Upscale Italian Dining in the D

My father recently celebrated one of those milestone birthdays that just begs to be commemorated with fancy dinner fare. Being Italian herself, my mother is a lover of all things Italian. I presume that my father shares that same love. (After all, he has been married to my mother for close to 40 years.) So, off the family went to Café Cortina, an upscale Italian restaurant in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Cafe Cortina LogoWhen I say upscale, I’m not exaggerating. Appetizers are on par with your better restaurants in Chicago and main courses can run close to $50. If you go, be prepared to pay, but also be prepared for some award-winning service. The kind of service that brings individual rolls and using tongs places them gently on your bread plate. Then, seeing you have eaten your roll, brings another and another and another until your appetizers arrive—taking away that little plate only after they are sure you are fully sated in your carbs for the day. (Or, in my case, when it is apparent that your son no longer requires bread.)

YES! I broke my cardinal rule of very fine dining. I brought a baby to an elegant restaurant. And you know what? It was fine and horrible and perfect all at the same time. Besides, Mr. Moo is my father’s only grandson, and when my father makes a request, I honor it. (Well, most of the time. There were a few years in high school where I didn’t honor any requests he made unless they were followed by threats of grounding. But now I’m older and wiser and it was his birthday.)

What We Ate


The table (five adults and one baby) shared the Carpaccio di Manzo and the Calamaretti al Sugo Piccante. The carpaccio consisted of raw beef tenderloin with marinated wild mushrooms, shaved Parm and a touch of truffle oil. The plate arrived with bits of arugula for color. A perfect beginning to a long night of fabulous food. The calamari was pan simmered in a spicy tomato and herb-based sauce. Non-breaded, it was clearly a winner.

Salad and Pasta Courses

All dishes (pasta, fish, or meat) come with a salad. The salad is a basic spring mix with a light oil/balsamic vinegar dressing. It’s a decent size—not too big, not to wimpy. Then, if you order a fish, poultry or meat dish, you get a plate of pasta (rigatoni in marinara sauce, to be exact). Judging by the small mess he made of his face, Mr. Moo seemed to thoroughly enjoy the pasta.

Main Course

I ordered the Ippoglosso in Padella. That is a super fancy way of saying Halibut in a Pan. What I received on my plate (not in the pan, as I had hoped) was a Norwegian halibut covered in a spicy tomato sauces with capers and olives. The sauce definitely had a white wine base, which balanced the vinegar of the capers and olives nicely. There were a pile of roasted green beans on the side which I ignored, because of the stack of potatoes. It’s the only way I can describe them. Start with thin slices of perfectly round potatoes. Then stack them on top of each other so that they look like a tower of mashed potatoes. But, make sure that the outside of the potatoes are a bit crunchy and the inside had a pan seared consistency, but is still creamy like a mashed potato. Seriously, I don’t know how they did it, but soooo good.

Paul and the Brasato Stracotto in Amarone. (Braised beef cooked in a wine reduction served with polenta and caramelized cippolini and fennel.) I was surprised by this order since Paul is not one to go in for onions, but I think he read slow braised beef and didn’t get much further in the description. His was probably the heartiest of the dishes ordered.

My mom ordered the Gnocchi di Patate e Porcini. The gnocchi were made with saffron and sage. I was sitting across the table from her as they laid down the dish, and it really did smell like a warm piece of heaven. My sister also had a pasta dish. It appeared to have an abundance of mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

Then, there was the filet mignon that my dad ordered. It was lightly peppercorned and very tender. It had a mushroom sauce and came with the same groovy potatoes that were with my dish. And, his grandson had the Pasta e Fasoi (traditional Venetian pasta and bean soup). The soup was good in that the pasta was larger squares and there were whole beans throughout.


Pasticcino di Limoncello: Alternate layers of crisp pastry dough and Génoise cake batter with lemoncello cream. Yes, it was exactly as awesome as it sounds. Seriously, decadent without being heavy. I am so absolutely glad that I ordered it.

Sogno Nero con Gelato di Casa: Their specialty is a rich, dense chocolate flourless cake with ganache glaze served with espresso gelato. Paul was in chocolate heaven.

Granita Fruttata: A wildberry granite with Sangiovese reduction. It sounded simple and small but looked fabulous when it came out.

Cheesecake: I had forgotten what my dad ordered. Until I looked at the pictures from that night:He had the cheesecake special. I can’t really tell you much about the dessert itself, except that because it was his birthday, they brought it out with what appears to be a Roman candle stuck on the plate. And, by Roman candle, I mean firecracker–not drippy candle in a wine bottle.

What We Drank

We shared a few bottles of white wine with the meal. And, sorry to say, I can’t recall what we had. But, they have a decent wine list. (And, by decent, I mean exactly what you would expect at a restaurant of this caliber.) I had an espresso with dessert that I am sure tasted lovely except that by this point I was outside walking Mr. Moo around.

That’s right. The baby made it through dinner with minimal fussing (It helped that they put us at a large table in a corner with easy access to the door. We only had to walk him twice during the meal. I just feel bad for all of the bread bits the servers had to clean up under the table.)

If you’re a fan of Café Cortina and want to bring their sauces right to your own home, they have an online store.

Location: 30715 W. 10 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI. Valet parking is available, but um it’s Detroit, so the parking lot is right there and free. I guess if you are old or it’s really cold, then it makes sense.


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