Zuppa dí Pesce (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
It's not often that a restaurant can be considered a real find, turning up quietly where least expected and with surprising quality. The Silver Spoon is one of them.
Tucked into a corner of Papa Joe's Plaza in Rochester Hills, it is almost hidden behind an entrance shielded by a rustic arbor and planters overflowing with fresh lavender, basil, mint, sage, oregano and parsley.
Like much inside the 80-seat place, the arbor and planters were handcrafted by the principals in the regional Italian restaurant, Giuseppe (Joe) Nirta, Rito Lisi and chefs Daniele Dell'Acqua and Mauro Qerio, who spent much of the winter transforming the space into their vision of a modern Italian restaurant. The name is the English translation of a well-known cookbook in Italy, "Il Cucchiaio d'Argento."
It's light, airy and lavished with copper, stained glass, photographs of Italy and, of course, a motif of silver spoons, including some used as napkin rings on the linens and also ornamenting the handmade birch and black walnut menu covers.
During the heyday of Il Posto, the restaurant on Franklin Road in Southfield, the trio of Lisi, Dell'Acqua and Qerio were mainstays of the restaurant, as general manager, executive chef and sous-chef respectively.
They moved to Tom's Oyster Bar in Rochester Hills after Il Posto closed, and that's where they met Nirta, a frequent diner at Tom's; and when it too closed, the four, all Italian-born, decided to collaborate on a restaurant, although, as Nirta puts it "There's really no such thing as an 'Italian' restaurant. Every region has its own food."
And so the menu at The Silver Spoon reflects that, with dishes such as shell pasta with lamb ragout from Puglia, where Lisi was born, medallions of veal Piemontese from Torino, Nirta's birthplace, risotto with fresh porcini mushrooms, a dish from Milano, the executive chef's point of origin, and beef wrapped in puff pastry from Trieste, the sous-chef's home base, as well as from other parts of the country.
The a la carte selection begins with a tempting list of hot and cold appetizers, typified by fresh mussels and clams in a fresh tomato broth with a hint of pepper; three varieties of carpaccio — the frequently seen beef filet, and the lesser-known marinated octopus and smoked salmon — each has its own carefully tailored accompaniments.
And there's an antipasto assortment of thinly sliced imported meats and cheese, dappled with caper berries, that puts the garden variety antipasto tray to shame.
Like all the other courses, the appetizers are individually served at each table by the professional waiters from a linen-covered cart, a nicety of service that is becoming hard to find.
Housemade pastas have been a specialty of chef Dell'Acqua since his Il Posto days, and they include the wonderful little twists called strozzapreti and the seashell-like cavatelli in subtle sauces that seems to be applied with tiny paint brushes.
And he does lovely meat dishes such as veal scaloppini with lemon and white wine, saltimbocca alla Romana, the veal scallops teamed with prosciutto, white wine and fresh sage from the planter at the entrance. An interesting treatment of swordfish is a version rolled around a stuffing of bread crumbs, oregano, capers and lemon.
Because it is an a la carte menu, diners choose accompaniments, if they desire, from a list including some lovely salads, such as the arugula, fennel and orange in a citrus dressing, and vegetables from sauteed spinach to fresh mushrooms sauteed with garlic and olive oil, all meticulously prepared.
The Silver Spoon opened on April 28 without fanfare, in the belief that word of mouth would be enough to attract a following.
Consider this word-of-mouth.
The Silver Spoon
6830 N. Rochester Road,
Call: (248) 652-4500
Rating: 4 stars
Hours: Dinner only, 4:30-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4:30-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 4:30-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
Prices: Appetizers $4-$13, side dishes and salads $5-$7, pasta dishes $15-$24, meat and fish entrees $17-$28, desserts $7-$8.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and a wine list emphasizing Italy and California.
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers