SpeakEZ Lounge

(Grand Rapids, MI) — Grand Rapids Restaurant Week occurs annually and we make it our business to get out and participate. It’s a great time to discover new venues. Our first stop this year is SpeakEZ Lounge, where the old Cambridge House used to be. HeFed had a good experience there during Grandwich so it only seemed natural to visit for dinner...

He Fed:

I am genuinely pumped to try the newly opened SpeakEZ Lounge for dinner. When it first opened, I thought, “Oh, another watering hole.” Then I tried their jerk cuban Grandwich entry, loving it to my deep surprise. This is far from “just another watering hole” and the Restaurant Week menu reflects ambition far beyond expectation. Three selections for each of the three courses? Sign me up!

We commandeer a large booth near the window. Our waitress is quick to deliver menus and take drink orders. Even with three choices, I already know exactly what I want, so I glance around the place. The pool table remains at the back of the room and not much else has changed, except the suits of armor seem to be gone. There’s also a curtained private room that I don’t recall being there. A pass-through to the kitchen has been plastered over too. Otherwise, it could easily still be Cambridge House.

For my first course, I cannot resist the Escargot Normandy. I’ve been on a snail kick for quite some time, ever since trying them at Joe Allen in New York last year. SpeakEZ’s preparation is different, in a brandy cream sauce with seared shallots on top of rosemary crepes. The crepes are a bit stiff like a tortilla (maybe a little old?) and the snails are chewier than expected—a slight disappointment after the melt-in-mouth ones I had at Paris Club a few weeks back—but the sauce is rich enough to tie everything together. In the end, I enjoy the dish. (I also try a bite of Juliet’s Tuscan Calamari. The panko parmesan crust is a brilliant stroke.)

Sesame Garlic Pork Tenderloin constitutes my main dish, sliced atop a bed of Wekame seaweed salad, Michigan sugar snap peas, and roasted red peppers, topped with pork cracklin’. My main problem with my plate is the food temperature. The seaweed is cold and the pork is barely warm. It’s a weird contrast. The seaweed and garlic combo stays with you for a long time after, too. This strikes me as one of those recipes that could have been great, but maybe on a Sunday we’re expecting too much?

Dessert is fait accompli, decided before the game began. Strawberry Rhubarb “Lemonade” is my choice. Even though I prefer rhubarb by itself, strawberry rhubarb is better than no rhubarb. At first, I’m puzzled by the pastry muffin topped with strawberry rhubarb sauce (accompanied with a shot of house-made lemoncello). It’s almost like a lazy version of pie, but after a few bites, I come around to the chef’s way of thinking. When combined, all the flavors just work. Who cares if the fruit is on the outside? I eat every last bite.

Despite the pork tenderloin faux pas, I’m impressed enough with SpeakEZ’s offerings to easily go back again and try other things. Given time, any minor concerns are bound to be tweaked and refined. I expect great things from this restaurant.
She Fed:

Dinner out on a Sunday is a rarity for us. Not only do I like to cook on the weekends, but typically I’m finishing up odds and ends or packing for a Monday morning flight. So this feels a bit like a special occasion. We throw caution to the wind and head over without reservations. Our server is very friendly and walks us through their special Restaurant Week menu.

I opt for the Tuscan Calamari, a crabmeat-stuffed whole squid pan-fried in a parmesan panko crust. It is indeed a whole calamari, empty cavity poofed up from the filling and little tentacles dangling off one end, gorgeous on a bed of raw spinach and roasted red peppers. I cut into the calamari finding it tender and filled with sweet crab meat. With nothing to really adhere to, the panko coating slips off the sleek tube of the body, but it’s so tasty I scoop up tidbits of the coating with each bite. The earthiness of the spinach and brightness of the red peppers compliments the rich dish.

I try Jeremy’s escargot Normandy which are incredibly decadent in the brandy cream sauce. They’re accompanied by rosemary crepes which taste a bit stale and have the consistency of thin crackers. I think something more substantial, maybe toasted baguette slices, would have stood up better to the cream sauce and the heartiness of the snails.

For my second course, I go with the mint-parsley pesto lamb chops. However, when the plate arrives, it’s a single lamb chop. Absolutely fine for a three course meal and I certainly don’t need more red meat than that, but when it’s described as “succulent chops of lamb” on the menu, I think the chef is begging for trouble by only serving one. My lone chop is served with a phenomenally tasty almond date quinoa and a room temperature puree of fresh tomatoes, listed as “tomato sorbet” on the menu. The chop has good flavor, though it’s quite thin and cooked to medium well, not medium rare as promised in the dish’s description.

Dessert arrives before we’ve finished our mains and we have to juggle the plates around to make room for it all. The raspberry Napoleon is humongous, larger than my starter or my entree. Two hulking slabs of pale puff pastry are stacked on the plate, topped with one miniscule scoop of raspberry sorbet. It’s all decorated with a homemade coconut chocolate sauce. The puff pastry is underbaked and worse yet stale and ice cold, leaving a greasy film on the roof of my mouth. Ugh.

Did we hit them on an off night? (Should a restaurant have an off night during restaurant week?) Perhaps the “B” team was working the kitchen on Sunday and they opted to repurpose Saturday’s baked goods tonight. I’ll give SpeakEZ a second chance, maybe going back with a group for cocktails and appetizers all of which sound amazing. But I’ll avoid anything baked in house!

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