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Amici's Pizza and Living Room 3249 W. 12 Mile Rd., Berkley, 248-544-4100; Pizza crust made with bran, biodegradable dishes and soy candles, no smoking, no TV, even a couple of organic vodkas — Amici's manages both to be virtuous and to pull it off without a hint of self-righteousness. It is a bar, after all, and it's hard to say whether patrons are more interested in the vegan pizzas or the 64 cocktails, 35 beers and 5 premium tequilas on offer. They can combine the two impulses by ordering Red Bridge beer, gluten-free.
Café Via 310 E. Maple Rd., Birmingham, 248-644-8800; One of the Café's best features is its large patio, covered with sage-green canopies and provided with heaters for the transitional months. Outdoor seating is needed because there are only 15 tables inside, plus a tiny bar and a few seats for drinks in that crowded hallway. The small rooms give an intimate feel. Café Via's patrons follow the French way of dining: less quantity, higher quality. All dishes are lovely to look at.
Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., Detroit, 313-961-2543; Stepping into the newly restored art deco live jazz bar with an even more recently opened kitchen is to arrive in another era. Neither cheap nor fast, mixed drinks are crafted old-school, more for taste than ease of production. With everything from a standard fillet of beef tenderloin to cassoulet, the French-inspired eclectic food menu speaks for itself. Hedonists will go for a chunk of tender braised pork belly that comes plated with a rich, spicy sweet cider sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and a pinch of cracklings for good measure.
Da Nang 1 S. Main St., Clawson, 248-577-5130; Catering to mainstream Anglo diners, the spice levels are very low. They can, of course, be ramped up to the incendiary with the addition of hot chili sauce served on the side. Then there's the pho: entire meals in a soup bowl, chock-full of broth, noodles, meat and vegetables. Da Nang's six somewhat underseasoned broths — mostly rice-noodle-based — might include slices of round beef and or beef flanks, or both combined with meatballs and tripe ($14). Other options involve pork with egg rolls ($14) and boneless short ribs served with or without the eggrolls along with the same vegetables and sauce.
Evans Street Station 110 S. Evans St., Tecumseh, 517-424-5555; The restaurant's philosophy is slow and local. If that sounds pretty fashionable these days, note that chef and co-owner Alan Merhar is surrounded by farmers, making it easy to make the most of them for his produce, in season. The resulting dishes are fancy in the sense that sophisticated measures have been taken, but (mostly) all-American if you look at the ingredients. Not everything's local, obviously: Scottish salmon, scallops, certified Black Angus steaks. But many of the side dishes will be, come summer. Desserts are made in-house and include a rich cappuccino crème brûlée, pumpkin pound cake, tiramisu, Key lime cheesecake, and blood-orange or lime-ginger sorbets.
Forty-Two Degrees NORTH 100 Renaissance Dr. N., in the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, Detroit, 313-568-8699; The views are striking through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the third floor of the Ren Cen. A restaurant has to be pretty spectacular to warrant charging $28 for meatloaf and $36 for rib-eye. Some dishes deserve to be praised to the skies, such as the crab cakes ($12), so scrumptious and elegantly dressed that two felt like plenty. It was on the entrées that Forty-Two Degrees North fell down.
Inyo Restaurant & Lounge 22871 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-543-9500; With a wide-ranging menu, striking presentations and quality cocktails, Inyo has sparked a buzz in Ferndale's dining scene. The dishes have not just flavor, but pleasing texture contrasts within a dish. Entrées include Inyo's version of kung pao chicken, and pepper steak that's startling in its simplicity. The sushi menu is the standard makimono (rolls); sashimi and nigiri ranges from ordinary maki to specialties.
Katana Nu-Asian Steakhouse 111 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-591-9900; Though its menu is Japanese — or perhaps "Japanese-inspired" — there's nothing subtle about Katana Steakhouse. For teppanyaki — "hibachi table cooking" — diners are seated around big cooking surfaces, each manned by an aproned and toqued Chinese chef. The chef goes through some impressive banging and flipping of knives and gets to work on the fried rice ($3 extra), cracking an egg, chopping some more and adding soy sauce. In addition to the main-attraction grills, diners can also sit at regular tables and order from the small plates menu, which has more of a fusion bent.
Lefty's Lounge 5440 Cass Ave., Detroit, 313-831-5338; On the ground floor of the Belcrest, Lefty's is primarily a watering hole that features a wide variety of items that fall under the bar-food rubric. This means that patrons should not expect house-made dressings, artisanal bread or elaborate preparations. On the other hand, many of the dishes created in-house are first-rate, with the exemplary beef, for example, fresh from Eastern Market. Not surprisingly, most of Lefty's patrons are beer drinkers. They are well-served with 17 brews on tap and by the fact that a domestic pint goes for $2.75.
Lunchtime Global 660 Woodward Ave., Suite 110, Detroit, 313-963-4871; Co-owners Trish Ziembowicz and Ken Karustis have built a loyal clientele of downtown workers, mostly from the First National Building and its neighbors, who are partial to the six soups a day and to the house rules: everything from scratch and made in-house (except bagels). Enter on Congress Street a half block east of Woodward Avenue, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. See the menu at lunchtimeglobal.com.
Luciano's 39091 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township, 586-263-6540; Located in the prosaic Gar-Pointe strip mall, Luciano's, which seats 200, is opulently decorated. Although the portions are large and Luciano's admirable garlic bread is filling, the attractive array of appetizers is worth sampling. Luciano prepares steak seven ways, with family competition between his (sliced char-broiled New York strip with "special" dressing and spices) and hers ("Rosa" style, pan-fried breaded steak filled with cheese, prosciutto and tomato). A mix of Italian and New World vintages, the respectable wine list is a bit pricey with not many selections under $30.
Red Pepper Deli 116 W. Main St., Northville, 248-773-7672; A new dining destination for raw food enthusiasts, serving scrumptious, cashew-strewn fare, with vegetables, nuts, fruits, sprouts and seeds — plain, grated, mashed, pulverized and liquefied. Salads feature a ton of ingredients, such as spinach with tomato, onion, carrots, currants, apples and pecans. A sweet beet slaw tosses in apples, raisins, lemon juice and agave nectar. In addition there are juice blends, smoothies and shakes. Raw food doesn't have to be served cold or room temperature. Red Pepper uses a dehydrator, which doesn't get much hotter than 100 degrees, to make "stir fries."
Rojo Mexican Bistro 44375 12 Mile Rd., Suite G-147, Novi, 248-374-4600; Though it's fairly simple to locate a Mexican restaurant in metro Detroit, it's not necessarily as easy to get good Mexican food. After you get past the complicated question of authenticity there lie plates and plates of bland and forgettable fare with a side of beans and rice. But at Rojo Mexican Bistro in Novi they're skillfully mixing contemporary and classic Mexican dishes with an eye toward freshness and flavor.
Supino Pizzeria 2457 Russell St., Detroit, 313-567-7879; Serving brilliant thin-crust pizza with imaginative fresh ingredients — even an egg — with a delectable thin crust that's not too chewy. They serve five red pizzas and six white, meaning no tomato sauce; almost all are made with traditional ingredients, no pineapple, no taco fixings. The red sauce is supremely simple, nothing much besides some fresh-tasting though canned crushed tomatoes. The Primavera, a white, is topped with fresh tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, red onion, mozzarella and spinach — lots of flavors.
Taste Pizza Bar 1431 Times Sq., Detroit, 313-962-8700; Seating as many as 175, Taste sprawls through two rooms, with the dining area separated from the even larger lounge. An added bonus for night owls is its 2 a.m. closing time. Most of the pies cost $13 or less — the upscale outlier is the "Ocean 21" ($21), with lobster, scallops, and shrimp. And kudos to the sommelier for selecting bottles from solid but relatively obscure small vineyards and for establishing a no-nonsense pricing system. Beer is reasonably priced as well at $3-$5 and several of the cocktails come in small ($6-$7) as well as large sizes.
Thang Long 27641 John R, Madison Heights, 248-547-6763; Where to get pho? There are at least four Vietnamese places on Dequindre or John R, but Thang Long, run for 15 years by Alexander Nguyen, serves the country's national soup with aplomb. A large bowl of clear beef broth, beef and rice noodles, with scallions and herbs added as the chef and the diner decide, gets added complexity from charred onion and ginger. The non-greasy crispy rolls are delicious and filled with ground pork, mushrooms and cabbage — producing a startling but lovely purple interior. Perhaps best is the whole crispy catfish, with soft white flesh and a hot-sweet ginger-garlic sauce.
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