I bring you this post live from Traverse City, Michigan. Perhaps you wonder why I am blogging during my vacation. This is not a normal practice; however, I tend to get up freakishly early on vacations and then have to wait for everyone else to wake up…so I need a productive way to fill that hour and a half or so.
I’m pretty psyched to be up north (yes, yoopers, I know this isn’t really up north; I get it), even in a popular tourist location during a holiday weekend. I haven’t been to the northern part of the mitten since the year before our move to CT, so when Joan and TJ invited us to spend the weekend in Traverse City, we jumped at the chance.
Aside from beautiful outdoor scenery like Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Traverse City has a thriving food and wine culture. Two nearby peninsulas – the Leelanau and the Old Mission – are lined up and down with vineyards. Downtown and the surrounding areas are packed with farmers markets, quirky cafes, and many dining options.
Last night, Noe and I went for a late dinner at Amical while we waited for Joan and TJ to arrive. Amical is a little French-inspired bistro on Front Street. Amical was on my radar because I wanted to go there for brunch, but Noe had checked out the dinner menu and wanted to go last night (proximity to our cabin probably had something to do with that decision – it is quite close).
The little restaurant was bustling with activity when we arrived shortly after 8:00 p.m., but the friendly host assured us he would have a table available in less than half an hour. While we waited, we were treated to – or tortured by – this view:
I am not one of those people who always orders dessert, but Amical’s pastry case almost had me convinced that I wanted a coffee custard and an apple tart for dinner.
Our friendly host rustled us up a table in under twenty minutes. Our server was right over with water and drink menus, and we put in an order for smoked whitefish pate while we discussed entrees. Noe was slightly concerned when I ordered the fish spread, but his fears were calmed quickly. Scallions and cream cheese tempered the strong, smoky fish flavors and the crispy flatbreads served with it provided a satisfying crunch.
With the appetizer, our server also delivered a piping hot loaf of french bread wrapped in a crisp linen napkin, and – be still my heart – an olive dish. Mmm, salty briny goodness.
I selected the pan-seared duck breast with cherry stout as my entree. I fell in love with duck breast while working at the Earle. I love the slightly gamey flavor and the moist, dark meat. Duck has enough flavor to hold up to some fairly strong sauces. I was a little apprehensive about the tart cherry/beer sauce at first; however, when the dish arrived, the sauce was surprisingly light. It had a slight zing from the cherries and nice body from the beer, and was a woinderful accompaniment to my perfectly seared, juicy duck breasts.
Noe selected the pork tenderloin with Saskatoon berry jam and hot mustard. Noe thought the pork was a little dry, but liked the gingery flavor of the jam and thought the hot mustard provided a nice contrast.
After looking at that pastry case during our wait for a table, we were anxiously anticipating dessert. Noe wanted carrot cake; I wanted the Napoleon. We compromised and ordered both – and a box.
The carrot cake was perfect – moist but not soggy and spiced to perfection. We dug the last bits of cake out of the frosting left on the plate. The Napoleon was a masterpiece: layers of phyllo dough filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with a slab of white chocolate drizzled with dark chocolate. The chocolate was almost unnecessary – the flaky dough and flavorful cream were more than enough.
Although I am disappointed that we probably won’t get to try Amical’s brunch menu, I’m so glad we selected it for at least one meal in Traverse City. Our dinner was fantastic and our desserts were truly spectacular. We saw a lot of people ordering pastries to go from the counter – if you can’t make it in for a full meal, at least consider stopping by for a dessert. You won’t regret it!