Apparatus Room fare equals its dazzling 4-star setting

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

It’s tempting to talk about the scene at The Apparatus Room. The restaurant at the stunning new Detroit Foundation Hotel carved out of the former Detroit Fire Department headquarters downtown has so much going for it visually in spacious quarters on the ground floor that once housed firefighting equipment — thus the name — that it could easily upstage the fare.

Executive Chef Thomas Lents is making sure that doesn’t happen. His distinctive menu, prepared in the open kitchen at the back of the room, certainly stands on its own.

It is a la carte, to the point and well-edited and showcases the style that earned him posts in Michelin-starred restaurants in previous stints, most recently at Sixteen in Chicago, where he earned the stars.

Las Vegas and San Francisco were other stops in his culinary career, but he is now back home in Michigan, where he was born.

Because the location is a hotel, sustenance is available not just at mealtimes, but throughout the day. Between lunch and dinner, Lents offers what is called an all-day menu, with dishes culled from both menus, so that someone who stops by outside of the traditional time frame is able to get a true taste of the chef’s style.

That includes an interesting sandwich, made with chicken roasted in its own fat and dressed with spicy chicken skin mayonnaise, and also a burger, certainly the closest to a standard dish on the menu, made with a blend of prime beef cuts served in a double patty with cheese and griddled onions. Even the french fries that many order a la carte to accompany the burger have individual style, accented with harissa, the hot Tunisian spice, and a touch of dill.

Really, though, why order even a prime burger when there are many more interesting dishes in the Lents’ repertoire? He has an especially deft touch with vegetables, including a surprisingly lovely dish, slim, pine roasted carrots with touches of cumin, lemon ricotta and pine nut granola that is a favorite of his. It is on all three menus and, like the other dishes, is served in a relatively small portion. It is meant to be just one of the items sampled, not a major dish.

Lunch and dinner menus are deceptively simple and focused, with selections listed not in traditional form, but under such headings as raw and lightly cooked, where oysters, langoustine and sea trout may be found, along with lamb tartare.

The list is filled out with three pasta dishes, and a handful of mains, notably seafood bourride with house-cured cod, octopus and green chickpeas. Meat takes a somewhat secondary role on this initial menu, although one particular dish, confit suckling pork shoulder with pickled vegetables, is served for two or more. The menu will change frequently, the chef says, along with the season and availability.

Now about that stunning setting. While the character of the 1929 building has been respected, the high-ceilinged room is glamorous, with a white marble-topped bar at the entrance lit by clusters of glittering open-filiment bulbs. A mixed bag of seating arrangements throughout the room includes uncovered sturdy wood tables, and both leather and upholstered couches provide much of the seating. The inner side of the bar is available for dining in the evening, by reservation.

All of the details have been taken care of in this major addition to downtown Detroit dining, although in the early going, the service doesn’t quite live up to the cuisine, which is a blend of the chef’s midwestern roots and high-end experience.

The Apparatus Room

Detroit Foundation Hotel, 250 W. Larned, Detroit

Call: (313) 800-5600


Rating: ★★★★

Hours: Breakfast 6:30-10:30 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5:30-10 p.m. (9 p.m. Sun) daily.

Prices: Lunch appetizers $9-$14, sides $4-$4.50, mains $13-$18, desserts $8; dinner appetizers $6-$14, sides $7, mains $18-$36, desserts $8.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Valet ($10)

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good

★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding