Four Corners of Excellence

Rearranging the Elements for Taste, Abundance, & Quality

Posted In: Culture, Restaurants,   From Issue 704   By: Robert E Martin

27th May, 2010     2

“Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a tangible link with some memory of the table”.
- Charles Pierre Monselet, French author (1825-1888)
 
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”
- Virginia Woolf, ‘A Room of One’s Own’
 
They stand clustered together on Main Street in the heart of downtown Midland like an oasis of form, style, and triumph and a toast to abundance, progress, and transcendence. The taste of irony, or any flavor of limitation for that matter, is carefully excised from the menu; and what stands glistening in the late Spring sunlight is the shining visage of The ‘H’ Hotel, Table Restaurant, The ’02) Oxygen Bar, and Café Zinc – a collective of dining, entertainment, and lifestyle establishments unlike any the Great Lakes Bay Region has yet to witness, which definitively set a standard for excellence.
 
Born four years ago from the vision of Dow Chairman & CEO Andrew Liveris concept of having a world class hotel in Downtown Midland for Dow executives to hold meetings and conduct training seminars, given that clients are constantly flown into Midland from all over the world, three years ago Dolce International came into play and took over renovation of the project with the idea centered around having divergent yet unified properties where the community could come together to dine and enjoy the fruits of world class leisure, while executives could stay at the hotel for business.  The ultimate objective being to create a situation where qualify of life could flourish for the entire area.
 
According to assistant General Manager, Alan Reynolds, “The concept actually follows the human element behind the periodic table of elements and works on many different levels. Consequently, there exists the ‘O2’ Oxygen Bar, Café Zinc, which is a akin to a French Bistro; the ‘H’ Hotel and Table Restaurant, which ties into the chemical oriented theme of the parent company.”
 
Given the compounds that go into the chemistry of creating an exceptional dining experience are as elemental yet evolved as the Chefs working the kitchen, a brief survey of the menu easily demonstrates the dichotomy between simplicity and sophistication that is at play, ranging from Octopi salad with avocado, marinated artichokes, cilantro-compressed Octopi, and roasted red pepper puree for only $14.00; to Warm Purple Asparagus with white balsamic Truffle Vinaigrette and Foie Gras Stuffed Morels for $16.00.
 
Each of the Chefs at the various entities claims a storied background. Café Zinc Chef Peter Maiers is a Michigan native, who hails from some of the country’s most prestigious and successful French restaurants. His accomplishments have included employed with the acclaimedf restaurants Von and Jean Georges in New York City.
 
The Tables’ Executive Chef Jaime Jeffrey grew up in Southeast Michigan in a Detroit suburb. “I left for Europe and perfected my skills in Paris for a few years and then in Germany for 7 years. I also worked in South America and found this job here at ‘Table’, which is closer to home and more conducive to what I do, which is cook a simple and clean kind of cuisine.”
 
“We try and stay seasonal,” he continues, “and this restaurant is very different from anything you will find in Michigan. We change the menu every day, which doesn’t signify a dramatic change; but each week you will see differences. If one or two items are not moving well, we will take them off the card and mix it around. We are constantly searching.”
 
As Alan views it, what distinguishes the two restaurants is that menu items at both Table and Café Zinc are tailored upon ethnic and world cuisines. “We start as a bistro with soups and many traditional bistro dishes, and then we jump into Thai dishes, like Red Curry Chicken and strive to bring something broader to the table, seeing as many of our guests have been to every port in the sea.”
 
A case in point is the menu on the specific day that I am visiting with pivotal staff members at Table.  Dinner items such as Teriyaki Infused Hamachi with Compressed Pineapple, Spiced Carrot and Cilantro oil at $30.00 catch one’s eye, along with Barbecue Glazed Pork Belly & Scallop, or Red Curry Lobster with Green Tea Soba noodles, Bok Choy, Sea Beans and Shitake at $37.00 stand out, yet underline the complexity and sensitivity with which each menu item must be prepared. This work is definitely not for a ‘layman’.
 
Indeed, the most challenging thing for Chef Peter consists of “inspiring people to step up and understand all that goes into preparing and developing these dishes. Many people have a mild love affair with food and most people like to cook, but this type of cooking is something you have to truly love and want to do, in order to take everything to the next level.”
 
Theo Bawar, Executive Chef of the ‘H’, adds:  “To me being able to work with really nice products makes a tremendous difference. Doing something different that will inspire people to want to pay for something new is always a challenge, but also immensely gratifying.”
 
According to Café Zinc and Oxygen manager Scott Arnold, “These are essentially ‘scratch’ kitchens, meaning there is not a lot of pre-manufactured product involved. We search for the freshest and best ingredients and will serve anywhere from 200 to 500 people per day at the Café, so we need to keep the menu fresh.”
 
“It takes a lot of people and energy to keep things prepared for each day,” he continues. “With Oxygen, for instance, I’m more involved in running the beverage program and figuring what people are interested in drinking and staying ahead of trends. If I find something great in an Italian wine, we will bring it in; if we want to feature a California Chardonnay, my goal is to feature a really good one. We can’t have everything but we can give a fair sampling of the best that is out there and switch it up a lot.”
 
Alan echoes this sentiment. “We are buying fresh fish and produce each day and try to minimize the need for storage. Currently Table is open Tuesday – Saturday for dinner and Café Zinc is open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With the outside seating open it doubles our capacity. We did 500 people a couple days already and this was before it got warm.”
 
A significant point that cannot be underscored enough is the true affordability of these restaurants. “People are realizing that the restaurants are affordable from a price point standpoint and exciting change is going on here,” reflects Alan. “$25 to $40 is not outlandish for this caliber of meal at dinner time, and is definitely competitive.”
 
Table Manager Nick LaPrairie underscores this: “The biggest misconception, even in Midland, is that we’re too expensive. ‘Table’ prices are in line with many other finer restaurants in town and Café Zinc is definitely affordable. You can go and spend as much at many other dining establishments in our area.”
 
“Another misconception people harbor is they feel they need to dress up when they come here,” interjects Alan. “But we stress that they can come in casual clothes – a button shirt and nice pair of jeans. We’re not enforcing a big dress code because we like people to walk to both venues and go to either ‘Table’ or ‘Café Zinc’, depending upon their taste. We’re trying to be flexible.”
 
Additionally, Oxygen and Café Zinc have live music every Friday from 8 to 11 PM. With the weather turning, the outdoor courtyard will offer live music, which kicks off on June 17 & 18th with the Summer Solstice Fiesta featuring Brett Mitchell & the Giant Ghost.     
 
“To sum everything up,” reflects Alan, “our primary focus – our core, if you will – is delivering high quality fresh food products, creatively prepared, that changes on a regular basis with service that cannot be found anywhere in the area. From that we branch into live music and entertainment and are constantly looking for something fresh and new. Peter doesn’t do wholesale changes on the menu, but is constantly tweaking and refining it. This is a fabulous situation for us because we get to work between the two restaurants in terms of placing where people are comfortable going back and forth between the two venues.”
 
“We have a lot of repeat customers and they form our catalyst for changing the menu. A restaurant becomes successful by listening to customers and what people want. Plus all of our breads & rolls are made in-house on the property, and desserts are also made fresh daily. Room service in the hotel is available 24-hours.”
 
“Now that the local Farmers’ Market is open and outside our front door, we always like to see what’s available and get excited about supporting our local farmers,” adds Scott. “Now that we are out of our renovation phases, it’s fabulous if we can put locally grown tomatoes on the menu and help keep the Michigan economy and Midland going and put resources back into the area.”
 
“Everybody is involved in some function in the community,” confirms Alan, “and we’ve conducted classes at Northwood and held cooking demonstrations to celebrate the Farmers Market opening.”
 
“We’re constantly turning and burning,” he concludes. “I’ve been with Dolce for 13 years and in this industry for a very long time. I started in New York City and can say, hands down, that this is the best group of people that I’ve ever worked with.”
 
For a full look at the various menu items available at Café Zinc and Table you can go to todineforonline.com and conduct a menu search.  But given the sense of adventure, experimentation, and creativity at play here, chances are change will be the rule rather than the exception, with the only guarantee being an incomparable dining experience that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere on the planet.
 
You can also follow The H, O2, Table, and Café Zinc on facebook & twitter. The properties are located at 111 W. Main St., Downtown Midland. Phone 989-839-0500 for more information; or go to www.theHhotel.com

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