A recent article in the Detroit Free Press named one of Ferndale’s own as Restaurant of the Year. Torino, a small restaurant located on the corner of 9 mile and Bermuda Street nestled underneath the Lofts on 9, is unobtrusive and sleekly modern.
Its special air of low-key sophistication is just one part of a dining experience unlike any other that the Detroit area has to offer. Open Tuesday through Saturday, the only ordering decision that patrons have to make is whether they would like a wine pairing with their meal.
The Free Press article has garnered welcome attention to the modestly-sized restaurant. “We’re very pleased, it was a lot of hard work to get through the past year. We’re very happy to get some recognition,” said Ian Redmond, beverage director for Torino. “It’s a lot of fun to watch people change their preconceptions about this type of dining.” He went on to say that: “We planned it as a slow build from last May until this Fall, so it’s all working out. We were pretty busy before, but this will put us over the edge into being consistently busy.”
Torino’s steady climb to success has been fueled by the rapport of the people involved. Incredibly enough, this high-achieving team was created mostly through serendipitous introductions, compatible personalities, and people evincing a desire to improve.
“I knew no one here,” admits Garrett Lipar, the chef behind the picturesque and delectable dishes. He was introduced to the owner, Noah Dorfman, through a friend of the family. The same fortunate happenstance occurred for Redmond, who answered an ad almost a year ago. When asked about his kitchen staff, Lipar said, “They had the passion to better themselves but didn’t have the direction to do so, which was a great equation for me. I built them up the right way. We took things very slowly from February to May; it took a while to get things going and really hone in on what we do.”
Everyone fell into place, creating a harmonious work environment. “We’re here together every day, watching each other learn and evolve,” Lipar says. He adds, “I just empower them. I give them the tools to do their job, and educate them the right way. Everyone here has their own identity but very similar styles.”
Each course that Torino offers is a unique blend of obvious culinary skill and subtlety. The menu is transient, changing each week, and is composed of an “amuse,” five courses, and an after dinner coffee. The “amuse” is a single-bite delight that introduces and showcases the chef’s approach to the evening’s cuisine. The tasting menu is usually posted in advance on the website, allowing patrons to have an idea of the key flavor notes in each dish.
When asked about the changing menu and drink list, Redmond stated, “It keeps us on our toes, it keeps us learning new things.”
The inspiration for these dishes is credited largely to the products themselves. “We let them dictate how the menu unfolds. Their shapes, their lines, their contours, their smell, their taste, their sugar content…” It’s obvious that Lipar, a man with vegetable tattoos gracing his forearm, could wax poetic on the natural beauty of the foods he works with. He has final say of everything that comes out of the kitchen, but admits that, “Sometimes it’s more me, sometimes it’s more my team. There is the vision I have for things, and then other people taking that idea and running with it. We get together and brainstorm.” An important element of the success of the restaurant seems to be teamwork. “I surround myself with good people. Whether they are knowledgeable about this or not, they are good people, and they have a passion for life,” Lipar said.
Years spent working in some of the best restaurants that New York and Chicago had to offer helped Lipar to build his style along the way. “I learned balance in New York, and being more adventurous while in Chicago.” He then decided to travel abroad and work in a Stockholm restaurant called Frantzen which he credits with helping his style mature. “It was a place that had a tasting menu format, similar to what we do here, and it really opened my eyes to doing things differently.
There’s no gimmickry involved; it’s just a beautiful product, very cleanly presented, no extra sauces,” he explained, his passion evident in his voice.
When asked about the challenges of introducing a new style of dining to the Detroit area, Redmond answered that it was convincing people that they are going to like new things. This covers not only the food, but also the wines. “People drink what they drink, and they eat what they eat, without realizing that when it’s matched it’s a whole other level. I like being able to turn someone on to something new,” says Redmond, who is in charge of picking out and buying all of the wines, beers, coffee, and tea at Torino. He writes the lists, inventories, and creates the wine pairings, although the bartenders help craft the cocktails lists.
Space within the restaurant is a commodity. The kitchen is little more than a narrow corridor, where the chef, the sous chef,
line cook, pastry chef, and dishwasher engage in an intricate dance each evening. The seating area is only 9 tables and a bar that can fit a dozen patrons. Due to limited seating capabilities, anyone interesting in sampling their untold delights for the palate would be wise to make a reservation. Additionally, since the kitchen is so small and all of the ingredients are ordered fresh, it is possible that there may only been enough food to serve guests that are expected.
Allergies and dietary restrictions have to be noted in advance so that the kitchen staff has time to buy special ingredients for an alternate version of the menu. Near the door, beside their smiling hostesses, is a purveyors list that informs guests of where the high quality ingredients are gathered from. “I have access to a select group of products that other people don’t even get to see. We have some of the best from the best purveyors, farmers, and foragers in the nation,” Lipar asserts.
The best part, according to Lipar, is “I get to live my dream. All I want to do is cook. I’m happy to be here with the people that I have. I’m lucky.” When asked if he had anything further to say, Lipar responded, “No, I’ll just let the food speak for itself.”
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