Like our Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen, you might be waking up today to discover that romantic restaurant table you wanted is booked. No worries; Tommy has three fresh dinner options that are easily sourced at our new Downtown Market.
By the time you read Rapid Growth this week, most of the area restaurants will have already posted the equivalent of no vacancies signs in their replies to your pleas to secure a table for your special one on Valentine's Day.
For those lucky enough to find an opening at this late hour, it is typically for a seating during a time like 4 p.m., when your favorite eatery has been turned into what looks like a retirement home commissary where the last remaining snow-birds who did not fly south are gathering. It can also be for the very last seating of the night, where the much-desired and ordered lobster tails presented at this hour look less like you recall traditional lobster to look and appear more like a langostino. (True story, this happened in a Grand Rapids restaurant I worked in once.)
So what are we to do if we want good food to pair with those who love us in spite of our flaws -- like forgetting to make a reservation in time?
Armed with my clipboard, I dashed to the new Downtown Market
, where I knew I could secure a great set of ingredients to create a menu with the money set aside for that now un-bookable eatery.
To follow are three suggested menus created by me with the help of merchants from the market, with a lot of flexibility built in for the dietary, time-conscious, and even the splendidly full-fat, full-flavor crowd.
The Classic Surf and Turf Menu:
For the turf, call ahead to Montello Meat Market to order one of their heart-shaped butterfly ribeyes that you can pick up when you arrive. You will only need one of these items as you will be splitting your "heart" with your date after lightly seasoning it with just salt and pepper and grilling over medium-high heat for 4-6 minutes per side.
While it is cooking and resting for the mandatory 5-minute rest meat needs after cooking, you can begin your surf dish.
Next door at Fish Lads' secure 4-6 scallops that will simply need to be pan fried in olive oil from the Old World Olive Press and melted butter for 2-3 minutes per side. (Set aside some of the butter purchased from Miss Maddie's Fine Food chilled case and brown it slightly before pouring over the freshly seared scallops.)
You are welcome to choose a host of sides from the market but I would recommend not skipping the best baguette in the region from Field & Fire Bakery served sliced (and not toasted) with a generous pat of butter.
Other recommended items include a fresh salad from City Produce's produce section served with Making Thyme Kitchen's roasted Brussels sprouts with fresh shallots.
The beverage, coffee and dessert can all be had within just a few steps of each other, too.
Aperitivo offers a lovely selection of wines -- but don't miss the beer, which I would recommend here since surf and turf is really hearty. Aperitivo has a highly curated selection of beers and a staff who know meal pairings very well.
Grab a slightly medium Simpatico Oaxacan Gold coffee roasted on site with beans from Oaxaca, Mexico and then it is just a dash to Sweetie-licious Bake Shop for that baked confectionary ending to your meal.
The "Some Assembly Required" Menu:
Not everyone will have time to prep in the kitchen so a less fussy menu has to be on the docket.
As people choose their food route for this type of meal and the resulting paths they will produce, I recommend starting with either fish or sausage as your base here.
For a seafood dish, head to Fish Lads' for a whole yellowtail snapper that is easily prepared by making slits to the side of the fish's skin and inserting a mixture of fresh lime juice, sea salt, and chili pepper (secured from the Spice Merchants next door) and then stuffed with the leftover juice-spent limes.
Cook the fish flat on a pan in the oven (ask the lads for their recommended time and temp based on size of your snapper) and serve straight from the pan to the plate on your table.
Side dishes to consider can be procured again from places like Making Thyme Kitchen, whose product names reflect the honest ingredients instead of leaving customers scratching their head at the counter. Consider a rice pilaf, a salad or their sweet pepper slaw from Making Thyme.
Keeping with the ease of this themed menu, your dessert should include Field & Fire's croissant with thinly sliced and locally sourced apples chased down with a bottle of Michigan's Blackstar Farms' carbonated Apple Hard Cider and a nice cheese like the champagne infused Langres – both available from Aperitivo.
If fish is not your thing, then consider a meat and pasta dish – a much shorter-to-prepare menu that is long on taste.
This other menu creation can be had by simply grabbing a hot or mild Italian sausage with a hearty spice combo of fennel seed and oregano from Montello's. These are roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. You can even cook the sausages ahead of time and then toss them into the sauce you procured right behind you at Miss Maddie's, whose veggie-based pastas are made from juices from her neighbor, the Malamiah Juice Bar.
Simply adding a fresh salad, a bowl of olives, and some crusty bread with an olive oil or spreading a sweet or savory jam or jelly from Thornburg & Co. will ensure that your date thinks that you have created a meal that took you a lot of time (but really didn't as others have done that for you). Simply hide the packaging, smile as you accept the compliment, and your secret stays between us.
Dessert is up to you to decide but, while trying to make up your mind what to buy and should you be with a friend at the market, offer to buy them a scoop of ice cream from Love's Ice Cream, who is offering shoppers on Feb. 14 a buy one scoop, give one scoop free for one day only. Being generous never tasted this good as you save time and money on this menu.
The Vegetarian Lover:
For this next dish, I am going to make you work a bit and I promise it will pay off.
For starters you will be creating a wonderful lasagna made from rustic bread, eggplant and other items found in the market. The complete menu includes step-by-step preparations
along with a list of ingredients, including the base ingredient of sourdough bread, which replaces the pasta noodle with Field & Fire's heritage sourdough – the levain. (Note: You will want to call ahead to City Market to ensure they have the eggplant.)
Since you will be working hard on the main course, go crazy with sides that you can serve ahead of time while relaxing over a bottle of bubbly or white wine. Choose from fresh veggies from City Produce or a fine selection of premade items like maple-glazed carrots or a kale salad from Making Thyme's counter. You might even consider a slightly exotic addition with a vegetarian roll from Rak Thai as an appetizer to jump-start your taste buds as well as your tongue.
And what would be more perfect before settling in for a night of entertainment on the couch than a dessert tray of delcious chocolates from the Grocer's Daughter Chocolate, Dorothy & Tony's Gourmet Kettlecorn or two pints of handmade ice cream (Psst… they have vegan) from Love's Ice Cream.
Yes, I said two pints because on Friday, February 14 you can secure two pints of ice cream for a total of just $14. (Retail pricing is $11. each.) This sale happens only once a year so if you have been waiting to add a little Love's to your diet, get thee to the market on Friday.
If you get really hungry while assembling this long list of vegetarian ingredients, then I suggest a quick stop at Tacos El Cunado for a tempeh chorizo taco and a bottled Coke.
One last tip, besides not forgetting to grab flowers from Crescent as you exit, for those of you looking to keep the magic long into the meal: Please heat your plates up before serving your warm entrees.
This simple act not only extends your time at the table eating a delicious meal, but when you reach up to touch the plate (and you know you will), that warm sensation to the fingers coupled with the aromas of your meal does something wonderful in your body that is close to love. (You're welcome.)
I know that there are plenty of options of how one can go this Valentine's Day. Some of you may choose the popular eatery and others select one of the off-the-main-street ethnic wonders that continue to dot our landscape from downtown proper to areas of our city like 28th Street's always-in-flux strip malls.
But some of you will take to your kitchen and cook up some love. And with the right ingredients, like those found at the Downtown Market, you can even pass along this love in many directions. As I always say when supporting local businesses, "beautiful things happen when we support the home team." This I know too well, and I'm not even a sports guy!
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Photography by John Wiegand for Rapid Growth, 2014 (Equipment provided by A + P Studio at Tanglefoot)