Gastronomy isn't a restaurant that fits neatly into a familiar, well-defined box, which may be one reason the owners gave its name a subtitle: "A Modern American Bistro."
This distinctive restaurant in Southfield is certainly modern -- actually, contemporary might be more accurate -- with its stylized plating, oversized serving pieces and unexpected combinations of flavors.
And it's definitely American, in that the restaurant says all its ingredients -- no matter how incidental or exotic -- are sourced from American producers. The miso for miso soup is made in Tennessee. The soy sauce, aged in whisky barrels, comes from Kentucky. The rice, the coffee beans, the tea, the plantains -- everything is U.S.-grown.
But the bistro part? Yes, the heart of Gastronomy's menu includes many of the requisite bistro classics -- from comforting chicken and grilled salmon to Caesar salad and a New York strip -- but there's more to it than that.
Executive chef Adam Hightower elevates this relaxed, polished destination beyond the bistro genre, infusing its familiar-sounding dishes with finesse and an unusual depth of flavor, surprising guests with playful, unexpected presentations and shaking things up with dishes from the world-cuisine cookbook.
The chef plays his most contemporary cards at the top of the menu. Starters range from the deluxe Foie Gras Brulée -- a small disc of cool, luxurious duck or goose liver torchon beneath a wafer-thin crisp of sweet bruléed pineapple -- to earthier dishes like Steak and Eggs.
The menu said only that the dish is done "differently" -- and it was.
It arrived as a whole boiled egg set on slices of medium-rare steak, plated over creamy grits and a richly savory sauce. The surprise was the egg, covered in a light, crisp crumb coating. When it was pierced, the soft-cooked golden yolk flowed out over the dark sauce and white grits, and the flavors were wonderful.
Every salad I tried was just as refreshing and beautiful, from the jewel-like composition of compressed watermelon cubes, tiny heirloom tomatoes, house-made feta and jalapeño vinaigrette, to a spinach salad starring wedges of rich, caramel-y dates and juicy peeled grapes coated in dried prosciutto dust.
And I loved the Great Lakes walleye chowder. With its intense fish stock, smoky bacon garnish and potato cubes so perfect they looked laser-cut, it could become a signature dish.
The dinner menu's approachable but sophisticated entrées ranged from the ultra-comforting 48-Hour Chicken to cider-glazed grilled salmon with warm quinoa and green apple horseradish salad.
Red-meat lovers could choose from beef tenderloin, a New York strip and a fork-tender barbecue beef brisket; the latter was paired with smoky smothered greens, Southern grits and cotton onions.
But my favorite Gastronomy entrée was the seared scallop trio, each piece plated atop a different sauce or purée and designed to be eaten in order, left to right, from delicate to bold.
First was a pillow of soft, subtle, vanilla tapioca that seemed to highlight the scallop's brininess. Next came a slightly more rustic sweet corn purée that reminded me of August and magnified its sweetness. And finally, a meaty bacon jam -- at once smoky, salty and sweet -- seemed to emphasize the scallop's richness.
In what seems an odd feature, the menu's final section offers a handful of dishes from another part of the world. But as chef de cuisine Brandon Zarb explained it, "American cuisine is a collection of cuisines from around the world," and featuring other world dishes on the menu is a way of paying homage to them.
The southeast Asian entrées featured since Gastronomy opened in the summer were to be replaced with Mexican dishes this week; another cuisine will replace it in a month or so.
Much of the main menu was set to be replaced this week, too, as the kitchen transitions to more seasonal ingredients. Quite a few dishes will disappear, while others will get new garnishes and sauces. The scallops will stay but get new flavor components, Zarb said.
Talented pastry chef Emily Davis is also replacing her dessert lineup, except for the flourless chocolate cake. I'll miss her sophisticated chevre cheesecake, with its dark, sweet Michigan cherries and adult flavors.
One thing I wouldn't miss if it disappeared is Gastronomy's black water -- the cola-colored, mineral-infused drinking water it pours at the table. It does taste like normal water, but to me, it doesn't look refreshing, and I've begun requesting the original version.
There's one other element of the restaurant that I wish could be changed: the uncovered windows looking out into the halls of the Baker Tilley office building. The view of workplace corridors seems out of sync with the relaxed, attractive dining room. Set in the former Morton's steakhouse space, Gastronomy is done in soft, muted greens with rich mahogany woodwork and an open, uncluttered style.
Part of the Epicurean Group -- which also owns Coach Insignia, Northern Lakes Seafood Company and No.VI Chop House -- Gastronomy opened for lunch in early August and dinner in early September. For such a new staff, the young servers are gelling into an attentive, knowledgeable, friendly team.
Gastronomy, a word that means "the art or science of good eating," is more than a stylish name. It's a standard of excellence. And chef Hightower and his team seem to have no problem meeting it.
Contact Sylvia Rector: 313-222-5026 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SylviaRector
More Details: GASTRONOMY
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out of four stars
1 Towne Square, Southfield
www .theepicureangroup .com /gastronomy .html
FARE: Contemporary American main menu with a small selection of dishes from various world cuisines. Every ingredient and all wines and spirits sourced from American producers. Lunch menu is more casual. Beautiful desserts.
ATMOSPHERE: Upscale but relaxed and unpretentious. Set on the ground floor of an office tower. Well-spaced tables and comfortable noise levels; suitable for both business and social dining. Adjoining pub with TVs.
SERVICE: Attentive, professional and welcoming.
HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed. and 5-10:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Pub open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Pub menu available 2:30-4 p.m. Closed Sunday.
NOTE: Chef’s table and chef’s tasting menus available. Private dining room available. Reservations suggested. Enter restaurant from inside the Baker Tilly building or a separate entrance off the front sidewalk. Business-casual attire or dressier is appropriate.