July 24, 2008

Steaks, Fajitas and Awesome Ribs Await at Mesquite Creek in Clarkston

By Sylvia Rector, Detroit Free Press

Jul. 24--It's tempting to describe Mesquite Creek as stone-cold gorgeous. The "stone" part is accurate, but there's nothing cold about this casually upscale steak and seafood restaurant, whose distinctive interior was inspired by the rugged beauty of the Southwest.

Thousands of pieces of ledge stone in shades of tan, brown and gray are layered floor-to-ceiling over every wall. They cover the massive two-story fireplace by the front door and wrap the tall pillars that dot the dining room.

In the light-filled foyer, Clarkston designer David Savage used leather sofas and chairs, dark wood, rich tile floors and 16-foot ceilings to create a lodge-like setting for guests. The warm earth tones are repeated in the main dining room, where the walls are hung with mammoth sepia photographs of spectacular rock formations and oversize color photos of desert scenery and plant life.

The southwestern flavor is so palpable, it may give you an Arizona-size appetite -- just right for perusing a menu that ranges from steaks and seafood to pastas, ribs and fajitas.

That's one of the best things about Mesquite Creek: It has all the style of a high-end venue, but its wide-ranging menu makes it equally appropriate for family dinners, golf league get-togethers and Saturday-night dinner dates.

On more upscale occasions, begin with slices of rare, seared sashimi tuna ($12.95) in a black-and-white sesame seed coating with garnishes of salad greens, pickled ginger and a deceptively hot wasabi sauce. Served atop a frozen glass block, it makes a great presentation.

On casual nights, start with tender steak tenderloin bites ($12.95) with buttery zip sauce, loaded potato wedges ($6.95) or a basket of white corn tortilla chips with the restaurant's own house-made salsa ($4.95), a pureed style with smoky undertones and medium heat.

Mesquite Creek's USDA choice steaks are served with house-made zip sauce spooned on top; remember to request it on the side if you aren't a fan. Our Delmonico ($22.95), grilled medium-rare as ordered, came with house-baked rolls, a green salad and fresh-cooked green beans.

Prime rib ($21.95), which isn't that common on menus anymore, is available here and very good.

From half a dozen seafood selections, including cedar-planked Atlantic salmon with truffle honey ($20.95) and yellowfin tuna with coconut rice ($24.95), I went with the perch ($20.95) and found the plate's five pieces small -- as perch often are -- but tasty.

The thing not to miss, though, is chef Adam Siano's baby back ribs, a Mesquite Creek signature dish.

I've almost stopped ordering ribs because I'm sick of syrupy-sweet sauces and mushy, greasy meat. But these were delicious.

The jalapeno-barbecue sauce exhibited a nice balance of mild heat and sweetness, and the meat was succulent without being squishy-soft. The menu calls them "fall off the bone" ribs, but they clung just enough to make them a satisfying chew. Order the full slab ($22.95) so you'll have leftovers.

On the other hand, two southwestern dishes -- chicken quesadillas ($12.95) and beef fajitas ($15.95) -- needed dramatically more oomph: more onion, more chiles, some fresh cilantro. The fajitas smelled delicious, but the flavors simply weren't exciting.

Southwestern-accented Chicken Durango ($16.95) is topped with jack cheese, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon and chives. Served with two pieces of chicken breast, it's enough to provide lunch the next day.

Or you could come back for lunch and choose from a large casual menu of entree salads, burgers and sandwiches, along with hot entrees.

The dessert tray is filled with temptations -- including the light, luscious tiramisu ($5.95) -- prepared by the bakers at Andiamo restaurant group. That's because the company bought Mesquite Creek in December 2006 and gutted and renovated the building in a remarkable 23 days, reopening Jan. 26, 2007.

Located just a stone's throw off I-75 in Clarkston, Mesquite Creek attracts not just locals but also travelers who know it's an affordable, comfortable and versatile dining choice -- one you might want to keep in mind on those Friday evening crawls to the cabin Up North.

Contact SYLVIA RECTOR at 313-222-5026 or [email protected]


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