by Elissa Karg
Steve and Rocky’s
43150 Grand River Ave., Novi
Eats 4 stars
Experience 4 stars
Two well-respected chefs — Steve Allen from the Golden Mushroom and Rocky Rachwitz from the Chuck Muer group — teamed up to open this appealing seafood restaurant in 1998.
It so happens that Steve and Rocky’s was one of the first restaurants I reviewed for Metro Times some six years ago. The experience was thoroughly enjoyable, from the moment the maître d’ greeted us to the incredible peach cobbler; it made me feel excited about my new job. Two return visits last month were evidence that the restaurant is just as good as it was then.
Allen and Rachwitz’s approach to seafood emphasizes freshness and creativity. The menu is built around the freshest ingredients available; during the summer months vegetables are supplied by an organic grower in Romeo. Elaborate glazes, sauces and side dishes create a harmonious theme for each entrée. For example, yellowfin tuna is prepared with a hoisin (a sweet-spicy Chinese condiment) glaze, and presented with an Asian rice cake, grilled pineapple and sweet onions.
I ordered a special of ruby-red trout, which gets its luminous color from a special diet. I was a little skeptical about the accompanying tortilla, rice and red beans, but it worked. The fish, which has all the delicacy of trout with a bolder flavor, was stacked with rice at the bottom, a thin and crisply fried tortilla, then topped with beans on another tortilla.
Another delicious special, broiled halibut, was served with a creamy lobster sauce, along with a handful of tiny roasted fingerling potatoes, caramelized Vidalia onions, spinach and a roasted plum tomato. One complaint: The halibut was crusted with sea salt, a technique that produces a juicy piece of fish, but at the cost of some intensely salty bites.
Lobster and gulf shrimp fettuccine is unified with a rich lobster cream sauce and includes chorizo, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and herbs. This delicious dish features plenty of lobster and shrimp, not overcooked.
Crab cake is always a good measure of a seafood restaurant, and the one I ordered as an appetizer is probably the best I’ve ever had. As fluffy as a cumulus cloud, the cake included both crab and shrimp, held together with very little filling. A creamy tomato coulis complemented the dish. Shrimp and crab are a good combination, so distinct in texture that every bite reminds you of the virtues of the other.
Although two-thirds of the entrées are fish and seafood, this is one restaurant where non-seafood-lovers will find interesting meat and poultry dishes. Roast duckling is served with wild rice, lentils and bacon, braised red cabbage and applesauce. Free range chicken is smoked and roasted and served with house-made noodles with brie and roasted vegetables.
Soups include a rich mushroom that is a signature recipe from the Golden Mushroom’s chef Milos Cihelka, a mentor to many area chefs. This recipe has been on the menu from Day One. We also tried gazpacho, which was only fair.
The house salad is reasonably priced at $3, but I wished it had been prepared a little more carefully. “Assorted greens” was the menu description; what we got was one kind of lettuce, coarsely torn, some pieces coated with a very good honey-mustard vinaigrette, but others missing it entirely. Pine nuts, grapefruit, red onions and dried cranberries were nice additions.
The wine list is exceptional. Wine is organized by its color and its characteristics. “Reds on the lighter side” include pinot noirs and merlots. The menu describes cabernet sauvignons as “big, bold and beautiful reds” and suggests that they are a “wonderful accompaniment for richly flavored foods such as mushroom soup, as well as red meat courses.” This is one of the least snobby approaches to a wine list I have ever seen, allowing even the neophyte to order with confidence.
Pastry chef Greg Stroker prepares a daily selection of beautifully plated desserts. We had a rich chocolate torte served with two flavors of house-made ice cream and a biscotti-like wafer that was so full of almond slices that it looked like lace.
The interior, designed by Ron Rhea, is bold and whimsical, with strong colors and a big expanse of tables covered with navy and white linen. A row of tightly spaced windows that wraps around the front of the building is evocative of an aquarium; I found myself wondering who is on the inside, and who is looking in. Paper sculptures of fish dangle from driftwood overhead, giving the feeling that you are looking up from under water.
Mark Magner plays the piano Tuesday through Saturday. Steve and Rocky’s is open daily.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.