Saturday, January 29, 2011

Café Japon

January 17th.

Hey Folks, this is Elisabeth here. I decided to take complete advantage of restaurant week, and ate out twice in one day. Lunch at The Melting Pot (see below), and dinner at Caf
é Japon. Chelsea was not with me for the latter. Obviously, I am much more popular than Chelsea because people actually invite me to eat with them. The incomparable Adam Wilson took me to dinner a Japanese-French fusion restaurant. Perfect for us because Adam grew up in France and I grew up in Japan.

Atmosphere: 4. Café Japon was not what we expected. We thought we were going to a chic, inventive restaurant, but we arrived to find a hole-in-the-wall, order at the counter restaurant. When Adam called to get a reservation, he heard the hostess yell to the kitchen workers, "Do we take reservations?!?!" Needless to say, we were the first people to ever make reservation at Café Japon. The decor looked like it was a hand-me-down from a deserted diner mixed with some random Asian accents. The only cool decoration were the grass hut booth covers. Of course, we choose to sit underneath one.
Service: 8. The service was quite perfect at Café Japon. Our waitress/hostess was very kind and stayed past her shift so she could finish serving us. Our meal involved many different dishes and she brought each dish out at a perfect gradual pace so we were never overwhelmed with food, nor were we ever waiting for food. The business also seemed family oriented; our waitresses/hostess' husband played live music at the restaurant, and seemed to be the daughter of the chef.

Food: 6.5. The food at Café Japon was oishii (or delicious) but, as is the trend, not what I expected. I was prepared to find menu items that uniquely combined Japanese and French cuisine, but found the French and Japanese dishes to be pretty separate. Adam and I ordered two completely different 3 course meals off the set restaurant week menu and shared our food. This meant I got to try a lot of different dishes- from sukiyaki to a savory seafood custard (yuck!) So many dishes, I can't begin to name all of them. The highlights of the meal, for me (Adam might say differently), were the tuna tar-tar, lentil pilaf, ratatouille, and light orange and cream pastry dessert. This restaurant finds its strength in the authenticity of it's food. These dishes have no sign of Americanization.

Overall: 6. I had a wonderful experience at Café Japon. But I'm convinced that was because I got to eat with chopsticks and had great company. The food was great, but not something I would necessarily crave.

I have discovered a great strategy for this crazy adventure Chelsea and I have embarked on. . . get other people to take you to the restaurants so you don't have to pay. Anyone want to take Chelsea and I on a double date?

If you go:
113 East Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2109
(734) 332-6200

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Earle

January 19th

When we first learned about Restaurant Week, we decided to pick one of the most expensive spots on our list to fully take advantage of the fixed price deal. We chose The Earle, voted time and again one of Ann Arbor's nicest and most romantic spots. So of course we invited our girlfriend, Maren Laurence. Maren is a freshman at UM studying Harp Performance and we are hoping she will be moving into Zion House next year... She was pumped to get out of the dorms and enjoy a real meal, and we were so excited to spend some quality time with her.

Atmosphere: 8. When I first heard about The Earle, I pictured a pristine dining experience with white linens and snobby waiters, but our experience was anything but. The Earle felt cozy, intimate, and romantic, but it was still a totally fun and charming place to have dinner for the three of us girls. Seated around us, there was a large group celebrating a birthday as well as many couples out for a romantic date night. For such a classy establishment, we were surprised when we were directed to go down a set of stairs and open this industrial looking door... for all we knew we were entering a grimy old basement.

Service: 9. Our servers were incredibly friendly- by far the nicest waiters we've had so far- and were happy to offer up their own recommendations and answer Elisabeth's endless questions about the various dishes. Our food came out surprisingly fast as well, we hardly had to wait.

Food: 9. By the time we got to the restaurant Elisabeth had made it very clear, numerous times, how very hungry she was. We were really happy to shut her up with a bread basket (Elisabeth is always disappointed when there is not a bread basket). We each had three courses; I started out with a delicious bean soup that could have been a meal on its own, and Elisabeth and Maren opted for a beautiful salad. For the main course I ordered duck, "Boneless duck breasts sautéed medium rare…pan sauced with cider, apples, honey and rum plumped raisins…served with a turnip and potato purée." I don't think I've ever eaten duck, and this proved to be the perfect introduction. Maren chose the Whitefish dish, "Fresh fillet of whitefish coated with ground hazelnuts and breadcrumbs…sautéed and served with a chive beurre blanc…on a bed of sautéed spinach…served with potatoes." And Elisabeth ordered the Mezzogiorno, "Linguine tossed with crumbled garlic sausage, capocolla ham, sliced hot peppers and Romano cheese." Maren and I were dying over our dishes, but Elisabeth, while agreeing her pasta was very tasty, wished she had chosen something else a little more exciting.

The highlight (as it usually is for us) was the dessert. Unfortunately we ate them too fast to take any photos. We ordered a white chocolate cheesecake, a flourless chocolate torte (which I learned is just a fancy word for cake), and white chocolate ice cream with some kind of fancy chocolate sauce. It was divine. 

Overall: 9. The Earle is a great excuse to get dressed up and eat some fine food. Although its still early in our list, we agree this is an Ann Arbor must. Save your pennies and don't miss out on The Earle. 

P.S. We were all about Restaurant Week and wish it was Restaurant Week every week... if that were the case, we might never go to the grocery store again. If you missed out this time, don't miss it in June!

If you go: Make a reservation at least a day or two in advance!
121 West Washington
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Melting Pot

January 17th.

So, we know this isn't an Ann Arbor original, but we still wanted to add it to our list. We took off to The Melting Pot on Main Street with our dear friend and roommate, Dana, for a lunch celebrating her recent engagement.

Atmosphere: 8. The canned music was key to our experience. For real, it was great. It was a constant croon-fest with faves like "Stormy Weather," and "Where or When" sung by a sultry Harry Conick. Elisabeth and I were enjoying it a bit too much (singing along at times...) but Dana couldn't quite understand what the fuss was about. 

Service: 5. Did you know the Melting Pot has three stories? Neither did we. But we soon found out as we were swept up to the top floor by a winded host who had obviously made the trip a few times already that afternoon. From then on it was all down-hill. Where is our waitress? She probably got lost on one of the other thirty floors between the kitchen and where we were seated...

Food: 7. For our first course we ordered the Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue. It was served with bread, fresh vegetables and apple slices. Apples and swiss go surprisingly well together. For our dessert course, we opted for the Original Peanut Butter and Chocolate Fondue. Us girls at 528 have a hard time resisting Peanut Butter and Chocolate in just about any form. The dessert was the best part of this experience. They served the fondue with strawberries, cheesecake, marshmallows, brownies, and Elisabeth's personal favorite- rice crispy treats.  Yum. The food was delicious, we just wish there were more of it, or perhaps that they serve us each our own small individual dipping samplers; the shared platter of sampler items could create conflict if someone likes to hoard all the food... 

Fondue! Photo take from the internet-- this is obviously not Swiss Cheese...
Overall: 7. This is a great restaurant to take a date to or to have a party at. We can't deny that we had a fantastic lunch, we just couldn't get past the "chain" feel and the fact that it took an hour and a half to eat our two small courses. 

If you go:
309 S. Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 799-0797

Restaurant Week

Listen up, folks. If you live in Ann Arbor, you need to take advantage of Restaurant Week. Now. Because it is going on right NOW!

Restaurant Week happens twice a year, once in January and again in June. This is the best time for students to wander past State or South University and eat a three course meal at the fixed price of $25, at any participating restaurant! Did I mention they all are offering one, two, or three course lunch meals for only $12? Call and get reservations now, because these hot spots are already filling up. You only have until Saturday to stuff your face for cheap!!!

Need more info? Visit their website. Here you can see a full list of participating restaurants as well as their special menu options for this special event.

The Jolly Pumpkin

January 13th 

This outing marks the first "official" meal of our project. We had originally planned to go to Eve, an upscale restaurant in Kerrytown after hearing it was closing that week. However, after calling for a reservation, none were to be had. So we checked Eve off our list as being impossible to eat at and set out for the Jolly Pumpkin. As part of our resolution, we decided to eat out with someone new each time, so Erika Peterson and Ashley Park were the very first to be invited! We love these girls and have not spent nearly enough time with them this year. It was the perfect double date because they are roommates and we are roommates!

Elisabeth and Erika

Atmosphere: 9.5. The feel of The Jolly Pumpkin is cozy and unique, a little like you just stepped into a Tim Burton Film. Just a little. It has the charm and warmth of a pub. 

Service: 10. No complaints here. Our waitress was helpful, informative and gave us just the right time to decide and order. In addition, our food came out super fast.

Food: 8.5. Our biggest disappointment was in the limited appetizer options- we ordered grilled flat bread with a variety of spreads. It wasn’t anything special, but it still tasted great. The menu was surprisingly standard (mostly consisting of salads, sandwiches and pizzas) but each dish had a unique spin and flavor and truly excelled at what it was. Elisabeth odered the prime steak salad- they essentially served her a cow with a side of lettuce. The steak was cooked to perfection, and the salad was basically an average steak dinner made into a salad (roasted potatoes, healthy serving of steak). Erika ordered the Tofu salad, which we commented tasted much better than any tofu we have ever attempted to prepare ourselves. I ordered the South Pacific pizza, topped with bacon, onions and pineapple. The flavor of this pizza was unlike anything I had ever tasted before. It blew my mind. Needless to say, we were are all very happy with our choices. 

      Ashley joined us for dessert, for which we ordered several of their items to share; the Pumpkin Whoopie Pie, the Vegan Chocolate Cake, and the Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream made from coconut milk served with an almond shortbread cookie. Delish. 

Ashley and Chelsea
Pumpkin Whoopie Pie... one bite in.
Overall: 9. This is an experience you do NOT want to miss. The Jolly Pumpkin comes with our highest recommendation. It was a great time out at a reasonable price. *Added bonus- they use local suppliers for a large range of their food items. 

If you go (and really, you should go):
311 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 913-2730

Monday, January 17, 2011

Northside Grill

January 7th

A celebratory brunch was in order, so we headed over to Northside Grill on Broadway St. By brunch, we mean it was about noon.

Atmosphere: 6. But we don't fault it for it. This cozy little side-of-the-road spot isn't trying to be anything other than a down home diner serving delicious breakfast and lunch options. It's nothing interesting, but most people do consider it an Ann Arbor staple. People don't come back for the atmosphere, they come for the food.

Service: 7. 

Food: 8.  After her first bite of our shared platter of our favorite breakfast food, the words  “best french toast I have ever eaten,” escaped from Elisabeth's mouth. This means a lot, because she’s had a lot of French toast. The biscuits were stale, but the hot chocolate was excellent (added chocolate chips on top of the whipped cream was a delightful bonus). Our omelets (tomato/mozzarella/ham and ham/swiss/onion) were unexceptional but tasty. The side of hash browns was a delightful surprise. 

Overall Experience: 7. We think the pressure to eat at Northside comes from the fact everyone says you should go to Northside. It isn't anything above and beyond other neighborhood breakfast places. However, it was a cozy place to spend a Friday morning/afternoon chatting and enjoying a tasty, inexpensive meal.

If you go: (734) 995-0965
1015 Broadway Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Our New Semester's Resolution

Most people's New Year's goals revolve around eating less food and spending less money. Ours? Quite the opposite. This semester, Elisabeth and I have resolved to eat at the varied restaurants Ann Arbor has to offer. After frequenting TKWU, Sava's and Mr. Greek's Coney Island for the thousandth time, we realized it was time to look past the University of Michigan campus and into the heart of Ann Arbor. We have compiled a list of 20+ restaurants and eateries that we (or at least one of us) have never been to- a list we are sure will continue to change. The two of us poor college students are on a mission to experience the best (and maybe worst?) food Ann Arbor has to offer.

The List (additions and deletions to be expected): 
The Blue Nile
The Earle
Fleetwood Diner
Blimpie Burger
The Jolly Pumpkin
Cafe Habana
Conor O'Neills
Brown Jug
Afternoon Delight
Zingerman's Roadhouse
Abor Brewing Co.
Washtenaw Dairy
Grizzly Peak
Quickie Burger
The Melting Pot
The Quarter
Prickly Pear

Obviously, we realize some Ann Arbor favorites like Zingerman's Deli and Seva's aren't on this list. We've eaten there already and will hopefully revisit them once this initial behemoth of a list has been conquered.  Have we missed anything? What favorite Ann Arbor eateries can you not live without? Make a suggestion and we might add it to the list!

Happy Eating!
Chelsea and Elisabeth