Never out of style
by Lee Lawrence
From the December, 2017 issue
My announcement that Logan, the chef-driven restaurant on Washington, was the subject of my next review produced a typical non sequitur from my husband. When he was a kid, he responded, telephone numbers began with a name, and his family's had been LOgan 3-0418, the first two letters corresponding to digits on the phone dial. "Really," I replied, having heard the story a time or two. "What has that to do with the restaurant?" He shrugged.
Thinking about it later, though, I reflected on how sometimes what's old disappears forever--like the letter/digit assignment of phone numbers. Sometimes what's old comes around again--like bell bottoms and miniskirts. And sometimes what's old never goes out of style--like personal service and excellent food.
Logan, the restaurant--named after chef-owner Thad Gillies' son--has never gone out of style. Gillies, along with his brother Ryan as general manager and Kevin Hobart as sommelier, has, over the last thirteen years created an elegant yet unfussy restaurant, exciting without being uncomfortable, professional but still warm.
This autumn I visited Logan three times. The first, with a trio of family and friends, came at the end of what had been, for two of us, an exhausting and emotional day. Sitting down at Logan was a balm. After sorting our way through the extensive food menu, we put ourselves in Hobart's hands for the wine. Hobart appeared to thrive on solving the puzzle of which wines might pair best with the myriad appetizer and entree choices coming to the table. Hands waving, details tumbling out with infectious enthusiasm, he explained his solution--in this case an Emeritus Pinot Noir--and awaited confirmation as we swirled and tasted it. He knew--and always knows--his wines and Gillies' food. He was--and always seems to be--right.
Gillies' food, which he describes as New American, plays with global influences, ingredients, and techniques--America as melting pot, with many cuisines whisked in. But fusing disparate elements sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Though Gillies' execution is faultless, I thought
his plates worked best when the components hewed most closely to their origins rather than as elements tied together by an unclear manifesto.
On that first visit, for instance, fried spring rolls stuffed with a nontraditional forcemeat of salmon and walleye were spongy and bland. Duck fritters--orbs of shredded duck confit, tempura-battered and fried--were also mushy and dull. Fortunately, the Logan salad, dressed with sherry vinaigrette and garlic chips, provided a welcome change from the usual Michigan toss.
In Gillies' fusions, each dish is the sum of many parts, each carefully fabricated to be delicious on its own and as part of the whole. Sometimes these combinations zing, and sometimes they don't, but though I sometimes questioned the conception, the execution was always perfect.
The best entree among our four choices that night was my sister-in-law's walleye--a simple but elegant saute adorned with a delicate lemongrass-crab sauce. The robust jolt of roasted Brussels sprouts was an undesired distraction. A friend's sauteed salmon with Korean mustard-miso sauce left her uninspired, though we all agreed the plate's broccolini, finished with lime-infused brown butter, were irresistible. Thai sea scallops in a kaffir lime-lemongrass-coconut milk sauce, garnished with sweetly pickled mustard greens, were lovely but disconcertingly paired with earthy mashed potatoes instead of the typical rice or fruity vegetable like sweet potatoes or squash. Reactions to my quail also seesawed--the bird excellent, the sauce a bit too sweet, the vegetable adornments generous.
Although portions are good-sized, we still had room for a bit of dessert. We ordered a peach special--a trio of ice cream, curd, and almond cake--all disappointingly lacking in peach flavor. Fennel creme brulee with macerated berries--a relatively simple dish from this kitchen--delivered the promised flavor but not the texture: rather than creamy and ethereal, it was dense and starchy.
My husband and I returned twice more for quiet dinners, enhanced by new and interesting wines Hobart suggested--one night a smooth licorice-y Spanish red (2015 Capcanes La nit de les garnatxes: Slate), the next a light plummy red Austrian (2014 H&M Hofer Zweigelt, in a full liter bottle).
The kitchen sparked our "Spanish" evening with an amuse-bouche, a tiny bowl of split pea soup drizzled with olive oil--delightful. A blue crab and avocado parfait followed, perfect in its simplicity and pristine flavor. My entree, a cylindrical "steak" cut from a leg of lamb, was tasty--though not very juicy--and nicely embellished with a celery root puree, roasted cauliflower, and yogurt sauce. My husband's duck confit had a beautifully crisp skin and succulent meat, and pickled grapes added a tangy-sweet sparkle. Dense, solid, warm bread pudding with salted caramel sauce lacked the creamy center and crisped edges I, at least, hope for in this homey dessert.
Our last dinner at Logan began with another wonderful amuse-bouche I hope eventually finds its way onto the menu--hot-and-sour duck soup drizzled with chili oil--a few mouthfuls of perfectly balanced, spicy, tangy duck essence. Continuing the duck theme, we again tried the duck fritters but still found them lackluster. But a special of confited duck wings, glazed with tamarind sauce, was finger food at its best--indelicate to pick up but glorious to eat. My husband followed with bouillabaisse, the evening's entree special. Though the dish is traditionally a brothy, saffron-scented French seafood stew garnished with potatoes, grilled bread, and rouille (a garlic-pepper mayonnaise), Gillies' version was more a generous heap of fish, shellfish, and potatoes in a chunky tomato sauce. My husband didn't complain.
I chose a dish tagged as the chef's favorite, an odd-sounding conglomeration of chopped shrimp and asparagus, seasoned and sauteed with Mexican flavors and tossed with house-made pasta and a healthy dose of Italian Parmesan cheese. (Though the menu doesn't indicate it, pastas are priced and sized as appetizers; entree portions can be had for twice the price.) But the dish surprised me. The seemingly disparate parts came together in a pleasant, satisfying whole, homey, like a dish made new from bits and pieces combined together out of the fridge. We finished the evening with chocolate mousse, a dense, solid, truffle-like scoop of ganache.
I've heard that some people find Logan's orange and lime decor too stark, though I enjoy the clean, simple lines, and the subdued lighting tempers the brightness. (The well-lit orange bathrooms may be a bit startling--this coming from a woman whose husband has campaigned successfully for grape Kool-Aid on their own bathroom walls.) Service is routinely attentive, efficient, and well-informed, and intimate, quiet conversation isn't an impossible dream. Striking design, personal service, and inventive food--all the defining attributes of fine dining never go out of style at Logan.
Logan: an American Restaurant
115 W. Washington
Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m, closed Sun. & Mon.
Appetizers and salads $5-$15; pastas: $12-$14; entrees: $22-$40/market price
[Originally published in December, 2017.]
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