Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which means it’s time to make your plans and book your dinner reservations! Dining in Oakland County has quite possibly never been better, so before you book a table at a corporate chain steakhouse, check out these many excellent locally-owned options instead, offering everything from classic steakhouse-and-seafood fare to exquisite from-scratch Italian to trendy new American, with a few James Beard nominees in there to boot. Dare to try something new this Valentine’s Day, and treat yo’self!
Bacco is pretty much THE perfect date night destination on all counts: ambiance? Check: the vibe is both intimate and lively, fine dining without the stuffiness or fuddy-duddiness. Food? Check: Chef and owner Luciano del Signore has not been many-times nominated for a James Beard Award for nothing, and his artful contemporary Italian menus have been the gold standard of Italian cuisine in metro Detroit since the restaurant opened in 2002. Wine? Check: Bacco’s wine list continues to be one of the best in the region, and they also serve their own house-label Baia Estate wines from del Signore’s vineyard in Leelanau County along Grand Traverse Bay. It’s real kind of the perfect restaurant.
Located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Bella Piatti serves rustic Italian fare in a refined space. With all that hearty pasta on your plate, make sure you save room for one of their homemade desserts!
Big Rock Chophouse
There are a LOT of steakhouses in Oakland County, but Big Rock is consistently among the best. The massive restaurant, cigar lounge, and special events space serves classic steakhouse fare done exceptionally well, utilizing local and seasonal products as much as possible. There is much on the wine list to please those who love a big fat California red with their red meat, but don’t be afraid to pair a beer with your dinner either – the house beers all come from Griffin Claw Brewing Company next door, overseen by brewmaster Dan Rogers, a legend in brewing known all over the country and decorated with more brewing medals than anyone else in the state.
Bistro 82 could easily be all flash and no substance, but the chic, modern space is actually upstaged by Executive Chef Derik Watson’s exquisite, ever-evolving contemporary-American-meets-classic-French menu. Start with oysters or a seafood platter.
A restaurant located on the upper level of a grocery store – Papa Joe’s Gourmet Market, that is – might not seem like the first choice for a date night dinner, but with the kitchen’s access to the wide variety of ingredients stocked in the upscale market, Bistro Joe’s is able to offer a top-tier fine dining menu at casual dining prices. Enjoy oysters and jumbo shrimp to start in this bright and airy space, then move on to one of their wood-fired flatbreads, house-butchered steaks and chops, or their over-the-top 47-ounce “Flaming Tomahawk.”
The AAA four-diamond Café Cortina has long been a favored destination for weddings and special events, located in a setting that is more Italian countryside vineyard than suburban Farmington Hills. The menu is less “red sauce joint” and more refined northern Italian, with much of their produce grown and harvested on their massive five-acre property. If you want romance, this place was built for it.
This Royal Oak mainstay still serves the grilled cheese that made it famous, but has since evolved from a popular brunch joint to a comfy café for hearty homemade dinners. What might surprise diners the most about the place is the excellent, award-winning selection of wines, beers, and spirits – almost unrivaled in Royal Oak.
Located in a beautifully restored 100-year-old mansion in Rochester, Chapman House is a stunning space that serves modern American cuisine informed by French traditions. Menus change regularly based on seasonal and local availability, and fresh products are sourced from all around the Great Lakes region.
This husband-and-wife owned and operated restaurant is, quite simply, everything. The northern Italian menu is entirely made in-house from scratch by the couple daily, right down to the breads and desserts. Try pretty much everything, but especially try the gnocchi and the caramel-fennel-smoked sea salt gelato.
It’s not always easy for an acclaimed restaurant to change hands and retain its established reputation, but that’s exactly what happened when Forest Grille sold and became simply “Forest,” thanks to Executive Chef Nick Janutol staying on board and continuing to elevate the restaurant’s European-informed new American menu. The sophisticated menu can certainly be experienced a la carte, but it shines the brightest in the five-course chef’s tasting menu. Treat yo’self!!!
If you splurge on one chef’s tasting menu this year, make it this one. Mabel Gray, and Executive Chef James Rigato, has been racking up national awards and recognition since it opened in late 2015. There is, arguably, no more famous or acclaimed restaurant in all of Southeast Michigan right now, and with good reason: the elegant menus are hand-written daily, reflecting the ever-changing availability of locally-sourced products (as well as the Rigato’s whims). Exquisite plates are further complemented by an exceptional selection of wines, beers, and cocktails. Once again, you can order a la carte, but you would be doing yourself a disservice by not ordering a tasting menu.
Otus Supply Company
Definitely on the more casual end of date night dining, Otus Supply also happens to be one of the most unique spaces in Metro Detroit. The design is thoroughly stylish, the kind of place you would want to hang out in for a while, and with live music almost nightly you can do exactly that with an excellent beverage in hand. Enjoy the menu of Italian-leaning gastropuby small plates and a stellar selection of craft beers from around the world, hand-crafted cocktails, and boutique wines.
Metro Detroit may be awash in great Mediterranean eateries, but very few come even close to the fine dining pedigree of long-standing, though recently re-made trendy, Phoenicia. Here you can order all of your favorite Middle Eastern and Greek favorites along with a fine bottle of wine in an upscale atmosphere.
The “29” in Prime29’s name refers to the prime cuts of USDA beef aged 29 days. The steakhouse competition in Oakland County is fierce, but this one ranks high above most of its would-be competitors.
Ronin Sushi is home to one of the sexiest spaces in Royal Oak, and serves inventive sushi and Japanese-inspired dishes – just calling it “fusion” doesn’t quite do it justice – with excellent Asian-tinged cocktails and desserts. It’s certainly on the more casual end of dining, but it offers a singular experience.
This stylish, intimate space in downtown Birmingham is also one of the most popular seafood places around town. Enjoy everything from a full roasted Maine lobster tail to shrimp tacos to a nice selection of fresh Great Lakes catches.
Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro
There is a reason “wine bar” comes before “bistro” in the name: Tallulah is definitely a wine bar first and bistro second, and that is meant as a compliment. The wine selection runs a wide gamut of styles, varietals, countries, and price points, and even a heavy showing of California reds still favors lesser-known producers (no massive producers like Mondavi here). And if you want to order a 2013 Chateau Margaux for a hair under a grand, you can do that too. The menu is solidly new American, with dishes like lamb belly ragu and wild boar shank – perfect for pairing with those decadent reds.
Among the first wave of hyper-local, hyper-seasonal, farm-to-table restaurants in Metro Detroit, located in the most unlikely of locations in a strip mall in White Lake, the Root is still doing what it does best and still among the best at what they do: pushing forward the Michigan food movement with unfussy items made from seasonal, locally-sourced products and equally showcasing Michigan-made beer, wine, and spirits.
This sprawling restaurant located on a prime corner along Woodward Avenue is maybe best described as a very high-end gastropub, the kind of place where “fried chicken” comes with foie gras brulee. They also have a great craft cocktail program along with a nice selection of local beers and a Michigan-made sparkling on draft. This place is especially popular for happy hour, which goes until 7pm.
The interior of Toast in downtown Birmingham is comfy-cozy eclectic, and it has a menu to match. Toast is probably best know as a breakfast joint, but this location also serves homey, rib-sticking dinners (the original location in Ferndale is still breakfast and lunch only). The dinner menu features an upscale meatloaf, chicken and waffles (so, brinner), slow-roasted short ribs, and a traditional French cassoulet, among other things. This is not a place to eat if you aren’t VERY hungry or if you’re counting calories, but you won’t leave disappointed. The drink menu is small but also on-point, with not a single wine bottle over $52, a few fun cocktails, and a nice-ranging selection of beer.
Toasted Oak Grill & Market
Located inside the Baronette Renaissance Marriott, Toasted Oak Grill & Market is a Michigan-centric restaurant emphasizing local products and house-made charcuterie. The restaurant is very popular for brunch, but the American brasserie-style dinner menu is also worthwhile; plus, you can swing by the attached market on your way out and take home some of the charcuterie, cheese, wine, and accouterments you just enjoyed with your meal.
Voyager is the kind of restaurant that could be plucked up from its location in downtown Ferndale and plopped right back down again in downtown Boston, or San Francisco, or New Orleans, or really any food-centric chef-driven city and fit right in. Coastal American favorites include day boat scallops, Dungeness crab, Rhode Island squid, Santa Barbara sea urchin, and roasted bronzino, and all the products are wild-caught, sustainable, or responsibly-farmed. But this is, at its heart, an oyster joint, so don’t miss out on their expansive oyster selection (or their $2 oyster happy hour).