One of the featured desserts at the Toasted Oak Grill & Market in Novi is the Butterscotch Blondie Brownie Sundae. (Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News)
The name of the new restaurant in Novi's handsomely revamped Baronette Renaissance Hotel -- Toasted Oak Grill & Market -- is completely apropos.
It indicates that you're not about to walk into a stuffy hotel dining room, but rather into a comfortably down-to-earth setting. What the name doesn't instantly reveal is the high ambitions of the fare in the hands of Steven Grostick, whose resume includes the culinary program at Schoolcraft College and a number of years working with chef/teacher/author Brian Polcyn at his Five Lakes Grill.
Those credentials, the pedigreed ingredients from producers and growers, and the energetic staff headed by veteran manager Theodore Oresky II put the whole package on solid ground. This is the kind of hotel restaurant to which locals are going to relate.
The market, something like an old-fashioned deli with its inviting displays of house-prepared food, shelves of wine and local products, shares space with the lively bar.
Restaurant patrons are invited, if they wish, to stop right there and pick out a bottle of wine at retail price to be served at dinner (for a corkage fee). But I'd advise proceeding directly into the dining room, which is both rustic and sophisticated at the same time, because of the range of the menu. You won't know what wine you want until you peruse the menu.
It offers small plates, larger sharing plates, interesting vegetable side dishes, soups and salads, as well as substantial entrees such as Creekstone Farms flat iron and filet mignon steaks, hickory-smoked Kurobuta pork ribs with cherry barbecue sauce and Lake Huron trout from the wood-burning grill. The indecisive will be studying the possibilities for quite some time, whether at lunch or dinner.
The menus are small brochures, including, besides available dishes, a list of cocktails, some with local names ("I'll have a Gratiot Avenue, please. No, make that an 8 Mile") and other beverages including wine flights and wines by the glass.
While the theme is regional Michigan, there's also very much of a French spin, with items such as terrine of the day, chicken liver and foie gras pate, croquettes of salt cod and potatoes (this one originating in Spain, actually), steak tartare and assortments of cheeses and baguettes. No wonder the beverage list includes absinthe.
If this is the kind of fare you appreciate, you're going to love Toasted Oak Grill.
One of the small plates is chef Grostick's house-made kielbasa, served with warm potato salad and hearty mustard, and it's a revelation to those who may have only sampled commercial Polish sausage.
I love the choice of vegetable side dishes, which includes mashed fingerling potatoes, garlic spinach and braised beets, as well as Michigan morels with farro (a grain that belongs to the wheat family). And when did you last see turnips on a menu? They're earthy and satisfying here, teamed with green beans.
Many of the dishes are served in black cast-iron skillets, with such accessories as miniature galvanized metal buckets for the shells of the excellent Blue Hill Bay mussels from Maine, and while these touches might seem a bit cutesy, they work well atop the polished oak tables left bare.
One element that needs work is the dessert list. Oatmeal cookies don't have a lot of appeal even when they're dusted with chocolate chips and are made to order. But overall, Toasted Oak is on the right track.