The 2014 restaurant scene was nothing short of dynamic. Splashy openings became almost routine, not just in the hot spots of downtown and midtown, but all across the landscape. It's highly probable that most of us haven't had a chance to check out all the possibilities. We've chosen 10 places — and it could have been more — to consider when looking for a dining destination in the fresh new year of 2015.
Here, in no particular order, are our picks.
8047 Agnes, Detroit
Call: (313) 469-0976
The two-room space on the first floor of the historic Parkstone Apartments has been handsomely updated without damaging its vintage quality. Proprietors Hu Yaro and chef Matt Dalton added a completely new kitchen for the preparation of their New American menu, which is honed to a brief length so the staff can work its craft efficiently without becoming bogged down by too many preparations.
Appetizers include housemade sausage and peppers, smoked trout pate and herb-crusted fresh mozzarella, and Dalton has an especially nice touch with the daily changing soups. Entrees are typified by grilled trout with lemon and thyme and fried chicken with braised greens, plus there's always a vegetarian selection. One of the most popular dishes is a dessert, an upscale version of the campfire treat s'mores made with rich dark chocolate and meringue.
Rose's Fine Food
10551 East Jefferson, Detroit
Call: (313) 309-7947
Lucy Carnaghi and Molly Mitchell are the culinary talents behind this 30-seat diner, named for their grandmother's love of roses. The one-story building was restored with help from friends and family who scrubbed decades-old light fixtures, tile floors and brick and knotty pine walls. Remarkably, just about everything could be salvaged, even some of the sturdy china plates left by the previous tenant.
The cousins haven't tried to change the character of the place — it's still very much a diner, but one with a noticeably individual spin.
The straightforward menu of simple egg dishes, notable pancakes, sandwiches made with pulled chicken, lamb meatballs and local fish, and old-fashioned cinnamon buns, glazed doughnuts and other homestyle baked goods testifies to that. Just about everything is made in house and many of the basic dishes were inspired by the family farm in Millersburg, Mich.
Quan Nem Ngon
30701 Dequindre, Madison Heights
Call: (248) 268-4310
The husband-wife team of Vinh Nguyen and Tien Hoang put together all elements in the well-designed room with one padded banquette stretching the length of one wall, and on the other some of the food preparation visible through glass panels. Quan Nem Ngon — it means "Delicious Bistro" — lists the selections with both Vietnamese and English descriptions, very helpful to those not familiar with the fresh, appealing cuisine.
Notable dishes include crisp little cha gio, spring rolls of pork and mushrooms, with chili lime dipping sauce; mien ga, chicken soup with glass noodles, a variation on pho; bun nem nuong, lemongrass-marinated beef over rice noodles with mixed greens and garlic lime fish sauce; and rice paper salad rolls served ready to eat from the kitchen, or with all the ingredients brought to the table so diners may put together their own from rice paper, leaf lettuce, daikon, and fresh herbs. It's a dish that is an appetizer to share — there are six of the rolls to an order — or a full entrée.
Service is emphasized and the staff shows its training.
Motor City Meatball Kitchen
31081 Hayes at 13 Mile, Warren
Call: (586) 872-2486
True to its name, the Motor City Meatball Kitchen is dedicated to golf ball-sized bundles of chicken, pork or beef, with all of the meats ground in-house. There is also the option of so-called vegetarian meatballs made with lentils, eggs, ricotta and bread crumbs. There's even a Meatball of the Month — and in January, it's the Swedish meatball.
Proprietors Mary Ann Gualtieri, Jeff Glover and Ron Uhouse decided to focus on the meatball when they opened their restaurant in September, from meatballs in sandwiches on Asiago roll or ciabatta flatbread to sliders on mini brioche buns. Meatballs also come tucked into the salads and atop spaghettini or penne pasta accompanied by garlic and herb focaccia bread made in house.
It's all very casual, but nicely done, with diners stepping up to the counter where their choices are put together, then picking up wax paper-covered metal trays on which the food is served.
Wright & Co.
1500 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 962-7711
The vibe at Wright & Company is comfortable and perhaps surprisingly casual. The setting, a combination of vintage and contemporary, does justice to the tin-ceilinged space, which has an urban sensibility. Servers wear black T-shirts emblazoned with the diamond-shaped logo that harks to the jewelry store that once occupied the space as they serve the small-plates menu.
The simple one-page list 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.
Craft cocktails are made with the array of housemade syrups, bitters and herbs lined up atop a white marble bar surface that extends almost the full length of the second floor room. Dishes on the seasonal menu — it will change right after the Auto Show — include chicken threaded on skewers and flavored with Chinese mustard and chili sauce, carpaccio, tuna tartare and a charcuterie and cheese platter.
Don't look for the conventional dinner accompaniments of bread baskets and soup or salad. That's not the style here. But the hand-picked staff know what they are serving and how to relate to the guests.
Gold Cash Gold
2100 Michigan, Detroit
Call: (313) 242-0770
The rustic farm-style cooking of chef Josh Stockton fits the setting, which pays tribute to the building's pawnshop origins while at the same time offering a contemporary feel. Much of the interior includes resourceful re-use of materials as old as the building itself. The ceiling in the main dining room is a herringbone pattern made of strips of wood lathe found under years of plaster and paint during the two-year restoration. French café chairs are pulled up to uncovered tables. Wine comes in Picardie tumblers rather than stemware.
It all fits the location well, and so does the menu, which really doesn't look like any other in town. The simple, one-page list on crisp tan paper looks like it was typed on an old-fashioned typewriter. Sure, there are some familiar-sounding dishes, like fried chicken and long-simmered short ribs, but they have the chef's distinctive touches. For the most part, it's refreshingly original, including the housemade sausage.
Chef/proprietor Stockton and partner Eli Boyer, with considerable help from Ray and Philip Cooley, the building's owners, have put together a very appealing addition to the Corktown lineup.
401 S. Lafayette, Royal Oak
Call: (248) 542-0082
A sophisticated dining room is matched by the kitchen headed by executive chef Derik Watson, whose experience includes stints in Chicago and Las Vegas as well as Detroit. He and the staff turn out beautiful plates that look just as good as they do on the electronic tablets that serve as menus. Click on a dish and it brings up a photo. You can be sure that the dish brought to the table will look just as good. The menu is relatively brief, with a few snacks to nibble on while deciding on your choices.
The appetizer list is particularly appealing, with an impressive array of dishes like oysters on the half shell, bone marrow and calamari. Entrees are all individually garnished with appropriate accompaniments, and they range from Scottish salmon and duck confit fettuccine to cioppino, the San Francisco version of bouillabaisse.
The dining room is done all in shades of cream, white and gray as a backdrop for the colorful fare. Proprietor Aaron F. Belen transformed the former Sangria into a stunning addition to dining in Royal Oak.
3921 Second, Detroit
Call: (313) 438-5055
The collaboration between chef Andy Hollyday and Evan Hansen offers a distinctive, seasonal menu that skims from internationally inspired dishes — polenta, lamb meatballs, ravioli — to roasted beets and grilled quail, all served with distinctive accompaniments. Even the desserts by pastry chef Sara Hackstick are seasonal. It's appealing fare; imaginative and prettily served on artisan-made ceramic bowls and plates and wood platters.
The highly contemporary décor includes metal chairs, white subway tile and cement floors under clear filament bulbs.
Hollyday's kitchen features a brick oven and a wood-burning grill in the front of the house. The best seats are at the cedar counter overlooking the oven and the intricate Grillworks rotisserie grill that allows the chefs to adjust the height of the cooking surface over the flames from ash, cherry and maple woods.
Although the chef is known for his touch with vegetables, there are also such choices as whole grilled trout, mussels with grilled bread, and steak frites. You can count on finding new dishes as spring approaches.
39556 Woodward at Long Lake, Bloomfield Hills
Call: (248) 646-9000
The sixth in the Roberts Restaurants stable, it has a highly detailed setting from the design wizardry of the Birmingham firm of Ron & Roman, which has been the creative muse behind every one of the six. The 90-seat room is divided into numerous seating areas set off from the bar by etched glass dividers. Walls are filled with a collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures, some reflecting the origins of the space — it was once Fox & Hounds — and others more contemporary and eclectic.
The appealing menu does much the same, with its combination of retro offerings and up-to-date dishes such as stuffed figs, whole brook trout, truffle fries and egg-topped prime rib hash. Subtlety is one of the hallmarks of the kitchen. Nothing seems overdone or fussy, and happily there is none of that striving-to-be-trendy feel. The menu includes a little touch of bistro and a little trattoria along with American steaks and a good burger.
In addition to the one-page menu printed on heavy ivory stock, there is a chalkboard with offerings that change daily. And for a final retro touch, one of the housemade desserts is baked Alaska. Service by a staff in dress shirts and ties is knowledgeable and professional, reflecting the man whose name is over the door: Bill Roberts.
J. Baldwin's Restaurant
16981 18 Mile, Clinton Township
Call: (586) 416-3500
Jeffrey Baldwin's place wasn't exactly new in 2014, but it arose from the ashes of a devastating fire, completely rebuilt after eight months of reconstruction. A number of improvements include a white quartz topped bar and a handsome wine cabinet as well as a chef's table. The stone pizza oven was, ironically, one of the only things that could be salvaged, and now there are three high-topped tables that offer a view of the pizzas and flatbreads roasting over the flames.
The menu has international touches but is basically American at heart. Baldwin has a nice touch with seafood, including seared scallops paired with lobster-filled raviolis, blackened swordfish and a quintet of bite-sized lamb chops as well as a 16-ounce bone-in ribeye.
And newly arrived with his degree from the Culinary Institute of America is Baldwin's son, Michael, who has joined his CIA alumnus father in the kitchen. The father-son combo will add a new menu section that will offer Michael's "new school" style and another with his father's "old school" way.
There aren't a lot of restaurants that can pull off a menu as varied as J. Baldwin's and give equal respect to both casual and high-end choices, but this well-managed spot does it.