Aug 13, 2012

Dining Review: Trillium Haven Restaurant in Grand Rapids

Trillium Haven is the first restaurant venture for Jenison, Michigan farmers Michael VandenBrug and Anja Mast. Here's the review as published on and the Grand Rapids Press:

The dining scene at any new local restaurant in Grand Rapids is always entertaining. There is a very good chance that you’ll recognize a familiar face in the crowd among those lucky enough to get a table.  You acknowledge each other as if you’re in the first class cabin while you savor the fact that you’re not one of those “economy-class” diners relegated to beg for the first available table while standing behind bar patrons as they swirl their luscious glass of Syrah in your face. We’ve all been there. The lesson
here is to call for a reservation and such is the case with dining at Trillium Haven restaurant.

There was definitely a lot of hype among the local foodie and organic circles surrounding the opening of Trillium Haven in Eastown. Most were big supporters of the Jenison, Michigan, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm where the owners, Michael VandenBrug and Anja Mast, have been supplying local restaurants and patrons with produce since 2001.

Pork Belly
 I made our reservation about ten days prior to make sure our party of four could be accommodated given the expected outpouring of support for the restaurant during its opening phase. Our party included my wife, Elena, and our good friends Jay and Kathy, who accompanied us on my very first dining review last year.

A good friend of ours aptly described the interior of Trillium as an Anthropologie store without the furnishings and trinkets. The setting is lofty and loud despite the restaurant’s efforts to drape the acoustics with two, large, farm-style white sheets that cover the entire expanse of the feature wall. Warm back bar lighting invites guests to partake in its farm-to-glass concoctions while the open-kitchen serves as ground zero for the restaurant’s culinary creations.

A stretch of high-top tables form a communal table in the center of the dining room for those accustomed to Euro-style dining quarters or for those who relish on eavesdropping on other diners’ juicy conversation. A triangular outdoor terrace adds a much needed scenery to this unattractive stretch of Lake Drive.

Beet And Fresh Goat Cheese Salad

Our server Patrick set the tone for what would be a very pleasant dining experience due to his charismatic skills as a conversationalist, knowledge of the menu, and unobtrusive style as a server. Even when tasked with a question he didn’t know (which single malt scotches were available), he was quick to seek guidance and respond in an intelligible manner.

He sold us on the specialty cocktails featuring herbs and vegetables from the farm – the surprisingly refreshing Beet Margarita ($8.5) and the Berry Mojito ($10) could have used a little dose of sweetness. I applaud Trillium for its small, yet, well thought of wine list, which is priced very fairly. We had a bottle of Spanish Rioja that was an exemplary example of a good Rioja versus the cheap, tongue-slapping Spanish crap served at most restaurants.

My first impression of the menu is that it was limited; especially due to the fact that all four of the communal offerings are room temperature dishes. There are seven entrée selections but beef was obscurely missing from the list (besides being mixed in with pork on the meatloaf dish). The pricing on the list is fair except for the $25 meatloaf (second most expensive item) and the $5 mini desserts. Also, after a month since opening, I would expect the restaurant would have corrected every misspelling on the menu.

The highlights of our first courses were the Classic Kale Caesar ($10), the pickled and roasted Double Beet Salad ($10), and the Cornbread with house made honey butter ($3) that tasted just like grandma’s cornbread.

Chef Abby Therrien manning the line with her team

Jay and I loved the bits of crumbled garlic breadcrumbs in the Caesar that gave every fork full of kale a crunch. The use of olive oil sardines (instead of anchovies) in a Caesar is a first for me, and I must admit that it probably won’t be my last. Elena and Kathy found ethereal satisfaction in every component on the beet salad- from the way the goat cheese mellowed the smokiness of the pecans to the way the beets mingled harmoniously with the frissee and honey white balsamic. 

The Flatbreads at Trillium Haven are really more like pizzas for their plump crusts. Regardless of semantics, our entire table was sold on the house-made fennel Sausage Flatbread ($14) with wilted kale, caramelized onions, mozzarella and red sauce - which is as good as any specialty pizza found in Manhattan.

On the downside were the salty buckwheat noodles in the San Fran Spring Salad ($12) that I couldn’t even finish despite my penchant for salty foods, and the Smoked Whitefish Pate ($9) which garnered mixed reactions from the table. Two members of our group absolutely loved the pate while the other two were not necessarily impressed with the muted flavors of the whitefish. I almost choked on a fish bone when I was a child and visions of that dreary scene came back to me when I saw a long fish bone in the pate.

The Outdoor Terrace along Lake Drive
Ask any restaurant owner and chef and they’ll be the first to tell you that having an open kitchen has its disadvantages; mainly that your performance is under the watchful eye of every aspiring cook in the dining room. I marveled at how sous chef Abby Therrien manned the hotline on this evening along with the assistance of another cook. I lost count of how many steaming dishes came off that line but they sure made it look as effortless as possible. 

The best dishes among our entrée selections were the Fresh Vegetable Lasagna ($16) and the Pastured Lamb Ragu ($25). The free-form lasagna with farm egg pasta layered with wood-roasted vegetables, melted mozzarella, goat cheese and a mellow scape pesto was a carnivore’s vegetarian delight. The lamb ragu with eggplant, okra, tomato fondue and fresh corn polenta was tender and flavorful which reminded me so much of the lamb tagine at my favorite Moroccan restaurant in Paris, Le 404.

The portion on the Pan Roasted Harrietta Hills Trout ($26) was barely visible underneath the mound of sorrel, carrot, garlic scape verde, Napa & red cabbage. While it was seasoned just right, a little more pan vinaigrette would have made the dish more luscious.

The Heritage Pork and Succotash ($22) offered this evening was pork belly.
While the skin of the belly was cooked to a crackling golden brown, the rest of the belly could have used some additional time in the oven. The overall dish itself is spectacular in appearance – with summer vegetables, brown rice, molasses and tamari broth.

Desserts are intended to be sinful and decadent; the exclamation point to a memorable meal. A slice of homemade carrot cake in a local cafe could be as delightful as the Milk Chocolate Dacquoise at Daniel’s in New York City. This moment of euphoria, unfortunately, never occurred with our small and ordinary jar of Blueberry Crisp ($5) or with the Panna Cotta ($5). 

You couldn’t find two more passionate locavores than Michael and Anja – and it’s critical to keep this in mind before visiting Trillium Haven given the normal expectations from diners in the area. Anja was making her rounds in the restaurant when she had told our table that the menu would always evolve to what’s available on the market. In the case of the beef, they have yet to find a farmer who produces a product that meets their specifications. You can count on me to order the beef dish when Michael and Anja have given their stamp of approval to a local farmer. Until then, I’m happy with the meatloaf. Please pass the ketchup.

Restaurant: Trillium Haven
Where: 1429 Lake Drive, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506
Hours:            Tuesday to Thursday 4pm to 11pm
                        Friday & Saturday – 4pm to 12am
When we dined: Saturday, July 28, 2012
Wait to be seated: within 5 minutes
Wait for food to arrive: 9 minutes
Dress code: Casual
Sound Level: Loud in the main dining room. Conversation is more conducive outside in the terrace.
Parking: Parking lot behind the restaurant or street parking
Price range: $3.00 to $26.00
Credit cards: All major credit cards accepted
Recommend: Tuscan Kale Caesar, Sausage and Mushroom Flatbreads, Fresh Vegetable Lasagna
Drinks and Wine: farm-to-glass cocktails, wide selection of local and imported beers, small but well thought of wine list with reasonable pricing.
Reservations: 616.301.0998 (highly recommended)
Call them: 616.301.0998
Connect: (connects to farm website – but lacks information about the restaurant).
Call us: Know a great place to dine out? Email or call The Press Entertainment department at 222-5291.

Sausage Flatbread
Harrietta Hills Trout
Lamb Ragu
Vegetable Lasagna
Inside the dining room


Anonymous said...

So who is the executive chef?

George Aquino said...

Here's the entire team behind the restaurant:

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Good dining doesn't mean consuming good food, it includes proper environment and better dining arrangement. Trillium Haven restaurant fulfills all these needs. It is one of the best restaurants in Michigan that offers best food, especially, I like its Vegan Rice Pudding.

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