Sensory awakening

MDRD brings a taste of Spain to the 27th floor of Amway Grand Plaza.
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Editor’s note: MDRD’s original grand opening date was rescheduled from November to early 2021. Please visit the restaurant’s website to ensure the restaurant is open before visiting.

A quiet elevator ride to the 27th floor of the Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection
by Hilton, ushers you to a sensory awakening at MDRD (pronounced Madrid). Grand Rapids’ new Spanish-inspired restaurant offers modern cuisine, lush libations and a vibrant atmosphere.

Sitting atop the recently renovated glass tower, you’ll be immediately drawn to mesmerizing, unobstructed views of our beloved river city.

MDRD’s dramatic atmosphere, which was crafted by global design firm Gensler, features a bold mix of colors and materials. Many of the design elements are reminiscent of Spain’s famous Carnival celebration, including a grand custom tile installation that resembles confetti falling from the ceiling.

The room’s festive energy is matched by the flavorful menu, imagined by Executive Chef Stephan VanHeulen. The menu echoes VanHeulen’s fondness for Spain’s eating and drinking culture.

“Spaniards place such value on the dining experience. Whether it’s casually enjoying wine and tapas at a bar, having more of a traditional dinner-style evening or a gourmet restaurant experience, they do it all in such style,” VanHeulen said. “We’re aiming to provide all of these experiences for our guests.”

Spanish staples like authentic paella mixta, patatas bravas and Iberian pork belly with romesco sauce anchor the menu.

Paella mixta, a combination of meat and seafood, mingles Spanish chorizo, fresh dark meat chicken and large gulf shrimp.

“The saffron-and-vegetable-infused rice is the star of the paella,” VanHeulen said. “The dish can be offered vegan as well, with an array of roasted seasonal vegetables. It’s one of my favorites on a cold Michigan day.”

Meet Chef Stephan VanHeulen

Stephan VanHeulen Courtesy AHC Hospitality

Chef Stephan VanHeulen discovered his love for cooking at the early age of 15, preparing his twists on classic seafood dishes for his family. To hone his craft, he attended the Secchia Culinary Institute, where he became interested in unique food preparation techniques and methods for using local Michigan ingredients.

VanHeulen began his career cooking for the restaurants within the AHC Hospitality group’s portfolio in Grand Rapids. He quickly worked his way up to the main kitchen, and in 2016, was named sous chef of Cygnus 27. He was appointed to chef de cuisine shortly after.
As the executive chef at MDRD, VanHeulen relishes bringing modern Spanish cuisine to the Grand Rapids dining scene, emphasizing exciting flavors and local ingredient

The snackable patatas bravas are served super crisp on the exterior while remaining gently fluffy on the inside. The tapas are served with a zesty salsa brava and house aioli.

In addition to traditional dishes, VanHeulen is preparing creative visions like bacalao al ajillo, lightly salted cod in garlic sauce with grilled scallion, chorizo oil and potato pave; and filete a la plancha, beef tenderloin steak with piquillo pepper and black garlic sauce, Thumbelina carrots, wild mushrooms, confit potato and anise jus.

A sense of intentionality was used when sourcing ingredients, striking a balance between fresh local produce and global imports from the Spanish region, like octopus from Galicia and pork from the Iberian Peninsula, plus sausages, cheeses, olives and oils from Spain.

Balance is a form commonly associated with Spanish culture. And it’s balance that pastry chef Doug Orr uses to craft MDRD’s beautiful and decadent desserts.

The Fresa Arbol, or Strawberry Tree, features a trunk of dark chocolate on a chilled chocolate soufflé, with spun sugar and strawberry powder, freeze-dried strawberries and
strawberry gelato.

The Limon is a simple yet elegant toasted meringue with a white chocolate shell. It features a Swiss white chocolate and yuzu mousse with a Meyer lemon compote.

Finally, the classic Crema Catalana is a creamy baked custard with sparks of citrus and cinnamon, finished with caramelized sugar and candied orange.

“Assistant pastry chef Sean Newhouse, chef Stephan and I have poured many hours into making sure that we showcase exceptional flavor and presentation in the desserts,” Orr said.

MDRD’s intentional detail is equally on display in its cocktail menu. The list includes an eclectic collection that highlights Spain’s culture by incorporating a variety of Spanish spirits and fortified wines.

According to MDRD mixologist Jeremey Williams, a particular cocktail that has stood out as an early favorite is the Sherry Cobbler.

The drink starts with an intermingling of refreshing strawberries, citrus and fig jam flavors. A house sherry blend and Spanish brandy produced in Spain’s Jerez region offer nutty and dry fruit notes. A bouquet of fresh mint, house-made fruit leather and freshly grated nutmeg complete the cocktail.

Those seeking a more spirit-forward cocktail should experience the Solera Barrel-Aged Coctél, which blends Gran Solera Reserva Spanish Brandy, rye whiskey, Spanish vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters.

“Think of it as a classic Vieux Carré, with some Spanish flair,” Williams said.

The cocktail is aged for four weeks in oak casks to present further complexity and depth of flavor.

Equally impressive is a carefully curated array of wines that exemplify Spanish winemaking traditions throughout the country’s various regions. Each wine can be paired with a menu item.

Although situated on the 27th floor of one of Grand Rapids’ iconic buildings, MDRD is an accessible dining option ideal for your next date night, evening out or special event.

This story can be found in the February 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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