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Review: Savant is Midtown's most interesting new restaurant

Expertly crafted French cuisine pairs up with head-turning cocktails at this new dinner and nightlife destination

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

With a menu this mouthwatering and a wild, inventive cocktail list, Midtown has a real gem on its hands with new French restaurant Savant. 

And not totally metaphorically; there is literally gold on these plates. While largely unnecessary in terms of taste, the gold flakes and dust in some of the dishes and drinks here do add a little je ne sais quoi to the experience. It's just fun, and if you don't like fun, stay away. 

When Savant first opened in September, headlines teased that the new spot would offer "bumps" of caviar. Four months later, caviar is still offered as "the finer things in life," a floating dish that's not listed under any particular section of the menu. It's a chilled spoon of black caviar with a few gold flakes on top, presented on a bed of shredded ice with a shot glass of Champagne. 

As the salty spheres of roe dance around your mouth, contemplate your choice of appetizer, appropriately called hors d'oeuvres here. I suggest the vegetable fritters with Indian spices or the foie gras eclair, a beautifully baked pastry stuffed with a generous piping of buttery duck liver and topped with a sprinkling of edible flowers, honey and a pinch of salt. 

Foie gras has its ethical issues, to be sure. I was half-kidding when I asked chef Jordan Whitmore if he by chance found a cruelty-free supplier and to my surprise he did find what he calls an ethical foie gras provider in upstate New York.  

Whitmore and his co-owner/operator, bar manager Rebecca Wurster, are two accomplished, creative restaurant veterans under 30, and both worked in their respective positions at the acclaimed chef's table at the Apparatus Room inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel. 

Pair these two dynamos with creative streaks and add a flair for nightlife and art, and you've got a new restaurant that is catering to Detroit's ballers while paying homage to the city's French lineage and techno history. 

The service style at their restaurant is relaxed, which matches the menu's European flair. That's not to say the staff is disinterested, quite the opposite. Care is taken to ask about allergies and slight dietary preferences were taken seriously.

While I recommend this for a date night or special occasion, a visit here doesn't have to a big thing. Sit at the long bar and enjoy a burger and a drink and watch the staff work.

Savant's standard $12 cheeseburger, "Burger Américain," is two thin, char-grilled patties that are perfectly pink in the middle, topped with white cheddar, Dijionaise, pickles and onions. It doesn't come with fries but it would be a crime to not add them, especially if you prefer the thin, crunchy kind. They're fried in beef fat and served with a dip that's a blend of zip sauce and Japanese Kewpie mayo. 

Savant beverage director Rebecca Wurster creates a "Shot Heard Round the World" consisting of Woodford Bourbon, Black Strap Rum, Muscovado and Angostura.

You get what you pay for on the cocktail list. The price points correlate with how involved, time-consuming and extravagant the drink is. 

Wurster is one of the city's most inventive and hospitable restaurant bartenders. Her cocktail list is organized by spirit and ranges from sophisticated recipes that are modestly garnished to full-out experiences with smoke, dry ice, contraptions and molecular gastronomy tricks that actually bring the bartender to your table for the full presentation. 

Treat yourself with the Golden Egg, a $24 cognac-based drink made with Remy VSOP and other spirits and flavors like lemon and cinnamon, frozen into a sphere and tucked into a torched orange rind, then topped with gold dust. As the boozy ball melts, the aromatic, luxurious drink evolves. 

Made with silver tequila, mole and squid ink, the black Challenger Deep is tart, citrus-y, strong and spicy. My favorite might be the Rattlesnake, a strong-but-sweet rye whiskey-based cocktail that is presented through a puff of hickory smoke. 

A lot of Whitmore's ingredients are simpatico with Wurster's shopping list for the drinks.

The Canton of Freeburg is a slightly sweet, complex drink made with Gruyère-infused gin. This is the same cheese Whitmore uses in the French onion soup and the croque madame sandwich, a rich and hearty dish that is one of the most popular on the menu. 

Whitmore, who is adding oysters to the menu this week, says when it comes to stocking Savant, they like to use local ingredients and small farms because "happy animals make better food." 

Champagne Chicken with crispy skin, pomme puree and charred vegetables.

This must be why Savant's Champagne chicken dish is so good. The airline breast is cooked via sous vide method for two hours. The skin is roasted separately, minced and added to the bird after it is basted in a Champagne sauce. 

Two other standouts on the menu are the velvety porcini and Parmesan soup with pebbles of soft cheese and a creamy, buttery consistency, and the simple green salad, huge and lovely with just shallots and a Champagne vinaigrette. 

The art-filled dining room seats about 100 and is broken into two parts, a lounge-y side with a DJ booth and the bar area with low tables and booths are on the other side. 

Music is spun after 11 p.m. on the weekends; DJ Adam Westing is booked this Saturday. This is when the late-night menu and happy hour kick in, a smattering of bar-friendly favorites from the main menu, including the burger, fries, chicken wings, calamari, fried chicken sandwich and loaded jalapeno poppers with a raspberry chipotle sauce.

Tucked on a one-way street that you can't drive down from Woodward, Savant's space was formerly short-lived Latin restaurant Bolero and before that a coney island. The location may be a hindrance on spur-of-the-moment guests during the week, but Whitmore says they've been booked solids on weekends. 

For Valentine's Day weekend, Feb. 14-16, they're running a four-course, fixed-price menu with highlights from the menu, plus a bottle of bubbly, for $150 per couple. 

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/melodybaetens

Savant Midtown

51 W. Forest, Detroit

(313) 285-9294 or savantmidtown.com

Rating: ★★★ (excellent)

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat late night menu; 4-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mondays. 

Prices: Starters, soups and salads, $7-$19; sandwiches, $12-$15; entrees, $16-$38; desserts, $10; cocktails, $12-$24; wine by the glass, $8-$16; draft beer, $5-$12. A late-night menu served after 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. has six items for $9.95 each. 

Reservations: Suggested on the weekends. Reserve on the website or by calling. 

Noise level: Quieter during the week than on weekends

Accessibility: No barriers 

Parking: Free street parking on Forest. Paid parking in Wayne State University garage next door. After 5 p.m. the surface lot across the street is usually free. 

What the stars mean: 

★ — good

★★ — very good

★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — extraordinary