By Lauren F. Carlson | Photography by Paul Bomers
An inventive array of overseas tastes along with plenty of flavorful, creative and traditional American fare infuse the colorful palette of dining options that abound in Michigan’s second largest city year-round, but Restaurant Week Grand Rapids are prime time to sample and savor them.
Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2015 will takes place over 12 days in August —Wednesday, Aug. 12 through Sunday, Aug. 23 — during peak summer harvest in West Michigan. The event celebrates the culinary scene in Greater Grand Rapids and offers the public an opportunity indulge at a pre-set value price point.
“Restaurant Week provides an excellent opportunity for diners to explore new restaurants and sample new ingredients and cuisine types,” explains Janet Korn, Senior Vice President of Experience Grand Rapids. “Over the past five years the restaurant’s chefs have developed unique styles and a talent for serving fresh foods from our local region.”
Sixty restaurants participating in Restaurant Week GR will create unique three-course menus that are not on their regular menu including appetizer, entrée and dessert for $28, or two people for $28 at some participating venues. All menus will showcase the creativity of local chefs who are asked to prepare dishes that are both unique and use local seasonal ingredients.
“I’m doing a few things that probably no one has seen here yet,” relays The Bandit Queen’s Head Chef Les Fleming. The venue — a Pan-Asian noodle bar that opened just last summer — offers broth-enriched ramen bowls with side dishes like fried won tons and fresh, homemade kimchi. Appreciated for his non-discriminating culinary flair, Fleming doesn’t limit himself to any particular Asian style, choosing instead to mix and merge Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean inspirations with his traditional French cooking methods. Working from his wheelhouse where he wields a sauté pan instead of a wok, the chef serves up subtle and complex flavors like tea-braised pork and Saigon cinnamon crust.
During Restaurant Week, savor experimental new tastes like sesame tuna over ramen with miso and cucumber oil, wasabi ice cream and pork cheek spring rolls. The Bandit Queen experience is underscored by a steam punk, travel theme that server Justin Doyle describes as “European explorers visiting East Asia for the first time — visitors will forget they’re dining on Division.”
Situated on Monroe Center not far away, Osteria Rossa was lauded Michigan BLUE sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” its first year. This Italian neighborhood eatery prides itself on Old World dishes that source local farm-fresh and other Michigan-made or grown ingredients, as well as pouring only top-quality wines from Italy and the Great Lakes State.
Co-owners Brittanie Bonham and Chris Perkey are also adamant about creating menu items from scratch. “It’s something we’re really passionate about,” Bonham expresses.
Comfort and approachability are also key to the business’s success. “Italian food isn’t trendy,” notes Bonham, who sought to offer fresh and familiar cuisine with staying power such as homemade meatballs or wood-fired pizza. Catering to a wide clientele, Bonham and Perkey also offer accessible price points, a casual bar and a separate, upscale dining area for special occasions and private events.
Most of all, they focus on providing an authentic Italian eatery where all feel welcome.
During this year’s Restaurant Week, Osteria Rossa will combine its inviting atmosphere with “something for everyone,” Bonham says. “I’ll have thousands of tomatoes,” adds Perkey, as well as plenty of homemade pasta and a dishes for meat eaters as well as vegetarians. Mostly, he looks forward to serving new clientele.
Celebrating its five-year anniversary this year, Eastown staple and Grand Rapids Magazine’s 2015’s “Best European Restaurant” Brewery Vivant will be serving up its renowned French- and Belgian-inspired items during GR’s much-anticipated 12-day event.
Melding these two cooking styles with modern and traditional touches “is easy and it’s hard,” shares General Manager and Executive Chef Chris Weimer, whose principal focus is haute cuisine, plated food made to order, from scratch. With unique favorites such as the duck confit nachos with brie cream and tomato concasse, Weimer and company have carved out a niche that attracts curious as well as hungry visitors.
“Tons of people come just for what we do,” says the chef, who looks forward to experimenting with nose-to-tail pig offerings as part of Brewery Vivant’s three courses during upcoming Restaurant Week Grand Rapids. “We tend to do things that are a little weird because that’s how we are. We care about the experience.”
Though patrons can experience inventive fare with foreign flair at the venue, they’ll find familiar favorites on the menu, too, including burgers, pastrami sandwiches and steak n’ frites. “We have pub food. It’s just a little elevated,” notes Kate Avery, abbess of beer and head of marketing.
Founders Brewing Company, who has been a Major Partner since 2010, will be helping all of the participating restaurants to pair their menus with their beers for this event. Great Lakes Wine and Spirits, another sixth-year partner, has secured the international Italian label Ruffino and Michigan’s Black Star Farms to assist venues in wine pairings with their menu selections. Great Lakes Wine and Spirits also brings Woodford Reserve and Herradura Tequila as 2015’s featured spirits.
In addition, Gordon Food Service is the new Food Service Major Partner this year, along with Ferris Coffee & Nut, Old National Bank (formerly Founders Bank & Trust), while media partners include MLive Grand Rapids Press, Grand Rapids Magazine, Michigan BLUE Magazine and Townsquare Media radio stations: The River 100.5 fm, WFGR 98.7 fm, Channel 95.7 fm, WGRD 97.9 fm and The Touch 1410 am.
Other supporting partners for Restaurant Week include sixth-year backer Valley City Linen; Zoye Premium 100 Percent Soybean Oil; Michigan Restaurant Association; the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel; JW Marriott Hotel and the Grand Rapids Courtyard by Marriott Downtown.
“We are proud to be able to contribute funding for Secchia Institute for Culinary Education during Restaurant Week Grand Rapids,” expresses Doug Small, Experience Grand Rapids President. “Throughout the 12-day event, each restaurant donates $1 from every Restaurant Week meal sold to the Restaurant Week Grand Rapids Student Scholarship Fund at GRCC. The fund, over five years, has raised almost $100,000.
“It’s rewarding to see the talented students from Secchia Institute for Culinary Education joining the ranks of the food service staff in this community.”
For more details about Grand Rapids Restaurant Week — including the Grand Cocktail People’s Choice Competition and pre-party events leading into Restaurant Week GR, such as pairing dinners, tastings and happy hours — visit restaurantweekgr.com. A map showing all of the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2015 is located onrestaurantweekgr.com. ≈
Freelance writer Lauren F. Carlson resides in Grand Rapids.