Since the first day of this year, my friend Bryan has been secretly planning a big night out for his wife’s (Jess’s) birthday. Two of Jess’s best friends were coming in from out of town to surprise her, and we had a lot to plan. There is a chain of Facebook messages that goes on for days discussing options and planning the evening. During this process, I tapped into my local Detroit network. I had input from one of my favorite local bloggers Detroit Moxie as well as a couple of coworkers. After considering some places in Ferndale, Corktown, and other areas, we settled on a plan that allowed us to enjoy downtown Detroit.
First, we would meet for drinks and appetizers at Centaur Bar, and then we’d head over to Cliff Bell’s for dinner. Both came highly recommended, and when I mentioned Cliff Bell’s, the immediate and unanimous feedback was that this is a phenomenal spot. Great atmosphere, and spectacular food. Their motto is “There’s only one Cliff Bell’s”, and that sums up the sentiment I had been hearing about the place.
After dinner, we had a list of local options, but we’d leave those decisions up to Jess. By the way, through her powers of deduction, and a slip up or two by folks in the group, Jess figured out much of the plan. It’s not easy to surprise that woman!
On Saturday, seven of us met up at Centaur Bar to kick the evening off. I arrived first and staked a claim on the sofas in the bar area. The bar wasn’t very crowded yet, but I really liked the atmosphere. It’s a comfortable spot, with cool interior design, and lots of space to move. Being the wild girl that I am, I started the evening off with an iced tea (not the Long Island kind, just the straight up caffeinated iced tea) while I waited for the others to arrive. Folks, this was vile iced tea, but it did the job.
A few minutes later, Jess, Bryan, their friends and neighbors: Chad and Tracy, and the out-of-towners: Shannon and Brian arrived. It was so fun to meet the folks I’d been messaging with for weeks. I had known from the messages that this would be a fun crew with whom to hang.
Shannon, Jess, Bryan and Brian enjoying a cocktail at Centaur Bar.
We spent a little over an hour chatting, telling stories, and generally getting to know each other before heading over to Cliff Bell’s for dinner.
**Note to readers: Centaur is a great spot, but the restrooms are in a very dark hallway. Make sure to bring your phone with you so you can find your way!
The walk over to Cliff Bell’s was short and easy, despite the fact that Google maps wanted to take us over the river and through the woods!
The restaurant has a cool history, and I knew that Jess would like the atmosphere and decor. Now, it’s worth noting that Brian (the one that came in from out-of-town) and I very quickly found a rhythm with our verbal sparring and banter. When I noticed that he was the one checking our party in with the hostess, I walked over to the stand and proceeded to give him a bit of a hard time. Together, we totally cracked up the hostess.
Shortly thereafter, we were seated at a table right at the front of the restaurant, which was all good until we realized that half of our table was blasted with cold Detroit winter air every time the door opened. The group of super troopers (especially Tracy!) managed to make it through the meal without freezing to death. 🙂
After ordering a round of drinks, we all perused our menus. There were two things on the menu that I knew that I needed to avoid: the bacon-wrapped scallops and the maple-glazed duck. Other than those two items, it looked like everything was going to be delicious.
It’s also worth mentioning that Jess and Bryan have been incredibly supportive friends – in all aspects of life – but especially with respect to “She Ordered What?!?”. They were talking up the blog earlier in the evening, and when we sat down, Brian (who was sitting next to me) started inquiring about whether I would be writing about this dinner. He wanted to know when and why I started the blog, how servers generally respond, and about my experiences in general. Then, he and the others watched me hand our server, Lailani, my blog card. She took a minute to read the card and then said “okay” with a smile. She mentioned that she’s never received a card like that, and I think she enjoyed the opportunity to choose her favorite meal for someone. The only question she asked is if I have a preference for seafood or “other proteins” – which I didn’t.
Quite a while later, after trying a couple of appetizers, we were served our dinners. While the staff was all very pleasant, the service at Cliff Bell’s was pretty slow all night.
On the plate set before me sat the Roasted Wild Salmon dish. It was beautifully plated.
Roasted Wild Salmon over spinach and Chevre ravioli with Cippolini onions and Buerre Rouge
The flavor of the dish was quite good, and when Lailani asked if she had steered me in a good direction, I assured her that she had.
Then, I continued eating the salmon. And, I discovered that the majority of it was completely undercooked. It was raw, with a slimy texture, rendering it inedible. I left a large chunk of fish on my plate, and everyone at the table could see that the cooks really messed this one up.
And, that is an important distinction for me. My friends had accused me of lying to the server because I told her she had made a great choice. I stand by that statement. Lailani’s choice was a good one, but the chef’s execution of the dish fell way short. This was not the server’s fault.
Overall, based on our experience last night, we all agreed that we’d go back to Cliff Bell’s for the atmosphere, but not necessarily for the food.
As we were finishing up at the table, the hostess came back and advised us that we’d each be billed a $10 cover charge if we were to stay much longer. The live music was about to start, and although we had been there for a couple of hours, the staff intended to charge us a cover. I was surprised by this. Is that a standard practice?
We made our way toward the door and headed out to enjoy a couple more local spots. First, we walked over to The Old Shillelagh in Greektown. About an hour later, after Shannon had been repeatedly bumped and beaten by a table full of drunk girls (the crowd was definitely a drinking crowd), we decided to head back toward Park Avenue. Our final stop was the Town Pump Tavern. In my opinion, this was the perfect place to end the evening. It had a calm environment, lots of space, good music, and allowed us to chat and recap the night’s events before heading home.
I’m so glad we decided to enjoy downtown Detroit this weekend. Aside from heading down for sporting events, and last year’s Gorilla Challenge, I hadn’t spent much time in the city. Now I know that there are a variety of great places to hang out – just a few minutes from home!
**Another note to readers: Although it sounds like this was one big bar crawl, please note that we were a responsible group. Those of us who were driving did not overindulge, and were careful to make good decisions.
Finally, I want to wish Jess a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
Me and Jess.