Welcome to our new periodic feature, fine/wine/dine, which explores the link between fine dining and fine wining in Michigan. We recently caught up with Monica Gilbert, the general manager at Forest Grill in Birmingham. Whenever we visit Forest Grill, we're always impressed with their locally-sourced menu and extensive wine list. Monica agreed to tell us what goes into pairing fine dining and Michigan wine.
Michigan By The Bottle: As Forest Grill's general manager, tell us about the restaurant and the chefs.
Monica Gilbert: Forest Grill is a very dynamic, food- and wine-driven restaurant. It is phenomenal to be a part of a team of chefs that are continually striving to make the best possible cuisine.
Chef Brian (Polcyn) has been an extraordinary influence on the culinary scene here in Michigan. He has owned and operated some of Michigan’s best restaurants. He is also a nationally acclaimed author of "Charcuterie" and the just released "Salumi." Chef David (Gilbert, Monica's husband) has worked at some of the best restaurants in the world. It is his strong desire and passion to bring world-class cuisine here to Detroit.
MBTB: What education/experience do you have in restaurant management and wine?
MG: Up until 2 1/2 years ago, my experience was limited to only an educated diner. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by such great people as Claudia Tyagi, master sommelier, Brian Polcyn, and my husband, David Gilbert. When you are surrounded by some of the best people in the industry, you have no choice but to excel to that level very quickly.
MBTB: We understand that you work with Master Sommelier Claudia Tyagi to manage your extensive wine list. What goes into developing a great wine list?
MG: First and foremost, I have such a great level of respect for Claudia. I look to her as not only a mentor, but as a friend. The collaboration that I am able to have with Claudia is a direct reflection of our wine list.
I am exploring new wines and new vintages on a weekly basis (at least). It is my goal to stay abreast of the most current wine offerings on the market. My evaluation process is very simple, I evaluate the appearance, the nose and the palate. I never based my decision on the cost. The overall quality of the wine is always my priority.
Based on seasonality and Chef David’s current menu, I then decide if it is a good fit for the current list. When I am really excited about a wine, I love to get other people involved. It could be Claudia, Chef David or the servers. The more people that get behind the wine, the better we represent it.
MBTB: What Michigan wines do you currently have on the wine list, and which ones are you targeting to add soon? How important is it to include local wines on the list?
MG: Michigan wines are just as important as the chefs buying local products for the kitchen. Our mission at Forest Grill is to support and help educate our clientele with what Michigan has to offer. Some of my personal favorites are Bel Lago, Chateau Fontaine and Larry Mawby. We are continuously looking to Michigan for great wines.
(The challenges are) educating our staff and clientele to get the wines in front of customers. All it takes is a taste of a great Michigan wine for the customer to see the craftsmanship and value in these wines.
First and foremost, upon hiring new servers, they are trained in formal wine service according to the standards of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Biweekly, we conduct wine seminars with the staff, which often include Michigan wines.
MBTB: You recently were one of the judges for the Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition. What was that like?
MG: Intense. Being surrounded by the caliber of judges at the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition was such an honor. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed with open arms, and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Forest Grill is located at 735 Forest Ave. in Birmingham. For more information, visit http://www.theforestgrill.com or call (248) 258-9400. Know of a great Michigan fine dining establishment with local representation on the wine list? Email us and let us know!