(Grand Rapids, MI) — Not long after we moved to downtown Grand Rapids, we began exploring local restaurants with more enthusiasm. Before Brewery Vivant and Green Well moved onto Cherry Street, there was a mysterious wine bar called Corez. We tried to pop in one afternoon about a year ago, but they weren’t quite open yet and we were turned away. As it happened, Corez closed their doors soon thereafter. Surely a primo building like that wouldn’t go to waste? It didn’t. The fine folks at Essence had a plan: Grove Restaurant. Early rumblings said it would focus on “local seafood” (whatever that might mean in mid-Michigan). Grove opened without a liquor license, so we patiently awaited a time when their complete culinary vision would unfold. What better time for that to happen than Grand Rapids Restaurant Week...

He Fed:

It is a blustery November evening, the dark skies spitting occasional droplets of rain. More bark than bite. I am disgruntled there are no spots in the lot, but we find street parking with little trouble. It is kind of romantic to walk hand-in-hand the short block to the restaurant. Bleary-eyed, I look at the warm, glowing sign that says “Grove” and the happy people eating and drinking inside. It looks inviting, like home...or better.

Our frequent dinner companions, JoJo and Ivy, are already ensconced at the bar. The hostess point them out, then invites us to shed our coats, which we do thankfully. I glance around at the industrial brown decor and softly glowing lights. The space feels close, intimate, maybe a little cloistered but that has more to do with the burgeoning crowd. People are out in full force, presumably to experience Grove during restaurant week.

Fashionably late, we are shown to our table, a small fourtop on the far side of the dining room. Our server is very upbeat...maybe a bit too much so. At first, I’m a little put off by his enthusiasm, mistaking it for salesmanship. Over time, however, once we get to know each other, I’m impressed by his energy and sincerity. His one stumble is when I order a Charles and Charles Syrah Rosé to begin, and he brings me the plain Syrah instead. Honest mistake, and quickly rectified. (If you haven’t tried any Charles Shaw wines yet, do yourself a favor and put it on your list. They have all been remarkable so far.)

Surprisingly, though we all go with the restaurant week “special courses” (for only $25!!!), a gift from the kitchen arrives: Honey Blue Cheese on Peppercorn Brioche. The brioche is a crispy, spicy cracker, topped with a creamy dollop of the redolent yet sweet cheese sauce. It reminds me of our favorite amuse bouche—the spoon of dried beef, blue cheese and walnuts at Paris restaurant in Las Vegas. This is damn close. I want more.

As a group, we immediately gravitate to the cheeses. There are four selections. We get them all. Dancing Goat Creamery Chèvre is familiar, and most welcome, especially when paired with bright red, earthy-sweet beets; slices of Michigan apples; and a cherry gastrique. Wisconsin Buttermilk Blue Cheese on a Ninth Bridge brioche surrounded by almond butter and Concord lavender jam is pleasantly stinky, slinky, and tart. (I am impressed by the lavender and grape jam; such ingenuity!) The Grassfield’s Aged Gouda pairs pleasantly with fennel black pepper compote, dill, and compressed pear. Lastly, the Cowslip Creamery Brighid is just plain fun to eat in a moat of farm squash butter and cranberry gastrique. Cranberry? Must be autumn! There’s even a flash-fried chip of kale alongside (not a big fan of kale, but others like it).

My first course is a proscuitto salad with fresh greens, shaved parmesan, sliced chestnuts, and undulant waves of dry-cured Italian ham. Droplets of thick raspberry dressing surround the components of the dish, while a very light touch of olive oil makes everything glisten. Every bite is fresh, creamy, sweet, and delightful. I finish my wine and we decide to split a bottle of Pinot Noir for our next course.

Although Juliet is sure I’m going to order the Creswick Pork 3 Ways (which I am sorely tempted to do), I decide to throw everyone a curveball and get the Spicy Kimchi Stew instead. (Only Ivy is unphased; he orders the same thing.) Grove’s version is a shallow but large bowl of local chicken, pork belly, spicy cabbage, carrots, radishes, scallions, and dashi broth (a kind of Japanese stock). Off to one side is a perfectly poached egg, what our server refers to as a 360 degree egg, which I take to mean it is poached on all sides and takes over an hour to prepare alone. The veggies are crunchy, the broth is spicy, and the egg oozes over everything, elevating the meat. It is all I can do not to slurp up every last drop.

I don’t dig on chocolate too much, so for dessert I select the Butternut Squash Pound Cake, topped with salty caramel, star anise, and cinnamon sugar, while an oval scoop of vanilla malt gelato melts on the edge. Holy. Moley. Everyone else oohs and aahs over their desserts, but I think mine is best. I will keep it, thank you. Espresso helps fill in the gaps.

It’s funny...during restaurant week, you sometimes get to see some establishments’ Achilles heels. The added pressure of showcasing all your offerings causes the cracks to widen. Not so for Grove. They completely wowed all of our party, and we can’t wait to get back. Good job, Essence Restaurant Group. You have another winner.
She Fed:

Even though it's restaurant week, I'm not remotely excited about going out to dinner tonight. First of all it's pouring rain and after a 75 minute commute home, I just want to nest. Secondly, I've got a seven day trip beginning early tomorrow morning and I could use the time to pack. Finally, the last thing I heard about Grove was it's a local and sustainable restaurant specializing in seafood. I'm no ecologist, but last time I checked, Grand Rapids wasn't eactly teaming with seafood farms so it sounds a little hinkey to me. Sometimes being dead wrong can be a wonderful thing!

We make our way into a warm, glowing restaurant packed to the gills with people. They're bellied up to the bar or standing in the doorway, blocking the entrance waiting for tables. Luckily for us we have a reservation and are seated pretty quickly. That is, after we grab JoJo and Ivy who are enjoying pre-dinner cocktails at the bar.

Our server is extremely outgoing. His jubilance is just a bit too much for some at our table, but he seems genuine to me and I appreciate it when people clearly love their jobs. His demeanor and the warm buzz of the restaurant begin to melt my icy reservations about tonight.

An amuse bouche is delivered from the kitchen—homemade savory shortbread with a dollop of parmesan crema. It's buttery, crunchy, cheesy richness and it pairs deliciously with the slightly citrusy Gruner Veltliner I order.

The menu for restaurant week is surprisingly expansive and with so many options to choose from we buy time by ordering cheeses to start. In short time our four cheeses are presented and they are plated beautifully. The chevre from Dancing Goat is paired with Michigan apples, beets, and a cherry gastrique. The Grassfields aged gouda has a compote of black pepper fennel and compressed pear. The Wisconsin buttermilk blue is perched on a slab of brioche surrounded by almond butter and concord lavender jam. The Cowslip Creamery brighid sits atop a puddle of squash butter and cranberry sauce with a deep fried kale chip. All of the cheeses are tasty and the pairings are unique, but the blue cheese with the concord jam is amazing. The sweetness of the grapes with herbal-floral undertones of lavender together with the tangy buttermilk blue just knocks my socks off. I'm a big fan of Cowslip Creamery and their creamy, nutty brighid cheese, gorgeous with its center line of ash, but the squash butter reminds me a bit of baby food and I can't bring myself to go back for seconds.

We order first courses, and I follow our server's recommendation: sea scallops a la plancha. ("A la plancha" has always sounded a bit exotic to me until I learned it just means the food is cooked on a metal plate or grill.) Grilled scallops sound divine and mine arrive served in a bit of celery root bisque with shaved carrots (mostly white but with a few orange strips thrown in) and some fried parsnip chips. It's a relatively bland and boring looking plate, though the earthy carrots and bisque contrast with crispy parsnip chips and sweet, tender scallop. I do think just a little more sear on the scallops would have ratcheted the dish up a bit, even if only visually.

At some point JoJo picks out a lovely bottle of pinot noir but we're all so absorbed in our food, sharing each others plates and talking about how fabulous the wine is that neither Jeremy nor I remember to snap a shot of the label or jot down what it is. (Epic fail!)

In an unusual move, I order Otto's chicken for a main. I have an aversion to ordering chicken in restaurants, based on years of being served far too many unexpected nasty bits of the bird. I'm talking hunks of cartilidge, partial joints and knuckle-like pieces, and once I think there was a beak in my noodles. So I very rarely order chicken out, even in the nicest of restaurants, preferring to cook it at home where I can control exactly what ends up on my plate. But I recognize Otto's as the organic, hormone-free local chicken farm and I want to support their efforts. The airline breast is roasted and served with creamy, cheesy Jenning Brothers polenta cakes, miatake (Hen of the Woods) mushrooms, and glazed root veggies. It's lovely comfort food on a cold rainy night and I'm pleased to report there are no surprises with the chicken!

For dessert I go with the "salted dark chocolate fudge" which Ivy and JoJo agree is the best dessert. (Jeremy preferring his squash cake, not being a big chocolate fan.) The dark layer of chocolate with caramelized brioche, candied hazelnuts, and sea salt is just the perfect little forkful of heaven. Grove is well worth a cold rainy trek any night. I suspect Jeremy and I will be repeat customers.

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