In August Adam Baru, the man behind downtown siblings Mani Osteria and Isalita, opened Mikette in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth Rd. A French bistro decorated with an eclectic mix of early twentieth-century French paintings, posters, and bric-a-brac, it feels like a sophisticated neighborhood joint.
And balancing sophistication and neighborly congeniality is the challenge for Mikette. Baru says he wants a cross-section of patrons–diners looking for a slow-paced meal of traditionally inspired entrees like beef bourguignon and trout almondine and others who just want a quick sandwich or Mikette’s signature Burger Le Mec at the bar.
Baru is particularly proud of Le Mec, which he calls “chef driven and totally unique … I wanted something that said Mikette as much as a Reuben says delicatessen.” The meat is specially ground and blended, and the burger is served on Mikette’s own brioche rolls with house-made pickles and special sauce.
But Mikette derives its primary culinary inspiration from Baru’s experiences as a teen in southern France. Baru’s father was teaching there, and he brought his family over for a visit. Adam became very close with his host family, who had a son his age. They got along so well that the two ended up doing regular summertime exchanges in which Baru would travel to France for a month, and the other boy would visit the U.S.
During these summers, Adam says he fell in love with the cuisine of the region, which he likens to that of Marseille. “It felt raw, and right in your face with these clean flavors. It was very much like the town, with influences coming in from Spain, Italy, North Africa, and other places around the Mediterranean.” He was also inspired by the cooking of his host family, who had immigrated to France from Algeria and Tunisia. The family matriarch, in particular, made a lasting impression: he named the restaurant Mikette in her memory.
Baru wants the restaurant to reflect the cuisine he learned to love during those summers: classically French in technique, with flavor profiles drawn from all around the Mediterranean basin. If pressed, he says, he might describe it as “a sort of rock ‘n’ roll French. Serious, but playful.” Traditionally, for instance, the roast chicken Provencal might be served with fingerling potatoes and a bit of tapenade. Instead, the quartered chicken arrives on a generous bed of pommes frites with ketchup and truffle mayo. “It just worked better,” Baru says. “More fun.” The Moroccan meatballs appetizer, like “Isabel’s meatballs” at Mani Osteria, starts with a custom meat grind blended with spices and hand rolled. At Mikette, the technique remains, but the spicy aromatic seasonings and cumin yogurt sauce evoke North Africa.
Mani and Isalita chef Brendan McCall helped set up the kitchen and create the menu, working with Artie Cavaliere, who also helped develop the menus at Mani and Isalita. But with his two veterans already involved in the day-to-day operations of the other restaurants, Baru needed a third chef to help run Mikette and round out the kitchen.
Fortuitously, Adam had met Don Hammond one night as the chef dined at Isalita. Originally from Michigan, Hammond, whose cooking experience in Ann Arbor includes the Chop House and Grange, was working in New York at the time for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The two hit it off, and Baru says he tried “every six months” to lure Hammond back to Michigan. Ultimately, it was Mikette that did it.
The restaurant has a raw bar, and several fresh seafood dishes. There’s an array of salads, including an elaborate Lyonnaise made of crispy potatoes, frisee, spicy greens, and sausage; it’s topped with a lightly poached egg that serves as the dressing. Starters include the Gougere, a very light Parmesan popover seasoned with black pepper and thyme; crab cakes with frisee and Old Bay remoulade; and a “foie parfait” served with cornichons, blueberry Concord jam, and brioche toast. Along with beef bourguignon, entrees include steak frites (with an optional au poivre sauce), a French dip, and a simple, well-made omelet with Michigan goat cheese and herbs.
With two successful restaurants downtown and a promising third on the north side, Baru continues to look to the future. “I have a few ideas,” he says.
“I love figuring out what’s next, sharing concepts with the team and seeing what works. The folks around me grow, and they challenge me–they tell me when my ideas stink! And that’s important. That’s family, that’s teamwork.
“It’s been a really cool ride so far.”
Mikette, 1759 Plymouth Rd. 436-4363. Tentative hours: Tues.-Sat. 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m.-9 p.m., closed Mon. mikettea2.com