A Snake Bite that Hurts So Good
As the River Walk rolls on, from downtown toward its future culmination at the Belle Isle Bridge, the Rattlesnake Club restaurant is benefiting from its proximity to the popular pedestrian route along the Detroit River.
For 23 years, the venerable Rattlesnake (as it’s also called) has anchored Stroh River Place, a modern office complex that replaced the famous Parke-Davis Research Laboratory. It’s easily reached from the Renaissance Center along newly paved Atwater Street, or from Jefferson Avenue by turning south on Joseph Campau.
Large windows in the dining room afford river views, or see the blue even closer from the waterfront garden patio, a pergola-covered terrace that’s been a popular wine-tasting spot this past summer. Master Sommelier Claudia Tyagi was recently introduced as the restaurant’s official wine consultant.
A brick plaza at the river’s edge is a destination for wedding ceremonies; sometimes the celebrants stage a short grand procession in their wedding finery from Roberts River Walk Hotel. Receptions and gatherings of all sizes take place in several well-appointed dining rooms, or can be done up grandly in one or both of the twin six-story atriums. (One of the largest parties was for upwards of 900 guests during the Detroit Auto Show.)
Acquired by the Stroh Companies last year from founding chef Jimmy Schmidt, this is a forward-thinking restaurant that respects its heritage but knows when to discard it.
One thing that had to go was the Rattlesnake’s formerly high-priced menu, which most people considered suitable only for “special occasion” dining. Since February, Executive Chef Chris Franz has offered guests the choice of prix-fixe meals at dinner for a better value.
“We restructured the prices, offering two courses for $37, $47 for three courses and $57 for four courses, plus lower prices than before at lunch,” said Alex Franz, restaurant marketing director and the chef’s wife. “Now, we’re a place you could come to a couple of times a month.”
The Rattlesnake Club continues its devotion to offering creative, seasonal American fare that frequently uses house-grown herbs. Chef Franz, who worked 15 years with Schmidt, shops for the restaurant almost daily at nearby Eastern Market.
Fin and shellfish are very popular with diners, and the rosemary-rubbed wild Nova Scotia salmon filet I chose for lunch recently had a satisfying, crunchy crust. My fish was served on a mound of finely diced grilled summer vegetables mixed into cumin-flavored couscous. At a neighboring table, I watched two women happily polishing off plates of Maine Diver Sea Scallops. Rattlesnake also offers a Power Lunch — in and out in 30 minutes.
A popular treatment at dinner is the pan-roasted and tandoori-spiced salmon served over melon, pear, cucumber and arugula salad. Another signature dish is Lake Ontario perch filets, flash-sauteed, atop crispy potato cake and garlic smashed potatoes with a citrus-caper splash.
The meat eaters aren’t ignored either with choices like peppered fillet of prime certified Angus beef, roasted loin chop of Michigan baby lamb and different treatments for free-range chicken and duck breast.
For dessert, guests can try confections featuring fresh seasonal fruits as well as house-made ice creams and sorbets. My trio of wild berry, cranberry and melon sorbets on a flat, sweet wafer was refreshing — just right.
The new owners have been renovating the Rattlesnake Club, starting with polished Brazilian cherry floors and a redo of the bar/lounge area with lots of red accents and comfortable seating. The Grill Room just beyond it, informally known as the Mask Room, has a colorful wall arrangement of 48 Mexican masks that show the evolution from beast to man. Although still lovely with its contemporary art and live trees, the main dining room is due for its makeover in 2012.