Recipes for Success

The metropolitan Detroit dining scene offers a perfect blend of sophisticated menus, consistent quality, and enduring value.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in trends. But today’s trend is tomorrow’s old-hat, so savvy restaurateurs make sure they establish themselves on a more solid foundation than this year’s pet rock. They find a niche and stick with it, rather than diluting their focus trying to be all things to all people. There are many examples in the Detroit metropolitan dining scene.

Take the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, for instance, Hour Detroit’s 2010 Restaurant of the Year. The Grosse Pointe Farms restaurant neatly balances its sophisticated menu and wine list with a live jazz theme. Executive chef Andre Neimanis prepares savory and sweet tapas among the classic dishes on his American bistro menu as a smooth counterpart to the music that is much more than background here.

Another restaurant where music is often part of the scene is downtown Detroit’s Art Deco gem, Cliff Bell’s, a restored destination dating back to 1935. It offers a menu compatible with its vintage setting, including such time-honored dishes as chicken and dumplings and shrimp and grits.

Birmingham’s new Zazios makes its statement with the gleaming exhibition kitchen where food is the entertainment. Chef Matt Schellig prepares five-course dinners in full view of diners who choose stadium-style seats around his elaborate stage. The action is followed via several flat-screens that focus on the details of preparation.

The interplay between kitchen and dining room makes dinner special, and gives new meaning to the phrase “chef’s choice.” Schellig and crew make all the decisions, and guests are relieved of having to choose from the wide-ranging Italian menu served in the adjoining dining room.

The Capital Grille, Big Rock Chop House, and Fleming’s Prime Steak House have established themselves as must-visit destinations for those looking for a classic American steakhouse where beef is the main attraction, something that’s certainly true of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, as well.

Ocean Prime takes the steakhouse concept and melds it with some emphasis on seafood — and on an upbeat atmosphere that includes a lively bar scene — as does its across-the-street Troy neighbor, Capital Grille, and Grosse Pointe Farms’ The Hill Seafood and Chop House.

And they all do it in settings that underscore the theme, with dark wood, soft lights, and attentive wait staffs. Ask most diners what they especially appreciate, and it is the consistent kind of service you only find in restaurants such as these.

When consistency is mentioned, The Lark certainly comes to mind, and service has been its hallmark since the 12-table spot opened in 1981. Some of its dishes have been on the fixed-price menu from day one, notably the rack of lamb Genghis Khan. Each guest who orders it is given a number, designating just how many others have previously enjoyed the dish.

Consistency is also the hallmark — along with a large helping of big-city glamour — at two rooftop spots: Iridescence at the MotorCity Casino Hotel, and Coach Insignia at the GM Renaissance Center.

Although most trends are fleeing, one that’s happily here to stay is the ever-increasing emphasis on fresh, locally grown ingredients and products from Michigan sources. The trend is being adopted across the board by the top-rated restaurants on the Detroit dining scene, including the new and very appealing Metropolitan Café in Shelby Township, where the nearby farms supply the kitchen, and in the impressive dining options instituted by the Matt Prentice Group at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield.

Who would have ever thought that hospital food would rank with the best around?