Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A quick trip to Detroit -- fine dining at Habib's Cuisine

This past Monday I flew to Detroit and back to argue a motion to vacate a prior restraint barring a Dearborn man from using a community Facebook page to criticize the proposed settlement of a class action against McDonald’s over the sale of non-halal meat that had been advertised as halal.  It was a tough travel day, beginning with a 5 AM awakening to get to BWI Airport and ending after midnight on Tuesday after driving back from BWI, but I was rewarded by the judge’s somewhat grudging decision to vacate the prior restraint, as well as a truly outstanding meal.

On arrival at Detroit’s Metro airport I rented a car – why does the home of US auto manufacturing have the very highest domestic car rental rates? — and drove to the office of Michigan’s ACLU, which filed an amicus brief in support of my client and kindly offered me an office in which to finish my preparation for the 2 PM argument.  The ACLU recently acquired its own building on Woodward Avenue, about a mile from the courthouse in downtown Detroit.  I ate lunch with a couple of ACLU lawyers at the Atlas Global Bistro across the street from their office – as best as I could see, it was the only restaurant nearby.   It was adequate, nothing more.  The most interesting dish on the menu was orecchiette with fennel sausage and radicchio – they were out of the fennel sausage, but it was available with chicken instead.  Maybe it would have been really good with the fennel sausage, but it was boring with chicken. 

On the  drive downtown, my eyes were drawn to a huge mural on the side of a downtown building reading Outsource to Detroit.

After the argument was over, I took the advice of my client, a lawyer named Majed Moughni, who had identified Habib’s Cuisine as the place to eat in Dearborn.  I don’t often give restaurant’s a five-star rating, but this place had it all – nice dining room, fine and very friendly service, and top-notch food.  I ate with long-time friends Barbara Harvey and Michael Friedman, both lawyers in Detroit.   

Eating at Habib's Cuisine with Barbara Harvey

I was disappointed that they did not serve liquor – I assume for religious reasons — but I started with a delicious fresh mango juice flavored with lime.  We ordered several appetizers, figuring that they would be small-ish dishes, as well as two main courses; the main courses also came with a choice of soup or salad: I chose the soup, a greenish soup called freekeh, which had many  shreds of chicken.


The appetizers began with a lovely plate of hummus and small rounds of bread,


and a salad called zaatar.  I have always thought of zaatar as a spice blend, but this was a mixture of lettuce leaves, fresh oregano, scallions and tomatoes as well as spices
Zaatar below, hummus above

Then there was the Majadara Hamra (pronounces Mah-ZHED-ruh), a combination of brown lentils, cracked wheat and spices, topped with browned and caramelized shreds of onion

Majadara Hamra

Yet another appetizer was hindbee, a dish of sauteed dandelion greens with onions, flavored with lemon juice and served on a bed of greens (in the front center of the photo below), as well as labne (pronounced LEB-nah), which resembled Greek yogurt but even more dense (upper central in the photo below)       

By the time I was done with the freekeh and into the appetizers, I was almost too full for my main course.  But I had to eat at least some of that — I had ordered tawook, a dish of grilled marinated chicken that was tender and tasty (right-hand side at the bottom of the photo above).  The main dish came with very tasty roasted vegetables, and a choice of potato balls or rice – I chose potato balls (the reddish globes served with the tawook), which the consistency of tater tots, but nicely spicy.  I was so stuffed that I did not even ask for a taste of Michael’s main dish, sauteed shrimp with mango sauce.

We couldn’t come close to finishing what we were served, so we got take-away containers, and there was no way we could think of ordering dessert.  But I had two hours still until my plane, and the company was good, so we ordered coffee and tea (the only disappointment of the night – the tea choices were Lipton black tea or green tea in a bag; only American coffee was available, but Barbara and Mike reported that the coffee was properly strong without being bitter).

With the coffee came a “surprise” – a platter containing three bowls of nice rice pudding. Sitting amid the bowls were three strawberries, each artily cut from the top and sitting in a mound of delicately light whipped cream, and decorated nouvelle style with a lime-based concoction.

We couldn’t insult our waiter, who had brought us this extra, so we slowly ate the delicious rice pudding and every last piece of strawberry and bit of whipped cream.  Delicious.

Despite portions, the prices were very reasonable – we came away with a bill of a bit more than $100 for the three of us, including a substantial tip.  For some reason, the menu on the restaurant's web site is not the same as the menu from which we ate; at my request, Habib's sent me their menu, which is linked here.

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