Hungry Like the Wolf
Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant brings delightfully flavored fare to Northville
Photographs by Joe Vaughn
Lucy & the Wolf in downtown Northville is a pleasant new restaurant with terrific food — and a very unusual name.
The name has nothing to do with some children’s fable like “Little Red Riding Hood.” Nor is there a distant connection to the movie Dances With Wolves.
It’s simply a deconstruction-reconstruction of the names of co-owners Mishelle Lussier and Brandon Wolschleger. She’s the business side. He’s the chef. They also collaborate at Table 5, another restaurant in Northville.
Making matters even more interesting, this rather Anglo-sounding restaurant offers very good Spanish-style tapas dining, made of ingredients from Spain, China, Japan, Italy, France, Cuba, West Africa, and the good old USA.
It’s essentially an American tapas restaurant, according to Lussier.
Lucy & the Wolf also has adopted the relaxed pacing, the mechanisms of the kitchen, and the cultural and stylistic parts of tapas dining — and has them down cold.
Everything we tried on our visit was supremely fresh, of high quality, and delightfully flavored. And, the name aside, it was also very Spanish in character, cooking style, spicing, flavor, and temperament.
“It’s been fun,” Lussier says. “The kitchen comes up with different things every week.” In August, for example, they tested a roasted grape parfait, “which is very cool and great for the season.”
Tapas-style dining seems to be particularly popular with younger professionals, who like its informality, the ease of a relaxed and casual atmosphere, and its less-food, small-plates aspect.
“It’s definitely popular with a younger crowd, a later night crowd,” Lussier says. “I think they are a lot more adventurous as well.”
She cites her three children as examples: “It seems that with their exposure to Food Network and all that, younger people today eat everything. Everything. They are more willing to try things.”
In that sense, Lucy & the Wolf also reflects the edgy, fresh new stylish restaurant scene found mostly in Detroit hot spots such as Antietam, Gold Cash Gold, Selden Standard, Republic, and others, which also do a lot of small plates on their menus.
But there’s another influence behind Lucy & the Wolf. On a trip taken to Barcelona a few years ago, Lussier and Wolschleger were smitten by long, languid evening meals that the Catalonians spent talking, eating, and drinking in large groups. They discovered tapas.
Then, much later, at a large food exhibition in Chicago, the two discovered the Josper, a charcoal-burning tapas oven made in Spain and used by all the best tapas restaurants there. Sometime later, they were invited to try it out and cook in it on the West Coast — and loved it.
So when the chance came to nab a 42-seat site in Northville, they grabbed it, bought a Josper oven (which Lussier believes is the only Josper in Michigan), and opened in July.
Surprisingly, the Josper is the only cooking instrument in the kitchen. No stovetop, no roaster oven, no microwave, no warmers. “Everything comes out of the Josper,” he says.
The interior of Lucy & the Wolf is somewhat typical of storefront conversions, with a lot of long purposely mismatched wide board lumber decorating one wall, while the other is exposed brick. Comfortable high-top tables dot the front of the restaurant and soft dark leather banquettes line the wall heading back to an open kitchen.
There is standard two- and four-top table seating in the back, around the kitchen, from which there is a constant rush of servers delivering single dishes to tables as they are ready, and regardless of who took that table’s order.
Order as few or as many dishes as you want, but usually by the time the meal is over, a table may have shared four, five, or six small servings, but nothing of the volume that leaves one with a feeling of being ridiculously stuffed.
The menu is divided into two sides, one titled “Chilled” and the other called “Charred.”
Wolschleger says that when he wrote the menu, “there was much more influence from the foods of Italy and southern France. But, as I played around with the oven, we went more for doing whatever we can that the oven shows best … Argentinian flank steak chimichurri and other items that do really well in the oven.”
They also are planning to change things up, with “menu items that are sometimes in your face, sometimes just lighter.”
There are multiple standouts. A ceviche dish of thinly sliced bay scallops marinated in what seemed like grapefruit (the menu said “blood orange”), basil, and wilted scallion was a departure from the traditions of lime cold-cooking of fish, and worked particularly well with the gentleness of raw scallops.
An order from the hot side — double charred chicken wings — consisted of six wings that had been brined and charred, covered in a poblano glaze, and then charred again.
Other notable dishes include a grilled flank steak in chimichurri sauce, roasted clams with garlic bread and Spanish olive oil, and heirloom tomatoes grilled and served in a skillet with peppers, cheese curd, egg, and baguette.
From the chilled side of the menu, the deviled eggs were delightful, served on thin slices of grilled baguette brushed with hot spicy oil, a shaving of Iberico cured ham, and a dab of caviar-like pickled mustard seeds — a great combination of spice, sour, and fat.
Another happy surprise was a watermelon salad, which arrived with big chunks of sweet melon, greens, goat cheese, roasted Marcona almonds, and thin strips of candied lemon, all dressed with a vinaigrette infused with watermelon and mint.
The restaurant also has an extensive cocktail list, including classics and some experimental mixes, such as a ruby daiquiri made with pink grapefruit juice and rhubarb, and a cucumber margarita. It also offers a brief but sensible wine list that includes Spanish and French wines.
Altogether, Lucy & the Wolf is worth the trip. It’s an original, a welcome surprise, and terrific addition to the restaurant scene. And most of all it is offering a type of new style and dining we’ve not seen much until now.
102 E. Main St., Northville; 248-308-3057. D Mon-Sat.
A Tapas Primer
Whatever the size of your group, don’t order more than three items at a time. Finish them before ordering a few more. Then repeat the process: Three dishes, relax. Three dishes, relax.
Each item is on average two or three bites per person, so you’ll want a minimum of three and more likely five or six items per person.
Timing. Expect dishes to come out one at a time, and not simply when you are ready, but when the kitchen is ready. Expect some large gaps in timing. So, eh. It gets here when it gets here.
Most important: In Spain this dinner will take two, three, or even four hours of “Eat, pause, digest. Eat, pause, digest.” Not that it should be the same here in Detroit, but know that the pattern of the kitchen is indeed the Spanish model. Lags are very much normal.
Cook is Hour Detroit’s chief restaurant critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org