If you’ve ever been tempted to visit that neon high-rise casino that’s visible at night from just about any downtown Detroit freeway interchange, certainly go. The new restaurant is beautiful, and the food is well worth the visit.
I was not prepared for what I found at Iridescence, the high-end dining room on the 16th floor of the MotorCity Casino. Like it or not, some of the uninitiated don’t associate slot machines and roulette wheels with gastronomic pleasure. Despite such preconceptions, I found the opposite: Iridescence is very good.
The two-tiered dining room is inviting, with a soaring ceiling that rises 40 feet. One entire side is composed of windows that provide an expansive view, a panorama that takes in the Ambassador Bridge, the downtown skyline, and points east. Accenting that scene are 30 or so clear, blown-glass globes suspended from the ceiling at varying heights, creating the sensation of being inside a champagne glass full of bubbles.
“I like to say that we went from a restaurant with no windows to a restaurant with all the windows in restaurants in town,” said then General Manager Georges Mokbel (who has since moved to another position at the casino). “When I came on board, we changed the whole concept.”
Soon after my visit, I discovered another reason why Iridescence is good. Having eaten in Chicago just a few nights earlier, I had a marvelous meal at Takashi, the current restaurant of the great Takashi Yagahashi, who was the founding chef in the 1990s at the now-defunct Tribute.
It turns out that Derik Watson, the new chef at Iridescence (and formerly at Rugby Grille and Peabody’s), came from Takashi. And, in another twist, Don Yamauchi, also a Tribute veteran, is now executive chef overseeing all MotorCity Casino restaurants.
Iridescence is distinctly white linen, and it has the flavor of high dining. It offers well-done contemporary American dining with a steak-menu appendage, and stops just short of being highly refined gourmet dining.
The food is prepared with extreme care and skill, and is every bit as solid as restaurants in the other casinos and as worthy as metro Detroit’s top suburban restaurants. The service is crisp, attentive, and slightly reserved.
On our arrival, we were seated in one of the six semi-circular banquettes on the main floor of the two-tiered dining room. A negative note here: The restaurant design includes vented radiator boxes across the length of the glass façade that are just tall enough to obstruct the skyline view when you are seated. Mokbel says that the complaint is being reviewed.
The kitchen has no such obstruction, fortunately.
Among our selections was the five-course chef’s menu for one person, which looks intriguing and turns out to be a well-balanced delight. It begins with a “crudo,” an Italian-influenced sashimi. In this case, it’s a plate of prosciutto, hamachi, kumomoto oyster, white beans and herbs, and red-pepper coulis — all very fresh and delicate.
Next to arrive was a curious piece of fun artistry: two little versions of foie gras on one plate. The first, called a “Reuben,” is presented as a tiny bun the size of a half-dollar with a piece of pan-seared foie gras in it, along with micro greens, some white truffle, and a creamy sauce. The second is a “Peanut Butter and Jelly.” The jelly part is a red-fruit preserve under a slice of foie gras “torchon” (paté, essentially) sprinkled with granular dehydrated peanut butter. It was quite good, although I found that the peanut verged on being too much for the delicacy of the foie gras.
The main course is another oddly named amusing item, a “Sheppard’s Pie”— two small servings of roasted de-boned lamb on one side and braised beef short rib on the other — accompanied by wilted spinach and potato purée. It’s not that traditional English shepherd’s pie, certainly, but nicely done.
Next up, an assortment of cheeses: Roquefort, petite Basque, and a triple-cream Explorateur, each with accompanying relishes and thin slices of baguette. Altogether, the five-course meal was $55 (or $11 a course), which is very reasonable.
On the main menu, first courses worth trying include roasted shrimp with hoisin sauce, pineapple, water chestnuts, curry, and cilantro; a small cassoulette of puréed flageolet beans and a deboned confit of duck leg; and braised beef short rib meat on peppered white-corn polenta, golden raisins, baby carrots, turnips, and crisp salsify.
Among the main courses, the grilled veal chop is delicious, despite being quite fatty. It comes in a mushroom cream sauce with wilted spinach. One slight negative: The “gnocchi” served with it were a little thick, heavy, and lumpy.
The Kobe beef strip steak, which at $65 was the most expensive dish we ordered, was the least pleasing. It looked great and tasted OK, but was not as tender as Kobe should be.
The other winner for the evening was a little dish that accompanies a passable chicken: a little cast-iron kettle called lobster mac ’n’ cheese with deliciously chunky pieces of fresh lobster blended with a luscious and velvety creamed macaroni and cheese. It turns out that it’s a béchamel sauce made with lobster stock, boursin cheese, and Parmesan. Some mac ’n’ cheese! It’s mouthwatering.
The best all-around dishes were the four desserts from pastry chef Patricia Nash, which we selected from among six dessert options. Each was remarkable for the restraint of the sweetness and the lightness. I am not much of a dessert eater, and only rarely write about them. But these are among the best I’ve had in the last year or two.
The first, from the five-course menu, was a moist and bursting-with-flavor pumpkin-mousse hazelnut cake with candied pecans.
Another, called the Peanut Butter Bar, is an architectural marvel. Two columns of sliced caramelized banana rounds are stacked three high with a pool of brown caramel-ish sauce on one side and a peanut-butter mousse. The control of the peanut flavor is masterly in that it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the dish.
The White Chocolate Praline is white-chocolate mousse offset with gianduja (Italian chocolate with a praline paste) and citrus sorbet. The last of the tasty quartet of desserts was called simply Lemon Strawberry, a delicate lemon curd roulade with fresh strawberries, a strawberry cream, and a chocolate sorbet.
The glass wine vault at Iridescence is a sight to behold, with a chain belt and cogs that operate much like a vertical version of a dry cleaner’s mechanical clothing conveyor. Diners can witness the bottle-selection action as it travels up 40 feet and back behind a glass enclosure. The wines themselves were the next surprise. The list is very extensive and was smartly picked by Mokbel. Its prices are some of the most reasonable I’ve seen in a restaurant in a long time. Interestingly, the majority of the wines listed cost no more than a main course: $30 to $50, and several even less.
Choices include a 2001 Chateau Meyney (Bordeaux) and a 2007 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé, both around $40. On the more rare side, there’s a Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot Noir for $58.
Overall, Iridescence has many favorable things to recommend. If you’re not much of a gambler, that’s OK. The food is good, and the casino is an absolute blast — visually.
Cook is the chief restaurant critic for Hour Detroit. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2901 Grand River, Detroit; 313-237-6732. D Tue.-Sun.