There was something familiar about the duo of pasta that came to the table at The Silver Spoon in Rochester Hills, a recent arrival to the dining scene in metro Detroit.
One was a lightly creamy, tangy strazzapreti, the second, a mushroom pasta — both similar in taste and in style, to those I used to have at the long-closed Il Posto in Southfield.
And why not, since The Silver Spoon managing partner Rito Lisi, executive chef Daniele Dell’Acqua, and sous-chef Mauro Querio were very much at the core of the flamboyant Il Posto, an Italian fine-dining restaurant that flew high on the local scene for a brief while and closed five years ago.
When Il Posto’s lights went out, the three moved to Tom’s Oyster Bar in Rochester Hills — but then it also closed.
“[At Tom’s] we had made a lot of friends with our customers,” Lisi says, five of whom became his backers in The Silver Spoon.
The primary partner, Italian-born software developer Giuseppe “Joe” Nirta, decided that what the area needed was a good Italian restaurant, and the idea for The Silver Spoon began to evolve.
It found a home in a shopping center on Rochester Road, north of M-59, that’s anchored by a Papa Joe’s market. It opened in April 2011.
The Silver Spoon is a fun discovery, a small delight. Its exterior is warm and welcoming; a striped awning and terrace out front for warm-weather dining are defined by an arbor and planters in which oregano, sage, basil, mint, and parsley grow.
“We wanted to do a restaurant that, in style, is the closest to what you would get in Italy,” Lisi says. “We want the people who love food, who travel, who know Italy.”
The Silver Spoon is not another Il Posto, however. Gone is much of the culinary “teatro” of Il Posto. No swooping gold and brown draperies, no dramatic tableside appearance by the toque-wearing owner to spoon your meal onto a plate.
One very European touch, one also used at Il Posto, is the tableside serving carts set in crisply starched white linen. “That’s the best way to serve several dishes,” Lisi says. “We do the carbonara, grill the fish, and vegetable, all at tableside.”
The service is crisp, knowledgeable, and friendly without being pompous or with stiff military formality. The décor at The Silver Spoon is a clean-lined, modern look with orange, yellow, and brown accents. Lisi, Dell’Acqua, and Querio did much of the interior work along with their five partners, one of whom is in the construction business.
The furnishings are an eclectic mix. The bar is deep, dark-brown oak with design flourishes popularly used in turn-of-the-20th-century saloons. The comfortable bar stools are upholstered in a cream-and-brown striped fabric.
The linen-clothed tables are set with simple flatware and large, sensible wine glasses for properly aerating those young Italian red wines. The chairs are cushioned café-style seating.
The food is the plus at The Silver Spoon and well worth a trip to the northern suburbs.
Refreshingly, the menu separates the pastas into “fresh” and “dry.” Many Italian restaurants claim that all their pasta is “fresh” or “house made,” when often it’s not. That’s largely a response to an incorrect belief that for pasta to be good, it must be made in the restaurant that day, and that fresh is better than dried.
Certainly, some dishes are indeed better with fresh pasta: gnocchi, for example, or baked dishes such as lasagna and canelloni, because they absorb sauces better.
But dried pasta, such as linguine, spaghetti, and vermicelli, is sturdier and behaves and tastes better because it becomes coated only with sauces.
The Silver Spoon’s fresh-pasta selection includes a pappardella with prosciutto, meatballs, bacon, peas, mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes. Another, a mushroom pappardella, is made with portobello, shiitake, oyster, crimini, porcini, and a little bit of heavy cream. A gnocchi — the delicate little potato dumplings that take barely a minute or two in boiling water — comes in a creamy sauce made with four cheeses. A fresh fettuccine plate is dressed in a ragù of sausage and leeks. And a tagliatelle with sautéed shrimp, artichoke, and asparagus is finished with white wine, red-pepper flakes, and tomato sauce.
The dry-pasta dishes include the classic, utterly simple spaghetti dish of Naples with oil, garlic, basil, and tomato. Another old standby is linguine with clams in their shells sautéed in olive oil and garlic.
In each case, freshness of the ingredients and a light touch in the cooking are the most important ingredients, which the kitchen delivers at The Silver Spoon.
For more adventurous eaters, there’s spaghetti with clams, mussels, calamari, scallops, and shrimp tossed in white wine, garlic, and fresh tomato. Another, an orecchiette — shaped like miniature ears — is dressed in a savory ragù of lamb and tomato sauce.
My own favorite in the pastas is a bucatini made with pancetta, onion, red wine, and tomato sauce; its flavors are succulent and round. One of the more unusual offerings is linguine with basil, pine nuts, garlic, green beans, diced potatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and Romano cheese.
The meat dishes we tried were also wonderful: saltimbocca alla Romana, veal and prosciutto sauced with fresh sage and white wine; veal scaloppini sautéed in white wine and lemon; veal tenderloin rolls filled with pancetta, parsley, garlic, and Romano cheese in a tomato sauce; and veal medallions, artichokes, olives, and capers finished in white wine.
What distinguishes individual dishes at The Silver Spoon from the same ones served at many other restaurants is the cooking and the gentleness of the flavoring.
Some years ago, one of my roommates was a University of Michigan graduate engineering student from Rome. He was a superb cook and rarely followed a recipe. As we waited for a dinner for eight that he was preparing, someone asked, “Giorgio, how do you do this?”
He paused for a minute and answered, dead seriously: “The secret is, not too much of this, not too much of that, just the right amount.” And he went on cooking. People chuckled, but his message was a good one: Good cooking is not about training and the mechanics of a recipe, but instinct and experience.
That’s very much what you get at The Silver Spoon, knowing just the right amount.
Cook is Hour Detroit’s chief restaurant critic. Email: email@example.com.