Food & Drink

Detroit's Antietam is a victory at last



Walk in to Antietam, feel the warmth. Mid-January: a curtain around the entryway billows to announce new guests, but the cold air is muffled by the heavy velvet. A room replete with wood paneling, a wall of overpopulated coat hooks, and straight ahead, something out of a 19th century jewelry shop — a large glass cabinet and high wall shelving behind it. To your left is a doorway; pass through and the bar is to your right, an art deco masterpiece.

The backbar is from a barn in Pennsylvania, bought (says the owner) sight unseen on a whim and installed with just a centimeter to spare. The speakers were custom-made. The décor is largely rescued, and that which isn't was made special for Antietam. Antiques lovers, beware: You might lose your bearings staring at the lights or the floor — that's original too, found under several layers of concrete and polished into newness.

Sit down at the bar, and order a drink. There's a large amount of whiskey to be had, from Scotland to Japan. Benedictine, Cynar, and a few other "lesser-known" spirits round out the collection well. There are a few beers, and a list of cocktails sure to satisfy. A well-made Aviation settles a beautiful purple on the bottom; the Gin-Gin Mule, reconfiguring its trendy Muscovite cousin, includes Old Tom gin and a fresh ginger kick. The bartenders know their craft and practice it well. It's a small bar too so there's plenty of conversation between guests and bartenders alike. The wine list is small but varied, with a good breadth of representation.

It's easy to get lost in this elegant environment. Through windows, Busy Bee Hardware peeks at diners, a world away through snow and fog. Art deco surrounds you in the main dining room, just as the feeling of an old general store in the entry room. The place is beautiful.

So is the food. Plates are garnished with care, some perfect in their simplicity, like a juicy and plump airline chicken breast served with potato purée and sautéed greens; others are works of art, a canvas painted with bright sauces and artfully placed slices of food — an escargot plate looked like a walk through the park. By turns, the plates are naturalistic and highly composed, classical and rustic, art deco meets barnwood paneling. The smaller the plate, the more art in the presentation.

Charcuterie appears in force at Antietam. Oxtail terrine, cripsy on the outside and delightfully tender inside, is one of the most popular dishes, and for good reason: Not only is it flavorful and adeptly made, but the plate is again beautifully garnished. Don't miss the pork rillette. The beet crema is inspirational, airy and yet full of beet flavor; the pork itself tender and spreadable over crostini. An herb salad finishes the bite, fresh and lightly dressed, balancing the creamy fattiness of the pork. Duck confit, rich, deeply flavored, and fall-apart tender, is served with lentils, lemon crème fraîche, and herbs — so very French and flavorful. Not a bite will remain, of anything.

Rye cavatelli is a spectacular winter dish, hearty pasta with butternut squash, apples, ricotta, Parmesan, and gremolata. It's wrapped in a velvety butter sauce and incredibly satisfying. Billed as a "small plate" on the menu, it serves well as an appetizer, small main course, or shareable accompaniment, though jealous guarding and quick consumption might be the only chance of getting more than a bite.

Antietam's entrées are a curated list of delights: Take the mussels au poivre, which stopped one end of the bar from conversing for a solid 10 minutes of delighting in shellfish, or the pork neck ragout — so much more than just grits and sauce soubise as described on the menu. Whitefish with squash, parsnip, and pepitas shows a Michigan winter touch, with the refined touch of talent. Steak is here too, a carved piece served with greens, fingerling potatoes fried crisp in duck fat, and porcini foam — a little science with the rustic plate.

It's not just the food that shows polish, either. The service is incredibly professional, with none of the alienation between server and guest seen in restaurants of old. After every course, your silverware is cleared away along with your plates, and new utensils, appropriate to your next dish, will be placed before you by an unobtrusive yet eminently helpful server. Though they're not all in the same uniform, the servers are all clad in black, most in classically cut garments, though with some more modern takes mixed in. They're spotless, efficient, knowledgeable, and will take the measure of your table and match the pace of your meal to your attitude.

Pay attention, and it becomes evident — Antietam is the newest addition to Detroit's fine dining scene. This is grand, elegant food, a feast for the senses. Impeccable food and service with authentic care and talent behind it. It's a warm place. Revel in the warmth at Antietam — it's some of the best you'll have in Detroit.

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