The vegetable and herb garden at the back entrance of Assagi Bistro is flourishing as Josie Knapp and George Gize start their 18th year on Nine Mile Road. When they opened in May of 2000, they were pretty much alone as restaurateurs on the strip. Now it is packed with cafes and watering holes.
Despite the competition, Assaggi remains one of the most notable, especially in summer when its outdoor seating at tables covered in white cloths, paralleled by the carefully tended garden - I couldn’t spot a single weed - add to the art-bedecked dining room indoors.
The room overlooks an open kitchen, where a wood-burning oven turns out hot, puffy rounds of pita bread that are quickly brought to the tables with olive oil and herbs. It’s an exceptionally well-run room because the proprietors are always on hand to make sure patrons are taken care of.
The menu is concise and based in part on the Lebanese/Italian backgrounds of the couple. There is both a meze plate of Mideastern selections, including hummus and tabbouleh, and an antipasti array of cured meats and cheeses, for instance, and all of the appetizers are shareable.
The reasonable number of entrees focus on seafood and meat, typified by pan-seared scallops and grilled lamb chops, the bite-sized chops with sculptured tomahawk bones for a stunning presentation.
That and the other entrees are individually garnished with creative accompaniments, such as the couscous, dried fruits, pistachios and pomegranate barbecue sauce teamed with twice-cooked Moroccan duck legs, and the house-made gnocchi served with Provimi veal scallopini. Another signature dish is cioppino, the seafood stew that originated in the Italian neighborhoods of San Francisco.
It’s an ambitious menu that truly lives up to its promise.
330 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale
Rating: ★★★ — excellent
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 4-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
Prices: Appetizers, most sharable: $6-$17, flatbread pizzas $13-$14, pastas $19-$21, salads $12-$16, desserts $8.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Low
Wheelchair access: No barriers
Parking: Municipal lot in rear
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding