August 20, 2009 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Five Lakes Grill transitions into cantina Cinco Lagos

Chicken flautas is one of the dishes that set the restaurant apart from the crowd. (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)

Cinco Lagos has replaced Five Lakes Grill on Milford's Main Street, but anyone with even a smattering of Spanish will note that the name, if not the menu, is actually the same.

And those who thought turning an upscale regional American restaurant into a cantina might make for an awkward transition couldn't be more wrong.

After closing for a mere two weeks to tweak the setting and prepare the staff for a drastically different approach, the new scheme of things at Brian Polcyn's Milford restaurant was unveiled two weeks ago, and not only is it a winner, it seems completely comfortable in its skin.

Five Lakes Grill had a run of 14 years, and in its heyday, drew people from across the metropolitan area. That's a tribute to Polcyn, because Milford is not exactly on everyone's map.

Now, the storefront space on Main Street actually seems much better suited to the current direction than it was as a destination restaurant. To emphasize the transition, Polcyn hired artist Joe Lucia to paint a series of vivid Mexican-themed murals on the dining room wall, and even to paint the wooden chairs and tabletops with motifs of animals, cocktails, and music and dress up the white ceiling lamps with little splashes of color.

Yes, there are cacti, a flouncy-skirted dancer and beaming suns on those murals, but they manage to avoid cartoony clichés.

With input from his Mexican mother, Polcyn came up with a menu that is authentic, but accessible. Wisely, it is a mere one page, with everything from the chunky fresh tomato salsa to the ranchero and jalisco sauces made in house. One exception: the tortillas, which come from a tortilla factory in Mexicantown.

While the names of the dishes are familiar, it's the execution of the flautas, nachos, tacos, enchiladas and fajitas that sets Cinco Lagos apart from the crowd.

Ingredients are fresh and high quality, from the excellent, well-textured guacamole (served for two) and the three interesting soups, black bean with rice, roasted poblano, and lime-scented chicken pozole (hominy), to the chimichanga, known here as a cinco-changa. Ground beef is not used at all, to the amazement of some of the early visitors.

Dishes that go beyond the tortilla selections include carne asada made with grilled, dry-rubbed steak, and served, as are the other entrees, with black beans and rice, chiles rellenos made correctly with poblano peppers, and an offbeat salad of spinach, green chiles, shredded pork and grilled pineapple, a flavor combination that works well.

Housemade desserts range from the traditional Latin-American tres leches (three milks) cake with caramel sauce to Mexican flan with fresh fruit.

As befits the new scheme of things, service by a mostly female crew in chic, short-sleeved soft blue blouses, is friendly and upbeat.

The six-cook kitchen staff, headed by chef de cuisine Eric Sredzinski, is mostly Schoolcraft trained and includes Ana Maria Perez, who teaches a course in Mexican cuisine at Schoolcraft and is helping with the transition.

General manager Mario Plaza is sharing his time between Polcyn's other restaurant, Birmingham's Forest Grill, and the new one, and he has come up with a beverage list that fits the cuisine nicely, including, of course, a notable house margarita made with fresh lime juice, as well as mojitos, caipirinhas, fruity wines and Mexican beers.

Cinco Lagos is off to a great start.

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Cinco Lagos in Milford used to be Five Lakes Grill. The Main Street ... (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)
Polcyn hired artist Joe Lucia to decorate the restaurant with vivid ... (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)
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