by Todd Abrams
Ever since the first hairy primitive recognized that a forest fire-charred animal carcass tasted damn good, we humans have been consuming roasted hunks of meat not only for sustenance but pure enjoyment. Just about every culture has some ritual feast, if not an entire culinary subset dedicated to the dry heat processing of flesh. At Roast — big-name chef Michael Symon's new Detroit destination restaurant located on the ground floor of the restored Book-Cadillac Hotel — this celebration of meat is taken to new heights.
This is no ordinary steakhouse or barbecue joint. It's true that they offer several cuts of beef, all naturally raised and dry-aged for a minimum of 21 days. The same amount of gastronomic attention is paid to the poultry and seafood dishes. Even the optional sides have their own unique signature. When you're paying the extra coin to dine upscale, you receive the best value when the establishment covers every detail. Roast does just that, down to such things as the complimentary coat check before you're seated. The restaurant is divided into two elegant yet comfortable spaces. The main dining room is large and open with views of Washington Boulevard and the wood-fired rotisserie gradually turning tomorrow's "roasted beast of the day" above coals. If you aren't interested in looking your food in the face, don't fret, the rotisserie is fairly inconspicuous. The bar area has a large family table and some raised seating as well as a few booths behind the bar that might be fine for romantic affairs but otherwise feel Siberian. Restrained lighting, white linens and floor-to-ceiling windows pervade the two rooms. Oozing from the sound system are chill-out lounge beats at just the right volume.
Roast seems to pride itself on mixing a good cocktail. You'll pay a premium, of course, but if you enjoy a drink before dinner it's well worth it. The wine list is vast. All the main regions are covered with bottles ranging from $30-ish to high-roller. Generally, restaurants have to keep their by-the-glass selection relatively small due to the unstable nature of wine once it's opened. Roast is no different but we easily found a glass to go with whatever we were eating. Beer drinkers will be pleased with the few local and specialty brews. And with a quality selection of dessert and digestif wines, one could easily drop more dollars on drinks than food.
Many of the most interesting dishes appear on the appetizer menu. A plate of bone marrow comes with crostini for spreading this soft meat jelly on top, and pickled chilies to cut the considerable richness. If your lips aren't glistening after a bite, you're eating it wrong. Two large pierogi stuffed with shredded beef cheeks, garnished with mushrooms, a flavorful sauce and a dollop of creamy horseradish atop might have been world-class had they a bit less dough. Crispy chicken livers taste even better with mushrooms and a deeply creamy soft polenta.
There's a charcuterie and smoked seafood plate for two or more. Perhaps the greatest departure from a typical steakhouse menu is seen in the baked shrimp alongside feta, tomato and mint. Other refreshingly diverse dishes utilize Mediterranean ingredients like chickpeas, haloumi and yogurt. A handful of salads round out the menu, including thick, sweet roasted beets with watercress and walnuts over a superbly balanced goat cheese, the cheese creamy with just enough funk and tang to make it interesting without overwhelming any of the more subtle flavors of the salad.
Both the thick rib-eye and strip steaks were ideally prepared to order and full of flavor with only a simple rub of sea salt and oregano. Optional sauces and toppings are priced separately and include crab Béarnaise, blue cheese onions, salsa verde and roasted wild mushrooms, among others. Roasted beast of the day was lamb on both of our Monday visits. It was tender, juicy and served in pulled chunks with the addition of some scandalously tasty cracklings. We were decidedly impressed with the whitefish. Besides an understated sauce of lemon and dill with chunks of crab, the fillet was roasted skin-side-up so the usual unappealing, soggy skin is crisp and turns into one of the key components of the dish.
Sides are also priced separately from the entrées. The french fries are appropriately double-fried for a crisp exterior and creamy soft interior and then finished with a touch of salt and rosemary. Roasted asparagus is just slightly smoky and buttery. The creamy macaroni and cheese ranks right up there with the best we've tasted; it gets its depth from goat cheese and is texturally balanced with a crispy bread crumb crust.
Of the desserts we tasted, the pumpkin panna cotta with maple sweetened dates and ginger cookies was the most delightful and paired exceptionally with a nutty Amontillado sherry. An eggnog crème brûlée was also quite nice and we have it on good authority that the Guinness Stout ice cream should not be overlooked. Our prehistoric ancestors never had it this fine.
Open 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. No smoking. For more information, see roastdetroit.com.
Todd Abrams dines for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.