Where all the lights are bright

Nov 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

24 Grille 204 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-964-3821: This place is a beige-and-brown oasis decked out in leather and wood, with cushioned stools and benches all set off with low-key lighting from creative fixtures. The mood is set by the artistic illumination, which includes ribbons of Swarovski crystal hanging in fringes or artistic glass globes mottled and streaked with ocher accents. They decorate the bar (glued down, naturally, to avoid expensive accidents) and play well against the restaurant's dark, sexy tones. 

Andiamo Detroit Riverfront 400 Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-6700: The Andiamo empire, now entering its 20th year in the business, has prospered and grown into a constellation of suburban eateries. Making its bid for downtown Detroit's dining crowd, expect the menu to have the usual tweaks Chef Aldo works into the mini-chain's individual establishments, this time integrated into Detroit's RenCen. Unlike many of the center's other dining destinations, this one is easy to find, right on the river in the sunny Winter Garden. 

Angelina Italian Bistro 1565 Broadway, at Grand Circus Park; Detroit, 313-962-1355: A newcomer to the downtown dining scene, Angelina serves Italian food (and some extras) at "prices that reflect the new reality" — at least when it comes to the entrées and the wines. There are only three pasta dishes (four if you count the potato-and-flour gnocchi) and three pizzas. The sophisticated Italian menu is supplemented by some fabulous cured and smoked fish and meats as antipasti and by a few dishes that would be comfortable on any menu, such as New York strip, salmon and a pork chop. See the menu and the drinks list at angelinadetroit.com.

Atlas Global Bistro 3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-2241: Voted by our readers as the best affordably expensive restaurant (under $50 per diner), Atlas has the vibe of a hip city eatery thanks to its striking interiors, knowledgeable service and international cuisine. In Atlas' quirky kitchen, ingredients don't necessarily remain with their cuisine-of-origin, and the fusion fare can be at once exotic and down-home, mixing it up with lemongrass, cactus, Gorgonzola, caviar and black-eyed peas. And Atlas simply oozes hip urban cachet, nestled in the Addison Building — a 1905 beaux arts structure that once flirted with the wrecking ball — where it sports high ceilings, polished floors and street views of Detroit's historic Brush Park.

Bookies Bar & Grille 2208 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-962-0319: A downtown fixture for more than six years, this March Bookies moved into a new spot on Cass Avenue, out among the tailgaters' lots on the west side of downtown. But don't let the remove fool you: On game days, it's right in the heart of things, sporting enough plasma screens to warm the heart of any sports fan.

Bourbon Steak 1777 Third St., (inside MGM Grand Detroit), Detroit; 313-465-1648: We've heard quite a buzz about this place over the last several months. Open only for dinner Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., and on Sunday thru Thursday 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Featuring self-dubbed "modern American classics" all-beef burgers and Colorado lamb.

Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy 1439 Griswold St. Detroit: Open since June 2007 on Friday nights only, the "speakeasy" soon achieved critical mass , attracting a crowd of young, mostly white hipsters. What brings them? The drinks list is ordinary, and owner Larry Mongo is less than exacting when it comes to recruiting musicians. So it's not the drinks and it's not the tunes, and most patrons don't hang out for late-night food, either. They could, though. The limited soul food menu features some very fine sides at $3 a la carte, and if the ribs and half-a-barbecued chicken aren't world-class, they're at least decent, served in a standard sweet-smoky sauce.

Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543: Stepping into the newly restored art deco live jazz bar with an even more recently opened kitchen is to arrive in another era: One of candle-lit tables, a stunning curved bar and massive barrel-vaulted ceilings. That and the way they mix a cocktail. Neither cheap nor fast, mixed drinks are crafted old-school, more for taste than ease of production. With everything from a standard fillet of beef tenderloin to cassoulet, the French-inspired eclectic food menu speaks for itself. Try the duck confit on a buttermilk biscuit with cranberry jam for a small plate reduction of Thanksgiving dinner. Hedonists will go for a chunk of tender braised pork belly (otherwise known as bacon when cured and smoked) that comes plated with a rich, spicy sweet cider sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and a pinch of cracklings for good measure.

Coach Insignia 200 Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-2622: The "crown jewel" of the Matt Prentice Restaurant group, the second highest restaurant in the country offers a view that is the perennial winner of our Best View honors. And it earns it: It's head, shoulders and skyline above all other restaurants in town, perched spectacularly on the 71st and 72nd floors of the Marriott Hotel in the Renaissance Center. On the ride up in the restaurant's dedicated glass elevator, your ears are sure to pop as you're whisked up seven gazillion (OK, 700) feet to the 72nd floor while being treated to a bird's eye view of Windsor and a recorded audio presentation. What's more, unlike other restaurants in the sky, where the food is sometimes an afterthought, chef Beau Burnett's cuisine would be worth sampling anywhere. And with the talented Madeline Triffon, our regions most celebrated sommelier, there should be a handful of bottles in the low-and mid-20s.

Cyprus Taverna 579 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-961-1550: Among the more familiar appetizers, which average around $6, are tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), taramosalata (fish-roe spread), grape leaves and Kalamata olives. You can sample these items and others in hot or cold antipasto platters ($14.95) that can easily satisfy four people. While there's nothing wrong with most of the appetizers, the garlic has been toned way down for American tastes in the tzatziki and skordalia (cold mashed potatoes with garlic). The claim is the best skordalia in Greektown is prepared here. Other keepers are the huge serving of roast chicken and the dense Greek meatballs. These dishes, along with kebabs, steak, ribs and gyros can be assembled in a variety of combination platters.

Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille 2203 Woodward, Detroit; 313-471-3500: Though it was neglected in the old days, ever since Mike Ilitch gave the 1928 Fox Theatre a $12 million spit-shine in 1987 — and built a new ballpark across the avenue — it has become a premiere location. Situated within the gloriously restored movie palace, it's worth it to check out the awesome gilt ceiling in the lobby. The dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a stark slate-gray paint job set off by white tablecloths and wrought-iron chandeliers of cascading calla lilies. The bar is a great place to watch the (silent) game and snack on one of seven interesting pizzas. With Dean Martin piped in and murals depicting the old country, you can be transported for a pleasant hour to Mott Street.

Detroit Beer Co. 1529 E. Broadway, Detroit; 313-962-1529: Along with such traditional pub grub as buffalo wings, nachos, quesadillas, burgers and pizza, the bar and grill offers a variety of dishes that transcend the genre, including generously portioned appetizers that emerge from their second-floor kitchen, such as seared, Cajun-seasoned chicken dippers, thoughtfully accompanied by a mildly sharp honey-mustard sauce ($8.50). Entrée-sized salads average around $8 and range from Michigan cherry and Sante Fe chicken to barbecued-chicken chop. Cheese and beer dominate many of the entrées, most of which are relatively cheap. All of this can be washed down by any of the Detroit Beer Co.'s splendid brews, including names like "People Mover Porter" and "Broadway Light."

Detroit Breakfast House & Grill 1241 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-1115: Power breakfast — what a concept. It's clearly designed for downtown movers and shakers to start their workdays by impressing each other over the most important meal of the day. The upscale Southern cooking is complemented by dishes that borrow eclectically, drawing on everything from Mexican and Italian to Creole to Manhattan (eggs Benedict). Patrons are branching out from the familiar, though, making crabcakes Benedict one of the biggest — and highest-priced — sellers, along with Frank's Stuffed French Toast (filled with apples and cream cheese) and a house-made turkey sausage. The first place to find fried chicken and grits for breakfast.

Enoteca Campo Marzio 660 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-784-9783: Seating just 50 in its cool subdued Italianate-accented room with a handsome marble bar and striking tall wooden tables, and with its nonstop Euro-tech background music, you can almost imagine that you are on the Via Veneto rather than on the bustling corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square facing the Compuware Building. Enoteca's kitchen is so tiny that it cannot stretch beyond its limited array of cheese, meats, soups, sandwiches and chocolates. You can order the wines and plates in "flights" or, if you just want to sip some decent wine, you can buy a glass ($6-$12) or a bottle from among the 100 representing both the Old World and New World, many of which are priced in the $25-$40 range, but up to $120 for the high rollers. The menu is extensive, and not too steep in pricing.

Grand Trunk Pub 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3043: There's been a buzz building about the newly renamed (formerly Foran's) pub on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit — and with good reason: The food is good, the ambience is one-of-a-kind and the beer selection kills. The seasonal 14 Michigan brews on-tap are awesome, and they include Arcadia's Jaw Jacker, Hop Rocket and Nut Brown, Dark Horse's Perkulator Coffee Doplebock and Scotty Karate, Bell's Winter White and New Holland's Icabod. Expect gourmet sandwiches, including the Finnigan: chicken breast topped with fresh mozzarella, spinach and a homemade tomato-basil aioli on grilled Avalon Greektown olive for $8.50. And though there isn't a specific fall menu, many of the regular selections are hearty, including shepherd's pie and Jameson meatloaf, as well as Friday's special, lobster bisque, and the irregularly appearing but worth-it pork chops with stuffing and applesauce. And don't forget the filling fish and chips and appealing weekend breakfasts.

Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes 2 John R, Detroit; 313-964-2023: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this miniature downtown eatery. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. Biggest seller so far among the savories is the 7, or "Sarah Vera," combines bacon and spinach with Boursin, and two other savories pile on Black Forest ham. For sweet crêpes, which are the majority, customers like the "Fay," similar to a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster, plus pecans. You can also design your own for 50 cents an ingredient.

Harry's Detroit Bar & Grill 2482 Clifford St., Detroit; 313-964-1575: What is the market for a sports bar with a fancy menu? Will hockey fanatics venture north of I-75 for the Amish chicken with sweet yellow pepper sauce? Adorned with beer banners, farm implements and 10 TV monitors tuned to sports stations; the capacious, century-old former brothel is 30-yards long, with perhaps the longest bar in Detroit. Most patrons are satisfied with burgers, chili, sandwiches and drafts from Bud to boutique. There are also more than a dozen oversized appetizers, many Southwestern oriented, hefty a la carte salads, a singular, exceedingly thick, white-bean soup, and generous entrées. Current discounts include $50 of free food with a fifty person booking. With a hundred person party, the value doubles to $100. Offer expires New Year's Eve.

Iridescence in the Motor City Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 877-777-0711: With its snazzy, penthouse-high dining room atop one of Detroit's glittering new casinos, you might think Iridescence is more about style than substance. But, by their own words, they are "committed to serving organic, natural, wild and sustainable foods from today's world marketplace." And, under the guidance of head chef Don Yamauchi and chef de cuisine Derik Watson, guests can expect a blend of French and Asian flavors that aims for affordable comfort food, sure to hit the spot in the cold months.

Lunchtime Global 660 Woodward Ave., Suite 110, Detroit; 313-963-4871, $, Co-owners Trish Ziembowicz and Ken Karustis have built a loyal clientele of downtown workers, mostly from the First National Building and its neighbors, who are partial to the six soups a day and to the house rules: everything from scratch and made in-house (except bagels). Maybe the moderate prices buy loyalty too. The basic menu is online, but it's supplemented every day with hot entrées, such as quiche, new soups, and panini. The soups always include at least one vegetarian and one vegan, to please the many vegans in the building. Though many if not most patrons don't linger, taking their choices back to their desks, the lunchroom is a pleasant spot, with ochre walls and a brick-red ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows on Congress, and giant chandeliers. Enter on Congress Street a half block east of Woodward Avenue. See the menu at lunchtimeglobal.com.

Opus One 565 E. Larned, Detroit; 313-961-7766: Etched glass and marble are lavished on downtown's handsomest restaurant. It's pure luxury all the way, with a completely upscale approach and a kitchen that makes virtually everything from scratch. The menu changes seasonally and is typified by such dishes as medallions of veal with Madeira sauce, rack of lamb, seafood en croute, and a pastry cart that is hard to resist. Excellent service is a hallmark of this 10-year-old restaurant.

Oslo 1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-962-7200: Oslo patrons can choose between sushi and a longish list of superior Thai dishes; the sushi is sliced and rolled by Korean-born John Riney. Tom kha, the soup with coconut milk and chicken, is both creamy and salty, with generous chunks of chicken. Drunken noodles are peppery yet luscious, the noodles fat and slippery, with a fold-in garnish of fresh basil leaves. Equally delicious was a "signature" dish called simply "Oslo udon noodles." Oslo is known to combine Oriental food with electronic music.

Roast 1128 Washington Ave., Detroit; 313-442-1600: After a $200 million renovation, the freshly scrubbed, historic facade of the Book-Cadillac contains this up-to-the-minute establishment. Unlike the 1920s flourishes on the hotel, Michael Symon's Roast is decked out in modern style. But it's a laid-back sort of elegance. The casual vibe extends to the service, with smartly dressed diners disarmed by the denim-and-dress-shirt servers who keep things down-to-earth. And that food? The kitchen does the meat right, aging everything at least 21 days, and lavishing just as much attention on the poultry.

SaltWater inside the MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit; 1-877-888-2121: When it comes to beyond-the-pale interior decorating, this place is the catch of the day. The opulent interior, themes with the washing of waves, the rippling of water and the blue of the sea, helps set the stage for the contemporary seafood of Michael Mina's SaltWater. The quality ingredients include seasonal produce, giving a taste of autumn to the selections.

Seldom Blues 400 Renaissance Center, Detroit; 313-567-8734: This sophisticated jazz supper club on the river has handsome views and a team of celebrity owners. The musical lineup is heavy on — but not limited to — smooth jazz. Last year the bar made Esquire magazine's list of the best in America. The meat from their kitchen gives up the essence of beef with the creamy taste and feel of lots and lots of fat, including the steak Porcher, rack of lamb, classic chateaubriand and butterflied pork chops.

Taste Pizza Bar 1431 Times Square, Detroit; 313-962-8700: Located on the second floor of an old brick building on Times Square, Taste may not be the easiest place to find, but once you arrive there'll be no doubt you're in the right place. Seating as many as 175, Taste sprawls through two rooms, with the dining area separated from the even larger lounge. An added bonus for night owls is its 2 a.m. closing time. Although first-rate 10-inch pies are Taste's raison d'etre, chef-owner Dale Daniel offers diners a wide variety of starters, soups, salads and grilled sandwiches. The admirable toppings on the 20-odd pies present combinations that should please picky pizza mavens. As in most pizza parlors, you can also build your own pie with toppings that range from artichokes to Gorgonzola to zucchini. And kudos to the sommelier for selecting bottles from solid but relatively obscure small vineyards and for establishing a no-nonsense pricing system. Beer is reasonably priced as well at $3-$5 and several of the cocktails come in small ($6-$7) as well as large sizes.

Vicente's Cuban Cuisine 1250 Library St., Detroit; 313-962-8800: Familiar elements from the Caribbean are here — plantains, yuca, papas rellenas, thin beefsteak and lots of black beans and rice. Bistec de palomilla is steak pounded very thin, marinated in mojo sauce (orange and lemon juice, garlic, onion, sugar), then lightly breaded and well-fried. It's served with fried onions on top and a side of plantains. Fried and breaded pork are on the menu too, as are lobster and shrimp, arroz con pollo, and several paellas.

Wolfgang Puck Grille 1777 Third St., (inside MGM Grand Detroit), Detroit: 313-465-1648: Lest we forget amid the glitz and overpowering design of this casino restaurant, Puck was one of the celebrity chefs who helped popularize a modern American bar-and-grill cuisine that used fresh, seasonal, all-natural and organic ingredients. How seasonal and comforting is the fare? Small plates include sweet corn (with sautéed Maine lobster), an heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella, sweet corn ravioli with white truffle oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Fall-time ingredients range from wild field mushrooms, zucchini puree, honey-glazed carrots and garlic potato puree. Entrées include wienerschnitzel with warm potato salad, arugula and pumpkin seed oil.

Special thanks to editorial intern Brady Bell for his assistance compiling this column. 

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