Dress codes are pretty much a thing of the past, and that’s a good thing. Still, there are times when dressing up for dinner is very much a part of a festive holiday evening.
Here are a half dozen places that offer the right setting for a December celebration. Although menus and approaches differ, what these restaurants have in common — besides expert kitchens turning out quality fare — is excellent service and attractive surroundings. Note than none of these restaurants requires dressing up.
Joe Muer Seafood
400 Renaissance Center, Detroit;
(313) 567-3867. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.,
11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 4-10 p.m. Sun.
The updated version of the venerable seafood house offers simply prepared seafood and more elaborate dishes including macadamia-crusted halibut and whole Maine lobster. Fresh oysters, clams and crab legs handsomely displayed at the raw bar and colorful sushi from its own station add a contemporary touch. The river view through big windows, vintage paintings from the original Muer’s and the big space broken up into cozier sections all combine to make the most of the setting. The menu is almost entirely seafood but there are a few meat dishes including New York strip steak and rack of lamb.
30715 W. 10 Mile, Farmington Hills;
(248) 474-3033. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Mon.-Fri., 5-9:30 p.m. Sat., 4-8 p.m. Sun.
The romantically lit setting includes a fireplace and the atmosphere gives the impression, not so much 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 menu includes hand-made pastas, prepared-to-order risotto, veal with lemon and artichokes and a spectacular 32-ounce tomahawk steak prepared with seasonings sent to the restaurant from Italy. Desserts include a rarity, housemade spumoni. The updated wine list is tilted toward boutique reds. Café Cortina is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and many of the people who have made it their career have impressively long tenure. And that includes proprietor Rina Tonon and her son Adrian, executive chef Jeff Hoffman.
London Chop House
155 W. Congress, Detroit;
(313) 962-0277. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri, dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Closed Sun.
The current regime has been in place since February 2012, when Nico Gatzaros took over. He put Robert (RJ) Scherer, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, in the rebuilt kitchen, removed the dust-catchers in the dining room and simplified the décor while essentially preserving its vintage supper club aura. The rebuilt kitchen turns out a menu that includes such classics as oysters Rockefeller, French onion soup, Dover sole and sauteed perch — no longer called “mess o’ perch” as it was in the old days — now dressed up with plump shrimp and crabmeat. Steak has always been emphasized, as befits an establishment with ‘chop house’ in its name, and the current offerings range from the relatively dainty filet mignon to a 32-ounce prime porterhouse. There’s a small dance floor and live music every night, something of a rarity.
1695 E. Big Beaver, Troy;
(248) 680-1100. Hours: dinner only except for Thursdays, when there is lunch from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs,. 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
The high-ceilinged dining room offers white, linen–swathed tables and impeccable table appointments, with nothing extraneous on the table, not even salt and pepper. Salt, when requested, is brought to the table in several sea-salt variations, each sprinkled from a tiny salt spoon by the waiter. The handsome setting is augmented by ensemble service from a staff wearing dark business suits as they go about their tasks in the burgundy-carpeted dining room and the bar with its rust, black and white marble tile floor. The indirect light level casts a soft glow over the room, where two fireplaces add a baronial touch. Yes, you quickly realize that Tre Monti, which just celebrated its seventh anniversary, is something out of the ordinary. Notable dishes include osso buco (braised veal shank) with saffron risotto, grilled quail, spaghetti alla carbonara and 16-ounce veal chops.
6830 N. Rochester, Rochester Hills; (248) 652-4500. Dinner only. 4:30-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4:30-11 p.m. Fri-Sat., 4:30-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
Named for the Italian cookbook Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, its staff includes former Il Posto chef Daniele Dell’Acqua, sous-chef Mauro Querio and manager Rito Lisi presiding over an á la carte menu of regional Italian dishes in an unexpected setting, a corner of Papa Joe’s Plaza. It’s a captivating place from the herb garden at the entrance to the linen-lavished tables beneath photographs of Italy. Waiters serve from rolling carts as they did at Il Posto. Notable dishes include grilled Mediterranean sea bass, fresh swordfish with herb stuffing, a number of fresh and dried pastas, risotto, veal paillard and saltimbocca alla Romana.
Rugby Grille, Townsend Hotel
100 Townsend, Birmingham; (248) 642-5999. Hours: Breakfast 6:30-10:30 a.m. weekdays, brunch 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun., lunch 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. week days, dinner 3 p.m.-midnight daily.
Lighting is soft and there is no loud music. The tiny bar has just a few seats, so there isn’t any milling around at the bar to disturb those at the tables. Although the décor is rather tailored and conservative, other elements make up for it. The menu is classic and includes Dover sole deboned at the table, just one of the tableside preparations that also includes steak tartare for two. Such dishes as walleye with braised Yukon potato and celery root puree, beef tenderloin with a choice of sauces and an array of steaks are beautifully presented and garnished. Desserts include an all-but-irresistible chocolate lava cake. A nice touch — the menu credits the farmers, ranchers and artisans who provided the ingredients for chef Drew Sayres and his culinary team.