The walls of Bella Piatti in Birmingham are decorated with large details of Barque artists such as Michelangelo Merisi da Carravaggio (1571-1610) and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
This is not a best restaurant list. It’s a “why not give it a try” list for the upcoming year.
The 10 restaurants, all reviewed in 2013, range from just-out-of-the wrappings to vintage, from romantic to picnic casual. Each has its own personality and approach.
In alphabetical order, here are our recommendations for some interesting dining destinations to consider in 2014.
167 Townsend, Birmingham. Call: (248) 494-7110. Web: www.bellapiattirestaurant.com.
This might just have the prettiest, most romantic setting around. In its second incarnation, it has been completely revamped in Italian Renaissance style from its origins as a charcuterie restaurant. Now authentically Italian under Venetian born Francesco Apollonia, its a la carte menu of delicate pastas, veal and seafood dishes is impeccable, all prepared and served under the eye of Nino and Liz Cutraro, who moved over when they closed Sangria in Royal Oak.
34244 Woodward, Birmingham. Call: (248) 594-0984. Web: www.BistroJoesKitchen.com.
You might not expect a restaurant in a market to offer destination dining. This casually elegant restaurant hits all the right notes with its international array of dishes as simple as flatbread from the wood-burning oven in the open kitchen to classic coq au vin and mideastern-inspired lamb, yogurt, cucumber and fresh mint wrap sandwiches.
A raw seafood bar is tucked into a corner with the wine system which preserves and dispenses pours of varying sizes. A collaboration between the Curtis family, owners of the Papa Joe’s Gourmet Market that houses the mezzanine level spot, and chef/partner Jacques Van Staden, it has broad appeal.
2040 Park, Detroit. Call: (313) 965-3111. Web: www.bucharestgrill.com.
It began as an unknown, quickly became a cult favorite, and now it has a wide audience for its good, fresh, inexpensive food, notably the best chicken shawarma in town. The plump pieces of marinated and grilled chicken are tucked into warm pita bread with romaine, tomato, wild cucumber pickle and garlic sauce.
The menu also includes other wrap sandwiches and an Angus burger. No frills here; the food is all on disposables, to carry out or to eat at the Park Bar, where it occupies a corner. The two separate entities are joined at the hip, and the Park is happy to welcome Bucharest diners and even take their orders.
17420 Hall, Clinton Twp. Call: (586) 228-0010. Web: www.c59winebar.com.
Tucked into space near the movie complex at Partridge Creek, this gem of a wine bar with a small plates menu that includes artisanal breads, cheese and fruit, and other sharable dishes is drawing appreciative crowds into its handsomely decorated quarters. Seating arrangements range from cushy chairs to bar stools to a communal table where wine tastings are held. Wines are offered in flights, by the glass in varying amounts and by the bottle. A wine preservation system allows wines not usually available by the glass to be sampled.
Dakota Inn Rathskeller
17324 John R, Detroit. Call: (313) 867-9722. Web: www.dakota-inn.com.
The German restaurant and bar celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, still run by the founding family. Karl Kurz is the current proprietor serving up traditional German dishes from schnitzel and warm potato salad to bratwurst and knackwurst and foaming mugs of beer just like his grandfather did.
The structure is on the Michigan Register of Historic Places, and to step inside is to return to an earlier time. Waitresses wear flouncy dirndls as they serve the solid fare. Old Bavarian beer steins and family memorabilia are all around the high-ceilinged room. An amplified acoustic piano done up to look like an organ is on a small stage in the dining room, and that’s where piano players play drinking songs on Friday and Saturday nights.
4130 Cass, Detroit. Call: (313) 285-9081. Web: www.laferiadetroit.com.
Pilar Baron-Hidalgo and her friends and business partners, Naomi Khalil and Elias Khalil, added greatly to the midtown upswing when they opened their tapas restaurant bright with ceramic tiles, posters and artworks from Baron-Hidalgo’s native Seville, as a backdrop to a menu of authentic Spanish tapas.
Serrano ham, cana de lomo (cured pork loin), Spanish chorizo and cheeses, steamed mussels and bacon-wrapped dates are served on little clay plates or wooden boards to share. It’s little wonder this concept won Comerica’s Hatch award in 2012, and they’ve made the most of the award.
Market North End
474 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham. Call: (248) 712-4953. Web: www.marketnorthend.com.
Casual and upbeat, this new spot reflects its proprietors, Joe and Kristin Bongiovanni, who know how to please diners. Both come from restaurant families, and in fact, ran the Bongiovanni family’s Luxe Bar & Grill before putting their own ideas in place right across the street.
Recommended dishes on a menu that begins with sharable snacks and continues to full seafood and beef entrees such as Florida grouper and dry-rubbed ribs include garlic soup, fish and chips, house-made potato chips and pita bread, and the array of pizzas, including calzones.
6675 Telegraph, Bloomfield Hills. Call: (248) 723-0800. Web: www.mexbloomfield.com.
The fun quotient is very high at the restaurant in the brightly painted structure on Telegraph Road south of Maple. While there’s a complete menu of Mexican dishes from quesadillas, tacos and tamales to fajitas and even tres leches cake from the kitchen with windows framed like paintings, MEX also bows to its location with create-your-own salads.
Zack Sklar of Social Kitchen & Bar in Birmingham obviously let his imagination go wild with this concept. The decor includes a jumble of textures and fabrics and exaggerated furniture in neon colors that set the scene for this restaurant as carnival. You’d really have to be a grouch not to appreciate it.
1400 Michigan, Detroit. Call: (313) 962-5500.
Perched on the corner of Michigan and Eighth Street, Ottava Via’s main dining room has vintage architectural features dating from the building’s origins as the Dime Bank. The scarred tile floors and the walls painted in a distressed design to emphasize age, the big mirrors, woodwork and globe lights meld modern and tradition. The menu includes thin-crusted Neopolitan style pizzas, for instance, the Rustica, with fingerling potatoes, pancetta, fresh rosemary and oregano, as well as baby arugula. It’s definitely pizza as entree. The kitchen headed by Ariel Millan makes its own fresh mozzarella that tops the classic Margherita and also turns up in the Caprese salad.
15301 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park. Call: (313) 822-3700. Web: www.redcrowngp.com.
The vintage gas station is under new management, but much of the staff is the same at this cleverly converted spot serving contemporary comfort food in two rooms, an airy, high-ceilinged dining room and a cozy adjoining bar. The atmosphere is friendly and upbeat, reflecting a menu that includes baby back ribs from the in-house smoker, grilled meatloaf, an excellent hamburger and perch & chips along with such southern-style sides as braised greens and mac & cheese.