Thursdays in Ann Arbor: Melange and eve

I spent nearly every Thursday night of my last year in Ann Arbor eating and drinking with my friend Kyo. We would start out at Melange for Happy Hour (half off sushi and glasses of wine) and make our way over to eve for dinner and more drinks.

So being back in Ann Arbor on a Thursday, I was more than keen to repeat our ritual.

First up: Melange

They changed the Happy Hour just a little bit. Instead of half off all sushi and starters, they now have a limited sushi menu. Still, three rolls and two glasses of wine for $24 total? Brilliant.

Then on to one of my favourite restaurants: eve

Chef and owner, Eve Aronoff, opened the restaurant in 2003. She’s made a little bit of a splash having been on the last season of Top Chef in Las Vegas. Even though she was eliminated on the second episode, it’s not a reflection on the food.

Kyo and I usually get a whole bunch of small plates recommended by our friend and eve bartender, Travis. Portions are pretty large, and splitting three of these is more than enough.

(Apologies for the crap photos. It was really dark in there… Also, descriptions are from the menu; I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘festooned’)

Tenderloin Chimichurri
‘Spice rubbed and seared medallions of beef tenderloin served over a bright parsley-garlic purée with coconut ginger rice and festooned with spring peas, Bermuda onions and grape tomatoes’

I love that the spice of the chimichurri, while strong, is not overpowering. It’s very nicely balanced with the ginger rice.

Thai Barbequed Chicken
‘Spicy grilled chicken rubbed with chilies, peanuts and tamarind- accompanied with coconut ginger rice and vegetables of the season’

I don’t think I’ve ever had such moist chicken in my life. This dish is slow-roasted for about 40 minutes. It shows. Delicious.

Lamb in Brik
‘Sweet, savory and spicy ground lamb with pine nuts and golden raisins rolled in brik pastry and dressed with a salad of fresh spinach and mint’

This dish is very strong. I don’t think it’s for everyone. It says savoury, but that doesn’t even begin to describe it. The lamb is like an explosion of cardamom, star anise and clove. It is quite strong, which is why I think it could turn people off, but I love it. The pastry this time around wasn’t the best, but that’s an exception to the rule.

Pair all of these with some brilliant wine and one too many White Grape Martinis and you have yourself one hell of a Thursday.

Eve on Urbanspoon

*If you live in the States, you should check out eve’s cookbook. It will give you even more appreciation of what goes into this food. I swear, every recipe has at least 20 ingredients, which is why I’ve never actually made anything with it. Someday, though… someday.

Sketch, The Lecture Room and Library – Mayfair

I’ve been holding off on my thoughts on Sketch simply because there have been so many frickinreviews lately.  Rightly so, they’re offering a £50 voucher through their Facebook group until the end of August. Naturally, that got around, and pretty soon all everyone talks about is Sketch Sketch Sketch.

I went there with my friend Dom. We hadn’t been out in ages, and needed a good catch-up.  After the front bar was full, we were directed to the bar that’s behind the Gallery – one of two restaurants in the building, and also the cheaper one, I learned later.  The bar was spacey.  Dom and I whistled the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey as we tried to find a seat.  You walk into an all white room and in the middle, shaped like a cosmic egg is the bar sunken into the floor.

After we settled, I took a look at the cocktail menu.  Now, I’m not a complete cheapskate or a drunk, but I think could have used a little nip of something to prepare me for the shock that was every. single. cocktail. being £13.  While I scoffed, Dom got a champagne with the cherry liquor in it, and I eventually ordered a rosemary martini, which was described like ‘drinking a salad’. It totally was, but also quite tasty.

We had booked our table in The Lecture Room and Library, which is the schmancy Michelin-starred restaurant. The maître d‘ gave us ‘the tour’ on the way upstairs – how it used to be Christian Dior’s house, and all the credentials of the chef, blah blah blah.  I make fun, but he was very nice, and I liked him a lot. We stop at the top of the stairs in front of two huge intimidating doors until SWOOSH(!), he opens them dramatically into one of the most beautiful and unique restaurant spaces I’ve seen. Eating at Sketch is quite the operation.

We were sat, and immediately the champagne cart was brought over.  In the back of my head I had already added the £26 spent on cocktails, thinking: ‘Well, hell. That’s half the voucher right there’.

The brought out the nibbles. There were so many! Who needs a starter anyway when you have this much?

  • Tomato gazpacho with biscuit
  • Little bread biscuity things with a creamy sauce
  • Foie gras goat cheese crackers
  • Grapefruit gummy tarts
  • A fried little ball of something

Seriously, I should just stop there.  I don’t remember everything I had. There was a lot of little things and they were all very good.  I was just pleased to be getting anything because I was sure as hell not paying £40 for a starter.

Oh but wait! There was a proper starter too! Tuna carpaccio with a cauliflower puree and a bit of salmon roe. Yum!  Again, I ask: Why would anyone pay another £30 for a menu starter when I had just had enough food to pretty much fill me up for the night (bread included).

On to the mains, I had the Dover Sole and Gambas. This also came with a lot of little side dishes, but for this, I have the benefit of a downloadable menu.

  • Pan-fried Fillet of Dover Sole Meunière Style / Cider / Green Peppercorn
  • Gambas with Colombo Spices / Romaine Salad with Broad Beans / Bacon and Parsley
  • Potato Mousseline / Beurre Noisette / Lemon / Croûtons

The sole was amazing. A perfect combination with the sweetness of the apple and the spice of the pepper. It was light, flavourful and perfect. The giant sectioned-off prawns that dotted the plate with lightly battered and perfectly crisp.

Two sides came with – the romaine salad and potatoes.

The salad was a big thumbs down. It was soggy and the lettuce was old (honestly, I saw brown edges). Just absolutely no redeeming qualities. The potatoes  were whipped light as air, but the croutons and butter made it a bit too salty for my taste.  While I absolutely loved my fish, I just couldn’t see why the chef would choose those two side dishes to accompany.  It didn’t seem to click.

Dom went for the Lamb, which he said was amazing.  I got to try a little taste of the Roast Leg, but for the most part I couldn’t get near it. But I guess that’s how I know it was good.

  • Roast Leg with Indian Spices / Aubergine / Sorrel / Dried Tomatoes
  • Shoulder Dumpling / White Horseradish Velouté
  • Grilled Rack and Saddle
  • Ewe Cheese and Spinach Velouté / Granny Smith Apple Julienne

We didn’t get anything for dessert, but again, they sorted us out anyway with some nice chocolates.

So, even though I bulk at the main courses being so expensive, you actually are getting quite a lot of food. Five amuse bouche, a starter, a main and dessert nibbles for 40-ish pounds?  Not awful.  It’s just when you add on the water, the cocktail, the wine, a proper proper starter and dessert that you can easily end up spending 400 quid on dinner. And that’s ridiculous.  If I’m going to do that, it best be at El Bulli or The Fat Duck where every single course out of, like, 30 is an experience in and of itself.

Will I go back? Sure, but definitely before the end of August, and definitely to try the Gallery restaurant instead of the Lecture Room and Library. The latter was just way too out of my league.

P.S. I didn’t talk too much about the actual space… Sketch is a feast for the eyes. Love the decor or hate it, you really should go spend £13 on a drink just to go check the place out.  There are some pictures floating about online, but they really don’t do it justice.  Perhaps there are some pictures on Sketch’s web site, but the whole thing is such a Flash mess, I can’t be bothered to look.

Sketch Lecture Room and Library on Urbanspoon

La Fontaine de Mars – Paris 7eme

le fontaine de mars

Sadly, this is my last Paris restaurant review from my weekend. Honestly though, it’s probably a good thing. I spent way too much money on food than is healthy for one person in a weekend – and I didn’t even get into l’Astrance.

La Fontaine de Mars came on a recommendation from one of my favourite London people (and fellow American) TikiChris.  It’s situated on a side street right near the Eiffel Tower, where I promptly went to take a nap in front of when finished with my meal.

As it was lunch, and I had already put a considerable dent in my pocketbook, I couldn’t go all out. I had… a main course and a glass of wine. (Lo! For I can hear all the foodies in the world fainting at the prospect!)

I didn’t want anything too heavy, so I opted for seabass with homemade gnocchi and lima beans:

le fontaine de mars duraude seabass

Mmmm… Doesn’t that look lovely? It was.

There was a lovely glaze on the fish, rich like a gravy, but much lighter. The skin was nicely salted, which was balanced out by the creamy gnocchi.  The beans were slightly overcooked as they completely fell apart on my fork every time I tried to take a bite, but the taste wasn’t compromised at all.

With a glass of wine and a coffee, the meal came to 37 euro, which, in all honesty is extortion considering the amount of food I got for the same price at much fancier establishments. They charged me 6.50 for a cappuccino. I mean, come on… really? To my American friends, that’s like 10 bucks. Ridonkulous.

So, yes – Go to La Fontaine de Mars, it’s very tasty. But for god’s sake, don’t order a cappuccino.

La Fontaine de Mars
129, Rue St Dominique
, 75007 Paris, France

+33 1 47 05 46 44

Le Chateaubriand – Paris 11eme

le chateaubriand
Just like Le Timbre, I had my eye on Le Chateaubriand months before I left. But of course, after my my experience at Le Timbre, I was very very worried my high hopes would leave me high and dry. Luckily, this was not the case.

Le Chateaubriand is making quite the name for itself. Self-taught chef Iñaki Aizpitarte was just rewarded a debut place on San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants in the World (no. 40) and the fantastic reviews keep pouring in.  That was good enough for me, but really sold me as mentioned previously was value – the 5-course dinner prix fixe is 45 euro. You can get lunch for 14, but it’s simpler.  Dinner, I hear, is much more worth it.

The restaurant itself is small, but not too crowded. I didn’t feel out of place dining alone. For dinner, no matter if you’re 1 person or 10, you absolutely must book a table. I’ve been told that trying to do so is hell as they rarely answer the phone, but I didn’t have a problem.

The Menu

chateubriand menu

My first reaction: W00t! Pigeon. I heart pigeon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Amuse Bouche – Salad with large (raw?) prawns

amuse bouche chateubriand

I love ordering food in France when you’re not fluent in the language.  I get by well enough, but my vocab is definitely not up to speed, especially with more obscure ingredients or fancy names for different types of crustaceans. When I tried this, it ‘looked’ like raw shrimp, and it kind of tasted like shrimp, but I wasn’t quite sure it was.  Whatever, though – you just kind of have to go with it. It was delicious. Very light, almost minty.  It was the perfect palette cleanser to start my amazing meal. 8/10

Starter – Cow’s milk mozzarella with fennel and salmon roe

starter chateubriand

It’s odd – I wasn’t sure what to expect with this. I assumed it would be pleasant ( I mean, just look at it!), but I had no idea how well it could work together. On the plate, there was a lot of fennel, which can often be overpowering, but the subtle creaminess of the cheese and the saltiness of the roe (I love it when those little things explode in your mouth) balanced it all out. It was light and refreshing and perfect in every way imaginable. 10/10

Fish course – Monkfish with carrot

monkfish chateaubriand

After my high from the starter I was ready for things to go downhill, which it did with the fish course (picked back up again after, don’t worry).  Monkfish is ok, but it’s certainly not my favourite fish. Carrots are ok, but they’re certainly not my favourite vegetable.  So when you put the two together, well… you see where it’s going.  What I did like though was the nice sprinkling of fresh sea salt on the fish, the light foam with a hint of carrot and the fact that it was so perfectly portioned, there was ne’er a bite where I didn’t have a little piece of carrot, a little piece of fish and dollop of foam all together. 6/10

Meat course – Pigeon with beetroot

pigeon chateaubriand

Pigeon makes me feel bad for vegetarians.  Every single time I eat it, I make audible noises and lament in disbelief how one could willingly give up such a fantastic bird.  This pigeon was amongst the best I’ve ever had.  It was perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and perfectly accompanied by slightly sweet beetroot slices and slightly bitter radicchio. I dream about this bird. 10/10

Dessert – Strawberry Chantilly

strawberries fraises chateaubriand dessert

Well, it’s not much to look at, that’s for sure… Underneath the giant layer of foam (which looks curiously thick and heavy in that picture, but in reality was very cloud-like) are fresh strawberries and chunks of macaroons.  Yum! After the pigeon, I was looking for something very light, and this was perfect. It wasn’t the most inventive or the best dessert I’ve ever had, but it was definitely good.  7/10

Le Chateubriand was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Service was great (and great to look at too I might add).  Classically French, but brimming with ingenuity. Quite simply, anyone visiting Paris should eat here.

Le Chateaubriand
129 Avenue Parmentier
, 11th 75011 Paris

+33 1 43 57 45 95

Le Timbre – Paris, 6eme

I had been planning my trip to Paris for a couple months, which means that I had been researching and planning what restaurants I wanted to eat at for a couple months too.

My requirements:

  • French
  • Under 50 euros for food, but preferably under 30
  • Good reviews or recommendations
  • Not touristy

le timbre

My first stop was Le Timbre, a charming little place in the 6th arrondissement.  It is owned by Mancunian chef Christopher Wright, and wow, it is small. Really, really tiny.  There are rows of tables on either side of the restaurant with absolutely no space between them. The wait staff has to completely move the table into the middle of the restaurant for one to sit on the booth side of the table. It’s sort of like eating in a much more comfortable church pew, but with less leg room. I couldn’t even cross my legs.

I was so excited for Le Timbre because every single review I’ve read was glowing. And three course for 26 euros for a Michelen-starred restaurant? Well, you can’t beat that.

To start: Soupe de Poisson a l’estragon (fish soup with tarragon)

le timbre soup starter

This soup was not at all what I expected. First off, there was no fish in it. There was a teensy bit of fish flavour, but for the most part it tasted and looked like a bowl of olive oil. The tarragon made it taste a bit dirty, gritty even. After sprinkling a healthy amount of salt on it, I could tolerate it a bit better, but this wasn’t a great start to the meal. 2/10

Main: Magret de canard avec pêche rôtie (Duck with roasted peaches)

le timbre duck

I do love a nice duck, and this was a completely respectable interpretation of a classic. The duck was served rare, but managed to have a perfectly crispy outside. The peaches, as with any fruit, was a good accompaniment for a rich meat. It too, however, needed a bit of salt. 6/10

Dessert: Mieulle Feuille

le timbre mieulle feuille

Anyone else think the T in powdered sugar is a bit overkill? Yeah, me too. This mieulle feuille was too big, too rich and too greasy. If you’re going to have 1,000 layers of something, it has to be as light as air. This was definitely not. It’s dessert though, so it can’t be all bad. 3/10

I really wish that I liked my time at Le Timbre more. The service was fantastic and everyone so incredibly nice. And seriously, there are so many amazing reviews of this restaurant (no. 3 out of 5,926 on TripAdvisor) I just keep thinking that it must be a one-off bad experience.  Maybe I just ordered the wrong things. But even though 37 Euros for 3 courses, water, a glass of wine and a coffee is a good price for fancy Paris standards, I’m a little reluctant to say I’d go back and spend it all again to try for a better time.

Le Timbre
3, Rue Sainte Beuve

, France

+33 014 5491040