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Reserve: the best restaurant you've been neglecting

Reserve proves both creative and technically sound in its Restaurant Week debut.

/Briana Trudell

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201 Monroe Ave. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Mon-Thurs:   4:00 pm - 12:00 am
Friday & Sat: 4:00 pm - 1:00 am
Closed Sunday

Small Plates:      $4 - $17
Medium Plates: $9 - $16
Large Plates:     $13 - $38

I am still mourning the loss of Grand Rapids’ restaurants Bloom and Corez. For just over a year I’ve been stuck somewhere between the anger and bargaining stages, waiting, praying, drooling (more than usual) for a meal and ambiance of the creativity and quality of Bloom and Corez. Finally, I’ve been told my bargaining stage prayers have been answered. A former employee of both Bloom and Corez encouraged me to try Reserve a couple months ago. Of course in good taste, I showed up fashionably late because I was waiting for a clearance sale. We all know the drill, blah blah blah, bad economy, I’m poor, Kraft dinner. Restaurant Week serves as the perfect opportunity for those like myself suffering the second great depression to try restaurants that otherwise may be out of their price range. Not just the old college try either. Restaurant Week allows for an old grad school try if you will, allowing you to experience three courses at a reasonable price. For ten days, Reserve and I were on the same rung of socio-economic ladder, which has since been broken. Blame may be thrust in my direction due to habitual overeating, which I say is impossible. I was told Twizzlers were a calorie-free food.

Reserve. Two people. Three courses. Six dishes. Math tutor, anyone? Let the games begin!

First Course
The heirloom romaine lettuce salad came out on a beautifully long rectangular plate. The romaine leaves were left whole which turned the dish into a knife-and-fork salad that was unnecessarily difficult to eat without any noticeable contribution to the aesthetic. That being said, all the ingredients worked lovely together. The slightly green flavor of the young romaine, the thinly sliced black radish and scallion provided the necessary bite to cut the creamy buttermilk dressing and richness of the hard-boiled egg. Lastly the SarVecchio cheese, a Wisconsin made Parmesan, covered the salad in a snow of umami.

The Evergreen Lane Farm chevre plate was a very different starter. It came out on a similarly shaped plate and read left to right, orange torta (an orange flavored Spanish flatbread), chevre (goat cheese), honeycomb. This was a sweet but wonderful first course. It was texturally complex with the crispness of the torta, the creaminess of the chevre, and the chewy syrupy honey. The chevre and honey are a natural pair as the tartness of the cheese cuts the extreme sweetness of the honeycomb. Likewise the creaminess of the chevre balances the cracker-like qualities of the torta.

Overall it was a knockout first course. I wasn’t jumping to any conclusions though. We all know first impressions can be very deceiving. Some saying about a book and cover, but who really remembers that kind of stuff?

Second Course
Duck Leg Confit. You might want to wipe your eyes. They’re dripping with fat. Delicious fat. For those not privy to the magic of confit, it is a preservation method where meat is salted then slow cooked in its own rendered fat. From there it can be cooled and kept chilled for up to six months. Obviously an indulgent cooking method, and it was executed to perfection. The duck leg itself was rich, salty, and tender to the point of falling off the bone, and the skin was exactly how it should be, crisp and well seasoned. It was served with a sunny-side-up egg, which provided a lovely rich yolk sauce for the duck resulting in a decadent mouthfeel. To the side was a frisee salad with pickled red onion dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. Frisee always proves difficult for me to eat. The leaves are large and gnarly and never cooperate quite like I want them to causing oafish salad consumption and public embarrassment. To its credit the bitter frisee, acidic pickled onions, and vinaigrette cut the fatty richness of the duck leg well.

My pierogi expertise goes as far as the frozen section of the supermarket, which in some supermarkets is pretty far. While I’m sure Mrs. T is a little elderly woman that handcrafts her Polish ravioli in an endearingly knickknack filled kitchen, I haven’t experienced these morsels before they’ve been frozen in her icebox. Turns out, fresh pierogies are a real treat! The potato, crème fraiche, and scallion peirogi were creamy and rich, cut by the slight tartness of the crème fraiche and the spice of the scallion. Presented in a row, each individual pierogi was dressed with chestnut butter, chantrelles, leeks, and a thin slice of speck, an Italian cured ham. All ingredients mingled to create a surprisingly meaty depth of flavor considering the small amount of meat used in the dish. Although delicious, the dish could have benefited from a little more acid to balance the richness, and a textural contrast to counter the general softness of the ingredients.

If debating between the two, the duck leg confit is better thought out, and an ultimately more satisfying dish. If looking for a vegetarian option, the pierogi can be easily made meat free. The options are available, however, vegetarians may be inclined to avoid a restaurant whose mission bears homage to pork. At this point, or any point for that matter, I would like to pay homage to sweets.

Third Course
Sometimes I think it would just be easier to satiate my sugar cravings with a syrup IV, but that would be neither tasty nor healthy and I figure you must have one of the two to keep the old ticker dancing. In the first dessert vanilla buttercream frosting is sandwiched between two buttermilk cookies, and they are sweet little half golf ball sized sandwiches. Open up the crock to their left and you will find a loose maple custard flecked with vanilla bean. The cookies, which are almost too sweet on their own, are perfect when dipped in the pot du creme. The pot du crème’s flavor is more of cream than sugar and provides an anchor to the lofty sweetness of the cookies.
The orange tortas pull a double header showing up rejuvenated for the second dessert served alongside a chocolate rillette topped with a layer “caramelized milk,” otherwise known as dulce de leche. The presentation of the rillette in a clear short canning jar is well thought out. It showcases the contrasting colored layers of chocolate and dulce de leche. It allows the eater to know what lies beneath the dulce de leche. The chocolate rillette, not to be confused with its porky predecessor, is dense, fudgy, and bitter. The bitter blow of the dark chocolate is softened by sweet syrupy dulce de leche. Smeared on the orange torta, it’s a fresh spin on the classic combination of orange and chocolate. There’s a bit too much rellitte for the two tortas provided. Adding more dulce de leche to the ratio could have easily remedied the problem, as I quickly ran out of bitterness antidote to pair with the large amount of rillette.

After the last course I can say with certainty that the pastry work at Reserve is a force to be reckoned with. The dishes were creative, intentional, and for the most part well executed. This just in!  Reserve’s desserts are calorie-free, just like Twizzlers!

Final Decision
As it so proved, waiting for the clearance sale of restaurant eating to make my grand entrance at Reserve was the right idea. Of the synonyms for cheapskate, I choose churl, because nobody knows what it means. After sampling six quality dishes I can confidently conclude Reserve is worth saving for a visit. A look at their regular menu shows the duck leg confit ($15) and pierogi ($10) listed on their medium sized section of dishes. Both were enough to leave me content, but admittedly I’ve been slacking on my stomach stretching exercises as of late. The pricing is fair considering the skill and craftsmanship involved in their creation. You get what you pay for. As for the ambiance, it’s brighter and more modern than its similarly themed counterpart Bar Divani, but I found the acoustic music, which included artists Jack Johnson and Death Cab For Cutie, a distracting contrast to the crisp modern aesthetic. Although the drink menu is more limited than Bar Divani’s, it’s still strong and diverse. No complaints on the wait staff. They were attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable. My socio-economic ladder is still broken, so I’ll return as soon as someone drops the fire escape ladder. Don’t worry guys, I’m on an all Twizzler diet!

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