July 24, 2008 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Toning up Forté

Forté in downtown Birmingham gets a lift with its new chef and menu. (Wayne E. Smith / The Detroit News)

When Don Yamauchi was executive chef at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak and SaltWater at the MGM Grand Detroit, he'd often be seen in the dining rooms chatting with guests.

And while he still manages to get out of the kitchen to say hello, it's quite a different story at Forté.

He is much more of a hands-on chef in his new post at the downtown Birmingham restaurant.

It's just what he wanted. Yamauchi doesn't bark orders, he cooks and creates, and the new all-day menu he just introduced has his stamp on it. It reflects some of his favorite things, such as herb purees, fresh corn off the cob, couscous, sweet chili garlic butter, Asian sauces and whipped potatoes boldly flavored with horseradish or wasabi.

His specialties are available at lunch and dinner, and he'll shortly tackle the existing breakfast menu. He says he is going to simplify it.

What a lift he's given to this Birmingham spot that has one of the best locations imaginable, right in the heart of the shopping, entertainment and dining district.

What I especially like about the new approach is its simplicity and lack of unnecessary flourishes. Flourishes are there, all right, but they are harmonious rather than extraneous.

It's all very straightforward, as especially indicated by two of the nine entrees served at lunch and dinner: the one-pound smothered pork chop and the braised lamb shank, each with whipped potatoes.

Crispy fried perch gets an update with stir-fried rice, pineapple and a touch of cilantro, and sauteed walleye is accompanied by mussels and basil puree.

And I love the glistening, golden-brown chicken marinated in cinnamon, sea salt and garlic for 24 hours, brought to the table whole and carved for two.

There are some very attractive entree salads, especially one made with red and yellow beets, chicken, cucumber and feta cheese atop romaine with white balsamic vinaigrette (it will be hard to say you hate beets after trying this combination).

Another winning main dish salad includes asparagus, shrimp, prosciutto, fresh greens and, surprise, a fried egg.

Service is expert. Some on the wait staff have been here for years and others are veterans of Fox & Hounds who moved to Forté along with manager Dave Duey when it closed last year.

It may surprise those who think of Forté as a place where the chic meet the elite, but Yamauchi says his intent is to make it everybody's local restaurant. He's in the process of finding out what customers want, and after a few weeks on the job, he seems to be hitting the target.

You can reach Molly Abraham at (313) 222-1475 or abraham67@comcast.net">abraham67@comcast.net.

Chef Don Yamauchi has taken over Forté's menu by adding his own style.
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