With autumn fast approaching and the days getting shorter, my ancestral body is starting to crave foods that will keep me warm at night. So what better way to satisfy a seasonally-growing appetite and celebrate the coming equinox than with the fall edition of Detroit Restaurant Week, which kicks-off Friday, September 19, and runs through Sunday, September 28?
Launched in 2009, Detroit Restaurant Week
(DRW) is a bi-annual event (spring and autumn) that offers diners three-course menus that include a lengthy lists of delectable appetizers, entrees, and desserts at some of Detroit's premier establishments -- all for $30 per person (excluding beverages, gratuity, and tax). Of the 21 restaurants participating this fall, we decided to preview three DRW newcomers: Ottava Via
, Craft Work
, and Top of the Pontch
Ottava Via (Corktown)
The bar at Ottava Via
Restaurants and bars seem to be springing-up all over Corktown, and Ottava Via, located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Eighth Street in the renovated Dime Savings Bank building, is one of the neighborhood's most promising new destinations.
Tall windows allow natural light to beam into Ottava Via's exposed brick dining room, which is furnished with Brentwood-style cafe chairs and marble table tops that can easily be pushed together to accommodate larger parties. The high ceilings amplify the chatter of diners, creating a lively environment.
Cooks bustle at the back of the dining room in the open kitchen, preparing rustic Italian fare, wood-fired pizzas topped with home-made mozzarella, charcuterie and cheese plates, and house-made pastas. The wine list offers something for everyone, ranging from new and old world wines.
Chef Ariel Millan created a special menu for DRW, but he made sure to keep a few items from their daily menu. One of those entrees is a seared Branzino, an iconic Mediterranean fish grilled and served whole. It has delicate, white flesh and a mild, almost sweet flavor. The charred skin adds a nice crispy texture and a subtle, smoky finish. Other items on the DRW menu include Berkshire bacon-wrapped artichokes with oven dried tomato relish and homemade linguini noodles tossed with a truffle butter sauce.
Weather permitting, you can also enjoy your dinner out back next to a warm fire on the brick-paved patio. If you fancy a game of Bocce over after-dinner drinks, this is also an option.
When I asked Heather Seal, Ottava Via's general manager, what she hopes people will say after dining at Ottava Via during DRW, her answer was simple: "Satisfied."
The kitchen at Ottava ViaOttava ViaSeared branzino at Ottava ViaMaking pizza at Ottava ViaThe patio at Ottava ViaCraft Work (West Village)
Many variables inside a restaurant contribute to a memorable dining experience: great food, a killer wine list, knowledgeable servers, and a well thought-out interior design; but one of my favorite venues offers a unique experience well before setting foot inside. Nestled in West Village, a neighborhood with tree-lined streets, gas-lit street lamps, and lots of historical charm, Craft Work is a 110-seat restaurant located on the ground floor of the Parkstone Apartments (8047 Agnes St.) where the once legendary Harlequin Cafe operated.
Craft Work is a serve-to-order restaurant where everything feels classic. Built-in book shelves flank one side of the bar area, along which are located three rectangular wooden high-tops that each can accommodate parties of up to 10 people. Across the room stands a glass-backed, wood bar with a white marble top. On the way into the dining room, black-and-white framed prints of famous musicians like Iggy Pop and comedian David Chappelle line the wall.
Craft Work serves dishes like grilled trout and sausage with peppers, as well as other dishes that have more of an international flare like their grilled shrimp Mediterranean lentil salad.
"For us it's about fresh products and consistency," says Hugh Yaro, co-owner of Craft Work. "We want to be sure our guests not only enjoy our food, but know that when they decide to come back and order the same item on our menu, that it will taste just as delicious as they remembered it tasting before."
For Craft Work's DRW menu, chef Matthew Balton upholds the restaurant's motto of consistency by including current menu items like smoked trout pâté, prepared with lemon, dill, and pickled Fresno peppers and served with toast. Their mouthwatering French dip is a prime rib served au jus
Vegetarians fear not! The red beet and cauliflower entree (served with lentils, tahini, sunflower seeds and golden raisins) is one of my favorite dishes on their menu. I'm the kind of guy, when given the choice of meat or veggies, who will almost always choose meat...except for when I go to Craft Work.
Craftwork's marble-topped barThe dining room at CraftworkCocktail fixings at CraftworkCraftwork's dining room
Top of the Pontch (Downtown)
The Hotel Pontchatrain
The newly opened Top of the Pontch is located on the 25th floor of the Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront Hotel (2 Washington Blvd.). Once you step off the elevator and take a few short steps to the host stand, you are overwhelmed by a breathtaking 180-degree panoramic view of the city. Though the restaurant just opened to the public only a few days ago, they are ready to show Detroit diners something they haven't seen before.
Justin Vaiciunas, the Pontch's executive chef and director of beverage, is an ambitious young chef. At 26, he has a penchant for experimenting with flavors, textures, and colors.
"Most of my dishes are Japanese-inspired: clean with lots of color," says Vaiciunas. "I want them to be just as visually striking as they are uniquely flavorful, so presentation is just as important to me."
For DRW, he chose dishes from his standard menu: stuffed sea urchin, sautéed skate (lightly battered and served with a creamy cranberry brown butter), and Hollandaise sauce made from the eggs of the sea urchin and served in its own spikey purple shell. Then there is the gnocchi and short rib, served with sweet potato, rendered bone marrow, and wild mushrooms. In addition, diners may choose from a Japanese-inspired tasting menu featuring five courses (typically a $60 per person value) for the same DRW price of $30. An optional beverage pairing for $25 is being offered from their predominantly Napa-heavy wine list, as well as their lists of sake, Michigan-brewed beers, and handcrafted cocktails.
"We want to achieve the wow factor with every aspect of the restaurant," says Vaiciunas. "For instance, we are not a turn-and-burn restaurant. Our knowledgeable servers are well aware of how to pace each table's order, so no one feels like they are being rushed. Even though we are an upscale fine dining restaurant serving high-concept dishes, more than anything, I want to be sure no one leaves our restaurant hungry."
The three-tiered dining room ensures all diners enjoy the view. With its clean contemporary white furniture, sheer curtains, and light wood floors and tabletops, the dining room fills with shifting light as the sun sets during dinner hours. Floor to ceiling windows angled slightly wrap around the three sides of the dining room, creating small coves with enough room to fit tables for four. The view is spectacular no matter where you are seated. To the east you can see as far as Belle Isle. To the west you can see as far as the Ford Rouge Plant and watch freighter after freighter pass under the Ambassador Bridge along the Detroit River.
A view of a freighter from the Top of the PontchThe dining room at Top of the Pontch
Marvin Shaouni is Model D's managing photographer and resident food critic. View his work at marvinshaouni.com.