Toasted Oak. The name sounds more like a winemaker waxing poetic about the merits of a new red wine than a restaurant.
But Toasted Oak Grill & Market is indeed the new restaurant in the longtime Baronette Hotel next to Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi. The hotel and its dining room have been renovated and bumped up a good notch with a new concept that’s bound to work for those looking for a bit of a budget break at dinner without surrendering style.
The hotel, now called The Baronette Renaissance, houses the restaurant and a separate retail-food market. For those who haven’t yet visited, the place is beautiful and quite striking — something new and different in the metropolitan area. Although the idea of a market attached to a hotel may seem a little disjointed, it does work effectively in its own subtle way.
Be sure to wander through the Baronette lobby, which has been redone in a sleek, contemporary design with lots of polished marble, wood, and leather cube-shaped furniture in a daylight-washed space with glass walls overlooking a garden. Angled skylight ceiling panels also admit vast shafts of sunlight.
The lobby décor makes a half-beat change when you pass into the more subdued and darkened dining room, where one entire glass wall is aglow with a dancing gas-flame log fireplace surrounded ceiling to floor by rough-cut gray granite, all of which sets a warm and pleasant atmosphere.
I left there smiling at the design, admiring the imagination, and impressed with the enthusiasm of the staff — and with the charcuterie — high-quality prepared foods and cold meats, sausages, and salads in the European style to take home or eat in the restaurant.
On the restaurant menu, the assortment of “small plates” from the market is culinarily by far the most impressive of what Toasted Oak offers. A favorite on our visit was a house-made kielbasa, grilled and served with a caraway beer mustard and warm, slightly oily potato salad. The kielbasa was dense, very light, deftly flavored, almost elegant, and remarkably un-fatty. Likewise, a pork rillette was true to what rillette should be: basically a French reverse-kosher shredded pork schmaltz, offered here with grilled peasant-rustic bread. One note: The rillette flavor was slightly off, as if someone had added a dollop too much of nutmeg or other spice. Still, it had good consistency.
We also enjoyed a very pleasant, nicely made light version of steak tartare and Basque-style salt cod and potato croquettes with a lemon aioli. All of these “small plates” were well-made and are priced between $9 and $12.
And no wonder these items are exceptional. They’re made by Steven Grostick, the restaurant’s executive chef, who formerly prepared charcuterie for Brian Polcyn (author of a very good book on the topic, by the way) at Five Lakes Grill in Milford, which is now Cinco Lagos. Grostick headed Polcyn’s kitchen in its pre-Mexican-restaurant phase.
For just $12, Toasted Oak also offers bowls of mussels cooked several ways: the traditional Belgian style that’s served with French fries; in white wine and with shallots and butter; Catalan style, with spicy tomato sauce, bacon, and blue cheese; or Dijon-style, cooked with Dijon mustard, tarragon, and cream. Each of these dishes is sizable enough to make a meal.
There are also two simple, classic pizzas. One is made with tomato, basil, and mozzarella, and the other with an assortment of vegetables: mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant. There are also two soups and four salads, each of which could easily constitute a light meal.
The one area that we found less impressive was the hot-food side of the menu — the steaks, lamb, fish, and grilled and fried items, which also happen to be the most expensive. The various dishes seemed a step below the zing and energy of the market offerings.
When we put this to our server, she explained that the hot items are handled by an entirely different kitchen from the charcuterie and market items, which may explain the disconnect we felt.
But the most appealing part of the Toasted Oak concept is the 100-plus list of wines — and their prices. You can buy a bottle of wine in the restaurant for just $7 more than what you would pay for retail in the deli market. And those prices are on par with non-discounted wine pieces found elsewhere.
When you consider that most restaurants mark up their wines by 100 to 200 percent over wholesale, these prices are exceptional. For example, the Toasted Oak list includes a simple, passable La Vieille Ferme rosé, which retails for about $9 to $11. At Toasted Oak Market,
it’s $12, and in the restaurant you pay only $19 for the bottle. When was the last time anyone paid $19 for a bottle in a restaurant? That’s a by-the-glass price in some places.
We had a superb 2008 Dona Paula Malbec from Argentina — $16 at retail and $23 in the restaurant.
The master wine list includes a reserve section from which even greater values can be had. Retail prices are between $40 and $100 on two dozen high-end wines that include very good bordeaux chateaux, red burgundies, and Napa reserve cabernet sauvignons. Just add $7.
The basic ideas in this new Baronette Renaissance and its Toasted Oak Grill & Market are solid and impressive.
The menu is casual and the hotel, market, and restaurant are well worth the visit — hot-food menu issues aside — for a pleasant, light weekday or weekend dinner. There are plenty of good menu choices for a fun evening. And the prices will make it all worthwhile. Your wallet will smile.
27790 Novi Rd., Novi; 248-277-6000. L and D daily.
Cook is the chief restaurant critic for Hour Detroit. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.