Saturday, June 13, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part V. Six.One.Six and Zellars

Our stop for Saturday’s dinner was at Six.One.Six located in the new J.W. Marriott. This experience was introduced to us by a Made in Michigan Movement member, Joel Wabeke. Joel is also the Sous Chef at Six.One.Six. At first, I had my reservations about eating at a hotel restaurant. You know how hotel restaurants are. They’re overpriced and lack any sort of originality and quality. Lastly, they’re all chain restaurants and owned by out-of-state interests. Six.One.Six is owned under the Amway umbrella which makes it a Michigan company. It does however operate in accordance with Marriott guidelines. Joel challenged my generalization and invited us to experience for ourselves something fresh and unique. Our visit to Six.One.Six has changed my perception of hotel dining.

Upon entering Six.One.Six, you’ll note a minimalist quality to the place. Sleek, clean lines without clutter and an openness to the entire dining area. Sort of, a less is more philosophy which means the focus here is on the food. To the left is a lounge area with couches and tables for drinks that are bright from the natural light let in from the large windows which offer a view of the river. Beyond the windows is a clean al fresco area for outside dining. Everyone looks comfortable and happy. Ahead is a cook quietly making appetizers in an open area while to the right is a darker, more tranquil area set away from crowd in the lounge. It's soothing really and the sounds from the lounge are barely heard.

We are greeted by manager Michelle Bayink. She has a wonderful smile and personable quality about her. Restaurant owners please take note of the importance of the first impression offered here by the front house. Michelle welcomes us and our hostess takes us to our table. She would return later for a follow up. Our server is Lindsay who gets us started with the drink order. I felt a Riesling from Brys Estate in Traverse City would be in order and consistent in my mission.

Chef Joel comes out to greet us and to explain a few things about Six.One.Six. He briefly reviewed the menu and noted how the restaurant utilizes local food product and commits to buying the best local food available. They get their meat from Sobies Meats, cheese often comes from Dancing Goat Creamery and other assorted dairies, grains and produce from local farms. Further, when the accessibility of Michigan products are not widely available they still look local to Illinois and Ohio. By doing so, Six.One.Six also keeps their carbon footprint to a minimum as well. Finally, he noted a frugality in the kitchen, which he jokingly attributes to his Dutch heritage. This allows the kitchen to purchase quality goods at the higher end because virtually nothing is wasted. This is clearly reflected in the menu.

The menu offers items in three sizes: Petite, Intermediate, and Nourishing with about six or seven offerings in each category and each demonstrating a range of top-shelf ingredients such as endive, Chinese five spice, arugula, saffron, and even fiddleheads which are the young unfurled fronds of a young fern. The menu isn’t limited, it’s focused. In summation, it’s a candy store for foodies. Chef Joel starts us off with the petite dish: Five Spice Smoked Sausage accompanied by an amuse-bouche of smoked rabbit sausage. Both made in-house, highlighting culinary skill, assuring the lack of kitchen waste and maximum yield of high-end offerings. The Five Spice Smoked Sausage is both simple and smart. It’s a clever play on English bangers and mash as it is served with green garlic, leeks, red onion over thin-sliced new potato with an Asian twist. The smoked rabbit sausage was equally delicious.

During this time, we are also greeted by Executive Chef Andrew Voss who spoke very highly of Chef Joel. I applaud him on his menu and for supporting local. He invites us to the garden after our meal for a quick tour. Yes, they have a garden on the premises with the goal of growing a sustainable amount of heirloom varieties of herbs vegetables. Now that’s local flavor. Michelle takes a moment to catch up with us as well. The staff is not bothersome in the slightest. After all, we came to talk to them and fully understand the Six.One.Six experience.

The meal continued. I ordered a Charred Asparagus Salad and Lynn ordered the Flank Steak Flatbread. The asparagus is of the blue and green variety and grown locally. It’s prepared in a brown butter, golden raisin, shallots and beemster, a Dutch recipe cheese and cooked to perfection without over thought. Lynn’s flatbread was huge for an Intermediate dish as it also served as her entrée. It was a homemade flatbread cooked in a fired-oven with flank steak, bleu cheese, arugula, horseradish crème and fried onions. It’s virtually a steak dinner on flatbread. In continuing with my all local theme, I ordered the Dancing Goat Creamery Agnolotti. The Agnolotti is like ravioli but more like little stuffed pillows of soft goat cheese. It’s served with a wild leek and Parmesan broth, fiddleheads, carrot, fennel pollen, and beemster. It really is a delicate balance between heavy and light, but I must confess, I’m full. Lynn opted to try the Warm Chocolate Praline Lava Cake with homemade vanilla gelato. This was top-notch as the cake was just rich enough, without being too sweet and you could actually see the vanilla bean specks in the gelato. Also, to finish your meal, world-class ONO teas, from Novi, are available on the menu as a substitute for coffee.

We finish the meal and adjourn to the outside garden with Chef Andrew and Chef Joel. I listen as they talk about culinary philosophy and the importance of buying and supporting local which both chefs are strong supporters of. They begin to talk about “farm banquets.” These are organized meals prepared at regional farms which use only local foods. It falls in line with the Slow-Foods movement. Further, they noted that they have the capability of hosting, and have done so in the past, a similar meal on-site at the restaurant, given the appropriate amount of lead time. We wrap up the conversation knowing we have solidified new friendships and are warmly welcomed back in the future. This was another extraordinary experience in Grand Rapids.

Just outside of the hotel, across the street, is a convenience store called Zellars Party Store. We were contacted by Terri Smith, through our website, who found us in a Google search. After a couple of swapped emails and a firm itinerary, we scheduled a time to meet up with her after dinner at Six.One.Six. Terri took us on the quick tour of the store which is standard in most respects. It offers basic goods that you expect you might need in a pinch: beer, wine, liquor, snacks, ice cream, milk and that one thing you always forget about that is necessary to the completion of a food project like eggs and sugar. For a small store they carried over 30 Michigan-made items. The unique part of the story is that Terri created a Made in Michigan sticker for those products. This was before we ever met. Further, since they are in the hotel district, she often encourages people to try local products first such as Uncle Ray’s chips, Hudsonville ice-cream, Bareman’s dairy products, Absopure water, and assorted Michigan based beer and wine such as Founders and Chateau Grand Traverse. I give her a roll of stickers provided by the Michigan Tape Inc., in Plymouth, so she does not have to make them on her home computer. It is people like Terri who are going to part of the Movement that will help raise awareness and turn our economy around.

Thank you to Michelle Bayink, our server Lindsay, Sous Chef Joel Wabeke, and Executive Chef Andrew Voss at Six.One.Six for an incredible dining experience. Also, a special thank you to Terri Smith and the staff at Zellars for raising awareness and supporting local first.

Come back tomorrow for Part VI of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature San Chez Café and Randy’s Granola.

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