The Heritage

(Grand Rapids, MI) — A little-known secret: there’s a fine dining restaurant located in Grand Rapids Community College. It’s called The Heritage and it’s part of the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. Basically, students are taught how to run a restaurant—from front of the house to back. We, the food-going public, get to sample their learning in the form of classical and modern preparations. Together with fellow foodies Ivy and JoJo, we assemble for dinner near the end of the semester...

He Fed:

Although it’s a little tough to find, The Heritage is a very cool space tucked away in a standard industrial community college building. The lobby showcases a coffee-themed display one one side and various hospitality luminaries on the other. (Funny story: one of those luminaries had to point us in the right direction to find the restaurant.) We are greeted at the host stand, then shown immediately to a perfectly-set table where we wait for our friends to join us. To pass the time, we opt for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and just as it arrives, so do JoJo and Ivy. I taste the wine...dry and crisp, better than expected, which is a good thing. Glasses all around!

The menu seems to have something for everyone, and is particularly generous to vegetarians. I’m excited because nearly everything appeals to me in some way. Before we can decide, however, a gift from the kitchen comes out on pristine white plates: grilled flatbread rounds with a thin slice of tomato on top, sprinkled with basil and a spicy aoili. It’s really a mini-pizza! I’m delighted by the soft but firm flatbread; the fresh, juicy tomato; the crisp basil strips; and that zingy sauce. Perfect way to start the meal.

I hear the creaking of wheels shortly thereafter. What is this? A bread cart! An attendant shows us several different loaves of fresh-baked bread including challah, asiago sourdough, walnut onion, and multi-grain. We get a number of slices to share, and herbed butter to boot. I devour the cheese bread and linger over the walnut onion. Amazing.

Our appetites piqued, we dive in with appetizers. I choose the Blue Cheese Fritters, crispy dumplings stuffed with Maytag blue cheese, on lettuce leaves and a blood orange vinaigrette underneath it all. Now, you won’t hear me say this very often but the fritters could have used a bit more blue cheese. I know, I know...I’m not a huge proponent of blue cheese to begin with, but these were more like bread stuffing. Still, very good, just not quite the big blue taste I’d expected (and craved). The vinaigrette and lettuce were extraneous, didn’t add much to the dish.

I also sample JoJo’s Mock Eel, consisting of crispy shittake mushrooms tossed in a sweet ginger and garlic soy sauce. Sticky sweet and kind of wonderful. Juliet and Ivy both receive Lobster Souffle with butter poached lobster and Jarlsberg cheese folded in with a lemon pesto sauce poured into the center. While the preparation is fun to watch, I’m no fan of lobster and this didn’t change my mind. We also get a Onion Tart Tatin, a Bermuda onion braised in maple syrup and balsamic vinegar, perched upside down on a puff pastry. Very tasty, but the whole onion is a bit tough to wrestle into bite-sized bits. Finally, JoJo orders Tableside Tofu which is an impressive preparation of the ingredients and then waiting for it to set. I only try a little bit and it’s nice, especially when flavored with pickel and pepper jelly.

Another gift from the chef magically appears: mango sorbet that’s sweet, fruity and cleanses the palate before our mains are brought. And here it comes! An artful plate of grilled veal filet, shielded from an overlarge arancini set atop ragu Bolognese by a cheese crisp that towers above all. Grilled green beans, carrots, and squash flank. The veal is perfectly prepared medium rare, with a smoky singe from the grill marks. Although delicious, my only complaint is the consistency of the meat is a little strange...probably just an odd cut. It doesn’t affect the taste, though. Likewise, the arancini is awkwardly big but still crisp outside and cheesy inside, everything you want arancini to be. Probably the star of the show, though, is the Bolognese sauce. Chunky tomato ragu mixed with bits of vegetable and pork is deep and soulful. I dip everything in it, including a last little chunk of bread left. (I try a bite of Ivy’s Korean Barbecue Rib-Eye Steak and it’s pretty incredible too, particularly with the red wine we pair with it.)

I have no business ordering dessert, but when the waitress says the magic word—kumquat—all hope is lost. I am doomed. It’s little creme-filled puff pastry sandwiches and a centipede of ice cream on a cracker, sided with a candied ball of glossy threads that taste of citrus. The candied kumquat is fun, but otherwise my taste buds are shot. I’m ready to head home. The Heritage provides skillful cuisine prepared by talented students (even if they are a bit nervous pouring wine). It’s definitely an experience worth repeating.
She Fed:

There’s less than a dozen occupied tables, which confirms my suspicion that The Heritage is one of Grand Rapids’ hidden gems. A relatively inexpensive culinary adventure boasting fabulous views of downtown with free and easy parking should be filling up tables, in my opinion.

As usual, we’ve arrived early so we order a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while we wait for JoJo and Ivy, who arrive right on time. Our student server delivers an amuse bouche of a housemade cracker topped with slice of tomato, minced black olives, orange zest and julienned basil, all drizzled with balsamic reduction. It is difficult and messy to eat, as the cracker crumbles and balsamic goes everywhere, but it is delicious and well worth the effort.

JoJo and I are gaga over the appetizers so we decide to order a few extras for the table. But before the apps come, the bread cart arrives. The server explains we have our choice of six different breads still warm from the oven. Never shy, we order a few slices of each to share. My slice of walnut onion bread and Challah are incredibly good. Warm bread with herbed butter...what more could you want?

Then the parade of appetizers arrive. Two lobster souffles, mock eel, Maytag blue cheese fritters, and the onion tartin. A server pours piping hot pesto sauce into the center of the souffles, lovely and rich. But the souffle is overly dense, more like a bread pudding than an airy souffle, and there’s not much lobster to be found. Nonetheless, it is tasty. The mock eel is a signature dish here and one of my favorites of the evening. Strips of shittake mushroom have been flash fried and tossed in a sticky sweet sauce. It’s like crunchy meat candy! The Maytag blue cheese fritters are huge with excellent blue cheese flavor throughout, but have large chunks of undercooked onion which are a bit off-putting.

The star of the show however is the tofu made tableside. Another student server pours some sort of hot liquid into a container to steep for a bit. He then serves up a small plate of condiments for the tofu—smoked mushrooms, spicy vinegar, a sweet sauce and some soybean sprouts. The liquid has curdled and it’s up to us to drain it (with a handy strainer they provide) and serve it individually. It’s listed under the salad section and not exactly what we expected, but the experience is fun and unique, while the doctored up tofu is tasty.

It is at this point we realize we never received our onion tartin. Just as we’re getting ready to say something, it is rushed over. Half of a Bermuda onion has been steeped in maple syrup and balsamic then baked on puff pastry. The presentation is gorgeous and the sweet onion with the rich syrup and the flaky pastry is heavenly.

A palate cleanser of mango sorbet with no added sugar is presented next and it’s incredibly creamy for a sorbet.

I had every intention of ordering one of The Heritage’s vegetarian dishes, as they have an interesting selection, but instead go for this evening’s fish special. It’s a generous salmon filet with a crab cake, baby veggies, and rouge beurre, a red butter sauce. The server brings my dish and JoJo’s, a veggie stirfry, and then we wait for the boys’ dishes to arrive. Nearly five minutes pass and we’re trying to flag someone down when their food arrives.

The salmon is cooked perfectly and pairs beautifully with the rouge beurre. Midway through, I declare it the best salmon I’ve had in years, if not ever. The crab cake is nothing special but the baby veggies, especially the patty pans, are sweet and succulent.

Despite being full, I order the apples Normandy on the recommendation of our server. We have a new student server wheel over another cart. It takes him a few tries to get the apples to flame, but we’re all rooting for him and the end result is glorious, spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Throughout the evening the service has been hit or miss with lulls and awkward moments. A few servers absolutely shine while others are clearly more comfortable working the back of the house. The menu is highly creative and truly ambitious by any standards. My gorgeous salmon more than makes up for a dense souffle and it just feels good to support these kids’ culinary efforts. Despite a few hiccups it’s worth a repeat visit for sure.

Popular Posts