Restaurant Review: New Hotel Mertens in Grand Rapids, MI

While 2017 included logistics challenges given increased work travel, 2018 presented more personal demands on my time.  Nevertheless, I attempt to maintain my commitment to balanza by evaluating my relationships, prioritizing the life-giving ones, and investing again and again the time and energy into the ones that deserve it.  I am passionate about trying new places, and I enjoy even more trying them with my loved ones.  Fortunately, I was able to try New Hotel Mertens twice within a couple of weeks, and both experiences were consistently excellent.

New Hotel Mertens is a French-themed restaurant located in Grand Rapids, Michigan that offers cocktails, small plates, and entrees.  What sold me about this restaurant is their cart featuring several different cheeses from around the world to experiment.

Cheese plate featuring four cheeses:  brie, gouda, blue cheese, and cheese made from cow's milk.

Cheese plate featuring four cheeses:  brie, gouda, blue cheese, and cheese made from cow's milk.

New Hotel Mertens offers not only a unique dining experience but also a slice of Grand Rapids' history.  The space used to be an old hotel in the early 1900s.  Throughout the mid-1900s, the hotel enjoyed success; however, in the 1960s its success slowed.  In the last few years, new owners have restored it to its glory while featuring some of its old relics such as certain items of internal decor and the style of its antiquated menu.  These characteristics -- among others -- add to the restaurant's charm.

Debudante cocktail

Debudante cocktail

My favorite part about this restaurant is its hospitality.  The management and wait staff are accommodating from reservations to explaining about the menu.  Another favorite is the drink selection, which is quite extensive given the restaurant's recent rebirth.  My least favorite part about this restaurant is its limited capacity.  If you're looking to bring a party larger than eight to 10 people to the restaurant, it might be a challenge to sit all together.  And while the menu's focus seems to be on seafood, there are several different options to explore and share.

Steak and frites

Steak and frites

New Hotel Mertens is a win for a date night, outing with a small group of friends, or happy hour.  The food is great; the service is better; and the ambiance is charming -- definitely worth a try!

© 2018 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.

All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation for expressing them.

Restaurant Review: Zoko 822 in Grand Rapids, MI

Despite a busy travel schedule at the end of 2017 and into 2018, I attempt to maintain my commitment to balanza through food, family and friends, and fun.  A little diversion is oftentimes just what we need to gain (or gain back) some perspective -- especially as we start a new year.  So when my group of Spanish friends suggested that we catch up over food and drinks at a new Spanish restaurant in town, I couldn't say no.

Zoko 822 is Basque-themed Spanish restaurant that offers small plates ("tapas") and a few larger-sized portions ("raciones").

"  País   Vasco" (in Castilian Spanish), located in the northern part of Spain, is called the "Basque region" in English.

"País Vasco" (in Castilian Spanish), located in the northern part of Spain, is called the "Basque region" in English.

The Basque region in Spain is home to one of Spain's four official languages, Basque, or "Euskara."  It is a linguistic phenomenon because the origins of the language have not historically been traceable to a specific cultural influence.  The word "zoko" or "txoko" in the Basque language is a noun that refers to individuals coming together to cook and eat through and in community.  As is common in Spain, food is created, explored, and enjoyed through socialization, and the Basque region is no different.

Already very familiar with Spanish food, my friends and I ordered two of each small plate (tapas).  We ordered small plates ranging from pan con tomate (bread with tomato sauce), albóndigas de pollo (chicken meatballs), tortilla española (Spanish potato omelette with potato, egg, and onion), gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp), croquetas de espinaca (croquettes with spinach), pork loin with cabbage, and roasted broccoli.  We ordered the Basque cake and crema catalana (Catalan cream) for dessert.

Roasted broccoli and chicken meatball

Roasted broccoli and chicken meatball

What Zoko 822 got right:  The food was tasty.  In particular, the pork loin was the most flavorful and definitely the best dish we tried.  The variety of tapas offered was diverse, and the menu presented options that were true to tapas typically served in Spain.

What Zoko 822 could improve:  The portions were small and somewhat overpriced.  Tapas in Spain are usually much more generous generally than in the U.S., but these plates were tiny.  Also, some of the Spanish food was a different shape or had a different flavor compared to what is typically served in Spain (for example, the croquettes were small balls of fried dough instead of their traditional oblong shape when served in Spain).  Finally, I did not find the food to be traditionally Basque.  In my experience, these were all very well-known Spanish tapas served gourmet style.  

Overall, I think Zoko 822 is worth a try, but I left a bit disappointed given the prices, sizes, and authenticity.  I will probably only return if their menu changes a bit to incorporate other Basque or Spanish dishes that I would like to try.

© 2018 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.

First image above:  Shutterstock.

All opinions are my own, and I received no compensation for expressing them.