Ann Arbor: Where to Eat in One of the Top Restaurant Towns in Michigan (perhaps the country)
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AventuraSpecializing in traditional Spanish comfort food, when you think Aventura, think tapas and paellas and excellent wine.
Start with their cheese and meat appetizers and don't miss the Lomo Iberico air-cured, marinated ham, slightly smoky and fully delicious.
Moving to the salads, the Hinojo Y Manzana is a slaw of apple and fennel with a touch of manchego cheese in an elderflower vinaigrette. This is a bit of an unusual combination that's mouth-watering good. If you like a bit of a gentle bite -- go for the Shishito peppers which are whole peppers dressed in lemon and sea salt. I live in New Mexico where foods are required to have some heat and I'd happily pop these in my mouth all day. Elevating brussel sprouts to where they belong, Coles De Bruselas melds candied pistachios, apples, olive oil, honey, crema fresca turning an under-appreciated vegetable into a star. More? Cauliflower fried with salsa verde and pine nuts, and chorizo stuffed dates wrapped n bacon. Oh, yes.
The main problem will likely be that the tapas are so exciting and satisfying that it will be hard to move past that part of the menu. However, if you do make it to the paellas, their seafood was the delicious classic, but vegans won't feel they are running second. Their vegan paella is differently delectable with an array of vegetable dressed with sofrito.
Ayse'sAyse's is definitely a heavenly trip through Turkish cuisine. Her flavors are subtle but definite, judiciously blending spices in a savory melange. Standout appetizers include the beet salad with yogurt, vegan grape leaves (Ayse's deft touch with rice makes them unusually light). The red lentil soup with a touch of paprika is another winner. For the entrees, if you can't eat your way through the menu (which would be my first suggestion) try the Sultan's Delight replete with chicken and bits of pureed, charred eggplant to impart the slightly smoky tone. The flaky phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta is mouth-watering delicious. There's many gluten-free dishes on the menu, but her red pepper lamb dolma will leave all diners delighted. I would definitely count Ayse's as one of the tops in the city.
CasablancaTucked into a tiny former fast food restaurant, Casablanca offers some of the finest Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine to be had anywhere. The creamy hummus is topped by roasted vegetables imbued with a bit of heat. The spicy eggplant baba ganoush is another tasty melange. Don't miss the lentil soup -- light and packed with flavor.
Want to be a bit more adventurous? The sweet and savory bistilla of phyllo pastry filled with chicken, ground nuts, and cinnamon. But my favorite dish might be the vegetable tagine with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, potatoes, green pepper and olive oil. Their vegetarian dishes are stellar -- appealing to even the most steadfast carnivore. The Moroccan meatballs of beef, lamb, and veal very popular dish for meat-eaters.
The secret to their intensely flavorful dishes is the chef's own chermoula. His paste of parsley, olive oil, garlic, tomato and a variety of herbs underlies much of the restaurant's dishes. Perhaps someday they'll jar this piquant fusion for sale to the public. If they do, I'll be waiting on the line to buy it.
GraziThis Northern Italian restaurant in a former theater exudes quirky sophistication with its sleek neon sign honoring the former venue and a bacchanalian mural on the back wall. Opened in 1987 Grazi occupies what had been the 1930s Orpheum Theater. Dine on the top floor balcony and enjoy the view down to the lower dining level. When it comes to the menu, there's plenty of excellent choices. Their sacchetti are delectable pasta pockets filled with cheese and mushrooms. The full-flavored pear and gorgonzola salad with walnuts and bacon mixed sweet and salty with savory. The mushroom risotto was a standout as was the farfalle with shrimp. The restaurant scores with another vegetarian dish -- spaghetti ratatouille.
Mani Osteria & BarThis wildly popular local favorite offers some of the best Italian fusion dining in the city, likely the entire state, maybe even the USA. Mani Osteria's Pickled Tomato appetizer is quite simply addictive. Brined with olive oil and herbs the sweet cherry tomatoes explode with flavor. It comes with whipped ricotta and olive tapenade along with bread toasted with olive oil. The carmelized brussel sprouts shredded with maple vinaigrette and toasted almonds and will turn the most phobic eater into a vegetable lover.
One of their signature dishes is sticky ribs -- and it should be on everyone's plate. If you are a fan of chile, definitely order the Sticky Ribs. The tender ribs are topped with enough red chile to give it a zip yet leave the tender rib with a crispy top.
Their thin crusted pizza uses the dough to provide support for profusion of tasty toppings. The mushroom and zucchini pizza was topped with Italian herbs and fontina was a standout.
For the true pasta lover, Mani's dishes excelled. Their pappardelle bolognese is outstanding. The slow cooked beef braised in red wine served over house-made pasta is the stuff of foodie dreams. The double-strand gemelli pasta topped with truffle and mushroom pesto, hazelnuts and pecorino is another scrumptious dish.
Complete this amazing dining experience with a bottle of one of their expertly chosen wines. This is a restaurant I could return to again and again.
Miss KimOne of the businesses under the Zingerman's banner, Miss Kim started as a food truck but has become one of the city's best Asian fusion restaurants.
Following the belief that everyone should be paid a living wage and receive benefits, there is no tipping at Miss Kim to make up for insufficient salary. Everyone is invested in making it a good experience for diners. And they succeed beyond expectations.
Their dinner menu offers small, medium, and large plates to match your appetite or invite sharing and snacking. The menu not only explains the elements of the dish but whether it is vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, wheat-free, nut free, etc. to help diners plan their meal.
Although their meat dishes will delight carnivores, their vegetarian versions are particularly outstanding. The Bahn Mi with Zingerman's baguette bread add a nice complement to the fillings. For more substantial dishes, my favorites were the rice bowls with the fresh ingredients arranged atop the combination of black and sweet rices. The vegetarian/vegan version excelled -- proving that in the hands of a skilled chef even tofu can be tasty, and the pickled cucumbers, and avocado added varied flavors. The chicken and pork rice bowls bring fresh and ingredients to make carnivores smile.
If you enjoy cocktails their addictive Flight's Delight is fruity, lightly sweet. It's made with soju (a Korean liquor distilled from rice ), five-spice wine, lemon, and honey.
Pacific RimStarting out as a popular Korean restaurant, Pacific Rim evolved under chef Duc Tang to offer a profusion of pan-Asian dishes. Crispy outside and rich with crab the Southeast Asian Crabcakes featured diced jicama, red bell peppers and scallions, served with a cilantro-lime sauce. Lovers of coconut will definitely want to order the coconut-green curry soup with sweet potatoes, butternut squash and shiitakes.
For entrees, the quinoa crusted scallop over jasmine rice is another highlight. These pan-seared jumbo scallops with coconut-jasmine rice are enhanced by the carrot-lemongrass sauce, flavors melding to create a perfect dish.
Among the meat dishes, the rack of lamb with chutney and curried quinoa was a winner on all levels. Also excellent was the duck with shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.
If you can, save a bit of room for their delicious molten chocolate cake. This innovative winner is made of bittersweet chocolate with their toasted coconut-Kahlua ice cream and sake-macerated cherries.
Pacific Rim also serves an unusual ginger tea, simmering ginger with sliced apples and dates until it reaches the desired flavor intensity. Order it hot or iced -- it's soothing and yet refreshing either way.
This restaurant must be put on your itinerary.
Places for drinking, (and eating, too)
Arbor Brewing Company BrewpubFor casual dining Arbor Brewing Co Brewpub is a great choice. Enjoy a flight of beers -- they offer a range of flavor profiles and you're sure to find several you'd enjoy. If your palate tends to lighter and sweeter, try their Pollination Sensation. The honey lavender ale perfect for people not sure if they like ale, or even beer.
When you're ready to eat their cheese cheddar ale soup is light yet richly flavored with definite ale overtones. Follow that with duck poutine of crispy potatoes, duck confit with stout infused mushroom gravy. Or, the vegan with avocado, vegan curry gravy.
ABC has two dart boards. Get the darts from the bartender and try your skill. One fun fact -- the people on the label of their beers are actual people who either worked for ABC or are locals they wanted to honor.
VinBarIf you're not ready to call it a night after work, before or after dinner have an authentic Michigan experience at VinBar. This friendly intimate bar serves only Michigan wines, and intriguing cocktails, often made with their house made liquor (e.g. Limoncello, and blackberry liquor). Of course, you'll want to snack while you enjoy the wines and cocktails so there's sweet and savory small bites available.
The Last WordWith a speakeasy feel, this dimly lit intimate a bit retro club offers live music with hand-crafted cocktails. Try the Tiki on the French Rivera, a mix of cointreau, rum, lime, and other secret ingredients that turns serious booze into a creamy orange tiki-style cocktail straight out of the wildly popular tiki bars of the 1960s. Although I was there to drink The Last Word is known for extending innovation to its food menu.
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