Detroit's Wright & Co. is a dazzling combination of classic architecture and new cuisine.

Shining up a classic

Restaurant-watchers and city boosters are excited just by the fact that this dignified 1891 brownstone-trim building is back in service, but there's much more to be elated about than that. The quality of Wright & Co's food is probably unmatched downtown.

A few readers may remember the old building fondly as the place they bought their engagement rings, before Wright-Kay jewelers closed in 1978; the restaurant's logo, a diamond atop a W, refers to that history. A plaque says the building originally housed the Schwankovsky Temple of Music, but the Detroit City Directory of 1895 calls it a jeweler, optician and purveyor of diamonds and marble in that year.

No matter, in either case the building has a lot of history, by Detroit standards. Tall windows, lots of original dark wood, marble tables, heavy silverware, a crystal chandelier and a gorgeous star-burst tin ceiling make up for some odd decorating choices: nondescript plants, an incongruous seascape over the bar — and a moose head.

The superior offerings are divided into "snacks" and "small plates," which seem distinguishable only by their pricing, the former $6-$9, the latter $9-$17. Cocktails are intriguing (one co-owner is Dave Kwiatkowski, the craft-cocktail maven of Corktown's Sugar House); a plurality of beers are Michigan brews, with Germans, Belgians, and Danes also prominent; wines are advertised as "natural"; and there's a slew of pricy ciders. The other owner is Marc Djozlija, who was executive chef for Wolfgang Puck at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino.

Oh, how to begin the praise-fest? I sampled two of the three desserts and 10 of the 18 non-dessert items and found all but one superlative; the eighteenth was just good. If forced to single out one star item, it would be ... let's say the duck liver mousse. My companion noted that it had little in common with the chopped liver of her Jewish childhood, and I'm assuming it shares no torture-the-bird provenance with foie gras — but it tastes as good. Both rich and delicate, a very generous serving is set off by golden raisins (sweet) and fried capers (savory) and served with perfect sourdough toast. My go-to dish, and only $9.

At the other end of the spectrum, a snap-pea salad is so fresh, it needs its bits of smoky salami to round it out. Micro-thin red onion and some pecorino are added in just the right proportions.

Scallops are well complemented by fresh corn and asparagus. Chewy pork belly is paired with sweet tomato jam on a flaky brioche. The lone, and filling, pasta dish is sauced with creamy Gorgonzola and crisp Italian sausage, for a surprisingly interesting outcome. Tuna tartare is served with pickled pears; a friend suggested it was so smooth and luscious that it would make a good introduction for that novice scared to eat raw fish.

Less luscious in the unami sense, but holding their own against the meats, are an heirloom tomato salad and a tri-color array of roasted beets. The bursting-with-flavor tomatoes come with tiny balls of fresh mozzarella and a bit of basil. The purple, yellow, and red beets are perfectly complemented by citrus, a slice of orange.

A couple of the snacks could be desserts. One is sweet warm dates stuffed not just with bacon, not just with Gorgonzola, but with almonds too. And ricotta is whipped till it's very thick, topped with honey and served with bits of preserved lemon.

As to the official desserts, bittersweet chocolate panna cotta is topped with whole raspberries but tastes raspberry-infused itself, as you ration out its silkiness in tiny bites, to make it last. Butterscotch pudding is rich; good thing the lily-gilding whipped cream is laced with lemon zest for a counterbalance.

One could, of course, come to Wright & Co. just to play around on the drinks menu. A pretty green Basil Smash, with Beefeater, was perfect for summer. El Diablo performed the trick of manifesting each of its sharp flavors in turn — tequila, ginger, lemon, and finishing with crème de cassis (currants). I will confess to not detecting any "snap pea nuance" in a Grüner Veitliner (an Austrian white) but loved its pepperiness, and a Riesling held the right zippy tang for summer.

Although the place is jammed and the noise level seems quite high — that tin ceiling — my companions and I had no trouble hearing each other. If you want to talk, though, you might avoid the semi-circular booths we dubbed the "paparazzi seats," where those in the middle must swivel back and forth to make eye contact with their partners.

Use the entrance on John R and take the elevator to the second floor. No reservations. — mt