When you choose a restaurant like the Top of the Pontch as a dining destination, you are looking for more than just sustenance. You expect an experience.
And certainly, after stepping off the elevator at the 25th floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel and getting the first look at the glittering lights of Windsor and Detroit and the river below, the wow factor immediately takes over. It's the most spectacular view of all three of the local rooftop restaurants.
But at this point in the rebirth of the restaurant, I don't think it delivers as much as it promises. I really wanted to love it. The view is worth the dreary 25-floor elevator ride, but aside from that, it fell short, despite some standout dishes. The menu is a la carte, with each dish individually garnished, and the single-page menus on thick ivory stock are stylish works of art embellished with lithographs of plants and herbs. It makes you wonder if the artist who designed them could have had anything to do with the room's décor, which evokes a Vegas-meets-South Beach feeling with its mishmash of decorative effects.
Seating is on two levels, and every table has a view, especially good from the tables tucked into alcoves right next to the expanses of window.
The menu is brief, to its credit, but it's just not very appealing. There are a half-dozen appetizers, including sea urchin stuffed with skate, cranberries and hollandaise made with sea urchin roe on a bed of sea salt, and a Japanese pancake (okonomiyaki) filled with lobster and crab as well as bacon and cabbage, a dish executive chef Justin Vaiciunas calls his signature.
One of the entrees, Berkshire pork chop, is everything you want it to be — a hefty 14 ounces prepared to the perfect level of doneness, its tomahawk bone tempting the diner to pick it up caveman style. Its accompaniments of red quinoa and kale, tempered with the sweetness of kumquats, are just right. It's exactly the sort of dish that fits the setting. The filet mignon with mushrooms and the chicken with cherry and apricot chutney are choice as well.
Other options, however, give the impression that the kitchen is trying too hard. For instance, nicely seared duck breast with orange curry demi-glaze is served on two small plates rather than one dinner plate, a needless affectation. And one of the desserts is "deconstructed" cheesecake. Overall, the dishes seem too fussy and unnecessarily embellished with obscure ingredients (taro root, yuzu butter, ras el hanout, maple "air"). Relax! A simpler approach would be just fine, and more in synch with current tastes.
The Top offered a tasting menu when it opened last year. That has been discontinued.
Note that there is a small bar at the entrance to the room, so those who want to get a glimpse of the view may do so without committing to an expensive dinner.
And about that name: The room on the 25th floor was part of the original hostelry circa 1965, the Hotel Pontchartrain, so when the room was renovated the name was kept alive. Thus, the Top of the Pontch, undoubtedly puzzling to those who haven't heard the backstory.
Top of the Pontch
Crown Plaza Hotel,
2 Washington Blvd., Detroit
Call: (313) 782-4313
Rating:★★1/2 (★★★★ for the view)
Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday-Monday
Prices: Appetizers $13-$25, soups and salads $8-$10, entrees $30-$85 (the latter for a lobster tail), with most in the $34-$38 range, desserts $10.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Low
Parking: Validated valet parking
Wheelchair access: No barriers