American-Chinese cuisine usually gets a bad rap. It’s not the real thing, it’s a bastardization of authentic Asian fare. And that’s often true.
But it certainly won’t be the reaction of diners who check out the appealing new restaurant that just opened in what was once Detroit’s Chinatown.
The Peterboro offers a contemporary version of American-Chinese fare in the hands and imagination of young chef Brion Wong, and it’s a knockout. Stylish, robustly spiced dishes meant for sharing are served in an upbeat setting that takes the direction given it by the menu and interprets it in the crisp, clean, colorful décor.
Big red silk Chinese lanterns — imported from Vietnam, actually — under the black-painted tin ceiling set the scene in the dining room that offers mostly communal seating on natural wood stools pulled up to long uncovered tables. On the other side of the room, light green tile walls and a semi-circular bar topped with poured cement offer another seating area that includes a glimpse into the kitchen.
Windows are uncovered, and burned wood accents around both rooms are pickle barrel wood from the local pickle producer, Vlasic. The effect is both sophisticated and comfortably casual. You don’t even have to read further to know that this new spot, the forerunner of much more to come in the neighborhood, is a winner.
The menu is presented on a paper place mat, and it is concise and to the point when it comes to the food options. Not so much with the beverage options, which comprise about three-quarters of the menu, with listings of sake, sherry, beer, house cocktails and wine. Sake is emphasized as an appropriate accompaniment to the fare in the when-in-Rome thinking of the house.
Wine is surprisingly pretty much downplayed, with just 13 choices in all of sparkling, white, pink and red bottlings. I look for that to expand as time goes on.
The dishes that emerge from Wong’s kitchen include an outstanding scallop crudo — yes, that means uncooked — in a delicate sauce of ponzu, bean paste and sesame that doesn’t overpower the delicate slices of scallop, probably my favorite of six dishes sampled.
Another is the salt and pepper shrimp, huge, head-on crustaceans coated in a spicy mix that may have even the less adventuresome among us eating the head and all. Mom’s roast pork requires some chewing, but has a delicious sweet and savory flavor from its honey and hoisin glaze. And who doesn’t love crab Rangoon, at least this version, crunchy wonton skins filled with scallions, cream cheese and crabmeat? All of these are on the small plates list.
From the large plates list — which includes the chef’s version of almond boneless chicken — we chose Mapo tofu, the soft, custard-like bean curd nicely balanced with shiitake mushrooms. It is one of four dishes marked with the symbol for spicy, and it was definitely that thanks to Szechuan spices and chili oil.
A good balance with the tofu is seaweed salad, one of the small plates.
The brain trust behind this interesting new spot includes Dave Kwiatkowski (Sugar House, Café 78 and Wright & Co.) and Marc Djozlija (Wright & Co. and Café 78), along with managing partner Charles Inchaustegui.
420 Peterboro, Detroit
Call: (313) 833-1111
Hours: 4-midnight Sun.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. (Lunch to be added later).
Prices: Small plates $5.95-$11.95, large plates $9.95-$17.95, desserts $5.95, late night menu $2.95-$7.95
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar with an emphasis on sake
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Street and nearby lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine
★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding