Decades ago, there was a restaurant category called "Continental," usually translating to "Italian with aspirations." You can still find "Continental" on TripAdvisor, in fact, which will generate a list of places that have nothing in common. The idea fell out of favor as American diners' sophistication grew.
Technically speaking, and casting no aspersions, "Continental" might be resurrected for Grosse Pointe Woods' Garrido's, which lists dishes from Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain — Catalonia, Galicia, and Valencia. But the Garrido family throws a curve by also offering arepas from their native Venezuela, which is a whole other ... continent.
Whether they are offering the Venezuelan staple daily bread or a more complex dish like Italian seafood pasta, the Garrido family takes infinite care with the details.
Dinner starts with exceptionally good garlic bread, warm and almost dripping with butter. You can taste the anchovies in the Caesar salad dressing, and admire the irregular contours of the house-made croutons. Soup one night was a luscious bowl of cream of butternut squash, which surprised with its lack of sweetness — but the squash flavor showed through. It was drizzled with oil that had been used to cover tomatoes as they roasted, a serendipitous bit of kitchen economy turned to the benefit of the diner.
What you order at Garrido's, which opened March 31, may depend on the time of day — or not, as everything except the dinner menu is served anytime. Breakfast is eggs, French toast, an eggy club sandwich, or arepas. Lunch is arepas or other Venezuelan specialties — cachapa or pelones de carne — or Greek, Caesar, or Caprese salads.
The dinner menu begins at 5 p.m. and starts with appetizers like Portuguese cod croquettes, a Galician empanada (one owner's mother is from Galicia), beef carpaccio, escalivada (a Catalonian tapa of roasted pepper, eggplant, and onion on tomato-rubbed bread with aioli) and seafood salpicón — similar to ceviche, but the shrimp, fish, and octopus are cooked first, then marinated in lime juice and olive oil.
For entrées, the menu concentrates on Italy, with pasta puttanesca and chicken Parmesan or Caprese. There are also Spanish meatballs or paella, Galician salted cod, and quintessentially American pork chops with applesauce.
You cannot go wrong by ordering arepas. They are a round flatbread made from cooked corn flour, grilled by the Garridos — father David and son Christopher — to create a toasty-crisp exterior and cushiony interior. They can be stuffed with a long list of fillings, starting with scrambled eggs, cheeses, and ham and ascending through bacon, turkey, chorizo, and roasted peppers to the Reina, the Queen, which is pulled chicken with avocado.
We particularly loved a vegan version with roasted tomatoes and roasted eggplant, a perfect combo of soft and crunchy, juicy and crisp, rich and bland.
Also wonderful is a cachapa, a ground-corn pancake with some corn kernels left in. I had one folded around a big patty of chorizo with roasted tomatoes and fresh tomatoes, and loved the fennel-seed flavor of the sausage and the slight sweetness of the cachapa.
Venezuelans will be ordering sides of guasacaca, a mild avocado purée with cilantro, onions, garlic, and lime juice that they are apt to serve on almost everything, and nata, a thick sweet cream that hostess Vanessa Gonzalez, wife and daughter-in-law of the kitchen team, recommends as perfect on an arepita.
I was so focused on the arepas that I didn't try enough of the dinner entrées, but chicken Parmesan was a revelation, with a fresh-tasting tomato sauce. Seafood pasta was mussels, shrimp, calamari, and clams with perfectly al dente linguini and a marinara sauce — very tasty, but we Americans do like a bit more sauce than the Italians. Our only food disappointment was paella, which, whatever its actual cooking methods, came across as if the ingredients had been tossed together at the last minute rather than simmered in the same pan.
The only non-food disappointment at Garrido's was a fairly large one — no liquor license. Once that's in place, diners will be permitted to bring their own bottles as well.
The smallish room is attractive with its mellow yellow walls and red-and-yellow tablecloths. One wall sports vertical gardens mounted in wooden boxes. Impeccable service by Gonzalez is warm and knowledgeable. You should be prepared to wait for your dishes.
As if seeking to earn the "Continental" appellation, the Garridos have already held special reservations-only dinners, which almost sold out, featuring, respectively, the cuisines of Spain, Germany, and Russia. Look for the next special dinner on their website; who knows which continent it will favor?