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Photography by Michael Buck

And the winner is …

Grand Rapids Magazine 2008 dining awards for the top restaurants in three categories.

By Ira Craaven

Restaurant of the Year
The 1913 Room
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel
187 Monroe Ave. NW | Grand Rapids
774-2000
www.amwaygrand.com/1913_room.html

The 1913 Room is back.

The “crown jewel restaurant” of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel — the first and only Michigan restaurant to earn a Five-Diamond Rating from the American Automobile Association — is the winner of the Grand Rapids Magazine 2008 Restaurant of the Year.

“It’s in a class of its own,” one panelist wrote. “There is not a restaurant in town that can equal it.”

While The 1913 Room has received the top accolade many times, for the past two years the award went to Leo’s. But 2008 dining panelists had nothing but praise for the “1913 experience.”

“The selection rivals anything you can get around the country,” one said of the French-inspired fare created by Chef de Cuisine Christian Madsen and crew. “The meals are not only very creative, but the presentation makes you want to take a picture of the food before you eat it — and I have.”

Entrees are revealed to diners with artistic flair as silver warming domes are removed simultaneously by the wait staff.

“The whole experience is a cut above everything else,” another panelist noted, citing the opulent Louis XVI setting and stellar service.

Others lauded the knowledgeable staff, the complimentary valet parking, the “extraordinary” beverage selection — and such details as the pink salt.

“When the moment is special,” one panelist wrote, “where else would you go?”

Fine dining Award of excellence
Reds on the River
2 E. Bridge St. | Rockford | 863-8181 |
www.reds-live.com

A relative newcomer to the West Michigan dining scene, Reds on the River offers the ambiance of a restaurant that’s been around forever.

“A comfortable environment,” one panelist wrote.

Photography by Jack Poeller

Reds is a restaurant for all seasons, from a circular fireplace for chilly winter dining to an outdoor deck with picturesque views of the Rogue River for warm evenings.

“The river, the river … and the river!” a panelist gushed.

But Reds also offers top-quality fare, a global yet affordable wine list, and service “as close to perfect as you can get.”

Signature steaks are aged 28 days and hand-cut to order. Top-of-the-catch fresh fish is flown in daily. “Seafood and steaks are the best!” one panelist noted.

Attention to detail also garnered praise. Coffee beans are roasted onsite and hand-pressed tableside; salads are presented in chilled bowls, hot dishes are served on heated plates, and soup is served in pre-heated pewter-ware.

In addition to steaks and fresh fish, the menu offers chicken, lamb, duck, pork, seafood, pastas and vegetarian selections, along with appetizers, sandwiches, soups and dinner salads for those looking to nibble.

Fine dining Award of excellence
Leo’s
Monroe Center Parking Ramp (corner of Ottawa and Louis)
Grand Rapids | 454-6700 |
www.leosrestaurant.com

Since Leo’s opened in 2004, the downtown restaurant has provided Grand Rapids with inspired cuisine in a sophisticated setting.

 

Photography by Michael Buck

Panelists noted the modern interior, the attentive staff and — of course — “the best seafood in the city.”

A portion of the menu changes daily to reflect the freshest catch; diners select their favorite preparation method: grilled, broiled or sautéed. Leo’s also offers chicken, meat and pasta dishes. “Soups are great!” one panelist wrote.

Leo’s well-appointed bar invites guests to enjoy cocktails, a light bite or even the full menu. The “open” wine cellar offers a diverse wine list with a nice selection of half bottles.

When Leo and Amy Beil opened the restaurant, they worried about the location on the ground floor of a parking garage. Not a problem. Panelists love the fact that you can enter the restaurant without walking outside.

Fine dining Award of excellence
Restaurant Bloom
40 Monroe Center | 632-2233 |
www.bloomgr.com

Photography by Michael Buck

Restaurant Bloom’s menu may only offer 10 or so entrees, yet dining panelists deemed it the “most innovative in town,” with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients married in ways that delight the taste buds.
Each dish offers multiple layers of flavors and textures that are artfully presented on unusually shaped white plates.

“Fine dining is an expectation of delight and difference,” summed up one panel member.

While the menu isn’t vast, it covers the gamut: duck, pork, beef, seafood, fish, chicken, rack of lamb — even a tofu dish. “Incredibly creative,” commented one panelist, citing the interesting food combinations. Desserts are made in-house.

The restaurant is relaxing with a minimalist vibe, with warm earthy tones and curved interior half walls. “Nothing fancy, but comfy and welcoming.”

And for a fine dining experience, panelists were quick to note that prices are reasonable. Another plus: half portions.

A full-service bar and carefully selected wine list has options by the bottle and the glass, along with a nice selection of artisan beers, a few domestics, and a handful of cocktail specialties and after-dinner drinks.

Casual dining Award of excellence
Blue Water Grill
5180 Northland Drive NE | 363-5900
www.thegilmorecollection.com/bluewatergrill.html

With its “fantastic view” of Versluis Lake, Blue Water Grill earned props as one of the area’s favorite casual eateries. Panelists raved about the impressive deck, featuring an outdoor bar and massive fireplace.

 

Photography by Michael Buck

The menu, meanwhile, offers Mediterranean-inspired fare with a dash of classic American cuisine. “Definitely a Gilmore Collection formula, with a nice variety of entrees and sandwiches,” one panelist noted. Items range from wood-fired pizzas to salads, sandwiches, steaks and fresh seafood. “They’re very accommodating for special requests,” wrote another panelist.

Blue Water Grill also has a nice selection of beer and wine — “very good house wines.” And service is friendly — “no matter how big the crowd.”

In fact, panelists commented that the restaurant, with its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture, is a great destination for large groups, especially in the summer when diners can sit “right on the water.”

A great alternative “when you want to get out of downtown,” another noted. “Great for lunch.”

Casual dining Award of excellence
Bonefish Grill
1100 East Paris Ave. SE | 949-7861 |
www.bonefishgrill.com

Talk about a restaurant with a split personality, Bonefish Grill was nominated and earned votes in two categories: fine dining and casual. Some panelists raved about the food — “best in town.”

Bonefish Grill is a seafood chain with dozens of locations across the United States. “We go to Bonefish when we travel,” said one panelist. “But it’s definitely not fine dining.”

Photography by Michael Buck

Founded by two restaurateurs who wanted to “take the mystery out of fish,” Bonefish specializes in market fresh fish and seafood cooked over a wood-burning grill.

“Everything is cooked to the correct doneness,” wrote one panel member. “And the spicing and preparation makes sense and tastes good.”

Another commented: “I like the food but feel it is sometimes overpriced. Some items, like the sea bass, are outstanding.”

Casual dining Award of excellence
Marco New American Bistro
884 Forest Hill Ave. SE | 942-9100 |
www.marcobistro.com

Don’t be fooled by the strip-mall location — Marco New American Bistro offers fresh cuisine with gourmet flair. “It’s a small, casual restaurant that thinks like the big dogs,” one panelist wrote. “Always a delight.”

 

Photography by Michael Buck

Everything on the menu is made in-house with fresh ingredients “and perfectly prepared.” Owners Mark and Jennifer McNamara also incorporate seasonal Michigan foods whenever available.

“Creative dishes,” noted another panelist, whether it’s the gratin appetizer with exotic mushrooms baked in herbed broth, fontina and asiago cheese with white truffle oil, or rosemary and EVOO-marinated New Zealand rack of lamb with a garlic-Dijon glaze.

Panelists also praised the relaxed yet elegant atmosphere — “great for casual conversations” — and the outstanding service.

Each month Marco offers a reasonably priced dinner-for-two special. Marco To Go features take-out sandwiches, soups, salads and traditional gourmet pizzas.

Ethnic Dining Award of Excellence — European
Tre Cugini
120 Monroe Center | Grand Rapids | 235-9339 |
www.trecugini.com

Tre Cugini earned raves from panelists. One lauded the Italian restaurant as “The 1913 Room of ethnic European.”

Photography by Jeff hage/Green Frog Photo

Another wrote, “The food at this restaurant is excellent. The variety equals any fine dining place in town. The presentation has that European flair.”

And the praise continued, from “fine choice of wines” to “wonderful, helpful staff” to “a lovely room.”

The panelists noted that Tre Cugini combines Old World charm and authentic Northern Italian cuisine — all pastas, breads and pastries are made in-house.

Menu offerings range from atypical pasta dishes and risottos to beef, lamb, chicken, veal, shrimp and a variety of other seafood and chef specialty dishes — all prepared with careful attention to authentic culinary detail and using the freshest ingredients.

Although the menu stresses the cuisine of the north, it offers a nice variety of entrees representative of other Italian regions, as well.

The ambience is that of a cozy-yet-hip Italian courtyard, with exposed brickwork, Italian statues in niches and quiet jazz on tap. Al fresco dining makes it a fun place to see and be seen.

Ethnic Dining Award of Excellence — Mexican, Central/South American
Beltline Bar
16 28th St. SE | Grand Rapids | 245-0494

For more than 50 years, Beltline Bar has been a Grand Rapids institution, surviving ownership changes and expansions to accommodate the hordes who wait patiently in line for a meal.

Long before Mexican restaurants came into the mainstream, Beltline Bar was making converts with its own unique style of what one panelist described as “Michigan-Mex.”

 

Photography by Jack Poeller

Its gargantuan wet burrito is legendary, and the margaritas are “the best in town,” two panelists noted.
Other comments were interesting. “Ample parking,” wrote one. Another praised the “great take-out boxes” — a good thing, since others wrote that portions “are too big!”

“Compared to similar places, this is excellent in its class,” another said.

The casual atmosphere and friendly staff are welcoming, while the consistent kitchen and snappy service keep customers satisfied — and coming back for more.

On a typical weekend night, preppy couples mingle with large family groups and co-workers celebrating with sombreros and rounds of beer.

The menu spans the gamut of Mexican-style dishes, plus selections for gringo appetites.

Ethnic Dining Award of Excellence — Asian
XO Asian Cuisine
58 Monroe Center | Grand Rapids | 235-6969 |
www.xoasiancuisine.com

If three times is a charm, XO Asian must be charmed. For the third year in a row, the downtown restaurant is top choice in the Asian category.

Panelists praised everything from the classy atmosphere to the upscale cuisine.

Photography by Michael Buck

Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes are expertly prepared and artfully plated by a team of qualified chefs specializing in their respective fares.

Panelists cited the wide variety of dishes as well as the creative preparation.

“The red snapper was great,” wrote one panelist. “This is the only restaurant where I will accept the head on the fish.”

The dining room and full-service lounge are handsomely appointed, panelists noted. Lunch hours are graced with a view of Monroe Center through the restaurant’s large window, while subdued lighting lends an air of intimacy in the evening.

“A more sophisticated ambience than many Asian eateries,” a panelist wrote.

An extra bonus is the valet parking. “It’s convenient to the downtown activities,” wrote one panelist.

“This is a fun place to take out-of-town guests who like Oriental food.” GR

   
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