I’ve been following Chef Eric’s blog from behind the stove for quite a while and was happy to finally get a chance to eat at his restaurant, The Cook’s House. It’s in Traverse City, Michigan, where I grew up, and Sarah and I made a point of eating there during our visit.
The establishment is extremely small, located on the city’s main street (Front Street). Sarah overheard the staff talking about a recent health inspection (which apparently went very well) and the inspector supposedly said that it’s the smallest restaurant in Michigan. There are about six tables (some with four seats, some with two), plus a few tables for outdoor dining during the summer. We were seated up against the counter separating the dining room from the kitchen. The atmosphere was good—warm colors, a few paintings on the wall—but the A/C was struggling to combat the warm weather and hot kitchen.
The Cook’s House is BYOB, which I found out shortly after being seated. Fortunately, there’s a party store across the street (Jack’s) with a very good beer and wine selection. I had to run out quickly, though, as a Cherry Festival parade was minutes from commencing.
We decided to splurge with the seven course tasting menu (chosen by the chef) with our only request being no rabbit. Our first course was asparagus soup with mushrooms. It tasted like some kind of reduction, as the asparagus flavor was really intense and perfectly complimented by the earthy mushrooms.
Next was a risotto with raclette, fennel and sherry reduction. While the execution of the dish was very good, I wasn’t in the mood for a warm starch on a hot day. Sarah ate most of hers, but I ate almost none. The kitchen staff (whom we overheard six feet away in the kitchen) took notice and our waitress was gracious enough to offer me something else, the smoked whitefish cake with fried quail egg, pea shoots and spicy mayonnaise:
The combination of smoked fish and spicy mustard sauce was outstanding, and the egg and pea shoots were the coup de grâce. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Next up was walleye with baby fennel and carmelized onions. The fish was mild and perfectly cooked; the fennel had a great flavor and worked well with the fish.
Course number four was chicken with a tarragon mustard sauce, also excellent. The skin was nicely crisped, and the sauce was simultaneously rich and sharp. While it might seem that the amount of food at this point would be a bit much, the entrée courses are small portions, so there was definitely room for more.
Our next course was a wonderful salad. The edible rose petals were unique and something I’d would want to have again.
Course number six was local cheese including raclette and goat cheese from the Leelanau Creamery. The Cook’s House uses local ingredients whenever possible and seem to structure their menu around them. There’s a “thank you” list of a few dozen local producers on a blackboard by the kitchen.
Our final course was cardamom vanilla crème brulees, each served with an individual french press with coffee or with tea. As with eveything else, dessert was flawlessly executed.
The Cooks House is a unique combination of delicious cuisine, friendly service and cozy quarters. It’s worth visiting any time you have the opportunity.