New French restaurant Marais ties into French history in the Pointes

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 1, 2013

 Marais, an upscale French restaurant under construction in the Village at press time, features exterior design by Robert Wood & Associates. A site plan for the restaurant was approved April 15 by the Grosse Pointe City Council.

Marais, an upscale French restaurant under construction in the Village at press time, features exterior design by Robert Wood & Associates. A site plan for the restaurant was approved April 15 by the Grosse Pointe City Council.

Architectural rendering courtesy of Robert Wood & Associates

GROSSE POINTE CITY — One of the most buzzed-about new businesses in years will be bringing the French fine dining experience to the Village.

Marais — which will occupy 17047-51 Kercheval, placing it at the corner of St. Clair — will likely open in late summer, said David Gilbert, the chef and co-owner of the restaurant, with his wife, Monica Gilbert. The restaurant, which will focus on service and seasonal cuisine, will be able to seat about 80 diners in the main dining room and another 24-26 in a private room that can be used for special events, David Gilbert said.

During a site plan review and liquor license transfer hearing April 15 before the City Council — both of which were unanimously approved — City Planner John Jackson, of McKenna Associates, praised the aesthetics of the new eatery, which was designed by Grosse Pointe-based Robert Wood & Associates.

“The architectural finishes are exceptional,” Jackson said, also lauding the “high level of detail” in the exterior, which features copper gas coach lanterns.

Because the restaurant, at more than 6,000 square feet, is larger than the 5,000 square feet typically allowed, Jackson said it needed special approval from the council. Restaurant use is permissible at that location, however, he said. Marais is also planning on adding another 390 square feet of outdoor dining, another permitted use.

Three benches and three trees will need to be relocated, but at press time, Jackson said the Gilberts weren’t proposing any changes to the outdoor Kressbach Place, which is adjacent to Marais.

“This is a great complement, from a use standpoint and a parking standpoint, for the other businesses in the Village,” said Jackson, noting that the restaurant’s peak hours don’t overlap with the peak hours of many nearby businesses. “We’re excited about this restaurant. We’re anxious to see it come in.”

David Gilbert had been the executive chef and managing partner at Birmingham’s tony The Forest Grill, where his wife worked as a general manager. He was a semi-finalist for the Great Lakes Region in the 2011 and 2012 James Beard Awards. Monica Gilbert, who studied interior architectural design at Lawrence Technological University, is a former designer of the Ralph Lauren home collection, according to her husband. The couple married in 2010 and have been living in Grosse Pointe Park for almost three years now, “hence the reason for doing the restaurant here,” David Gilbert said.

Prior to The Forest Grill, David Gilbert had been the chef at Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel, and he’s also worked at three-star Michelin-rated restaurants in Paris, San Sebastián, Spain and Napa Valley, Calif., among others.

“My vision was always to come back to Detroit,” David Gilbert said of his 25-year culinary career. “I’ve always had the philosophy that one great restaurant can change a city.”

Monica Gilbert is working her way through the certification process to become a master sommelier. Her husband said there are only three master sommeliers in Michigan, and the process to earn this title takes years of study.

Despite the upscale nature of Marais, David Gilbert said they’ll try to keep price points more moderate — under $30 for entrees — so that people can visit more frequently. Diners will also be able to purchase some specialty ingredients, baked goods and other items in a small “store” in the restaurant, for those who want to have the Marais experience at home.

“People are so into food, and the diner is so much more educated than they’ve ever been,” David Gilbert said.

The restaurant is named for the couple’s favorite neighborhood in Paris, an area known for its artists and jewelers, he said. It also ties into the French history in the Pointes, evident in many street names — including Grand Marais in the Park. The Gilberts will be returning to Paris this year before opening Marais. They’re delighted by the warm welcome they’ve gotten from the community, and they’re happy to be a part of the resurgence of the Pointes and Detroit.

“It’s phenomenal,” David Gilbert said. “It just reinforces that we’re doing the right thing and we’re doing the right thing in the right area. I think we lucked out in moving to the Pointes.”

During a Voice of the Village presentation April 18 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms, the Gilberts received a round of applause from the large crowd when they were introduced by Jim Bellanca, a Village property owner and head of The Voice of the Village.

“We are very, very happy and very excited at the opening of Marais,” Bellanca said.

City leaders were likewise pleased by the news.

“It was encouraging to see many new companies coming into the Village,” City Council member Andrew Turnbull said during the April 15 council meeting. “Hopefully, that will be a sign of things to come.”

City Council member Donald Parthum concurred.

“I, too, am excited to see the new businesses coming in,” he said. “I think (Marais) is going to be a nice addition, and hope to see more retail.”

With all of the new developments, City Council member Jean Weipert said the City appears to have “turned a corner.” She noted the presence of new developments in the Park and Farms as additional positive signs for the Pointes.