It’s quite appropriate that the next-door neighbor of the Detroit Institute of Arts is artistic throughout.
Chartreuse, which is in the 1926 building at Woodward and Kirby and named for the alluring French liqueur, establishes its personality the minute guests pick up the small paper menus.
Listed along with the selections are the first names of everyone who works there.
Proprietor Sandy Levine, executive chef Doug Hewitt and sous-chef Brian Christie don’t get any more recognition than anyone else on the list. That’s just one of the distinctive touches that sets Chartreuse apart from the crowd, along with the love-it or hate-it sharp green of the walls.
“We joke that we got the paint on sale,” says Hewitt, who has run the kitchen since the place opened in 2015 in the Park Shelton.
The menu is deceptively brief, from house-made sourdough bread and whipped herb butter that is one of the a la carte options to the Wagyu sirloin and lamb chop at the top of the price scale. At dinner, it’s all a house specialty with accompaniments that are individually designed for each dish.
For instance, the scallops are teamed with risotto, butternut squash and bacon, and the duck breast with mushrooms, barley, gooseberry and cranberry juice with a hint of anise, and in each case the flavors blend into a whole.
I especially liked one day’s Bartlett pear dish that had subtle touches of fine granola made from a mixture of fig and pecan, as well as blue cheese, honey and some little rounds of sopressata (dry salami) for a harmonious combination of sweet and salty. Another visit’s peas & broccoli was also harmonious in its own way, with halloumi cheese, tomato, a radish round or two with green goddess dressing very subtly applied.
Subtle is a word that fits Hewitt’s style very well. Plates are attractively composed without being fussy or contrived.
The bi-level setting includes dried flowers suspended from the ceiling and a “living” wall of blooming succulents and herbs, with the herbs plucked as needed by the chefs in the kitchen behind the bar. Seating arrangements include the bar and uncovered tables as well as couches pulled up to low coffee tables in various alcoves, the coziest spots in the long, narrow space.
It almost goes without saying that the bar list includes a number of cocktails made with Chartreuse, as well as the French liqueur by the ounce. The upscale wine list is brief, but measures up to the ambitions of the house.
Service is ensemble style. No need to search for your specific waiter. Everyone on the floor is equipped to handle orders and requests, and that adds to the experience.
Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails
15 East Kirby, Detroit
Rating: 4 stars
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 5-10:30 p.m. Fri. Sat. Closed Sun.-Mon.
Prices: Lunch dishes $4-$19, dinner $4-$40, desserts $7-$10.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and an extensive list of Chartreuse.
Noise level: Moderate
Wheelchair access: No barriers
Parking: Street and Park Shelton garage.
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding