Cygnus 27

(Grand Rapids, MI) Earlier this year a friend mentioned that Cygnus 27, perched high atop the Amway Grand, offered a Sunday brunch. We checked out the enticing menu online then made reservations (courtesy OpenTable.com, of course), looking forward to a respite from our usual dinner plans. It had been nearly 8 years since we'd visited the restaurant and were looking forward to the new design...



He Fed:
The valet is packed, with cars lined up in the road, so we park our car instead in the garage across the street. It's a brisk day but we are soon inside the lobby of the hotel, trying to remember where the elevators are for Cygnus. We guess correctly and ride alone up to the 27th floor. A large group is waiting to be shown to their table, but the hostess offers to take our coats. There is the all-too-common awkwardness at the hostess stand while they try to find our table and more people come in behind us. Soon enough, though, we are shown to a small table with a good view (although not the window-side table I had requested online).

Immediately, before our server can arrive, we hear a loud noise. SQUAWK! What the hell is that? I wonder. A minute goes by and it erupts again. SQUAWK! It is very loud and apparently coming from a small area near the rear of the restaurant, where a large family is enjoying brunch. SQUAWK! Evidently one of their kids is "special" and announcing frustration whenever no one is paying attention. Juliet and I look at each other, thinking the same thing. Should we just leave now?

Our server arrives at just the right time, offering sparkling water, coffee, and cocktails. It is noon! The squawking child acts up a few more times, but eventually they leave. Meanwhile, I proceed to work my way through the champagne drinks: kir royal, mimosa, bellini. They are decent and do much to soothe the aggravation caused by noisy children. Plus, they are free with the purchase of brunch!

In addition to the standard buffet-style selections (omelette made to order, blah blah blah), Cygnus offers small plates. This is what drew me to make reservations in the first place because I'm not a lover of buffets. I ask our server to bring us one of each of the 6 small plates; instead, we each receive a larger plate with the 6 offerings on it. Not quite what we were expecting, but it is convenient. Excitedly, we burrow into the dishes.

The grilled beef tenderloin brochette is a dry lump of meat on a skewer that has been grilled with some vegetables. I am not impressed with the overcooked beef. On the other hand, the pheasant stew is nearly a cassoulet, with rich fowl dressed in navy beans, celery, carrots and very crunchy chestnuts. It's also somewhat overcooked (mushy) but flavorful. In a surprise turn of events, the lemon pepper walleye over saffron rice pilaf is tender enough to melt in your mouth.

I most look forward to the BBQ pulled pork tenderloin served on a blue cheese biscuit. The sauce, unfortunately, tastes like store-bought and I can barely detect any blue cheese. Disappointing. Prime rib is not my favorite; in fact, I usually avoid it at all costs because I can't stand all that fat. This slice, however, is pretty good though overcooked again. I think prime rib should be damn near rare. Finally, the honey glazed ham is uninspired, as is the scalloped potatoes. To be blunt, any of these dishes could be improved if their temperature were a few degrees hotter. Serving brunch just above room temperature makes it seem like the food is sitting in a vat in the kitchen.

Half-heartedly, I snag a couple mini-desserts before we leave. I want to like Cygnus but coming here again for brunch just isn't in the cards. To be honest, the last few brunches I've had, here and elsewhere, were mediocre. Maybe I'm just not a brunch guy, altogether? I like breakfast and I enjoy lunch but that nether region between the two has not yielded positive results in past. That's it...you heard it here first. No more brunches for Jeremy!
She Fed:
It's been years since we last went to Cygnus. It was our anniversay and the food and service was amazing, but the decor was very dated, so I'm looking forward to seeing the place after its recent refreshening. Checking in at the hostess stand is awkward and strained. The hostess seems unsure as to what to do with us. We had reservations so it's not like we're trying to crash the party, but after she checks our coats she is clearly uncertain of her next move. After stalling for time, she shows us to our seats.

Views from the 27th floor are expansive and breathtaking, even on a dreary grey Sunday. Cygnus is light and airy with high ceilings and contemporary light fixtures to make for a "chi chi" but not stuffy vibe. Our waiter, Matt, explains how brunch at Cygnus works. In addition to six small plates on the menu, there is an omelette station, dessert bar and line of cold salads. Champagne cocktails and coffee are included in the price of brunch while there is a small upcharge for Bloody Mary and espresso drinks.

We opt to try each of the small plates first. Surprisingly, the kitchen makes us full dinner-sized plates with portions of the small plate offerings. I start with tender, flavorful ham and creamy scalloped potatoes, which turn out to be my favorite. The other dishes are nothing special. The prime rib has a dark pink center with lovely herbed crust. The walleye on saffron rice is nice, but the saffron is lost. The pheasant stew is plain and reminds me of the Campbell's canned bean soup I adored as a child. The pulled pork is the consistency of baby food and even though it's on a homemade biscuit with blue cheese crumbles, the texture is just too pasty. The final offering is a kabob of grilled red onion, green pepper and beef tenderloin. The veggies are raw and the beef is cooked past medium well.

Jeremy suggests everything is underseasoned to appeal to Midwest tastes and probably sitting in chaffing dishes in the kitchen. I agree. The small plates sound better on the menu. I leave most on my plate, holding out hope for the buffet. The chef at the omelette station is backed up and many of the dishes for hot food are empty (French toast, eggs benedict, pancakes, etc). I move on to the salad display which has greens, pasta salads, cheeses and antipasto. There is also sushi, smoked salmon, seared scallops and marinated cold shrimp. I grab a few pieces of cheese and a mess of delicious tarragon marinated shrimp.

I'm not sure what it is, nothing's really grabbing me here. Maybe Jeremy and I have become too jaded from chef's tastings and multicourse dinners. In all honesty we've never been big fans of buffets, preferring to order off the menu. Our waiter is nice enough, though a bit nervous (we discover as we leave that this is his first day serving on his own) and he certainly keeps the champagne cocktails coming.

I should mention, throughout the meal there is an adolescent girl squawking loudly in the corner. It sounds as if there is a peacock under the table and it's exceedingly uncomfortable. We wonder if maybe she has Tourette's? While I feel deeply for the girl and her family, and I am a huge advocate for diversity and inclusion, I'm not sure Sunday brunch at Cygnus is their best choice. In any case, from the awkward start with the hostess, the disappointing small plates, the lack of upkeep on the buffet and the disruptive noises, it's a negative experience all around. I was looking forward to a long leisurely brunch, but we end up leaving within one hour. I should have stayed in my jammies and made my favorite scrambled eggs with tortillas ala Edward's in NYC.
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Comments

  1. Music on the video is a great touch!

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  2. I think the chef was punishing both of you for eating there on a Sunday and not at your local GR funspot that you can find on almost every corner...you know, the place where they serve fine wine and crackers!

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  3. Well, we should have known better than to seek out (shudder) brunch. If nothing else, it solidified by desire to steadfastly avoid this peculiarly American non-meal.

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  4. Obviously you do not have children for the lack of empathy for the family and a special needs child. Ignorant.

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  5. The timing on this comment is fortuitous as I recently spoke to a close friend who’s sister has a special needs child. Ever since writing this review it had been niggling at me that I’d offended my friend in some way or that perhaps I wasn’t being understanding enough. Having worked for a number of years with families in crisis, I consider myself to be compassionate but wondered if perhaps I’d fallen on this one. My friend assured me that this particular review didn’t offend her in the least . She explained her sister and brother-in-law make it a point to involve their special needs child in most family activities and are always prepared with an exit plan should things spiral out of control.

    Fast forward a few weeks and we received this critical comment from a reader. I do see both sides of the debate on this one. I understand parents of a special needs child want to have their child experience everything their peers experience. Sunday brunch at a swanky restaurant included. I also understand first hand how incredibly uncomfortable it can be to find oneself in proximity to a table with a child making high-pitched, unsettling noises for nearly an hour. It was extremely disruptive and caused several tables, not just ours, to speed through what should have been a leisurely and relaxing brunch.

    I’ve thought about this several times since we visited Cygnus in November 2010 and while I agree special needs children should absolutely have the right to join in a family outing, I still believe the parents should have taken action to minimize the obvious discomfort of the other patrons.

    And as always, I welcome constructive feedback and dissenting viewpoints.

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