Alliance, a small Traverse City bistro serving vegetable-forward shared plates, has been making waves in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula since opening in March. But a heads up: Alliance is not Tapawingo II.
“It’s important to me that people know that,” said Harlan Peterson, 73, who is known as Pete and is the veteran chef and owner of the restaurant Tapawingo, which closed in 2009 after 25 years in this vacation area 255 miles northwest of Detroit.
True, Mr. Peterson helped start and manage Alliance, teaming with James Bloomfield, 28, a graduate of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City, and a local couple, Meridith and Dan Falconer, who own the restaurant.
And like Tapawingo, Alliance offers sophisticated concoctions that showcase locally sourced ingredients and, Mr. Peterson said, “challenge the taste buds.”
But in mid-December, Mr. Peterson stepped back into retirement, leaving Mr. Bloomfield in charge, as he has been from Day 1, of developing and cooking Alliance’s menu of dishes that often mix Michigan produce with far-flung spices.
“I love the direction James’s ideas are going and the use of so many local ingredients in so many ways,” Mr. Bloomfield said.
Tapawingo felt like a Midwest version of a culinary gem in the French countryside, offering farm-to-table fine dining in a tiny town. Alliance is more cool city kid: The space, in a former warehouse, is casual, clamorous and crowded.
On an early fall Saturday night, the dishes had that same vibe, with standouts like firm butternut squash slices stir-fried with savory miso, herbs and peanuts, atop a refreshing pool of buttermilk.
About half of the 15 plates included fish or meat, including one that was delicate — hamachi collar with a sweet hoisin sauce glaze, red cabbage and herbs — and another that was relatively rich: cabbage rolls made with braised pork, yogurt and crispy onion in tomato sauce. Dessert included blueberry cobbler with sweet corn ice cream, basil and caramel corn.
Inside Alliance’s narrow space, Mr. Bloomfield could be seen toiling in the open kitchen that flows into the 38-seat dining area where both Tapawingo fans (like my group of four) and millennials debated which plates to choose, in consultation with engaged servers, seemingly unfazed by dietary restrictions.
We left feeling as if we had shared thought-provoking courses — served in a well-paced order — that added up to an uncommon and satisfying meal.
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