Bites with Beca: Elysium, Kalamazoo

New York strip with ginger sauce and fried rice waffles ($38) (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

In searching for the ideal restaurant to celebrate my father’s birthday this year I was on the hunt for “a place of perfect happiness” and just so happened to find that exact definition in Kalamazoo’s Elysium (505 E. North St.). Located just blocks from the heart of downtown Kalamazoo in the Rivers Edge District, Elysium can be found in a newly developed area near the historic Louie’s Trophy House and the award-winning Green Door Distilling Company — famous for being Kalamazoo’s first distillery in 1858.

The restaurant’s exterior was splashed with bold and vibrant pops of red and gave off a very industrial-feel right off the bat. We were lucky enough to snag a 7 p.m. reservation on a busy Saturday night, and were immediately sat in a cozy-yet-airy dining area. There are roughly 10 tables in the main dining section, with a smaller and more private room available to reserve in a different part of the restaurant. Exposed brick on the walls, bright paintings for decor, and a semi-open kitchen made this dining area especially memorable.

My dining companions and I kicked off the birthday celebrations by selecting a bottle of Mason ($36/bottle), a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, to share between the four of us. Elysium also features an extensive white and red wine list, as well as cocktails, cider, beer, and mocktails. We were disappointed when our bottle arrived to our table warm, however, our server was more than happy to rectify the situation and chill it longer. 

A birthday cheers featuring the Mason sauvignon blanc ($36/bottle).

Elysium has an almost-daily rotating menu, so we were eager to see what options awaited us for appetizers. We began by ordering two of the chèvre stuffed gougere at $2.25 a piece. Each delicate puff of choux pastry was mixed with gooey chèvre cheese, and plucking a roll apart resulted in the perfect cheese-pull. 

Not a fan of goat cheese (don’t come at me), I was excited to order the Za’atar Beef Skewer ($17) appetizer. This dish could easily be a meal on its own, and every bite of the spiced meat, cucumbers, and tomatoes slathered in a garlic yogurt sauce left me wanting so much more. My mother opted for a salad to add to our variety of appetizers, and she picked the thai-style peanut coleslaw ($7). Unfortunately she had an incredibly spicy bite and was turned off by the experience, but the rest of us enjoyed the fresh and nutty take on a slaw. 

When it came time to select entrees, my partner began by ordering the seasonal soft shell crab with spicy papaya slaw ($30). Featuring two whole crabs on a bed of rice and topped with a bright and tangy papaya, onion, and pepper slaw, this dish was incredibly unique and complex. The sweetness of the papaya and bite from the fresh green onion paired wonderfully with the meaty and juicy crab and created a light but filling meal. One word of caution: while the crab was crispy and delicious when the dish hit the table, don’t wait too long to dig in as it became overly chewy as it cooled.

My mother originally selected the salmon with mushrooms, spinach, and gruyere cream ($25), but sadly our server informed us the kitchen ran out of the fish just before we arrived. Instead she chose her second option, the chicken piccata spaghetti ($24) and was entirely satisfied by the choice. The noodles were buttery and garlicky, and were the perfect accompaniment to the lightly fried, juicy nuggets of chicken breast. 

My father chose the curried halibut ($35) and was blown away by his birthday meal. The fish was flaky, delicate, perfectly spiced, and arrived on a smoky and earthy tomato sauce. “Las Vegas was the last time I tasted anything that good!” he declared after finishing his last bite. 

I had agonized over my entree decision for a few days prior to our reservation (yes, I’m *that* kind of person) and landed on the New York strip with ginger sauce and fried rice waffles ($38). The cut of meat was resting on two fluffy waffles, topped with a creamy and cool cabbage slaw, and I was surprised and delighted by my enormous portion size. Dipping each juicy steak bite in the rich ginger sauce before pairing it with a mouthful of the fried rice waffle transported me directly to The Good Place

Though Elysium’s dessert menu was delightfully tempting and offered up sweet sensations like chocolate toffee cake ($7.50), Nutella pie ($8), and rhubarb custard with ginger creme anglaise ($8), our stomachs were too stuffed to take another bite. We made solemn vows to the dessert menu to return and try one of each of everything, and then we packed up our to-go offerings and bid farewell to Elysium.

May is Michigan wine month at Elysium, and May 22 will feature wines from Left Foot Charley Winery located in Traverse City. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the dinner will start at 7 p.m. The cost for the five course dinner is $145/person and will include delicacies such as smoked whitefish sushi rolls with whitefish roe, Berkshire pork tenderloin with Bridgewater cheese and mango, and beef wagyu pasties. Each course is planned to be perfectly paired with Left Foot Charley wines like the 2020 late harvest riesling, 2021 Blaufrankisch, and 2017 riesling. Call Elysium or visit their website for more information, and to reserve a seat. 

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.