A comment was left on one of my previous posts… and it went something like this:
“Anonymous said… if you’re a Michigan student, what do you do for food?”
Well, if I indeed am a Michigan student, I would beg, because unless you like beer or pizza, there’s not much quality eats in the Ann Arbor area. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, and over-exaggerated.
To be quite honest, I have spent some time in the A2 area and survived just delightfully. In fact, I’ve found a few places that I would regard as noteworthy. Thus, I christen my food reviewing voyage with:
(multiple meals, last visit december, 2004)
eve in Kerrytown has a great high-end slow-food kinda thing going on. It’s tucked away in an unassuming corner of the Kerrytown Market place in a darling spot once home to the Kerrytown Bistro. The festive light-strung trees and nicely printed banners elegantly welcome you to a nymph-like dining experience.
Although it may be frigid cold outside, inside, diners are met with the comforting botanical smells of spring. Hints of dill and thyme waft through the air. As you will soon discover, they come from the table decorations, which feature herbs instead of flowers.
There are two dining areas. The front room looks out into the parking lot and is open to the bar from which your server will be delighted to provide you a fine list of wines. This area is cozy and can be tight. Most notably is the four-top that literally sits within arms reach of the host in the telephone booth-sized entryway.
In the back is a more formal, and I think more inviting, dining area that is dominated by a high brick wall, along which runs a plush banquette. There’s also an intimate “nook” table tucked away in the corner that seats four.
I have been to eve four times. Twice for dinner and twice for brunch.
The chef, Eve Aronoff, is a Cordon Bleu graduate and has gained experience cooking all around the world. Her food reflects her travels. Although principally anchored in French cooking, eve’s flavors range from Moroccan to Thai. Her dishes are always simple (as in the daily changing “Simple Fish” and “Simple Steak”) and delicious.
Aronoff uses only the freshest ingredients, many of which she gets locally in and around the Ann Arbor farmer’s markets. I know this because once I requested some dill for my smoked salmon at brunch (it was not the “featured herb” on the table decoration that day) and the waiter left the store to go the market across the street to fetch some. Talk about market-to-table speed!
This same lovely thoughtfulness impressed me the most on my first visit when I took a sip of my water. I was pleasantly surprised by the fragrant scent of rosewater. I later confirmed with our server that it was indeed rosewater. I know that some may not care for “perfumed” water (my father thinks it tastes like soap), but I was charmed by the added touch. I fear that fussy eaters like my dad account for the fact that rosewater has not resurfaced in later visits.
The bread is not to be missed. Or, should I say, the butter. Served on a wooden cutting board, Aronoff delivers, for your consideration, three wonderful spreadables: herb butter, guava butter and smoked salmon butter.
Appetizers are flavorful and substantial. In fact, I once saw two older men order each a “Brandade in a Box” – a heap of fluffy brandade cradled in a puff pastry box (no longer on the menu) and barely finish them. These pre-meal dishes are where Aronoff shows off her global experience. Among many goodies are a finger-licking bowl of Curried Mussels ($10), Moroccan Chicken wrapped in phyllo and served with candied limes ($8), and for the true traveler, a Cutting Board ($22) selection of international cheeses and charcuterie (by way of Zingerman’s and Durham Trackelment’s Smokery, both across the street).
Dinner entrée portions are generous. Like most traditional French bistro fare, the meat dominates the plate. The starch, usually a couscous or a rice variation, and the “seasonal vegetables” are token garnishes at best.
One of their mainstay menu items is the “Macadamia Crusted Salmon” ($22). While people rave, I and one of my friends thought it was flat on flavor and indulgently thick on crust. I will admit that I’m not a fan of Macadamias, but the oiliness of the nut and the rich salmon would have even the most enthused Hawaiian nut aficionado sated in two bites. On the other hand, the Simple Fish and Simple Steaks (market price) are always a sure bet. Guests have a choice of three different preparations. On one visit, these “specials” were Ruby Red Trout and Strip Sirloin.
The entrée salads are wonderful and perfect for the lighter eaters. I have tried both the “Market Basket” and the Gulf Shrimp Salads. The “Basket” ($16) comes with a generous cut of perfectly medium-rare grilled salmon atop an impressive mound of mixed greens, seasonal fruits, including kumquats, and vegetables all laced with a light vinaigrette. It was so good I didn’t even notice the Reggiano cheese missing. In the Gulf Shrimp Salad ($18), I thought Eve could probably have afforded to add one more to the trio of plump grilled gulf shrimp reclining on a nice mix of greens bejeweled with macadamia nuts. I will give her praise for accenting the salad with a mesh of Japanese rice vinegar flavored seaweed. I’m not a fan of peanut dressings, so I opted for the vinaigrette instead.
Like dinner, brunch, in a word, is “hearty.” A basket of freshly baked mini-cornbread muffins greet your mid-morning stomach with delight. These are not your typical spongy or moist muffins – these have a wonderfully light shortbread-crumbly consistency.
Ordering French Toast ($10) will get you two thick slabs of challah delightfully enveloped in a crispy shell of cinnamon and brown sugar egg batter, leaving the inside hot and luscious. There’s almost no need for syrup – although eve pours very good syrup. Omelets ($10-$12) are fluffy and stuffed full of your pickings.
For smoked fish-lovers (like me), I highly encourage you to try the “Fish Fantasy.” At $14, it is a bit steep, but you do get a nice assortment of smoked fishes, usually from Durham’s Trackelements and Smokery. Once, house-smoked mussels were featured. The fish platter is accompanied with half a bagel, pumpernickel and baguette slices, nominal greens and tomato and a wedge of fresh farmer’s cheese in lieu of cream cheese. Both times, I had to ask for onions and dill (I thought these were staples of the smoked fish experience – as are capers, which they don’t, but should have).
More nourishing brunch items include a beautiful “Cuban” Reuben ($12) with delicious potato wedges and the obscenely large Fried Potato Nachos ($10). Brunch often features a meat dish as well. I’ve had lamb offered both times.
Unless you’ve disciplined yourself throughout the meal, at these prices and portion sizes, dessert seems like a stretch. While the dessert menu may be worth a glance, I say save your buck and walk off some of your dinner by crossing the street to Zingerman’s for some gelato.
eve has also recently opened a wine bar with its own menu, much of it similar to appetizer list. Unfortunately, I cannot include a review of the wine bar now.
Overall, service is under-stated and consistent. During rushes, it you may find yourself waiting a little, but just long enough that on a second turn of the head will usually find him/her already standing beside you.
Call ahead to get reservations. And remember, unless you want to be greeting guests along with the host, ask to be seated away from the front door. Business seems to have been booming recently… that word of mouth thing is really working… as it should for something this good.
415 North 5th Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103