The elusive morel mushroom might be the inspiration for the restaurant that was unveiled last week by veteran restaurateur Matthew Prentice — and there are certainly plenty of mushrooms on the menu to underscore the theme — but the name is really a stand-in for the bounty of the state of Michigan.
Virtually every dish that emerges from the kitchen has Michigan origins, the wine list is studded with Michigan wines, and a dozen local craft beers are dispensed from the bar. Both executive chef John Breeland and sous chef Graham Schave are also homegrown.
Morels is Prentice's first venture since resigning from his former company, and it is the second Morels, the first having had a pretty healthy life span a few miles away on Telegraph Road in Bingham Farms before closing five years ago. This is a completely new take, bearing little resemblance in setting or menu to its predecessor.
The array of dining rooms, in a free-standing building that formerly housed Macaroni Grill, has been transformed with murals of appropriately woodsy scenes and massive sculptures of the titular mushroom, touches of polished dark wood and expanses of window overlooking a pair of patios and herb gardens.
The prices on the single-page menus have been a pleasant surprise to some early visitors, who expected to see a more expensive list. While the price structure isn't bargain basement, it does manage to avoid the $30 entrée. Most of the dozen entrees, which run the gamut from burger and fries and roasted beef brisket to a vegetarian eggplant tower, are in the $12 to $25 bracket, and all are nicely garnished with accompaniments individually chosen for the dish.
Walleye encrusted with crabmeat is accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes, slim stalks of grilled asparagus and corn puree; prime beef tenderloin medallions, the dish at the top of the list at $29, is enhanced with a duxelles of morels, shallots and herbs, garlic whipped potatoes, tiny onions and a red wine reduction. A standout dish is tender little bundles of veal tenderloin stuffed with Boursin cheese and served atop creamy mushroom risotto, a combination that is both rich and light, not easy to achieve.
Appetizers are listed as small plates, and include shareable dishes such as the mushroom tasting of chanterelles, shiitakes and trumpet royales along with mushroom pâté to spread on toast points, and a cheese tasting including raclette, chevre, blue, sharp white cheddar and fait gras, a rich organic cheddar from a Michigan farm where cows are grass-fed. The cheese tasting could easily double as a dessert plate.
Three soups, lush morel bisque, delicate cream of asparagus and a third changing variety are offered, and soup lovers will appreciate that they may be ordered as a trio, prettily served in decorative white bowls.
Other a la carte choices include salads and eight side dishes ranging from green beans served Greektown-style to smoked chicken mac and cheese and braised mustard greens that seem a little extraneous given the fully garnished main dishes, but certainly a nice option for those who might just want to sit at the bar or on the patio with a drink.
In the early going, service is accommodating by the kind of enthusiastic staff that is typical of a new restaurant.
In a couple of months, Morels will have a sibling in the building next door when Detroit Prime, a steakhouse, is scheduled to open.
32729 Northwestern Hwy., Farmington Hills
Call: (248) 254-3840
Rating: 3 stars
Hours: Dinner only, 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Small plates $8-$21, soups and salads $6-$13, entrees $17-$29, side plates $3-$8, desserts $7.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar, an all-American wine list with emphasis on Michigan and locally brewed beer.
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers