Detroit's world Atlas: Bistro brings global vibe to the neighborhood

Let's be honest: choosing among 17 restaurants that can charm and seduce with the quality of food, drink, service and ambiance is an enviably difficult task. There are rich experiences to be had at every last one of the 17 hot spots participating in the spring edition of Detroit Restaurant Week -- 10 days of digestible fun, social and culinary.

To get into the spirit of the week ahead we decided to have our own modest little pre-party at one of the 17 host restaurants. But where? Looking over some of the criteria that makes a restaurant experience fun, it needed to be charming, seductive, full of yummy options in food and drink, and infused with intangible qualities akin to poetry and magic.

A-ha, does that sound like Atlas Global Bistro to you? It did to us, so off we went to have a lunchtime chat with chef and partner Christian Borden, a star in the Detroit culinary art scene. We talked about what has made this place at the intersection of Midtown, Brush Park and downtown so magical since its opening in 2003.

"It's sophisticated but casual," says Borden, 39, who grew up in Toronto, trained to be a chef in Stratford and now lives in Windsor's Walkerville neighborhood. In Detroit, he's worked at some of the best spots here, including Morel's, Boocoo, Vintage Bistro and the Rattlesnake Club, whose Jimmy Schmidt spotted Borden's talents and hired him to work at the riverfront restaurant in the mid-1990s.

"It's in between destinations, but Atlas is also a destination in itself," he says. "People come here from all over because this place has unique qualities that appeal across the board."

As an example, Borden talks about the night that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra dinner crowd mingled with fans of alternative rockers the Pixies, who were playing a reunion gig down Woodward at the State Theatre (now Fillmore Detroit).

"It was fantastic to see two completely different crowds sharing the same bar, talking across tables, asking each other about the food," Borden says. "The vibe here just draws people to it." 

The vibe, the food

Oh, the vibe. Atlas Global Bistro is the kind of place that seems to have a little bit extra for everybody. Starting with the food, of course. Let's say you want Sunday brunch. How does chorizo con huevos, made with the famously spicy Mexican sausage, two eggs, pico de gallo, black beans and warm tortillas sound? Or the Cass Corridor cakes, better known as C3: stacked vanilla bean batter griddled pancakes, served with applewood bacon and fruit?

Vegetarians looking for something simple with layers of flavor should jump on the aloo baingan -- made with eggplant, potato, tomato, onion and tofu over jasmine rice, sprinkled with citrusy herbs. Try it and dare to tell us you don't love it, carnivores.

For our interview and tasting pre-party, Borden recommends the Moroccan sea bass, spiced with cumin and coriander, and including mango and tomato quinoa, wilted spinach and chile-lime vinaigrette. The verdict? Every bite reveals another taste sensation better than the last.

For dessert, an orange blossom creme brulee and cappuccino tops it all off wonderfully.

On another visit, we belly up to the bar to peruse one of the city's best wine lists, choosing the Black Malbec 2006 and a Sangiovese Chianti by the glass. Both delicious. And on another, we had the 20-year Tawny port, the perfect nightcap.

Cocktails are adventuresome and pack a punch; like the wickedly named Corpse Reviver, made with Beefeater gin, lemon, lillet (a French aperitif), Cointreau and a 110-proof refined absinthe. Speaking of refined, how about trying the Argyle, mixed with Hennessey, Earl Grey syrup and flaming orange; or for even more heat, order up Keith's Transfusion, made with Stoli, Campari and Orange Fire. Hot stuff.

Beer drinkers will not leave unhappy, either. There are plenty of imports and micro-brews, but we encourage staying with the Motor City and Atwater selection, both available on draft.

Not surprisingly, the bar scene is lively, smart and fun, with special nights programmed to lure in different crowds. Martini Mondays features, you know, at half price; Tuesdays offer specials on 750 ml (half bottles ) of wine; Wednesday is Latitude, one of Detroit's best weekly gay nights; and on Thursday, Borden hosts Flight Club, when he pairs three wines with three different appetizers for $20.

Borden says Atlas regulars include maestros from the DSO (Leonard Slatkin and Peter Oundjian), rockin' couple Meg White and Jackson Pollock Smith, Detroit by designers Camilo Pardo and Rich Rice, and countless other artists and professionals.

"I'm always happy to hear people who live in Detroit but travel all over the world tell me that this is still their favorite spot," Borden says. "I never get tired of that." Hear, hear. We can all say that again.    
About spring 2010 DRW

If it feels like good times are threatening to break out at any moment wherever you go April 16-25, that's purely intentional. Paxahau, the promotions team best known for producing Movement, one of the largest electronic dance music events on the planet, is the primary mover behind Detroit Restaurant Week, a festival atmosphere made up of a wide-ranging assortment of kitchens, dining rooms and bars. And all in the D proper. Our kind of moveable feast, in other words. Just ask the 25,000 party people who attended the inaugural Detroit Restaurant Week last September.

A few details to use as a guide for the week ahead (beginning this Friday): The chefs at each restaurant are developing a special menu for Detroit Restaurant Week, and several say they are drawing inspiration from the spring season in creating their menus, now available at the Restaurant Week website.

Diners will again be able to order a three-course dinner for a price of $27 per person (not counting beverage, tax and tip). Reservations not required, but highly recommended.
To make a reservation, go to the website, select the restaurant(s) of your choice and you are golden.

Detroit Restaurant Week festivities begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 15 with a pre-party to benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. It's at Iridescence and Amnesia on the top floor of the MotorCity Casino Hotel. The party is free, though guests are asked to make a donation of either money or canned food.

Bon appetit, 313.
Walter Wasacz is FilterD editor for Model D and Metromode, and is no stranger to the global vibe. Send feedback here.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here

Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.
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