Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, 187 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids
amwaygrand.com, (616) 774-2000
Cygnus 27 is changing its tune with the addition of its new chef Tim Moreno. The restaurant is taking on a new flavor as it changes guards with new manager Manny Rivera and his Latin-influenced freshman chef.
Formerly featuring heavily Asian-infused cuisine, Cygnus 27’s new menu has turned its attention to south of the border thanks to the Mexican heritage of Chef Moreno. Growing up in Holland, the second generation son of Mexican immigrants was immersed in Latin cuisine thanks to his extended family. Many of the dishes on the menu, like Chicken Adobo and Crab Pozole, are spin-offs of his family’s recipes.
To be honest, before dining there to write this review, I’d never actually been to Cygnus 27 outside of their Cygnature events (which are a blast — at least, I think they are. My memory of them gets a little fuzzy past the first cocktail). Although the restaurant is categorized as “casual” dining, the 27th floor of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is a little too much swank for my blood, which isn’t used to wine that costs more than $10/bottle. Also, I rationalized that if I wanted good lumpia, I could pay way less for it at ground level.
But chorizo croquetta and lamb empanadas have replaced the old menu’s lumpia and sushi, and “ambience” is clearly part of the Cygnus 27 experience. Hey, if gazing at a breathtaking view of the city as you eat your albondigas is important to you, then you couldn’t find a better place.
Cygnus 27’s new menu is certainly inventive, as one would expect from an ambitious young chef. I started off with the Manchego Fritters, which are tasty little molten bombs of sheep’s milk cheese encased in a crispy outer shell, finished with, of all things, red bell pepper jam. I’m normally a sweet/savory segregationist, but the sweet from the jam didn’t feel overpowering, and it worked.
Next I tried the Shrimp Aguachile, which was my favorite. Michigan raised shrimp, thinly sliced cucumber and giant kernels of homily (white corn) hung out in a serrano chile broth which, amazingly, did NOT engulf my entire digestive system in fire. As someone who never orders more than two stars in Thai restaurants, I found myself slurping down the rest of the serrano broth with only the slightest discomfort. Overall the dish was fun and refreshing.
To finish, I decided to pull a Ratatouille on myself and ordered the most ordinary, nostalgic plate on the menu: the Adobo Chicken. Made with organic Amish chicken, Chef Moreno’s adobo definitely follows a more Latinate style, acting more like a marinade than the saucy dishes you find in Southeast Pacific cuisines. Ambitious and true to his Mexican heritage, Chef Moreno raises the stakes by adding cinnamon and cloves to his adobo marinade and garnishing the dish with pickled cauliflower, frijoles charros and knob onions. While I’d certainly give the dish as a whole an emphatic four stars, I did find the cinnamon and cloves a bit distracting and unnecessary.
The boyfriend, who dutifully allowed himself to be dragged to the top of the Amway Grand and fed, dove into the Beef Short Ribs and he polished off his entire entree — with the exception of the bite I stole for the sake of good journalism. The short ribs were mouth-meltingly tender and not too over-adorned by flavor — a slam dunk on both our accounts.
Overall, I loved the playfulness and sense of heritage in the menu and could feel Chef Moreno’s enthusiasm shine through in both the way the waitstaff described his dishes and in their presentation. There are certainly a LOT of flavors going on at Cygnus and I wouldn’t recommend the fare to those who are faint of palate. To the taste stalwart, however, Cygnus 27’s new menu and breathtaking view are definitely worth the elevator ride.