Small plate club

Aug 15, 2007 at 12:00 am

However urban anthropologists explain it, Grosse Pointe has always been slower to adopt the latest culinary fashions than its neighbors across the Woodward divide, who, in turn, are usually a year or so behind trendsetters on the coasts. Sometimes the long wait is worth it. Such is the case with Dylan's Raw Bar and Grille, a month-old restaurant that brings small plates to the east side.

Dylan's is in the original Tom's Oyster Bar on Mack near the Detroit border. Owners John Montgomery and Rocco Cinqueranelli retained the basic configuration of the handsome polished-wooden-walled establishment, with its lively lounge and two cozy dining areas, but they changed the decorations from nautical to musical. Although Dylan's refers to Bobby Zimmerman, pianist Marty Ballog, who plays in the bar five days a week, is more at home with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Ballog, who has held down the same spot for 21 years, is not the only veteran of Tom's Oyster Bar. Owner Montgomery was one of founder Tom Brandel's original hires, and talented chef Bill Osborn stayed on in the kitchen after the legendary seafood eatery closed earlier this year.

Although Osborn offers 17 full-size entrées quite reasonably priced at $11 to $19, the main attraction here are the 40-odd small plates which, even more reasonably priced, average around $6. Among the "cold bites" — and bites does a disservice to the relatively generous portions — a platter of three-bean spreads, consisting of just-spicy-enough white-bean garlic, sun-dried tomato, and black-bean salsa with a crusty baguette, is a pleasant way to launch the meal. Other cold bites include crab or lobster cocktail, olives and cheese, and seviche. If you need greenery, crunchy grilled mixed vegetables over Bibb lettuce in a balsamic vinaigrette is a healthy option.

Those concerned about greenery might want to skip the "fried bites," although that would mean taking a pass on the unusual panko fried grouper nuggets with a perky Cajun remoulade, calamari, fried scallops, tempura or coconut shrimp.

The most interesting tapas are found under the "hot bites" rubric. The main problem our foursome encountered sampling them are Dylan's relatively small tables. With drinks and perhaps water vying for table space, it is difficult to handle more than three or so at a time, something the servers seem to recognize. But a bit of awkwardness and clutter as you pass the dishes is a small price to pay for the general all-around excellence of the cuisine, which covers a wide variety of flavors and seasonings.

For example, mussels arrive floating in a delicate garlic-wine-shallot broth, which, alas, means another space-occupying plate for the shells. At the same time for a daring contrast, you can savor a very assertive three-way (Italian, andouille, chorizo) sausage sampler. And you can mellow that one out with tiny roasted garlic bulbs accompanied by gentle roasted-pepper cream cheese and a small baguette.

Shrimp with feta, bell peppers and olives in tomato sauce, and barbecued shrimp and scallion skewers wrapped in smoked bacon with barbecue sauce are two notable preparations involving crustaceans. Little meatballs with roasted peppers in marinara sauce, chicken breast stuffed with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a Boursin-infused sauce, grilled sliders and a quesadilla, full of organic vegetables, reflect the kitchen's range.

A hot appetizer combo platter — bruschetta, oysters Rockefeller, oysters Ozzies (brandy, mushrooms, shrimp and Asiago), roasted peppers and teriyaki stix — is available for $20.

If you settle for only a few appetizers, you can move on to regulation-size entrées. Here, one of the best bets is the often difficult-to-create paella, the Spanish feast of saffron rice laden with sausage, mussels, shrimp, scallops and chicken. Or you could even consider this to be a larger small plate and pass the hearty mélange around to your dinner companions. Tapas dining works best when you are able to share the bounty from Osborn's kitchen with at least three other people.

Among other entrées are jambalaya, the American take on paella, lamb chops, frogs legs and roasted Sicilian whitefish. The dessert menu is still a work in progress with the silky homemade key-lime pie worthy of attention.

As Montgomery and Cinqueranelli sell off the wine inventory left over from Tom's Oyster Bar, they will be altering their list. At present, they feature dependable well-known labels like Murphy-Goode, Marques de Caceras, Pedroncelli and Wente, with only a few bottles below $30. But to be fair, it is difficult these days to find bottles in the twenties in any place with cloth napkins.

It is heartening to see six Michigan beers on tap along with Guinness, Bass Ale and Stella Artois, while on the globe-spanning list of almost forty bottles are Anchor Steam, Pilsner Urquell and Red Stripe. With music in the comfortable bar and the interesting selection of potables, one can understand why some patrons never get to the small plates.

But that would be a shame. Because of Dylan's masterful approach to the concept, east siders are finally finding out how the culinary winds are blowing these days.

Mel Small teaches history at Wayne State University. Send comments to [email protected].