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A Tribute to Fine Dining

Thomas Neal

Situated in an affluent suburb of Detroit called Southfield, Tribute is a sure hit if you are looking for an extra-fine dining experience in the Metropolitan Detroit area. Tribute is conveniently located just off highway I96 at the Orchard Lake Road exit, making it easily accessible from the greater metropolitan area.

When you pull into the drive way of the restaurant a valet seems to appear out of no where and immediately opens your car door, offering a warm welcome to the establishment. From the moment you hand your car keys over, Tribute seamlessly transports you into an idyllic world where serving your every whim is the staff’s top priority. A friendly hostess greets guests at the door and gives them a genuine welcome, the type of hospitality that one comes to expect from places where they are regulars, a megastar, captain of industry, or some other sort of a-list luminary.  The two of us handed her our overcoats and we were lead toward to the dining room.   

On the way to the specially prepared table awaiting us, we passed by a small bar half full with a combination of business men and couples enjoying a fine cocktail on this Thursday evening. The angular bar is situated just off the lobby and acts as a segue into the wine cellars that lead into the dining room.  Although Tribute has a dress code that recommends sport coats or business attire, which appears to be the case in the dining room, the bar seems to accept a more casual attire of jeans and casual shirts. And, although entrances to other institutions of this caliber may sometimes exude far more grandeur in terms of ornate furnishings and space, Tribute is a cozy and unique building that outshines other upscale eateries with an extremely well designed wine cellar and dining space.

Dividing the bar and the dining room is a very unique combination of wine cellars. A small hallway is flanked on either side by glass enclosed wine cellars that contain a small, onsite selection of the restaurant’s massive 19,000 bottle inventory. Even above you wine bottles are resting on top of a ceiling made out of glass.  It makes since that Tribute would want each and every guest to pass through the wine cellar because it owns a collection that is definitely worth showcasing.  With around 2,800 labels, from places ranging from California to South Africa, France and Australia, it would be hard for even the most discriminating wine connoisseur to not come across something extraordinary.

Upon entering the dining room were greeted by Charles Francis, the restaurant’s personable and professional manager who has worked for the Epoch Restaurant Group (the company that owns Tribute) for several years. Before arriving on the scene in Michigan, Charles headed another high-end restaurant located at the exclusive Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Tribute’s rectangular dining room has some unique and interesting architectural features including a high vaulted ceiling that houses symmetrical windows on either side of the room. The windows extend half way down the wall and have an unusual geometric shape to them that uniquely resembles a full sail. The outside walls of the room are lined with semi-circular booths that have very high seat backs to offer privacy from neighboring tables. For a less intimate experience, the space in the center of the room is filled with square tables that feature seating for four and six-top round tables as well.

All tables are dressed with exquisite cream and white table linens that match beautifully with the rest of the color scheme. The crystal is classy and top-notch and the dishes are elegantly embossed with the restaurant’s logo. Each course arrives on uniquely shaped flatware that gives an artistic approach to the meal, but it requires a certain amount of tact to successfully rest your silverware on the side of these super smooth plates — for example, I ended up with my entrée knife in my lap two times!

The restaurant has dim mood lighting that provides an inviting and mellow glow to the room. The stunning shape to the vaulted ceiling extends low into the room so rather than paintings hung on the walls, there is a striking hand-painted mural that covers the entire wall from the side of the room from which you enter. Charles is proud of the tasteful design of both the building and the interior and attributes that to a local firm that completed the renovation project some ten years ago when the building was converted from an historic tavern into the fine award-winning dining venue that it is today.

After a glass of champagne carefully selected from our sommelier and time to take a stroll and antiquate ourselves with the main dining room, Charles took us to see the sub-level where we encounter the open-view kitchen, an auxiliary dining area, and an outdoor courtyard where guests may enjoy cocktails during the warmer months. Charles explained that the smaller dining area can be used for private parties and small groups that wish to have a more intimate area than the main dining room. Charles also emphasizes that the seating arrangements have been designed in such a way that each server has clear view of his or her tables so as to put the needs of the guest at the forefront. This is why Charles refuses to expand seating into the outdoor area, because his servers would loose an integral part of their contact with the guest.

The whole kitchen team (including Chef Don, second from the left) and I gather right where the magic happens—in from of chef Don’s workstation.  Photo by Mario Cruz

Upon entering the kitchen it is obvious at first glance that it is impeccably organized and spotless.  We come to find out that each night an independent cleaning crew comes into the building and cleans the kitchen from top to bottom.

Indeed, Executive Chef, Don Yamauchi, has quite a nice environment to call his office. Chef Don introduces us to the array of chefs and cooks that inhabit the kitchen, and for a restaurant that makes everything on-site, all the way down to the butter; it is not surprising that the kitchen staff would be so large. Chef Don assures us that fresh provisions arrive each day to ensure that each dish he serves is as fresh as possible.

Don Yamauchi has held the reins as executive chef at Tribute for only a year now, but has brought with him an armful of awards and honors. Food and Wine Magazine has named him one of our country’s Best New Chefs while the James Beard Foundation listed him as a nominee for Best Chef Midwest. Before relocating to Michigan Don held a prestigious position at Chicago’s world renowned Le Francais.

Mario, Chef Don Yamauchi, and I pose for a picture in the midst of our tour of Tribute’s custom designed full-view kitchen.

A feature of the kitchen is Tribute’s version of the Chef’s table. This table, outfitted for eight, is special because guests dining here receive even more special treatment than they do in the dining room. Each dish is served by the respective chef that created it, which arguably provides a unique and personal dining experience for those that can afford such service. Guests dining at this haloed spot also get to enjoy the allegorical mural which features the brother and sister duo that own Tribute.

We returned to the main dining room where our meal commenced. Tribute offers a palette pleasing fusion between French and Asian cuisine, a combination that makes for some unique creations and tastes that are not to easily encountered in Michigan dining experiences. We enjoyed something similar to the Epicurean Tasting Menu, a twelve course combination of caviars, appetizers, entrées, and desserts that will set you back one hundred and fifty dollars — actually a good value for such a fine meal.  Our comments can be nothing short of praise of Chef Don Yamauchi for each dish that we sampled. He has a way of combining foods into dishes that are gifts to the sense of taste.  The phenomenal presentation of his creations also adds to the visual effect.

The “Paddlefish Roe” (Brioche caviar) comes served in a hollowed out egg, with the caviar sprinkled on top of a layer of vanilla crème and sea salt.  The taste of these three provides a burst of flavor that must be experienced to be fully understood.  Next, the “Ceviche of Hamachi and Bay Scallops” has a Mexican twist to it — containing pieces of tortilla mixed together with avocado and radish. It was a surprise coming from an Asian-inspired French restaurant, but scrumptiously pleasing none the less.

Paddlefish Roe
Photo by Mario Cruz

Ceviche of Hamachi and Bay Scallops
Photo by Mario Cruz

Another appetizer we sampled was the “Braised Beef Short Ribs” that comes paired with one of the most delicate and tasty sweet potato purees we have ever tasted.  For the entrée we were served a “Wagyu Flat Iron Wellington” that arrived perfectly prepared with just the right level of tenderness. When we asked Chef Don how he gets the meat so tender he told us that it undergoes a two week process and that he selects only the very best meats to be used for his rendition of the Wellington.

The “Braised Beef Short Ribs” appetizer served with a very delicious sweet potato puree.
Photo by Tribute Restaurante

Another Tribute dish that is out of the ordinary is the second dessert that we sampled called the “Deconstructed Candy Bar.” 

This lucious confectionary creation comes served on a rectangular plate that has the three layers of this so called candy bar separated from each other. On top of each layer is a different sauce and the one with a caramel base is especially rich. Finally, our meal concluded with an “Irish Car Bomb,” a dessert that the sous-chef tells us we can attempt to take as a shot or eat in the traditional method using our spoons. You can actually taste the hint of Guinness beer in this fluffy cream dessert and it makes for a unique, delightful, and delicious conclusion to a fine meal. 

Throughout our dining experience at Tribute we enjoyed a selection of wines that beautifully accompanied our various courses. The lead sommelier, Howard, is extremely knowledgeable about the wines that he serves and knows a surprising amount about the estates that produce them. Amongst our favorites were the Evans and Tate, Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia, 2004 with its citrus odor and light taste as well as the red Domaine Berthet-Rayne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone FR, which comes from a smaller estate run by Christian and Dany Berthet-Rayne. Christian and Dany are fourth generation at the property and take personal pleasure in making sure that each bottle lives up to the tradition that has come to be recognized from this estate. The full-bodied taste of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape paired well with our “Wagyu Flat Iron Wellington.”

At any given time Tribute offers around twenty-five options for wines by the glass but that selection expands to around 2,800 contenders if you are looking to purchase a bottle. Not to worry, the Wines-by-the-Glass menu is continuously changed so as to provide ample variety. Bottles are priced anywhere between twenty five dollars for a conventional label to well over one thousand dollars for rarer vintages while glasses of some of these fine wines range from eleven to thirty dollars.

For any special occasion when fine cuisine, impeccable service, and an upscale, warm, and inviting atmosphere are desired, Tribute is a sure winner in my book. Whether it be a high powered business dinner, such as those held by Detroit area CEO’s that consider Tribute their dining headquarters, or a romantic evening out for two, Tribute delivers first-class service, a phenomenal wine list, and delicious, inventive dishes from award winning Chef, Don Yamauchi. At the end of our evening at Tribute it is only when we pulled out of the driveway that we sensed what most visitors to this restaurant probably feel: Tribute offers an idyllic gourmet’s paradise that has enough variety and pizzazz to keep you dreaming about coming back, and coming back, again and again.

31425 West Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

Phone: 248-848-9393

Ala Cart Menu ranging from $50 up; special Epicurean Tasting Menu $150 per person; Dinner served Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended; valet parking.

Photos by Mario Cruz and Tribute Restaurant

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Email:  Thomas Neal

Thomas Neal is a 21 year old college student born and raised in Michigan.  Thomas has traveled the globe including many places off the beaten track. (More About This Writer.)

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