Just when it seems elegance is a thing of the past, Café Cortina reminds us that, no, that's not quite true. Not while this well-run restaurant is around.
Elegant is a word that describes this romantic restaurant perfectly — and that even includes its patio seating, as meticulous as the dining rooms within the low-slung building surrounded by trees and gardens, including an impressive kitchen garden with rows of tall tomato plants, ruffly greens and brilliant green basil, all of which are destined to turn up on the plates.
The outdoor seating is secluded from the street, with tables set under the gnarled branches of crabapple trees on brick pavers bordered by lush greenery. A stone fireplace extends its life when the weather is cool. It's a lovely setting for the meticulous fare that comes from the kitchen, where virtually everything is housemade, from the gnocchi and ravioli and ribbons of pasta to the ciabatta bread that arrives at the double-covered tables warm from the oven.
This is a special place, founded 40 years ago by the late Adriano Tonon and his wife, Rina, who still runs it with the help of their son, Adrian, and a staff that has been there almost as long as she has.
Café Cortina is a place where people put aside the usual rush to grab a sandwich to dine in leisurely fashion not just in the evening, but also at lunchtime. It was interesting to see at lunch last week that no one seemed to be checking their iPhones or drumming their fingers on the table if the impeccably dressed waiter took a few extra minutes to bring a dish. Those who choose this restaurant are willing to accept the European time frame on which it runs.
It's totally refreshing to be in a place like this for an hour or two.
Café Cortina will celebrate its milestone anniversary this year, and many of the people who have made it their career have impressively long tenure. And that includes executive chef Jeff Hoffman, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in new York. Hoffman has a fine hand with the menu's classic Italian dishes from the prepared-to-order risotto (it takes 40 minutes, so relax) to the oven-roasted Mediterranean sea bass deboned tableside, and the classic veal with lemon and artichokes. Another lovely dish, on the antipasti list at both lunch and dinner, is grilled prawns in a subtle citrus and basil aioli, with a toss of arugula. It's generously portioned and could double as an entrée. Desserts just might include housemade spumoni, a real treat.
Those who prefer to dine indoors enjoy a sophisticated, romantically lit setting where there is another fireplace and the atmosphere, noon or night, gives the impression, not of a country inn, but of an urban hideaway. Presentation is emphasized with an array of glass and china plates in varying colors, shapes and sizes that serve as a backdrop to the food.
The wine list is tilted toward Italian reds and there is also a list of grappas for after-dinner sipping.
Café Cortina's price structure can raise eyebrows. It is undeniably expensive, and for most of us, this Farmington Hills hideaway is a special occasion place.
30715 W. 10 Mile, Farmington Hills
Call: (248) 474-3033
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Closed Sun.
Prices: Lunch antipasti $11-$14, pasta dishes $15-$20, seafood and meat $21-$34; dinner antipasti $12-$17, pastas, including salad, $31-$37, seafood and meat, including side of pasta and salad, $48-$56, desserts $8-$12.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar, with extensive wine, grappa and liquor lists
Noise level: Low
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers