the behind-the-scenes performance in the kitchen.

Although he has worked in many other kitchens, this is the first over which he has had dominating influence over the menu, something he has dreamed of since childhood.

“This place has been a blessing for me to show off the passion I have for food — finally,” Neimanis says. As a child, while other kids were watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Knight Rider, Neimanis was glued to the Julia Child and Graham Kerr cooking shows.

“My mother would say, ‘Why do you like to watch that?’ ” Neimanis says. “I don’t know why, but it fascinated me. I’ve talked to other chefs about this, and that’s one of the things you discover a lot of us have in common. Ever since I can remember, I watched those shows.”

Along the way to the Dirty Dog, Neimanis trained at The Breakers in Florida and several area restaurants. He was chef de cuisine at The Hill Seafood and Chophouse and executive chef of the former Sparky Herbert’s, both in the Pointes.

Today, he admires the intricate yet simple cooking of Thomas Keller of the famed The French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York.

Neimanis likes to call his food American Bistro, with the techniques of classic French cuisine. More accurately, Neimanis’ cooking might be called New American Classical, to coin a term.

Like other chefs — particularly on the two coasts — Neimanis puts an upscale spin on simple American fare. Some of it is done delicately, some of it outrageously, but it’s always executed with impeccable cooking. Some of his cooking is done “sous vide,” a slow, low-temperature cooking under vacuum for many hours, a technique developed and perfected by the current generation of modern French cooks. It preserves color and texture and intensifies flavor.

As for spin, consider the humble and totally American macaroni and cheese. At the Dirty Dog, it becomes lobster mac ’n’ cheese. All familiarity with the dish’s original look disappears when it arrives at the table on a square white plate, looking more like a dainty baked cube of white lasagna with a golden-yellow top crust. The cheese and macaroni are pressed into a block poised atop a dot of creamy béchamel-like sauce, micro herbs surrounding it, and flanked by cuts of lobster tail and the intact red meat of a lobster claw.

Similarly, Neimanis takes our national food, the hamburger, and morphs it into a distant cousin. It looks the same, but it’s utterly hedonistic.

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The Dirty Dog Jazz Café’s version of the burger is far from ordinary. It’s made with American Kobe beef, foie gras, onion brûlé, porcini mushroom ragout, Stilton cheese, stone-ground mustard, and served with duck-fat fries.
Photographs by Joe Vaughn

This burger begins with ground Kobe beef cooked as you wish. Then come the after-market upgrades: a sizable piece of foie gras seared to a pink inside, grilled Vidalia onion, and sautéed fresh morels (when available, fresh porcinis when they’re not). The burger is finished with just a kiss of blue cheese and stone-ground Dijon mustard on a butter-grilled bun.

With it is another distant cousin — no plain-old French fries here. Neimanis makes the king of French potatoes by frying them in duck fat.

The Dirty Dog’s burger needs a user’s guide that says never, ever add ketchup; you’ll ruin it. Second, know that it might be classified on the cardiac-health scale as “heart stupid.” Third, don’t even try to lift this thing by hand. It demands to be eaten slowly with a knife and fork.

Among the soups, the Creole shrimp and sausage is more like a gumbo, topped with cumin cream and a touch of hot spice on the back palate. It’s dense and rich without being overwhelming. A mushroom “latte” is a bisque-like creamy soup served in a V-shaped glass cup and finished with a dash of truffled whipped cream, giving it texture and an earthy flavor that’s divine.

 

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