Any restaurant that plays Tom Waits in the background is an instant winner in my book. However, there’s much more to Chanoso’s in Windsor than just discriminating taste in music.
The hip little eatery features an oddly eclectic blend of cultures, reflected both in the menu and the decor. Selections include New Orleans gumbo, custom stir-frys and steaming fajitas. Cool retro fixtures dangle next to exotic woodcarvings. The blend is so random that it shouldn’t work, but it does — quite well, in fact.
Chanoso’s has been around since 1996, but experienced a move and an extensive facelift last October. The name is a combination of the surnames of the original owners, Paul Chanko and Eric Donoso. (Chanko has since left and been replaced by new co-owner Mark Boscariol.)
The restaurant was originally located in an itty-bitty space on Pitt Street, but owners Donoso and Boscariol decided it was time for a change and began searching for new digs. They eventually settled on a spot just around the corner on Ouellette, which Donoso describes as “one big dump” before remodeling began.
Donoso says faithful clients of the original Chanoso’s most enjoyed the intimacy of the tiny spot; the space only had a capacity of 48 people. The new location, a long, narrow rectangular room with 12-foot ceilings, had a licensed capacity of 191 — quite a change.
“I stayed awake nights thinking about how I could make it as cozy and have the same feel as the old place,” says Donoso.
To create the illusion of a smaller space, the owners constructed an expansive, gleaming wooden bar, backed by elaborate racks for wine and glasses. A dropped ceiling, consisting of a retro-styled, wavy slab of polished wood, is suspended above the bar, minimizing the height of the ceilings. Brick walls on one side of the room were sandblasted to create a worn, homey effect; the walls on the other half were drenched in a rich shade of deep crimson.
As a finishing touch, mirrors and some tables are surrounded with collages of broken glass, and the walls are adorned with everything from an Indonesian temple rubbing to a lithograph of Miles Davis done by one of the servers.
“We went out to find different ethnic pieces from all over the world, as our menu tends to be all over the place,” says Donoso.
However, the most visually intriguing area of Chanoso’s is the room reserved for large parties, located in the rear of the restaurant. The walls of this circular, semiprivate room are literally a work of art, custom-created for the restaurant by Windsor artist Christian Sfalcin. Thick, bumpy streaks of bold colors are splashed across the walls in alternating columns, with spiraling circles and squiggly lines carved into the paint, creating a textured relief. Think van Gogh’s texture with Gustav Klimt’s lines; the result is simply stunning. Donoso says first-time customers spot the room on their way to the restrooms and frequently wander in, transfixed, running their hands over the brightly colorful streaks and swirls.
Even more fun: The banquet room, reserved for larger parties, has the air of a secret chamber in a Sherlock Holmes novel. The door is actually a large bookshelf brimming with dusty old tomes. Push on the bookshelf and it gives way to another rectangular, crimson-hued room, perfect for intimate gatherings. Donoso says he takes great joy in watching the surprise and amusement in customers’ faces when he pushes open the bookshelf door on a busy night.
The crowd is a mix of stylish scenesters in crisp black and comfy homebodies in jeans. Slim, smartly dressed young women are frequent, no doubt drawn by dishes that won’t expand the waistline.
“We offer a healthy alternative here,” says Donoso. “I didn’t have anything at all on the menu that was fried, until I added the avocado egg roll. People can feel good about coming here and eating, since our menu is very health-conscious.”
But this isn’t exactly dry, staid, diet food; it’s light, flavorful and heavy on the fresh veggies, influenced by numerous ethnic cuisines. One of Chanoso’s main draws is the create-your-own stir-fry option: Customers choose a meat or tofu, sauce (Thai, curry, Jamaican, oyster and more), noodle (chow mein, rice or Shanghai) and level of spiciness. I ordered the chicken with Thai sauce and rice noodles, and it was exquisitely delicious, filling but light. My dining partner sampled the grilled goat cheese salad and the grilled chili shrimp — both were superb.
Other delightfully varied choices include hummus, Indonesian satays with peanut sauce, pho (a Vietnamese soup), rice-noodle salads, and the aforementioned fajitas and gumbo. Each meal is preceded by hunks of chewy bread served with a dish of light olive oil and mixed herbs for dipping. The wine selection is premium; every Wednesday-Saturday there’s an oyster bar.
“I was looking for a place where people could go for something different,” says Donoso. “We serve a healthier style of food and we play what we think is good music.” (Donoso adds that he and his staff are big fans of Detroit’s WDET-FM 101.9.)
“I was just trying to create a touch of class in an environment that’s relaxed and friendly.”
And the best part for us Yanks? Thanks to the exchange rate, your Chanoso’s dining experience will be dirt cheap — the highest-priced entrée is only $9 in United States currency.
Chanoso’s is at 255 Ouellette in Windsor (just outside the tunnel). Open seven days a week. Call 519-254-8530.
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