When Tribute, lauded for its exquisite food and impeccable service, closed its doors in 2009, metro Detroit diners mourned its loss. The restaurant had racked up numerous accolades and praise, including Hour Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year (along with The Lark) in 1999, when founding chef Takashi Yagihashi was at the helm. His sophisticated French and Asian fusion fare earned him a James Beard award in 2003.
Yagihashi fans rejoiced when the chef — who has gone on to celebrity status with appearances on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters — opened Slurping Turtle in Ann Arbor in April.
“My partner (Michigan-based Raj Vattikuti) … kept saying to me, ‘Hey, Takashi, a lot of people are missing you [in Michigan],’ ” says the humble chef, who called the enthusiastic response (hour-and-a-half waits when it first opened) to his return “wonderful.”
Yagihashi, who owns his eponymous restaurant Takashi and the first Slurping Turtle in Chicago, built a reputation melding French and Asian flavors with precision and style. For Slurping Turtle, Yagihashi wanted an authentic Japanese restaurant with comfort foods that you would have at home.
That comfy, homey feeling is apparent throughout the casual restaurant, where black and white photos of his family — including a 4-year-old Yagihashi — adorn the walls. But there’s also a clean, contemporary aesthetic throughout the dining rooms, where diners eat at communal tables.
The kitchen, led by executive chef Tadashi Nagura, puts out appetizers made for sharing such as duck fat fried chicken as well as bao (stuffed steamed buns). But the star is the noodle (Yagihashi’s “soul food”), which is made in-house daily on a machine imported from Japan. Yagihashi says the menu will be similar to Chicago’s but will also showcase seasonal Michigan produce such as morels, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns.
Inspiration for the concept comes from Yagihashi’s childhood. Growing up he would eat out a lot around his Mito, Japan, home after playing baseball. He was surrounded by different kinds of restaurants, including Japanese, Chinese, and Italian. It wasn’t just about eating, but learning about different cultures from the food, he says.
Dining at Slurping Turtle, you learn a lot about Takashi Yagihashi, not just the chef, but the man.
608 E. Liberty St., 734-887-6868. L & D daily. $12