Lofty Goals

At the Top of the Pontch, artfully presented food strives to complement fabulous views of Detroit’s riverfront

When The Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront reopened last year after a $5 million renovation, something was missing — the “wow” factor.

It’s here, now the Top of the Pontch has opened.

The stated goal is to “offer locally sourced food artfully prepared to elevate the dining experience.” We’re not sure if using the word “elevate” was an intentional pun, but the Pontch’s perch on the hotel’s 25th floor certainly makes it a candidate in any “restaurant with Detroit’s best view” competition.

That may pose a bit of a challenge for Executive Chef Justin Vaiciunas. His dishes might get cold as diners gaze at the riverfront. But he seems up to the challenge. He’s definitely from the “food artfully prepared” school, and turns out beautifully rendered plates that go toe-to-toe with the view.

Previously, the Schoolcraft College grad served stints at The Hill, 220 Merrill, Forte, and the Detroit Athletic Club. Just before moving “upstairs,” he got a warm-up run at the hotel’s Jefferson House, while waiting for the Pontch to get its finishing touches.

And what touches they are. Nobody can blame guests for a little jaw-dropping before dinner.

The design is well-done, with tiered seating on two levels so that pretty much every table has views of the riverfront, Cobo Center, Hart Plaza, the Ren Cen, or Windsor.

There are comfortable high-backed chairs on the first level near the windows. Similar off-white semicircular booths grace the second level. Sheer draperies frame the view; they can be closed if the sun’s a tad too much. And don’t forget to look up. Glass installations above evoke a Dale Chihuly-like feel.

After the “wow” factor wears off, the food takes over. On our visit, the starters included a “cool” appetizer called Underground Beets. The roasted bits sat in an espresso vinaigrette, feta and goat cheese, and fennel oil. It was served under an attractive “nest” of finely shredded, crisped beets. The Spanish octopus appetizer was cooked to tender sous vide perfection, and was served with thinly shaved chorizo, saffron vinaigrette, and taro root chips. Other popular appetizers were the stuffed sea urchin, pork belly au poivre, and a “lobster meets crab” fritter served over a crisp vermicelli. Main dishes included a Creek Stone N.Y. strip came with chai-infused wild mushrooms and was served over a “cloud” of a creamy potato/rutabaga mash-up.

But that was just on the startup “autumn menu.” Vaiciunas is already making tweaks, nixing a “tasting menu” for now and planning on more changes come January (perhaps an auto theme to coincide with the big show across the street at Cobo Center). Vaiciunas plans to experiment with a weekly changing menu depending on what’s fresh and available.

Vaiciunas estimates that early on, 60-70 percent of the patrons were local curiosity seekers checking out the new view. But it’s definitely worth a return trip, whether for a special occasion dinner or place to impress out-of-towners.

2 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-782-4313. D Tue.-Sat. $30