As people come through the door at Dearborn's fresh, new Bistro 222, chef/proprietor Michael Chamas greets many of them by name.
They know Chamas from his original restaurant, L.A. Express, just up the street, or from his time as chef at La Dolce Vita in Detroit, and they are happy to see him back in the neighborhood.
It's a neighborhood dotted with restaurants of all stripes, none like the intimate 60-seat place with Spanish guitar music playing in the background and carefully chosen furnishings, artwork and table appointments against a background of polished wood and soft earth colors.
Can a quiet little restaurant that offers the niceties of linens, fresh flowers and handsome place settings make it on such an otherwise commercial strip?
Certainly there should be an audience for such amenities, as well as for carefully prepared cuisine that is a blend of California, France and Italy.
Chamas likes to work with wild mushrooms, roasted red peppers, fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, garlic and olives.
His appealing menu offers herb-lavished dishes typified by free-range chicken Marsala, a lighter version of the classic dish that includes mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and is teamed with accompaniments of creamy risotto and fresh julienned carrots, zucchini and squash.
Almost every entree has a name -- the name of the regular who often ordered it in the past. There's the Albert eggplant tower, with fresh spinach, mushrooms, tri-color peppers and zucchini topped with fontina and Parmesan cheeses. And the Donna -- seafood risotto made with shrimp, scallops, asparagus and straw mushrooms.
One listing has an official trademark. It's the shrimp burger, a patty made of ground shrimp, red and yellow peppers and Panko bread crumbs, dolloped with herb mayonnaise and served on grilled ciabbata bread, with a green salad and a heap of shoestring fries.
Chamas devised it to wean his son away from Happy Meals when he was just a little boy. It worked. (The boy is now a Michigan State University student.) The shrimp burger is offered at lunch and dinner.
Other signature dishes include bacci (purse-shaped pasta) stuffed with Italian sausage in spicy marinara sauce, gnocchi in creamy tomato sauce, and lasagna made with chicken rather than beef, all served by a courteous and attentive staff.
Although there are several other desserts, including crème brulee and cheesecake, the apple bread pudding with creme anglaise, prettily served on one of the pure white plates, is a clear winner.
The only thing missing is wine, and he expects to remedy that in the near future. There are already wine racks in place to hold the personal selections of the regulars.
This is the kind of restaurant that offers an alternative, not just to Happy Meals, but to places with multiple TV screens and high-voltage atmosphere.
Posted by Erin Rose at 4:47 PM