So, my time in the little town of Ann Arbor has finally come to an end. Tomorrow, I pack up and head out to the big shiny Bay and lush Valley that is my next food adventure.
…but, before I leave, I want to tie up some loose ends up regarding the eats in this town that has been, off-and-on, my home away from home for the past few years.
1. As the article about me stated, the interview with the Free Press‘s Food Editor, Sylvia Rector, took place at eve in Kerrytown. I have to say that in the almost-a-year since I last visited, Chef Aranoff has really refined her craft. No more are the simple one starch and veggie medley on nearly every platter. Accompaniments to meat have grown more specific to compliment the main meat or feature item.
Sadly, I found the desserts at eve skippable – except the outstanding cup of hot white chocolate. Buttery and rich, with a tinge of salt, I could not imagine having more than just the tiny shot that was served (there are two sizes – a large and a small). I was told that Chef Aranoff plans to take this off the menu – a big mistake, in my opinion.
As well, since my pioneering review about eve back in February, 2005, the restaurant has happily succeeded with its bar menu. As well, to my pleasure, it’s re-done the front room to be more lounge-y and more intimate – not the mixing bowl of activity as before. Sadly, to my great disappointment, it has nixed its brunch, which I absolutely adored. Prices have inflated just a tad, but I wouldn’t say that the increase is entirely unwarranted. Ingredients seem just as fresh, but variety and preparation technique has really improved.
2. Re: Zingerman’s. As anyone who has read my blogposts about A2’s cottage industry, Zingerman’s, will know that I have not always reacted positively to my experiences, either at the Roadhouse or the Deli. However, now that I have done a little more research and spent a little more time A number of things I’d like to re-address:
(a) To my joy and happiness, the people at the Deli seem to really be on top of the gelato bar. It has been a beacon of hope and sweetness to me during these past few grueling months of papers, classes and personal CRAP. While they’ve had some consistency issues in the past, they’ve been much better about monitoring the creamy treats. I heard that they were having problems with the machine, which being from Italy, understandably cannot be easily fixed. Nor are replacement parts readily available.
Neverless, the Creamy is churning out some really good stuff – my latest love, is their Burnt Sugar, which is at once ascetically bitter and sinfully buttery. The consistency as well is superb – the creamiest of their gelatos I’ve had. To be sure, I still flirt with my old flame, the “Chocolate Heat” flavor, which has lost a bit of its kick since I first fell in love in February, but it’s still gets me my spicy thrills when I need them. And, although I never get it, I’ll still stand by my review of the Roadhouse, that the vanilla-bean gelato is one of the most awesome vanilla-bean gelatos I’ve ever tasted. (You can also read about my re-evaluation of the Z’s gelato here on eGullet which I posted a few weeks ago.)
Now all they have to do is get their temperature under control to maximize mouthfeel and and flavor andy’ve got themselves a hands-down winning product. And, although I’m generally not a fruity person, I wish they’d start expanding into the wonderful world of sorbetti – especially with the abundance of fruit here in Michigan – cherries, berries and apples, just to name a few. As well, I wish they’d try their hand at some traditional Italian favorites of mine: yogurt, pistachio and olive oil… if you guys need a recipe, I’d be happy to consult! Just give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org!
(b) There’s this diva of chocolate at the “Next Door” named “Duff” who’s really been ampin’ up the Chocolate program. The last time I was in, I reported, in re: chocolates:
P.S. Skip their chocolates. Though pretty and tempting, their selection of local Michigan Grocer’s Daughter truffles and Katrina Markoff’s Vosges Haute chocolates are both over-priced (at an obnoxious $2.25per piece) and stale. So too are the bars of chocolate on their shelves. While not necessarily stale, you can find the same brands and baking and eating bars for a fraction of the price at nearby markets.
Well, in the months that have passed, I think I would have to say the chocolate has improved. Their chocolate case is fresh and not stale… although I will have to say that I’m not a fan of Vosges at all. I have been to her (Katrina Markoff’s) “boutique” many times in Chicago and have been getting more and more disillusioned with her products. Is she selling purses or chocolates? Her truffles may not be stale, but they’re either flavorless or just downright horrific. As well, they’re not hand-dipped, and don’t even pretend to be so – the truffles are so obviously ganache-filled pre-molded shells that have been enrobed to give it a slightly less manufactured look. I know that Zingerman’s can find better chocolate-makers out there, but I suspect that finding a quality wholesale vendor is problematic. As well, if the stuff is flying off of the Z’s shelf as quickly as it does at the Vosges outlets in Chicago, I don’t blame them for raking in the profits. To each his/her own…
However, the sweet Grocer’s Daughter has found her way into my heart. I looked up Mimi Wheeler’s story on the company’s website and did a little more research into her enterprise. I must say, I’m impressed. Had I known that she hand-dips her chocolates all by herself, I would say that $2.25 per truffle is a pretty fair price. Even more so when you taste them. I have to say that they are very well made. Recently, having tried nearly all of them, her couverture and ganache really meld well. I can’t say all of her flavors pack the punch I need (like the “Cherry” with a faint, if imperceptible Eau de Vie), but overall, they’re very good. I understand that she’s recently changed to the new Plantation
As I have already posted on eGullet, I’m especially excited about all of the new chocolate bars that “Duff” has begun to order into the Deli. The last time I visited, the shelves were really bare – only Plantations, Cluizel and just a few meagre Valhrona selections. Now, they’re overflowing with exciting new treats – among my favorite are the new Pralus chocolates – wonderfully smokey and wild (my favorite is the Brut de São Tomé) – as well as some new Valhrona, a re-edited Plantations line and a leather-mushroomy-tasting Guido Gobino from Italy that I hadn’t noticed before. A few things not to be missed the next time you’re at the Next Door: the new gianduja “terrine” of white and milk chocolates intense with hazelnut. Dazzling! As well, do ask for a sample of the Brut de São Tomé Pralus – and if you dare, the Guido Gobino is sure to be a trip.
(c) Is there anything better than a heart-warming bowl of matzo ball soup, or as comforting as chopped chicken liver, bright and silky, spread on a piece of toast? *Lovin’ both* at the deli as always! Also, for an equally delightful graze, work your way through their olive bar… boasting a pretty stunning selection. Among my favorite at the olive cured nyons and floral and salty beldi olives. Daily-made salads, as well, are a pleasure to both look at and eat! Recently, I’ve seen no less than five different maddeningly fresh greens-based salads and at least two different starch-salads being offered. Beets, frisee, spinach, and pointy dandelion greens have all been incorporated in one delightful way or another. As well, their “carrot-top” hummus is also a delight – dark and spicy with harissa seasoning and studded with chunks of olives – it sent me to Morocco!
(d) Service at Z’s still remains the highlight. Whether I’m disappointed or thrilled with the food, I know I’ll always feel at home in the little house that Ari and Paul built!
3. From my eGullet posting from a few weeks ago:
… I had a chance this week to drop by Zenaida Chocolate Lounge in the Ashley Mews Building. Between my friends and I we ended up tasting every flavor they had. If I remember correctly:
(a) Gingersnap Cookie: tastes more like molasses and has nasty consistency – kind of like molasses cookies soaked in milk and then pureed – a little grainy… didn’t like at all.
(b) Cognac: minimal Cognac – tasted more like icy milk – very creamy/milky.
(c) Dark Chocolate Brandy: The dark chocolate was very dark and the Brandy did stand out – but the consistency was a little grainy/pasty…
(d) Vanilla Bean: pretty good, a tad on the milky-creamy taste side.
(e) Dulce de Leche: I didn’t try it but my friends thought was very caramel-y.
(f) Amerena Cherry: probably my second favorite gelato – although it was just a twee sweet.
(g) Spiced Apple Caramel: my favorite of the gelatos – nice spicey apple flavor – but the consistency was just a bit syrupy-pasty.
(a) Rose Petal: delightfully rosy by nightmarishly sweet.
(b) Pink Champagne Sorbetto: by far the *best* In fact, my friends and I all agreed that this was the hands-down winner. Of all of the liquor/alcoholic flavors, this was by far the most potent.
(c) Pina Colada: Very pineapple-y with a slight hint of coconut. No rum taste at all. *Boo*
(d) Tangerine Triple Sec: citrus-tangerine-y, but couldn’t taste the Triple Sec… probably my second favorite sorbetto.
Overall, I was pretty happy. If I were to go again, I think I’d be satisfied with just a scoop of the Pink Champagne. ($2.99 for 1/2 cup portion; $1 for each additional flavor).
[edited to add: The owner told me that she doesn’t make her gelato in-house (and I think it shows in the consistency). Rather, she sources them from two companies – one in Italy and one in Chicago.]
4. If Zingerman’s and Zenaida are trying to do right be gelati, the relatively new Gelato di Roma at 226 N. Fourth Avenue near Kerrytown, just a two blocks from the Next Door, is doing much to retard the progress of good gelato eating in A2. An myriad of bright, some neon, coloured gelati offer an array of artificially flavored-tasting gelati. To be sure, if you can get over the color and the taste, the consistency is pretty good – not great, but at least, well, consistent. Unfortunately, if you aren’t blinded by the glowing offerings, your tastebuds might be blind-sighted by the unusually sweet and almost candy-like flavor. “Cinnamon,” which has turned from red to brown in the months that the store has been opened, still tastes like red hots. “Root Beer Float,” while novel, is nothing short of root-beer candy. *Boo!* There’s also a “Purple Cow” – haven’t gotten that adventurous (or stupid?) yet.
There’s also some flavor confusion going on. “Tiramisu” is, as far as I can tell, is simply a sweeter version of “Cappucino.” “Borracha Cream,” which has marsala wine could be a poor zabaglione – except with lady fingers, is more like Tiramisu… but then, one would never guess that tiramisu could be electrifyingly bright yellow. “Ameretto” tastes like almond flavoring – almost fruity… but then, not surprisingly, so does “Almond.”
Don’t get me started on the sorbetti, which have a waxy lip-gloss-like appearance – scary. And, those little black dots in the “Strawberry,” however convincing, are definitely not real strawberry seeds… I don’t know what they are. For $2.96 (includes tax), one can order a small, which is two generous 1/4 cup scoops of any flavor you like.
5. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble into the The Prickly Pear (328 S. Main) to find a satisfying meal. Well, really, I was stunned by their grilled queso anejo cheese salad. For $8.95, you get a huge platter piled with fresh baby spinach, diced tomatoes, and generous squares of perfectly grilled anejo cheese. The salad is dressed (note, not drowned) with a zippy and slightly smokey and sweet sun-dried tomatoe dressing – thick, almost like a puree, it was the perfect compliment. As if this weren’t enough, the salad is liberally studded with sweet meaty dots of ruby-red dried cranberries. Wonderful!
The Buffalo Enchilades, while not bad (and not a bad deal at around $14), featured a sauce that was a little sweeter than I would have liked. As well, the buffalo was terribly dry and mealy. Otherwise, a wonderfully filling and satisfying platter of rice, beans, cheese and ooey-gooey goodness.