The newly unveiled restaurant in the Maccabees Building is definitely worth keeping an eye on. It’s a work in progress, but the potential is there, with an approachable Asian menu and friendly service in a room that is still undergoing some style tweaks as Maccabees Traders settles in.
You might expect a mainstream menu in this cultural center location. But proprietors David Kraus and chef Rafael Esparza didn’t take a traditional route, rather deciding to offer dishes from their backgrounds in the restaurant business in Chicago and Los Angeles that add a real alternative to the neighborhood.
Kraus, a Michiganian who left town a few years ago and recently moved back to join the rebounding Detroit restaurant scene, and chef Esparza, a Chicagoan who was looking for a new challenge, collaborate on a menu of southeast Asian-influenced dishes from shrimp banh mi (sandwich) to Thai chicken wraps and Vietnamese fish sauce chicken wings.
Countries along the Mekong Delta are the inspiration, and no, everything isn’t spicy. One dish that is, however, is drunken shrimp noodles, and the Scoville level of the shrimp might make you sweat like the assembly line workers in the Diego Rivera mural across the street at the DIA.
And for that occasional holdout, there is filet mignon on the dinner menu, the one departure from the Asian approach.
In my two visits, I stuck to the main thrust of the menu, such dishes as chicken and jasmine rice dumpling soup with a nice little kick of chili oil and cilantro, one of two soups, and rice paper salad, the crispy little crisps and radish sprouts, a nice foil for broccoli rabe, carrots and peanuts.
Another dish that can be recommended is Vernors glazed pork, one of six sharable dishes on the dinner menu, which includes rice, chopped pork and scallions centered with an egg. Proper style is to break the egg yolk and mix it with the other ingredients to bring out the flavors.
The proprietors plan to make the room more attractive by removing excess light fixtures put in by the previous regime, and they’ll also set up a chef’s table on a counter overlooking the kitchen where Esparza can offer some special dishes. Chances are you’ll meet the chef anyway. He likes to pop out of the kitchen and chat with diners on a regular basis.
A focal point of the room is the under-lit marble-topped bar that faces the big window looking out on the street scene. The bartenders are in the process of coming up with some craft cocktails that are compatible with the menu, and there is a well-chosen wine list.
Put this one on your list of places to try.
5057 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 831-9311
Rating: Too soon for a star rating
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Bar later except for Sun. when the hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Prices: Sharable appetizers $4-$14, soups $4-$6, salads $8-$10, entrees $14-$18, except for filet at $38.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Street or nearby parking deck.
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★— good ★★1/2 — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding