The food has clean lines too. Polcyn knows how to get true flavors. His forte is meat, appropriately enough in the Midwest. The pork and the duck were the best I've had in years—anywhere, even in southwestern France, where every house is a farm and every farm fattens a few ducks. Specifically, Polcyn's forte is charcuterie, the art of sausage-making. Every day a different pâté or terrine is offered, and the peppery duck pâté I tasted was a tour de force. Each component—the firm little chunks of duck leg, the pistachios, a soft pink-and-red forcemeat of pork and duck—had distinct texture and flavor; the aftertaste was clear and pleasant, with none of the muddy residue most pâtés leave.
I wasn't surprised to learn that Polcyn teaches charcuterie at the nearby Schoolcraft College, in Livonia, where he himself trained. Michigan is something of a breeding ground for culinary virtuosos: only seventy Americans have passed the ten-day Certified Master Chef exam; eight of them live in Michigan, and four of them teach at Schoolcraft. Polcyn has twice taken the exam and twice failed. (His second attempt was described in The Soul of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman.) His zeal seems misguided, given the weeks of preparation and lost sleep the exam involves, and given that he has amply proved his talent as a cook—something quite different from technical bravura.
Polcyn is at his best with local provender. Pan-roasted breast of Indiana duckling with a port currant sauce could hardly have had better flavor, and even a trendy-sounding garlic-sage duck strudel beside the lightly gamy sliced meat was simple and good. The duckling is always on the menu, along with potato-crusted Lake Superior whitefish, the fish to eat in these parts. (In truth, lake whitefish is more appealing as an idea than as a reality, because of its sometimes mushy texture, although it does have a hearty, arctic char-like flavor.) Another local ingredient that always appears is pork, and Polcyn's grilled pork loin, served with wild mushrooms and pan juices sweetened with caramelized onions, was as unexpectedly lush as the duck. Both sauces had the shine of lacquer and the impressive depth of flavor that comes only after multi-step cooking over several days. Even better, both meats, with their full marbling of fat, tasted the way they used to, before Long Island ducklings were raised in quarters closer than a Manhattan apartment and Iowa hogs were bred to be slim.
It's easy and also a good idea to steer clear of the dishes featuring Polcyn's I-keep-up-with-national-trends ingredients, such as white truffle oil and pomegranate molasses, both of which are in fact already démodé on the coasts. And perhaps inspired to nitpicking by reading about that murderous exam (framed articles document Polcyn's dogged determination), I couldn't help noticing that the wild-rice cakes served with the duck were made with bland, cultivated "wild" rice. This was a disappointment, given that hand-harvested, truly wild rice is gathered in the lakes of northern Minnesota (which, after California, is the country's chief grower of cultivated wild rice) and Wisconsin.