By MARK NIXON
The well-worn punchline about Whole Foods is that it quickly becomes “Whole Paycheck.”
Indeed, I’ve paid nearly $10 for a quarter-pound of cheese at Whole Foods. But I hasten to add two things: 1.) It was really fantastic triple cream brie, the likes of which I have not found outside of France. 2.) I don’t shop for everyday items at Whole Foods. I shop there for high quality, hard-to-find items — usually for special occasions.
And that’s pretty much my take on Bowdie’s Chophouse, a newcomer to downtown Lansing. It’s tantalizing but damned expensive. But, for my money, it’s damned good.
Our first visit happened on my birthday, and my brother who met us there bought the drinks. Our bill was just over $113.
We began by sharing an appetizer of smoked duck ravioli for $13. Spooned over the ravioli was warmed double cream laced with sage. It was tender and moist, rich and smokey.
That and a salad could make a meal by themselves. Judy had the Faroe Island Salmon with farro for $29. As most folks who know me know, I’m not a big fan of salmon. Too many memories of my childhood and meatless Friday suppers of canned salmon patties.
But this salmon rendition was terrific; incredibly mild-tasting and moist, and the farro seemed cooked in a rich broth, perhaps chicken or vegetable stock.
I ordered the 14-ounce, bone-in, dryaged filet steak, rare. This $51 entree was worth the initial sticker shock; rare, tender, juicy, with a crusty exterior. It’s probably the best steak I’ve had in this town — and certainly in the Top 5 of steaks I’ve had from here to Las Vegas.
Bowdie’s understands what so many restaurants can’t seem to grasp. Heat. The steak was sizzling. And the plate was so hot that the table cloth below still wafted warmth some 20 minutes after our server had cleared the table.
A final note about our first visit: Judy and I shared a grilled Caesar salad for $10. I was skeptical about the grilled part, but Bowdie’s pulled it off. The lettuce was quickly seared, the cool dressing ladled on and large shavings of Parmesan cheese topped it off. I would improve the dressing with more anchovies and garlic.
Visit No. 2 came on Judy’s birthday, and I knew from the get-go what she would order. Yep, a rack of lamb for $55. It was rare as ordered and tender as desired. We had enough left over for two meals. The grilled asparagus for $10 was equally generous, and also became fare for next day’s supper.
Before the entrees, we shared a deconstructed crab cake for $15. Judy loved the way they took all the elements — Panko crumbs, lumps of crab, a light sauce, all served on arugula — and left them apart. No crab cake per se, just all the necessary elements.
I liked the taste, but I’m old-fashioned. I want my crab cakes to be actual cakes, a la Maryland.
While waiting for my entree, I gazed about. So much is reminiscent of the old Knight Cap. There are few tables and the decor is minimalist.
I ordered the roasted half-chicken for $24.
When it arrived, our server noted the chicken had been brined. I’ve been brining (and in some cases “corning”) meats for years. I think I can fairly opine whether a meat has been brined. And this chicken was wellbrined and delicious.
Brining retains so much of the bird’s natural juices that when properly roasted, you get a crisp skin and a sweet, juicy interior. Wonderful.
Bowdie’s servers are also attentive and knowledgeable, but they don’t hover. Thank you for that.
The looming question is, does Lansing have the steady clientele willing to fork over the dough? Our second visit, with dinner, drinks and tip, cost us more than $200.
Two words keep echoing in my mind: Special. Occasion.SHE ATE
By GABRIELLE LAWRENCE
It was a steamy summer night, the kind when I don’t put on makeup until I am in the car, air conditioning vents directly aimed at my face. We had a babysitter. Downtown Lansing was jammed with people going to Common Ground or a Lugnuts game, but we found street parking and were seated at an intimate table for two in the dimly lit dining room in no time.
“All of our steaks are dry-aged,” our server told us, which sounds fancy. But what does that mean, exactly?
It means that the beef is kept in a carefully controlled environment for an extended peri to allow the natural collagen to break down. A dry-aging process allows the meat to age the marbling to become exposed, resulting in a highly-concentrated flavor and more tender texture.
The opposite is wet aging, which is what is happening whenever you buy beef at the grocery store. In a nutshell, the beef is vacuum sealed, thus “wet” aging in its own juices. Dry aging is the gold standard and accounts for the difference in cost between Bowdie’s and Outback.
While we waited for our dry-aged filet and New York strip, we shared a bowl of shrimp bisque and a wedge salad. Both classic dishes were executed beautifully. The lardons on the Wedge salad (which are chunks of pork belly think an extremely thickly cut bacon) were slightly sweet, a perfect balance of crisp and meaty, and melted in our mouths. The shrimp bisque was rich and creamy with straightforward, clean flavors.
His Kansas City strip steak and my 10 ounce filet mignon came to the table on sizzling plates, swimming in a pool of their own juices and butter.
We could have added a sauce, a blue cheese crumble, or some other kind of accoutrement, but I tend to be a steak purist. I sliced off a sliver and felt a twinge of concern. I had requested my filet medium rare, but what was presented to me was decidedly medium, verging on medium well. I ate a few more bites before I stopped our server to discuss my issue with her.
“I think my steak is overcooked,” I told her, with a note of apology in my voice. “Oh. Really? Are you sure?” she asked while she eyed my plate suspiciously. Her reaction made me second-guess my belief, and I hemmed and hawed for a moment before telling her “Yes, I think so, but I would appreciate it if you could ask the chef’s opinion.”
She returned to the table after consulting with the chef and confirmed that yes, my $48 steak was overcooked. Not a little bit, a lot. She could offer us a free appetizer or dessert.
I’m happy to spend a lot of money and time on my food, and I try to remember that even if I don’t like something, that is generally due to my own personal tastes.
But an overcooked steak is undeniable.
And when it’s $48, which is probably the most expensive filet in the Greater Lansing area, I want the problem to be solved. I don’t want a wedge salad taken off the bill. The chef also came to the table to apologize, and I remain perplexed that neither one of these employees offered a more appropriate solution to the problem.
His New York strip steak, on the other hand, was beautifully medium rare. We shared a cone of truffle fries, which were crispy, salty, piping hot and positively fragrant with the scent of truffle. I could make a meal of the wedge salad and truffle fries, if I allowed myself to eat meals that consisted of a wedge salad and truffle fries.
We did accept the offer of a free dessert and asked for a slice of carrot cake. The triple layer cake was dense, moist and spicy, and while the cream cheese frosting was slightly too sweet for my taste, we licked the platter clean. Not literally, Bowdie’s is a nice restaurant. But we would have if we were in the privacy of our own home.
Bowdie’s has the best filet in town, as did their predecessor and my sentimental favorite the Knight Cap. But the overcooked steak and the temperate reaction to my complaint illustrate why I prefer to save my hard-earned money and eat steak at home. If it’s overcooked, I have only myself to blame.
320 E Michigan Ave, Lansing, MI
48933 Sunday - Thursday 5–10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5–11 p.m.
(517) 580-4792 bowdieschophouse.com