January 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Bucci Ristorante aging like fine wine

Entrees include a char-grilled filet mignon with seasonal vegetables, truffle sauce and a grilled jumbo shrimp. )

Some restaurants are at their best when they are shiny and new. From there, the promise often fades, and they lose their luster as they settle in to the routine.

Bucci Ristorante is a prime example of a place that began modestly and has steadily upgraded and improved. Now as it enters its 11th year, it has reached its full potential.

The restaurant -- named for proprietor Bujar Mamuslari's childhood nickname of Bucci -- is in full flower with its meticulously presented dishes from a classic European perspective, its well-chosen wine list and attention to detail in both cuisine and housekeeping.

The handsomely decorated space includes the original small dining room in front, a second, more spacious room on the side, each with Venetian-plastered walls in deep, rich colors of mustard and burgundy, and between the two, the heart and soul of the operation, the completely open kitchen where flames leap from the mammoth 12-burner gas stove.

While some diners prefer to be pampered at linen-swathed tables, the preferred seats are really the dozen at the granite counter overlooking the kitchen.

Here, diners watch every element of the meal put together, from the slicing of the pancetta and garlic, the blanching of the green beans and the cutting of filets from the whole tenderloin, to the searing in saute pans that share space with the gigantic pot of water that is always boiling for the pastas.

And as each dish is finished and handed down the line to be garnished and then picked up by the wait staff, it's obvious that this is an ensemble performance. There's really no front of the house/back of the house division here.

Salvatore Monteleone was recently added to the staff to spell Mamuslari at the burners. The two chefs, both tall, European-born and commanding, are almost interchangeable in style, each a maestro. The seamless performance continues no matter which one is at the stove.

With the help of Monteleone, lunch on Saturday and Sunday was added to Bucci's dinner-only schedule for the first time a few weeks ago. The small menu of specials changes each week, with the full dinner menu also available.

On a recent Sunday, specials included veal casino, lightly breaded scallops of veal with roasted peppers in white wine and lemon sauce, a dish that has been a Bucci specialty for years. Others included scallops sauteed with capers and olives and finished with tomato sauce; saltimbocca al la Romano, veal sauteed with prosciutto di Parma and profusions of fresh sage; and caper-dotted whitefish piccata, another dish that has been on the menu since the start.

Pastas, of course, are very much part of the scene, from a simple linguine tossed with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and parsley; spaghetti Bolognese; and shrimp Casablanca, baked jumbo shrimp with garlic cream sauce over angel hair. (Yes, there is an oven in addition to that impressive stove.)

Entrees are served with soup -- the house minestrone with its random-cut vegetables is notable -- or a fresh green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and a basket of crusty bread with a precisely cut triangle of butter.

Caesar, arugula and spinach salads are also available, and the list of appetizers includes artichoke hearts sauteed with capers, garlic and lemon, a dish that is a perennial favorite of Bucci regulars, some of whom can be spotted at the counter three or four times a week.

That's the kind of loyalty this well-run place inspires.

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Shpresa Mamuslari, right, wife of proprietor Bujar Mamuslari, assists Anne ... (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Waitress Kristina Selca and line cook Hortens "Oli" Elezi ...