(Traverse City, MI) After a full day of zipping around Traverse City -- which includes stops at Right Brain Brewery, Left Foot Charley, North Peak Brewery, and various other stops for "snacks" and "libations" -- our foursome strolls a bit south of downtown for our reservations at at place called Fire Fly Cafe & Lounge. None of us is exactly starving for dinner, but we are curious about this restaurant that claims to serve small plates of international cuisine. As happens so often during our adventures, the pouty skies above seems to want to cry as we head inside...
I discover Fire Fly through Google. The website indicates there are drinks, small plates, and big plates...right up our alley. But my first clue should have been the website, where they refer to themselves as "Fire Fly" or "Firefly" or "FireFly". Identity crisis? As we stroll up to the front doors, it is nice to see so many patrons enjoying the outdoor patio area, despite the imminent possibility of more showers like those that had sprung up all day. Once inside, however, there is confusion at the welcome stand when we claim our reservations. Two hostesses struggle to figure out where to seat us, while we dodge waiters rushing in and out of the main entrance with platters of food or dirty dishes. Evidently it's only the awkward means of egress.
Finally, we are led to a roomy table isolated from the activity of the main room. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it's semi-private; bad because we're out of our waitress' eyeline (we have to flag her down occassionally) and I can't see a lot of the restaurant decor. What I can see is a mish-mash of styles in a space that was clearly something else before a restaurant. Speakers hang like pendulums from the ceiling, and you can see the wingnuts holding the wires together(?!?). I believe there is a sports bar at the very rear, but I'm not certain.
To begin, I order a Short's Nicie Spicie, a spiced wheat ale that is very refreshing and drinkable. I'm a big fan of Short's and this brew renews my faith. I am becoming more inclined to try sushi rolls, especially those which do not contain seafood, so the Spicy Avo sounds perfect to share amongst our group. Eight slices arrive on a rectangular plate, with soy, too little ginger, and a dime-sized dollop of wasabi. Inside the seaweed sheaths are firm rice, black beans, avocado, scallions, jalapeno cream cheese, and bell peppers. My first bite introduces the heat of the jalapeno, but otherwise everything tastes kind of flat, even when dipped in salty soy. The last couple pieces go to waste as no one seems that interested in finishing the plate.
A big plate would just be too much food so I opt for a small plate instead. But which one? There are nearly 30 choices! The Beef Tenderloin sounds good, so I go with that. It arrives in about 15 minutes with most of the other dishes, the small tenderloin cooked medium (I forgot to specify doneness) and set atop a puff pastry stuffed with Gorgonzola, drizzled with demi-glace. It is delicous but so rich it nearly overwhelms me. Juliet shares bites of Horseradish Crusted Strip Loin (phenomenal) but John steals the show with his trout dish, swimming in cherries, mushrooms, and a thick butter sauce. It's one of the few fish dishes I think I could actually finish!
Unfortunately, Diane bears the brunt of the venue's shortcomings. First, she is brought the wrong dish and when they return with her proper order -- a grilled pork loin -- it is dry and nearly too dense to cut with a knife. As they send it back, I wonder if the dish had sat under heat lamps when they brought out the wrong thing? Nevertheless, the waitress made sure that small plate came off the bill.
Odd decor, uneven service, and food that's all over the board, Fire Fly just misses the mark for me. It is one of those places that seems more like a drinking establishment than a true international restaurant. We have seen so many of these "small plates" places just get it wrong on all levels, but at least Fire Fly is trying hard. With so many other great eateries in the area, I wonder if they can make it off the main thoroughfare. I may try them at a later time when we haven't been grazing all day.
I have to admit, I have my doubts about Firefly from moment we make reservatiosn online. They have an extensive menu, maybe overly-extensive, and that always makes me nervous. I have yet to find a place that can master multiple dishes and ethnic cuisines. In addition, the fact that they fail to send us a confirmation of the reservation as promised adds to my doubt.
The restaurant is busy, but there is no wait for our table. As the group is seated, I make a quick visit to the ladies room. It is very large and well-lit, but the music is blaring at an uncomfortable level. Why is it restaurants keep the music at a tolerable level in the lobby and seating areas, but blast it in the restrooms? Of the two soap dispensers and paper towel machines, only one of each is functioning. You'd think on a busy Saturday night, someone would be keeping an eye on "the facilities" and freshening them up now and again, right? Ugh.
As I approach our table, I find Jeremy and John setting aside their silverware; both sets have dried food on them. So far I am unimpressed with Firefly. Our waitress is friendly enough, but it is pretty clear that we are just one of many tables she's taking care of tonight. We order drinks and dig in to the menu. There's sushi, salad, multiple small plates (25+), entrees and desserts. Several cuisines are offered as well: Asian, Mexican, Indian, Italian, Thai, and American. In addition, there are many seasonal specials. Quite frankly, it's an awful lot to dig through.
I opt for two small plates: the pecan-crusted walleye and the horseradish crusted strip steak. (I have no idea why I went two meats and both of them crusted. Maybe it was menu exhaustion.) Jeremy orders a sushi dish with a Mexican riff and a beef small plate, while John and Diane decide to split two small plates and order the chocolate fondue for us all to share as dessert. The small plates arrive at intervals, which gives us all chance to try them all. The sushi actually has no fish, but red pepper, jalapeno cream cheese, scallion,s and a fried black bean cake encased in rice and nori. I'm not a huge fan of "hybrid sushi", which I believe was essentially created for the non-adventurous, but I find this surprisingly delicious.
We all agree that the John and Diane's trout with mushrooms, cherries, and bacon in a butter sauce is nothing short of amazing. My walleye is mild, flaky, and complimented with a thick coat of pecan pieces. I just love nut-crusted fish and pecans seem to go beautifully with nearly any fish. Jeremy's filet with puff pastry and blueberry sauce is rich and decadent as is my strip steak coated in horseradish crumbs.
But mid-way through the meal, they bring out the wrong small plate for John and Diane. Our waitress promises to fix it and eventually the pork tenderloin special is delivered. Unfortunately, Diane can't even get a knife through it. The meat is pronounced dry, tough, and flavorless. The dish is removed from the table and the dinner bill, but this final error really overshadows the rest of the meal for me.
Jeremy always says that we don't rate restaurants or even necessarily food, but that we rate our experience at a given restaurant. Funny, about halfway through the meal I find myself wishing I was back at Cook's House with its miniscule bathroom, tight seating, and limited menu because the overall experience was so much better. Firefly has good intentions and high aspirations but just doesn't deliver. Skip it and head out to one of the many innovative and capable eateries Traverse City has to offer.
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