There’s something charming about a dinner party. When you’re welcomed into someone’s home, it’s a more personal and intimate dining experience than you’d have at just another night in a restaurant. There’s a sort of casual warmth you don’t see captured in a commercial setting — and certainly an air of exclusivity that comes with a personal invitation.
Now imagine repurposing those feelings and that setting, but available on demand.
That’s exactly the feat they’ve accomplished at Chapman House, which started with a stunning home built in 1917, converted into an 8,200-square-foot dining experience in downtown Rochester (311 Walnut Blvd.).
But ensuring their customers feel as though they’re guests was no simple task. Executive Chef Chris Cason spent a year developing the foundations of a market-oriented menu that blossoms with each season while developer Geoffrey Dancik of Bentley Property Holdings LLC in Birmingham steered four years’ worth of period-correct renovations on the property.
The restaurant opened in June, and the final product is stunning. The architecture and grounds alone are worth the drive. The property itself is evocative of a European villa, though the interior has a charming, almost colonial American aesthetic with its grand main-level fireplace, staircase and ceilings decorated with elaborate plaster roses.
The restaurant seats 115 inside. The first floor features a large communal table in the former family room, where on any given Saturday night live music echoes from the baby grand piano. The adjoining sunroom offers tables for two with views of the beautifully manicured grounds. A standing-room-only bar serves wine and 10 rotating beers on tap as well as an eclectic selection of cocktails.
Upstairs, the original bedroom walls remain, providing the opportunity for a more private dining experience. Pocket doors can close to create intimate spaces, while the home’s original, oversized windows make each space feel open, capturing stunning views of the charming downtown surroundings.
Outside, there’s seating for 30 on the raised terrace that faces Walnut and another 15 in the side courtyard. The stunning backyard can host private parties of up to 100 guests.
The basement features a private dining and tasting room for eight, wine lockers, a walk-in cooler, freezer and prep kitchen.
The menu isn’t quite French, per Chef Cason, but modern American cuisine inspired by French tradition. The dishes incorporate Michigan’s vegetable-oriented agriculture, but not just in spirit — most of their vendors are local, like Del Bene Produce and Fairway Packing Company, both in Detroit’s Eastern Market.
Before landing in Rochester, Cason spent a decade developing menus in Chicago and Detroit. His first restaurant job was at Bill Robert’s Streetside Seafood in Birmingham, before joining James Beard-winning chef Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute in Farmington Hills and following him to Michelin-starred Takashi in Chicago. When he moved home with his family, Cason landed at Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit.
His impressive pedigree shines through in the care and attention devoted to the taste and presentation of his dishes. The arancini appetizer was phenomenal, and the farm lettuce salad had a near-perfect vinaigrette that played elegantly off sliced figs.
The seared duck breast served with quinoa, celery root and blackberry was a charming entree that beautifully captured the changing season. The semolina gnocchi, too, expertly played off summer vegetables. The glazed golden beets with hazelnut and chive were excellent.
From start to finish, Chapman House is a charming and elegant experience.
The menu is intended to constantly change with the season, but is available on its website, www.chapman-house.com. Call (248) 759-4406 for reservations.
To Allie Singer and Blaine Hirsch on their marriage.
Happy birthday to Carly Astrein, Andy Blitz, Kellie Kaplan, Max Grossman, Phyllis Grossman, Prosecutor David Leyton, Southfield City Councilman Michael Ari Mandelbaum, Michael Morse, Zachary Shifman and Michael Stillman.