2017 Restaurant of the Year: Bistro 82
With impeccable attention to details and the subtle evolution of ongoing menu items, the staff at Bistro 82 keeps pushing the envelope in a tireless quest to seek perfection
At first glance, Bistro 82’s menu may look like any other French bistro: steak frites, escargot, foie gras. But a closer look at each and every plate reveals what sets Bistro 82 apart: its tireless commitment to seek perfection.
It’s easy to stick to what works; it’s another thing to scrap it and start over. This dedication to the craft permeates from the kitchen throughout the restaurant.
“What are we going to do to not be stagnant? What’s next?” says executive chef Derik Watson of the kitchen’s approach to food. “Everything we’re doing we try to do it better, then the next day we either try to change it or do it better.”
Since opening in early 2014, Bistro 82 has certainly not stood still. Dishes such as the cioppino and cobia have been on the menu for a long time, but when you visit the restaurant again, you notice the constant evolution of the dishes.
“It was a February opening, so warm, rich flavors are comforting, and the direction I was leaning,” says Watson. “That and the identity of the restaurant hadn’t really been established. The concept of course was, that of a modern bistro, hence the classics like steak frites, escargot, steak tartare.
“As we grew, so did the creative process,” he says. “As the seasons progress the flavors tend to lighten up [and] become more refreshing or bright, acidic, et cetera. Garnishes become what is available seasonally.”
The scallops, which have been on the menu since Day One, are a perfect example. Watson estimates there have been a dozen versions.
When we first reviewed Bistro 82 in our May 2014 issue, we noted that the scallops were served with a white bean mousseline and sauce Americaine, the rich, creamy, buttery, and slightly spicy shellfish broth-based sauce.
More recently, the scallops were the same — seared to perfection, not one degree over or under — but were accompanied with white chocolate, cranberry, chestnut puree, salsify, apple, and radicchio. At first glance, the sweet elements might seem too cloying. The radicchio on its own was bitter. But the sweet, the bitter, and the texture all came together on the plate.
The same held true for many dishes and over multiple visits. The ingredients and flavors of a Bistro 82 dish may change, but the foundation is the same.
It’s a solid foundation that’s been built under the direction of Watson.
Today’s food culture idolizes the celebrity chef, the larger-than-life persona that often dominates a restaurant’s image — and the food.
But Watson — who worked under top chefs such as Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute and Don Yamauchi at MotorCity Casino’s Iridescence, both previous Hour Detroit Restaurant of the Year winners — doesn’t fit that mold. He’s quick to point out that the restaurant’s success is not about him.
“I want [Bistro 82] to be bigger than me,” Watson says.
Bistro 82 isn’t the flashiest restaurant or the most cutting edge — and they don’t want to be. “The goal here is to not create what’s cool or trendy but a great restaurant that’s timeless,” Watson says, adding that they’re aiming to “establish a kitchen that would earn the seal of approval — like Tribute, Bacco, or Golden Mushroom.
“Are we there yet? No, but that’s the goal.”
We happen to think they are well on their way. For its subtle, precise, and elegant food, its impeccable attention to detail, its rock-solid consistency, and culture that celebrates its team, we have selected Bistro 82 as Hour Detroit’s 2017’s Restaurant of the Year.
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