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Q&A: Chef Werner Absenger of Cygnus 27

You’re from Austria, where you went to chef school. You’ve traveled extensively and worked at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac. You also have a master’s in nutrition and are working on a Ph.D. What drives you? I’ve always been interested in looking at how food and, of course, alcohol makes a person feel and how it transforms them.

Do you emphasize healthy food at Cygnus 27? We try. For example, most of our sauces are gluten- free, and we cater to our vegetarian customers as well. It’s just a necessity.

Describe your menu. We conceived it as globally influenced with an American spin. We’re trying to stay as true as pos- sible to the original foods, but some flavors just don’t appeal to the American palate. For example, we have some dishes on the menu that are really spicy and we don’t dial it up — unless the customer specifically asks us.

What about portion size? We don’t really make smaller portions on the entrees, but have like 22 appetizers on the menu. People really like that because it allows them to try two or three different meals for the price of one.

What are some new things for 2011? We’re looking at some interesting things pertaining to nutrition-oriented cooking. Like using different starches to move away from gluten and flour. Or experimenting with things like bamboo salt.

Bamboo salt? It’s been used for 2,000 years in China. They take sea salt, put it in bamboo and then they fire it over and over to infuse the salt with the flavor of the bamboo. It also has a lot of minerals that you don’t find in iodized salt.

Is that the next big trend we’re going to see: infused salts? No. (laughs) I don’t see it being a big trend, but it keeps things fresh and interesting. For a restaurant of our caliber, we need to do the little things.

Cygnus has always been one of those places that seemed a bit intimidating. Is that changing? There used to be a perception that Cygnus was a high-priced dining experience, and we moved away from that. Today, it’s geared to fun and the social night life. It’s geared to the person who wants to have the fine-dining experience without the fine- dining price tag.


Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: A broad selection.

One Trick Pony 136 E. Fulton. 616-235-7669 AMERICAN. The downtown eatery is a favorite for downtown theater and music go- ers looking for a nice dinner before the show – except, of course, when One Trick is hosting its own live music events (ie, “Acoustic Stew” and “Hat Trick” concerts). Good selection of beers and wines to accompany its pastas, pizzas and entrees. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Closed on Sunday. GO THERE FOR: Great food and great live music

Ottawa Tavern 151 Ottawa NW. 616-451-8000 AMERICAN. Downtown hot spot for lunch and happy hour, featuring varied entrees and a “build-your-own burger” menu with more than 50 toppings to choose from. As name suggests, OT has a tavern casual feel, with lots of plasma big screens for watching games. A favorite during March Madness for downtown business people. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Build your own burger

The Pita House 1450 Wealthy St. SE/Monroe Center (downtown)/28th Street. 616-454-1171 MEDITTERANEAN. Gyros so big you can club someone with them, the smoothest hummus in town and a variety of other Meditteranean fare, including kibbe, kafta and falafel. Additional locations on 28th


and Kalamazoo SE. Gyros and other sandwich wraps are made to order with fresh vegetables and ingredients. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Fresh pita wraps

Pietro’s Italian Ristorante 2780 Birchcrest SE. 616-452-3228 ITALIAN. A local tradi- tion for more than 30 years, serving a range of regional Italian cuisine at a variety of price points. From fresh- made pasta to stromboli to gourmet- and Chicago-style pizzas, Pietro’s has introduced Grand Rapids to a variety of regional Italian cuisine. Mangia Bene Paisano. (“Eat Well, My Friends”)>>SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Freshly made pasta

Real Food Cafe 2419 Eastern SE. /5430 Northland Dr. 616-241-4080 BREAKFAST. Locally owned breakfast joint with a clas- sic diner atmosphere. Friendly staff and “real food” highlighted by stuffed and inventive omelletes, as well as other breakfast classics. >> SERVING: Breakfast Lunch OPEN ON: T W Th F Sa Sn. GO THERE FOR: Omelettes

Red Jet Cafe 1431 Plainfield Ave. NE. 616-719-5500 ECLECTIC. The funky restaurant in Creston’s old library is the kind of place you’d find in Chicago’s hip neighborhoods, offering a non-sequitur of menu items that somehow seems to work. Seriously, how many other places in town can you find that serve high-end organic coffees, crepes, wood-fired pizzas and artisan baked goods. Is it a bistro? Is it a coffeehouse?

Does it matter? SERVING: Breakfast Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Crepes

Reserve 201 Monroe NW. 616-855-WINE WINE BAR. Upscale wine bar in the shadows of the Amway Grand Plaza has an impressive range of wines by the glass – 102 in all – and a couple hundred by the bottle. While it’s a great place to sip, the food doesn’t take a backseat. The cheeses, char- cuterie and desserts are nice complements to the wine and bubbly; the small plates are flavorful and “right-sized” in terms of portion and price so you can indulge in more than one. SERVING: Dinner OPEN ON: Closed Sunday. GO THERE FOR: Wine, charcuterie

Rio Grand Steakhouse 5501 Northland Drive 616-534-0704 STEAKHOUSE. Inspired by western roadhouses, Rio Grand has been serving up big portions and high-quality mesquite grilled steaks for two decades. Soups are made from scratch, the salads are big (surprise!) and warm bread comes with dinner. Kind of a throwback in an era of chains and upscale, high-end steakhouses. Also offers a $5 lunch, which includes a soft drink. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Steaks

Rose’s On Reeds Lake 550 Lakeside Dr. SE. 616-458-1122 ECLECTIC. The East Grand Rapids landmark is one of those places that has a different feel in each season. In the summertime, it’s a great spot to hang on the decks and have cocktails and

light appetizers; when the snow is falling, it’s a warm and cozy spot for a hearty meal and big glass of wine. The menu draws from a multitude of influences includ- ing Mediterranean, Italian, and Casual American. >> SERVING: Breakfast Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Root Chips

Sandmann’s 1200 Wealthy St. SE. 616-459-0900 BBQ. The smell of barbecue wafts through the air at Wealthy and Fuller, making it hard to drive by and not want to stop at this perpetual award winner for GR’s best barbecue. Great ribs, chicken and rib tips, plus Soul Food Sundays for down-home southern goodness. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: T W Th F Sa Sn. GO THERE FOR: BBQ Ribs and Chicken

San Chez Bistro 38 W. Fulton. 616-774-8272 EUROPEAN. Back before downtown GR was bustling and small plates were the rage, there was San Chez. For the better part of two decades, San Chez has been one of the restaurants in Grand Rapids where you could bring your friends from Detroit, Chicago or New York and not have them look down their noses at you. The tapas bistro has excelled at serving up authentic European and Mediterranean cuisine in a fun, laid-back and artful atmosphere. >> SERVING: Lunch Dinner OPEN ON: Open 7 days. GO THERE FOR: Tapas, Sangria




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