Call 2011 in metro Detroit the year of the modern American bistro.
Not every new restaurant featured a burger, braised beef short ribs, roasted chicken, pastas and some kind of pizza -- the comfort food of our times -- but many did.
The bistros' small size helps them succeed, if they connect with the right audience. And it's hard to argue with a formula that relies on familiarity, affordability and the lure of a friendly gathering spot close to home.
Here, in alphabetical order, are our choices for metro Detroit's 10 best new restaurants of 2011. While not every place will be right for every diner, we believe everyone will find a place here to love.
Only restaurants that opened between Jan. 1 and today were considered; second locations of existing venues were not included.
You almost want to thank restaurateur John Lambrecht Jr. for creating such an inviting spot for lunch, dinner and drinks in the middle of downtown's Campus Martius Park, where nothing has really clicked before. Three glass walls provide a 180-degree view of the cityscape, including the Campus Martius fountain in summer and skating rink in winter. The restaurant's black granite bar and black wood furnishings look sharp against its white-covered tables, and its outdoor seating in summer is a delight. The French-influenced bistro menu offers 10 appetizers (try the spicy-sweet duck wings and the duck fat-fried potatoes); eight entrées (we loved the seared scallops with lemon-spinach risotto and the steak frites), a half-dozen salads and 11 sandwiches, including a notable burger. Very nice food -- and it earns big points for its big contribution to downtown.
800 Woodward (validated parking for Compuware Garage, entrance on Farmer); 313-237-7778 and www.fountainbistro.com.
Other restaurants from the article
Owner Mindy VanHellemont wanted a modern Italian restaurant with truly distinctive style, atmosphere and food, and Bella Piatti in Birmingham delivers all three. Chef Daniel Campbell's menu of mostly small dishes is rustic, sophisticated and intriguing, with starters like grilled Treviso (a kind of raddichio) with pork belly; whole wood-roasted sardines with pepperonata, and whole small tomatoes with fresh burrata cheese and basil. The small pastas are rich and deeply flavorful. Entrées -- most in the mid to upper $30s -- include steaks, whole roasted fish and savory slices of porchetta (pork) with arugula and onion. Tables are closely spaced in the spare, softly lit room; it can feel and sound like a party. Adventurous diners seeking memorable food and a big-city feel will find them here.
167 Townsend; 248-494-7110 and www.bellapiattirestaurant.com.
DIAMOND JIM BRADY'S BISTRO BAR
For longtime fans of Diamond Jim Brady's in Novi, the restaurant's closure last year to make way for a building project left a real void. But this fall, chef Mary Brady reopened near her original spot in Novi Town Center with a sharp redesign, a fresh take on the menu and great new energy. Serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, the new bistro bar -- as she and chef-co-owner Sharon Juergens call it -- feels like a stylish version of Cheers. The concisely edited bistro menu is modern, approachable and well-executed; think steamed mussels, creative salads, juicy burgers, fish, chicken and steaks, all at very reasonable prices. Successful restaurants don't need to do everything -- they just need to do whatever they do very well. Diamond Jim Brady's does.
43271 Crescent, Novi; 248.380.8460 and www.djbistro.com.
JOE MUER SEAFOOD
Restaurateur Joe Vicari's new seafood destination has all the bells and whistles: A gorgeous interior, a high-profile location at the Renaissance Center downtown, striking views of the Detroit River and Windsor skyline -- and the name Joe Muer, which resonates with at least three generations of diners. The two career restaurateurs have teamed up to offer some of the old Muer restaurant's best dishes, alongside contemporary offerings like spice-crusted Ahi tuna and Florida grouper with mango sweet chili glaze. Daily-changing chalkboard items add variety to the fixed menu. Service is professional, and the setting is memorable. Here's a place to bring out-of-towners, schedule a business lunch, celebrate an occasion or indulge your sushi cravings.
400 Renaissance Center (valet parking or self-park with validation discount at Miller Garage); 313-567-6837 or www.joemuerseafood.com.
Ann Arbor's lively, loud, Italian-accented Mani Osteria is a case of right concept, right time, right city. Its spare, urban vibe and shareable dishes -- from charcuterie, cheeses and numerous antipasti to thin wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas -- is about as far from a mom-and-pop pizza joint as it gets. Order several antipasti for the group -- crispy pork belly with apricot marmalade, arancini (risotto balls), charred octopus, roasted olives, Isabel's meatballs -- and finish with pastas or pizza. Try the Tartufo pizza with taleggio cheese, black truffles and egg, or the red onion and pistachio with goat cheese, rosemary and chile flakes. (Yes, there's also pepperoni.) The drink menu features craft beers, Old World wines and specialty cocktails. Expect a crowd; call 20 minutes ahead to be wait-listed.
341 E. Liberty; 734-769-6700 and www.maniosteria.com.
THE ROOT RESTAURANT & BAR
In the Root, chef James Rigato and owner Ed Mamou have created a fresh, unpretentious, food-driven restaurant that's drawing diners from all over metro Detroit. The kitchen makes almost everything in house, and many ingredients -- from the Guernsey Farms cream to the Michigan grass-fed beef -- are sourced locally or regionally. The menu stars beautifully balanced dishes like seared sea scallops with brown butter, grapefruit segments, capers and pistachio, and cider-braised Michigan pork shoulder with smoked cheddar grits and green apple salsa verde. There's also a fabulous hamburger. We love the look of the bar and dining room, with its vibrant grass-green accent wall and a long row of natural twigs. This place in White Lake is just a pleasure.
340 Town Center Blvd.; 248-698-2400 and www.therootrestaurant.com.
Italian regional dishes star at this small, pretty spot in the corner of the Papa Joe's market center in Rochester Hills. General manager Rito Lisi and chefs Daniele Dell'Acqua and Mauro Qerio all worked at the former Il Posto in Southfield; here, they've created a less formal setting with equally authentic food. Antipasti offerings include cured meats, simple grilled vegetables and carpaccios of beef, salmon and octopus. Entrées range from sautéed veal with prosciutto and sage to grilled Mediterranean sea bass. Don't skip a pasta course; the orecchiette with lamb ragu is luscious. With the close-together tables and sometimes-high noise levels, it's a high-energy room.
6830 N. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills; 248-652-4500 and www.silverspoonristorante.com.
The savory, fork-tender braised short ribs with rosemary pappardelle pasta and wood-roasted vegetables are $19. Oak-grilled skirt steak with Asiago cheese polenta is $18. And for $10, the mac and cheese is made with cavatappi pasta, gruyère cheese -- and bacon, no less. In the handsome bar, a fiery brick-hearth oven turns out crisp flatbreads like the Thai Asian, topped with peanut sauce, spiced chicken, mandarin oranges and cilantro for under $10. Sterling Bistro's style-flavor-value equation is unbeatable. The room is casual and inviting, and service is almost hyper-friendly. The Lakeside Mall area has a winner on its hands.
13905 Lakeside Circle, Sterling Heights; 586-566-0627 and www.sterlingsbistro.com.
TEXAS DE BRAZIL
It goes without saying that churrascaria dining isn't for everyone. But hearty eaters and others looking for an over-the-top celebratory meal love the concept's massive cold buffet of salads, seafoods, vegetables, cheeses and antipasto, followed by unlimited amounts of rotisserie-roasted cuts of meat, which servers carve tableside from swords. Texas de Brazil does it very well, with great service in a grand interior for $39.99 per person (buffet alone, $24.99). Meats range from spicy Brazilian sausages to chicken, flank steak, leg of lamb and beef of all kinds; request rarer cuts if you prefer them. Set in the former Borders Books site in the Compuware building on Campus Martius, the restaurant has become a destination for locals and out-of-towners alike. Detroit needed an attraction like this. (At lunch, $19.99 and $17.99.)
1000 Woodward; 313-964-4333 and www.texasdebrazil.com.
In winter, this tiny bistro can be impossibly crowded, and there's little or no space to stand inside and wait for a table or a seat in the bar. That can be a bummer. But for seven or eight months a year, its beautiful patio on Pierce opens to provide some of Birmingham's best people-watching, and regardless of the season, chef Jay Gundy's food shines. Familiar dishes are elevated by special touches and top-notch ingredients, and prices reflect it. The dish everyone's heard about is the 10-ounce burger, made with 28-day-aged prime beef, ground daily, served on a custom brioche bun with caramelized onions, aged white cheddar and superb fries, for $19. Most entrées are in the $20s and lower at lunch. The weekend brunch menu is terrific. Townhouse will appeal most to affluent younger diners who enjoy the Birmingham-Bloomfield bar and dining scene.
All images and content courtesy The Detroit Free Press.