We had plans to go out with friends toward the end of October and all of us were uninspired by our dining choices. we’d either been places we didn’t want to return to right then or didn’t think new places sounded like they’d hit the spot. The typical conundrum.
When Kate aka Hautemesss on Instagram posted about a new restaurant in Detroit called Besa, I knew we had our spot. The only issue: they were still in soft open mode.
Still I called and asked if we could please have a reservation. They said no but called back a few minutes later having changed their minds. I was thrilled to be able to see a restaurant in such the early stages of its inception. Dining at a restaurant during soft open is something I had never done before and I was thrilled and lucky to have this chance.
Upon entering on the super rainy evening, we were immediately taken by the beauty of the restaurant. if you read my blog regularly or dine in Detroit, you know Prime + Proper and Apparatus Room are some of the most beautiful (and Instagrammable) restaurants in the area. Besa can now definitely be added to that list with the large windows, marble floors, and white table cloth covered tables.
My favorite part is the bar with the blue velvet seats that just invite you to come in for a fashionable night.
We were seated in a spacious booth and greeted by our waiter who was friendly and knowledgeable. He brought the right mix of food talk and small talk. The beverages are presented on an iPad, something more and more restaurants are using, though the food menu was on paper.
We ordered four different drinks and based on both the descriptions on the menu and the taste all lean to the sweet side, almost overly balanced. They barely tasted like they had alcohol in them and could almost be confused with a juice box.
In a world of spirit forward, sometimes medicinal tasting cocktails, I don’t mind something a little less strong, but these cocktails were all one note and that note was sugar. I hope they rework the beverage program slightly to include a wider variety of cocktails.
The food was a completely different story. Before we ordered, we chatted with the hostesses, managers, and assistants about their favorite items. Some like the brussels sprouts and duck leg were mentioned over and over, while only one manager pointed out the rutabaga.
It’s something I would never have thought to order, but he inspired me, and I am so glad he did. Roasted with honey and drizzled with honey vinegar, it took on a golden hue and melt in your mouth texture. The crunchy honeycomb was an inspired addition. The dish converted even the most adamant rutabaga hater at our table.
Other starters included the aforementioned brussels sprouts, practically mandatory on menus these days and not at all disappointing with a heat that built up quickly. The butter lettuce salad was enormous and packed with flavors and textures; it could easily be a light meal or shared.
Equally enormous was the highly recommended duck leg with cabbage and a giant tapioca crackling. Though it is in the starters, it’s entrée sized and worth trying. The meat was tender and packed with a sweet-spicy flavor. The accompaniments worked well with it too!
On the other end of the spectrum was the wild raw ahi tuna. Beautifully presented with raw persimmon, pomegranate, mint, and a rich bechamel sauce, it was one of my favorite dishes. The mint was such an inspired addition, though the sauce may have been a bit of overkill.
For entrees, Dad had the agnolotto, a very small past dish. Though he had enough food, his two courses, the duck and pasta should have been switched. Though the pasta was good, it would work better on a smaller plate or presented as agnolotti.
The waiter told one guest that the eggplant he wanted hadn’t received the best feedback. He even had to wait longer because chef was not satisfied with the first preparation. He actually liked the dish and just felt it might have been improved with one less item on it.
Our other guest and I had the halibut. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, tender and juicy every bite from start to finish. Presented with different forms of onion including soubise, grilled, and burnt onion dust, I love onion so I loved the dish, though one raw preparation like pickled onions would add a little more interest.
The best entrée was the Michigan ribeye. Typically we find Michigan beef to be lacking in both flavor and tenderness. With one bite we were so pleasantly surprised that this beef practically melted in our mouths and was packed with rich beef flavor. I would order it again and again.
We ordered fries, carrots, and asparagus for sides. The fries were irresistible. The asparagus was good, though my ten year old self does not know how I ate the almost raw egg on top. The carrots on the other hand were a miss with an odd mix of spices that did not blend well. They actually had two versions of roasted carrots on the menu that night, one appetizer, one side. I noticed neither are on their online menu; this is a good move in my opinion.
Dad was the only one who ordered dessert since we were rather satisfied and all the options were large and layered with overly complicated flavors. It might be nice to have a few inspired by classic dishes like a take on crème brulee or an ice cream and sorbet flight. Some of this may be because Besa does not have a pastry chef.
Because of this they also do not make their own bread. Apparently the chef has a recipe and wanted a local bakery to make it, but they declined. With a restaurant of the caliber of Besa, I would love to see them prepare their own bread. Hell, I’d even make it for them!
All in all, I would highly recommend Besa. A friend and I were chatting about my experience and she said she shies away from soft openings because she works in the industry and knows what that is like from the inside. She also said that the fact I found much of my experience means Besa has a good chance at a long future. I hope so because I definitely think there is a permanent place for Besa on the Detroit dining scene.