One evening in early March, I pulled out ingredients from a box that was left on my doorstep, courtesy of the culinary team at Birmingham’s Daxton hotel. Still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, the troupe opted against a traditional, in-person grand opening for Madam, the posh new hotel’s flagship restaurant. Rather than enjoying a sampling of dishes beneath the canopy of glossy metallic beads that lines the restaurant’s dining room ceiling like strings of pearl necklaces, I instead gathered with fellow local food writers in an intimate Zoom room for a virtual cooking lesson, led by Madam’s executive chef, Garrison Price.
Among the ingredients in the shipment was a whole black truffle, a pricey accessory for a side salad that would complement the French Onion Tart we’d be baking during the class. The galette and the black truffle salad — along with the Maple Road, a craft cocktail featuring Suntory Toki Whisky, amontillado sherry, and Michigan maple syrup — were each cast in a role on the restaurant’s debut menu. And on this night, we were the chefs.
Price recommended reserving shavings of the aromatic truffle to elevate everyday consumptions like our morning coffee. Adhering to his instructions, throughout the week, I started my day sprinkling flecks of black truffle into Bustelo grounds. The ritual became like an inside joke between me and my alter ego. One sip of the lavish blend unleashed my inner aristocrat.
As an apprentice of world-renowned chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and José Andrés, Price brings more than two decades of fine-dining experience to Madam. His choice to include the delicacy in the course, our introduction to Madam’s New American cuisine, conveyed the message that once open, the restaurant would source only the finest ingredients for a dining experience of the highest caliber. Six months since Madam’s opening, Price continues to deliver on this unspoken promise.
Nothing embodies Madam’s essence quite like the dessert menu. To fully understand the restaurant’s air of luxury, look to pastry chef Duncan Spangler’s Dominican Milk Chocolate Namelaka. The confection echoes the restaurant’s enthusiasm for fine art. While expansive multimedia works by Dutch artist Karin Vermeer line the walls at Madam, the namelaka is an abstract work of art in its own right — with a pastel mint green plate as its canvas.
Sitting atop a pedestal of buckwheat groats and puffed rice and quinoa coated in milk chocolate, the silky cream is mildly sweet and, in texture, strikes a balance between a mousse and an airy fresh whipped cream. Spongy pieces of aerated chocolate add an even richer note of cacao, and a compote of blistering Michigan black currants adds acid to the dish. A perfect sphere of cassis sorbet tops it all off for a punch of color and a touch of whimsy, stripping the meticulous dish of any pretense.
Spangler’s pastries reflect Madam’s commitment to fine dining through an artful lens. Just as geometric patterns show up in the restaurant’s architectural design — the bar itself is encased in a contemporary geodesic dome — cakes and tarts are graphic in nature. A puree of roasted and fresh strawberries spills over the ledge of a loaf of angel food cake, topped with tangy strawberry-Aperol sorbet and shards of salty-sweet meringue reminiscent of broken porcelain splattered in rose-colored paint. In another dish, a crisp dacquoise requires shattering to reveal a bowl of velvety aquafaba, plump raspberries, buttery hazelnuts, and creamy coconut mousse.
An artful eye is the most evident pillar at Madam, but more of the restaurant’s ambitions show up in other areas of the menu, too. Global influences reflect Price’s repertoire at highly revered restaurants around the world. Forbidden Rice, made with Venere black rice, is cooked with chunks of pork sausage, shrimp, and leeks, and decorated with a delicate Michigan-raised egg yolk and dainty slices of chive.
For brunch, Price’s take on the ubiquitous fried chicken sandwich features Korean fried chicken, dredged in a honey glaze with a peppery kick and topped with watery iceberg lettuce, crisp pickles, and zesty kimchi aioli, all served on a house-made milk-bread bun pierced with wooden skewers. Drawing from his pedigree in Asian cuisine, there’s also Hamachi Crudo and dumplings stuffed with meaty mushrooms.
A European flair shows up in piping hot Serrano Ham Fritters filled with sharp Manchego and served on a smear of quince preserves. The slate platter is topped with paper-thin strips of Serrano ham and sheer ribbons of cheese. Italian influences make appearances on the Pizzas & Pastas menu, and Spanish, French, and Italian wines dominate the wine list.
Madam also takes an oath to source farm-fresh ingredients for most vegetable-forward dishes. Gem lettuce salad is tossed in a fragrant — not perfumy — lavender dressing, shavings of bright watermelon radishes, and nasturtium petals and leaves. Cauliflower is roasted in curry, gnocchi is served with foraged mushrooms, and scallops sit in a sea of sliced asparagus and peas, marinated in morel butter.
And then there are the truffles. The black truffle salad appears aside a leek fondue galette, much like the savory pastry I baked alongside Price. The placement of the dish on the appetizer menu is symbolic of my takeaway at Madam — opulent ingredients are just the start of the luxe experience at the Daxton hotel.
Madam at the Daxton Hotel, 298 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-283-4200; daxtonhotel.com
This story is featured in the December 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.