Tuna tartare comes with pickled pears, crisp wontons and sweet soy. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Expectations were high when it was announced that the Queen Anne-style brick and brownstone building on Woodward at John R in the heart of downtown Detroit would house a restaurant on its second floor in high-ceilinged space that once was a concert hall and ballroom. And just a few days ago, the restaurant, named for the jewelry store that once sold art deco engagement rings in the building generations ago, threw open its doors.
Wright & Company may surprise some people, but it won’t disappoint. It lives up to or perhaps even exceeds the expectations with its quality and style. The simple one-page menu on heavy cream-colored stock offers a distinctive selection of sharable dishes from the scratch kitchen presided over by chef/co-proprietor Marc Djozlija, backed up by the bar, run by co-proprietor Dave Kwiatkowski, using equally fresh ingredients.
It offers craft cocktails made with the array of housemade syrups, bitters and mulled herbs lined up atop the white marble bar surface that extends the full length of the room, as well as an impressive list of craft beers and wines (though not enough wines by the glass at this point).
It all fits with the setting, a combination of vintage and contemporary that does justice to the tin-ceilinged space. Deep burgundy leather banquettes extend the length of the room and bisect the space. Still to come are a presumably beautiful Murano glass chandelier that will hang in one corner of the room (on its way from a DuMouchelle auction) and vintage-style fans to spin over the banquettes. Tall windows on two sides are uncovered, letting in both light and an urban sensibility.
Sounds like what might be termed a “fancy restaurant,” doesn’t it? But no. The vibe at Wright & Company is comfortable and perhaps surprisingly casual. Linens consist of big, spill-soaking dishtowels, and servers wear black T-shirts emblazoned with the diamond-shaped logo that harks back to the jewelry store. Dress code is come-as-you are, and there are as many tattooed arms as those covered by sleeves.
The opening menu offers nine “snacks,” in the Wright vernacular, nine “plates” and three desserts, and it will, of course, change as the seasons move on. Everything is served on white plates (are there any other kind these days?). Notable snacks include what is sure to be a popular dish — chicken threaded on slim skewers and flavored with Chinese mustard and sriracha chili sauce and accompanied by marinated cucumbers, a brilliant combination of textures and flavors; fresh potato chips (that don’t really need the scattering of bacon, scallions and white cheddar cheese that dot them) and roasted multicolor beets with pine nuts, a touch of feta and a couple of orange segments to dip into a swirl of aged Balsamic vinegar on the plate.
Among “plates” are such seafood choices as sauteed sea scallops with sweet corn and asparagus and a subtly applied beurre blanc that doesn’t disguise the sweet flavor of the tender scallops, lime-poached shrimp teamed with avocado mousse and tomato relish and tuna tartare set off by pickled pear and wontons.
Don’t look for the conventional dinner accompaniments of bread baskets and soup or salad. That’s not the style here. Nor is the service at all formal. But the hand-picked staff knows what they are serving and how to relate to the guests.
A word has to be said about Dan Gilbert and his Bedrock Company, the owners of the building. They certainly knew who to entrust with the second floor.
Wright & Company
1500 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 962-7711
Rating: 4 stars (out of 4)
Hours: 4-11 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 4 p.m.-midnight Thurs.-Sat. Bar open later
Prices: Snacks $6-$9, plates $9-$17, desserts $7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Valet in the works, nearby structures and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers; small elevator accesses the second floor space. A main rear entrance is still under construction.