Restaurant of the Year 2011: Iridescence


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A major factor in the quality and style of the food is a connection to the former Tribute restaurant in Farmington Hills. Both Watson and Iridescence Executive Chef Don Yamauchi, who oversees all food at MotorCity Casino Hotel, once cooked there.

Tribute’s influence on many area chefs is hard to overstate. Many chefs now running top metro Detroit kitchens learned their trade at Tribute under creator and culinary master Takashi Yagihashi. For more than a decade, Tribute was one of Detroit’s two paramount restaurants. Yagihashi today owns one of Chicago’s top restaurants, which bears his first name.

“I was working at Rugby Grille [in Birmingham], and one day, Takashi gave me a call,” Watson says. “There was an opening for a sous-chef but, needless to say, at 20 years old I was way underqualified.” But he offered Watson a lesser spot and Watson stayed at Tribute for just under four years.

Above: Chef de Cuisine Derik Watson at work.

When Yagihashi left Tribute, Yamauchi, a rising star in the Chicago restaurant scene, was brought in to replace him. Watson became his sous-chef. Later, Yagihashi hired Watson again as his sous-chef in Chicago. From there, Watson went to Iridescence.

The kitchen at Iridescence sits like a high altar at the rear of the restaurant’s top level. It’s fronted by a large pass-through and workstation that looks out and down onto the dining room.

A distraction to this set-up is that the venting is not always strong enough to keep grilling smells from wafting over to nearby tables. On some visits, when seated farther from the kitchen, there was no such problem.

Watson takes a seasonal approach to his menu, which includes a three-course, fixed-price listing or a more extravagant five-course chef’s tasting. On our most recent visit, the chef’s tasting was impressive. The first course was a delicate, sweet sashimi of yellowtail hiramasa with watercress, daikon, ginger, cilantro, and sweet onion. The balance created between the sweetness and acidity of shredded vegetables and vinaigrette was perfection.

Above left: Chef Derik Watson and Executive Chef Don Yamauchi consult.

The second course, a fresh Hudson Valley foie gras, came with a vanilla-poached quince, huckleberry, beet-root purée, and the requisite toasted brioche. The combination of sweet fruit and foie gras mimics the French tradition of serving sweet sauterne wine with foie gras.

Next came a shepherd’s pie in which all the right parts were there: lamb, beef short-rib meat, spinach, and mashed potatoes, all laid out side by side on the plate, as a modern reconstruction of the classic.

The fourth course, a cheese assortment, was far more than that. It included several little cheese-based assemblies, a Roquefort panna cotta with pine nuts, a brie grilled cheese, walnut-raisin bread with a raspberry compote, and, finally, a salute to the French-Spanish border — petite Basque cheese with chorizo.

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