Review: Small plates breathe life into Puck’s cucina

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

Out went the cushy banquettes around the bar and in came high-top tables and one long communal table. Small changes, perhaps, but they have made the atmosphere at Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina much more convivial, and it fits right in with the newly introduced small plates menu.

The chefs and the sommelier have come up with an appealing list of sharable dishes and some surprisingly inexpensive wine, beer and selected cocktail choices to go with them — $5 for Italian beer or a glass of red or white California wine, and $7 cocktails.

The Peppadew peppers, stuffed with garlic goat cheese, are among the many small plate values offered.

It’s absolutely what was needed, since the cucina has always seemed like something of an also-ran to its adjoining neighbor, Wolfgang Puck Steak, even though both restaurants have excellent food and service. On many evenings, the steak house has been crowded, while the cucina is underpopulated, despite the fact that it is a particularly handsome space with a ceiling of cream and gray mosaic tile and such details as open filament bulbs in swooping brass-armed chandeliers.

The cucina replaced Michael Mina’s glamorous SaltWater in the space after a brief run for Wolfgang Puck Grille, but has never achieved the popularity of the Mina seafood restaurant. The small plates approach should certainly give it a nudge.

A spiced chickpea bruschetta with crispy parsley is one of the small dishes offered in addition to the regular dinner menu.

The concise menu — subtitled piccoli piatti in the poetic Italian way of saying small plates — is presented along with the more extensive regular dinner menu. For many people, the small plates will be enough. The choices include three varieties of chic little sliders on glossy buns: meatball with provolone cheese and basil, pork belly with aioli made with mildly spicy Calabrian chiles and mushroom arancini (rice balls) with tomato basil sauce and Parmesan. At $4 each, they typify the value here.

Not to be missed are the rosemary frites with truffle salt, and a mustard aioli that isn’t really necessary. These addictive skinny strips of crisp potato can stand on their own. Other notable small plates include chicken wings cut into pieces that are easy to deal with, served with lemon-sparked hummus, and Peppadew peppers stuffed with garlic goat cheese and prettily presented on a long, slim white plate. The miniature red peppers, about the size of a cherry tomato, make a particularly sharable dish as does the crunchy calamari with basil aoli. Executive chef Joel Neirynck-Coon and sous-chef Tony Matta authored the appealing new small plates menu.

The provolone cheese and basil and the pork belly with Calabrian chiles aioli are two of the three chic sliders on the new menu.

Pepperoni pizzetta (small pizza) might just trigger an urge for the larger variety on the regular menu. The wood-roasted, thin-crusted pizzas, ranging from the simple tomato-basil Margarita to an elaborate duck sausage and wild mushroom version, are notable.

More substantial dishes for those who want to move on include an excellent chicken piccata in a butter sauce sparked with lemon and capers, and pan-seared scallops with asparagus tips, as well as an array of pasta from lasagna to seafood capellini, all in a much steeper price range than the gently priced small plates.

The choice is ours.

Wolfgang Puck

Pizzeria & Cucina

MGM Grand Detroit

1777 Third, Detroit

Call: (313) 465-1646 (during restaurant hours); (877) 888-2121 at other times



Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Wed., Thurs., Sun., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Closed Mon.-Tues.

Prices: Small plates $4-$9; regular menu pizzas $13-$16, appetizers $10-$30, salads $12-$15, pastas $19-$24.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Attached deck

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good

★★1/2 — very good

★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — outstanding