Roast (Detroit, MI)

(Update: In early January 2022, Roast announced via its webpage that the restaurant was permanently closed. No reason was given, but the Book Cadillac Hotel, holding the restaurant, had recently been sold, I expect some sort of lease negotiation issue. They’ll be missed, we had a seriously tasty dinner there, and the service for a group outing was exquisite)

When we travel around with our friends for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike, part of the tradition is going out for a big, lavish dinner the night before. In Detroit’s downtown, there are several great places to choose from for this (the automotive- and tech-industry “power dinner” is still a thing here), but I had long wanted to try Roast. I’ve always enjoyed Chef Michael Symon’s Cleveland-area ventures (Lola, Lolita, B-Spot, Mabel’s…), but I’ve wanted to visit Roast since it opened in 2008. At the time, downtown was just a little bit rougher, but starting to a pretty good resurgence, and Roast was a cornerstone of the renovated Book-Cadillac Hotel (now the “Westin Book-Cadillac”). While a bit cumbersome for our large group of 15 (why is it that most places now need contracts for large reservations? Are that many people flaking out in this modern era?), I managed to get a nice reservation of their private State Room for our gathering.

The interior of Roast is a rather nice, modern interpretation of “white linen steakhouse”, with a nice, central bar, and while a bit spartan in the decor, the State Room was a rather nice private dining room for our group.

While normally Roast encourages a large group like ours to do a fixed menu, they were actually quite flexible and allowed everyone to order a la carte, which worked out pretty well (especially with two vegetarians, for whom the menu at Roast is not particularly optimized). This gave us a lot of flexibility when it came to appetizers; many of us ordering the beef cheek pierogi, but several folks also trying the onion soup, the polenta (which most found a bit sweet), salads, or mushrooms. Carol and I focused on the pierogi, and these were particularly satisfying. The filling was nicely-spiced beef cheeks, the wrappers cooked to the perfect toothsome texture and pan-fried to a light crisp, served up with dollops of horseradish and wild mushrooms, so each bite was a moist bit of beef flavor with a bit of earthy mushroom and a slight bite from the horseradish. I’d happily get these again.

Speaking of mushrooms, we were also really pleased with the mushroom side order. Listed simply as “wild mushrooms”, each order came out as a small skillet filled with some perfectly done oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are easy to overcook, and these were still slightly firm and deliciously earthy, served up in a rich butter sauce that didn’t bury the mushroom flavor in salt. I’d also spring for these on a future visit.

For our main course, Carol and I opted to really splurge and go for one of the hallmarks of Roast: the dry-aged Porterhouse for two, served up with Romesco sauce and fresh spring onions, pre-carved by the kitchen. One thing I enjoyed about ordering this was the server taking great care to describe one of Roast’s other hallmarks: Michael Symon definitely likes his meat served on the rarer-end of the spectrum. This delighted us (although I know at least one Death Marcher falls on the other end of the meat spectrum, liking meat more fully cooked), and we ordered our porterhouse medium rare. About 30 minutes later, they brought out the huge platter, and I was immediately impressed. Both the strip and tenderloin parts of the steak were absolutely perfectly fork tender, nicely crisped on the exterior, and still pinkish-red on the interior. The steak had been salted and peppered, but just to the point of rounding out the flavor while not burying it; each bite was melt-in-your-mouth good. Similarly, the bed of Romesco sauce was a nice, roasted-pepper complement. Everything about this steak matched my expectations for a high-end steak house.

While we were the only couple that went for the porterhouse, going around the table, everyone else seemed to do quite well with their main courses as well. Second-most popular was the dry-aged ribeye, and like the porterhouse, this was very nicely executed with a nice crispy sear and a tending-on-the-rare side interior that my nearby diners reported was delicious and tender. Unlike the porterhouse, the presentation here was unsliced, and served up with a pleasant onion relish and watercress.

If you’re going to go to a high-end steakhouse and order something that’s not steak, in general they do a great job with fish as well, and the halibut was no exception here. One of my fellow diners let me sample a bit of their halibut, which was served up as a nice, thick, seared slab on a bed of cream sauce with pea, topped with spring onions and shaved asparagus. Like the steak, everything here was perfectly seared, fork-tender, and flavorful. Indeed, this was one of the more flavorful halibuts I’ve had.

Finally, there was dessert. I’m usually not much of a dessert person, especially after a heavy, meaty dinner, but the enthusiasm of our server for the Roast house dessert, “The Bar”, won us over enough for Carol and I to share one. AS far as desserts go, this was no slouch: chocolate, marshmallow and whiskey caramel, with salted caramel ice cream on the side. I was really pleased with this since it was a nice departure from an overly sweet dessert: the bar itself had a deeper, richer chocolate flavor that was on the more bitter than sweet end, and it nicely offset the steak while also pairing well with the last of my Cabernet.

One thing I really enjoyed at Roast was the service. All too many high-end places these days still have serve that is fairly lackadaisical, so when I get some seriously good service, I really appreciate it. Our server, Kevin, was attentive, thoroughly knowledgeable about the menu with good recommendations (including handling of two vegetarians!), and managed to do this while also being discrete and out of the way and not rushing us, and being very helpful with subtotals for figuring out how much everyone owed for the bill. I wish more places had servers this good.

Overall, we really enjoyed Roast. While a bit pricey, we really, really enjoyed our dinner including the results, the service was excellent, and they’ve got a solid wine and cocktail list going as well. It’s a great place for a group gathering or small celebration, and for lesser occasions, they’ve got a rather nice bar menu as well. I hope to come back again on future visits.

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