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Michigan Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations


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#1 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 10:00 AM

Things I enjoyed:

The crabcakes at Windows in Traverse City

The hero sandwich from Folagarelli's Deli in Traverse City; better by far than the pathetic perpetration foisted on tourists and locals alike at the Central Grocery in New Orleans

Fried smelts at the Bluebird Cafe in Leland

Bagels in Detroit

The hummus and the rosewater-scented rice pudding at Lashish in Dearborn


Unpleasant things:

$32 for two crabcakes at Windows

The rest of the fried fish everywhere

The refusal of the waitress at Lashish to clear the table of a mountain of dirty dishes before serving dessert and coffee. She actually slid the rice pudding onto the table from the edge closest to me, and used it to push enough dirty dishes out of the way so that it would stay on the table, surrounded by savory detritus.

Everything else was just food


Frightening observation:

Everyone out there is fat
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#2 glenn

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 12:45 PM

no pasties??

#3 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 01:25 PM

No pasties, Glenn, but we did have some decent Pierogies with sausages and sauerkraut at a tavern in the middle of nowhere up on the peninsula.

I also neglected to mention a good roadhouse called Pepino's in Walled Lake. Frog's legs, trout, lamb chops, ribs. Very fair prices for good quality food.
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#4 glenn

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 01:59 PM

Are pierogies similar to pasties? We had a blast on our vacation 2 or 3 Julys ago. Food highlights included cherry picking in Traverse City, Poor Boy's Restaurant for pasties on the upper peninsula and Hermann's European Cafe in Cadillac. I won't talk about Christmas in July at Frankenmuth :). Glad to hear you enjoyed.

#5 Rosie

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 04:49 PM

No whitefish from a "smoke shack?" We would stop and pick up smoked whitefish for breakfast and then go back to our motel with a roll of paper towels and inhale the stuff. I have never had better smoked whitefish anyplace.
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#6 Varmint

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 04:59 PM

Frightening observation:

Everyone out there is fat

You should check out Wisconsin next time! They may be fat, but they're fat and happy!!! :biggrin:
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#7 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 25 August 2002 - 07:20 PM

Rosie, we had good smoked whitefish pate at Windows, fine-textured, smooth, creamy. We also had a whitefish "dip" at the pierogies place, which was a rougher concoction: chunks of fish interwoven with gobs of sour cream or cream cheese or whatever it was they used to ball up the fish. It was quite delicious - a guilty pleasure, almost - especially so in the context of the place, a rural roadside restaurant (and art gallery, but that's another story.)

There were at least several smokehouses going in Leland, with a like number of shops selling the stuff in every imaginable form. The several options we tried were delicious.

There was also whitefish jerky among the many homemade varieties in a deli (which called itself a "party store") in Elk Rapids. $17.99 per pound and worth it.
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#8 Aurora

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Posted 29 August 2002 - 07:35 AM

Frightening observation:

Everyone out there is fat

What did you expect? You were in the Midwest, not California! You should go back around Thanksgiving to see Midwestern fat people in winter gear.

Have you heard of The Common Grill? It's in Chelsea, outside of Ann Arbor. Very decent.

Believe it or not, not everyone is fat (I must admit that regionally, Iowa makes a strong counter arguement against my statement). Of course I type this as I sit at my desk shoving doughnut holes from Lou Mitchell's in my mouth. It's OK. I put Equal in my coffee. :rolleyes:

#9 MatthewB

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:04 AM

The recent thread on avant-garde eateries & Detroit--though one might argue that the latest avant-garde in Detroit is not to be found in any current restaurants but rather Tribe Records in the late '60s/early '70s or, perhaps, the current team batting average of the Tigers--encourages me to note that some valuable destinations exist for eGulleters that venture into our state.

(A caveat: I live--as far as driving time--right between Chicago & Detroit. 9 times out of 10 when traveling "nearby" to eat, shop, & such, Chicago is the endpoint rather than Detroit. That's simply to note that I can tell you about Chicago dining far better than dining in Detroit. So, this thread might be better titled as "Michigan--more or less West Side & Up North.")

The below is not in order of preference, etc.

Tapawingo, Ellsworth, Michigan
Chef/owner Pete Peterson has done a fantastic job here while garnering several nominations for Best Midwestern Chef from the James Beard Foundation. Now, Executive Chef (since 2000) Stuart Brioza has been honored as one of the Food & Wine Magazine's 2003 Best New Chefs in America. One of my friends claims that Tapawingo serves the best food in Michigan--bar none. This is from a person who's eaten not only at Tribute in Detroit but all over Chicago (for instance, Trotter's), the Bay Area (for instance, French Laundry), & Europe (for instance, El Bulli).

Til Midnight, Holland, Michigan
About a two and a half drive from Chicago, Holland is better known for its grand beaches. But Til Midnight stands out as a somewhat hidden gem. Perhaps best described as serving the type of food long encouraged by Richard Olney & Elizabeth David--food that is fresh, simple, & honest. My choice for my birthday dinner this year--next week! :biggrin:

Five Lakes Grill, Milford, Michigan
Chef/owner Brian Polcyn gained notoriety as the lovable & hard-working chef who didn't pass the CMC exam in Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef. That aside, Polcyn is a master, particularly in the use of local Midwestern ingredients & the art of charcuterie. His cooking should not be missed.

1913 Room, Grand Rapids, Michigan
As they're fond of now touting, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel's flagship restaurant, The 1913 Room, is "Michigan's first and only AAA Five Diamond restaurant." The food is always top-notch as is the service. And did you know that one of Trio's Grant Achatz first--if not the first out of school-- professional cooking jobs was at this hotel? (Perhaps chefg might comment on this?)

I could go on but I'll post this and wait to see if there's interest in this thread.

#10 tammylc

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:12 AM

Thanks for the list!

I'm aiming for Tapawingo for my anniversary this year - just have to convince my hubby, who wants to go camping instead.

And Milford is only 40 minutes away from Ann Arbor, so Five Lakes Grill is definitely on my hit list - it's certainly been getting a lot of buzz.

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#11 guajolote

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:19 AM

Thanks Matthew,

I talked to chefg about working at Cygnus (in the Awmay hotel with 1913) and he said he spent two 3-month periods there and learned a lot. I'm going to 1913 this summer so I'll give a report then. Never heard of the place in Holland, I'll ask my parents if they've been there. I thought Holland was better known for the Tulip Festival than the beaches. :hmmm:

Happy Birthday early.


#12 MatthewB

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:19 AM

Thanks, Tammy.

And please keep up the great reviews on the east side! Perhaps we can convince some of the Heartlanders that they can travel to Michigan and eat well. :laugh:

#13 MatthewB

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:27 AM

guajolote, FWIW, 1913 requires jackets for men in the formal dining room. As part of the restaurant, there's also "The Grill" off the bar area that does not require jackets. Of course, ill-fitting blue blazers are generally available if one is needed for the "formal" area.

Yes, I think I was wrong in noting Holland as known for its beaches rather than the Tulip Festival. :wacko:

And, if you're looking for dining company when you're here, PM me. It would be enjoyable to meet a fellow eGulleter.

#14 MatthewB

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 10:55 AM

Oh, I forgot one restaurant that I intended to have on the original list . . .

Amical, Traverse City, Michigan
Self-described as tending toward a "French bistro," Amical offers some of the most interesting food in the Traverse City area. Of particular note is their annual "Cookbook Dinner Series" where the kitchen produces weekly menus based on individual cookbooks. Unfortunately, the website doesn't archive the series. However, one of the early books in the 2002/2003 series was one of my favorites--Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia. Amical is worth a visit when you find yourself "up north."

#15 Aurora

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Posted 30 April 2003 - 11:10 PM

Matthew - there is definitely interest in Michigan, so don't sell yourself short.

Thank you for starting this thread with several great recommendations. With you Tammylc and Indiagirl, we have several strong, informative voices who will infuse the Heartland with reasons to discuss all things food in Michigan.

In addition to dining, what other food interests to you have in Grand Rapids and in Michigan in general. Are there any particular food festivals that you frequent? Are there any purveyors, or specialty markets that do what they do on a level that beats all others? Orchards and cider mills seem to be very popular in Michigan. Do you have any news on those things that you can share? You've come this far, and it's been great, so don't stop now.
Sorry, I can get a little heavy-handed with the questions.

In the summer and fall, I often go to New Buffalo to pick fruit. I also go to Ann Arbor and Chelsea.

BTW - Have you been officially welcomed? If not:

WELCOME!

#16 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 03:15 AM

Heck, I'd drive out to Michigan just to pay a visit to Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. Maybe the best deli sandwiches on the planet...

#17 indiagirl

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 04:01 AM

The best Deli sandwiches in the world, indeed. Not one bit of exaggeration there. And Andrew, you will be VERY pleased to learn that Zingerman's has a Zingerman's Roadhouse on the way. Now that, I think, merits an eGulleteer expedition.

I would add a couple of restaurants:
Annam - Vietnamese, Dearborn
Little Italy - Italian, Northville

And ofcourse, as guajalote knew, and was generous enough to share with me, Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor is the center of the universe.

For markets, there is a little farmer's market in Ann Arbor every weekend and there is Eastern Market in Detroit, which has a wonderful wonderful spice shop. Ypsilanti (which is right by Ann Arbor) also has a Farmer's Market on weekends on the river side.

For festivals, Ann Arbor has a little Taste of Ann Arbor festival in June. They close down Main St. and all the restaurants hace food booths. Nothing new, really, but it's a food festival. Detroit has a significantly larger one called, ummm, let me see, Food Festival, or maybe Food Fest. Food, Art, Music. Very crowded, very fun and it always gives me a kick and a pang of regret to see Detroit so young and vibrant.

And then just for kicks, one of the best collections of Food and Wine books resides in Ann Arbor - at the Food and Wine Library on Madison. It is in the process of being combined with books, I think, ftom another local museum and is expected to be one of the foremost collections in the nations.

And finally, exciting news, I just joined the Slow Food Huron valley group, that is being led by some of the people who work at, where else, Zingerman's. Just went to a planning session yesterday and we're planning a fund raising tomato festival this Fall. I'm already excited.

#18 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 04:45 AM

And ofcourse, as guajalote knew, and was generous enough to share with me, Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor is the center of the universe.

Oh man, that's right: how could I have forgotten Blimpy? Best fried mushrooms I've had: crispy and juicy all at once. And the burgers are A. Mazing. "Cheaper than food..."

A2 is a great town for cheap eats in general. Start with the bibimbap at the Korean diners in town and work on from there...

#19 tammylc

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 05:56 AM

As Andrew said, Ann Arbor is a great town for cheap eats. Here are some of my favorites, all pretty cheap:

One of the hidden gems in town is Jefferson Market. This little market hidden on a side street (Jefferson) in the old west side across from Bach school has an amazing kitchen in the back. Pretty much everything they serve is amazing.

Cafe Zola does a good brunch. Tapas at Cafe Felix is fun too. If you feel like venturing into Ypsilanti, there's good Vietnamese at DaLat. For Thai, I have two favorites - Tuptim in Ypsi is pretty excellent all round, but Siam Square (in the hotel across the street from Arborland) has better curries. Also in Ypsi, Memphis Blues smokehouse serves a smoked beef brisket that's to die for.

Earthen Jar on 5th Ave offers good, cheap, vegetarian Indian buffet by the pound. Jerusalem Garden, right next door, is the source for cheap and good Middle Eastern stuff - their falafel sandwich is an incredible bargain, at less than $3 last time I visited, and you can make two meals out of it.

Sabor Latino is a Latin American place on Main. While all their food is good (or so I've been told) - I pretty much only eat their Carne al Pastor tacos - they are amazing.

Lots of places for good Korean in town. Either of the Korean places down on South University are good. But my favorite places for Bi Bim Bop is Kosmo Deli, the lunch counter in the Kerrytown Shops.

If you like Dim Sum, Great Lakes Chinese Seafood Restaurant is the place to go. They also have some great items on their dinner menu - as a Hong Kong style restaurant, they have some unusal items. My faves are shrimp in honey walnut sauce, Singapore Noodles, and Beef Tenderloin in Black Pepper Sauce.

For Szechuan, Szechuan West on Stadium Rd near Jackson is a an old favorite, although the last time I visited I was unimpressed with my usual favorite, the Szechuan Chicken. General Tso's was still awesome, however.

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#20 MatthewB

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 08:04 AM

Aurora,

Thanks for the prodding, even heavy hands can prod well! :raz:

I'll mention a few of my favorite (food) things sans restaurants about West Michigan, but I wanted to note the earlier eastside discussion to which Michael Laiskonis kindly provided a link: Anyone from Metro Detroit?. Well worth checking out if you didn't see it in the current Detroit thread. (Note Michael's comments on the changing of the guard at Five Lakes Grill. I didn't know that so it might effect my "recommendation." Perhaps Michael might bring us up to date?)

Overall, there simply isn't a food "scene" here. Most of my dining out over the past year has been in San Francisco & Chicago and nothing in either Grand Rapids or West Michigan approaches those heights. (I skewed my palate for local dining with a grand New Year's Eve dinner at Fifth Floor. And Belinda did a fine job matching wines to every course.)

Nonetheless, there are counter-hegemonic forces in play . . .

The Grand Rapids Fulton Street Farmers Market is the largest farmers market in the area. It provides a wide array of products & is open most of week from May to December. There are many other markets, stands, & a few CSAs in West Michigan. Here's a good summary.

The Heffron Farms Markets (see the above link) are a great resource for "near" organic chicken, turkey, beef, & pork. For instance, their whole chickens beat Bell & Evans every time.

And, there are at least three solid actual butcher shops in the city. (Did you know that Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan?)

As far as food outside of produce & meat . . .

GB Russo & Son is an excellent international grocery that's now run by the third & fourth generations of the family. I'm a regular customer there and I'll leave it at that so as not to sound as if I'm selling for them.

Erika's Delicatessen offers an authentic German deli along with a good selection of imported dry goods (mainly German).

As a surprise even to many locals, the area has several Asian groceries of which three are very good--two Vietnamese & one Korean.

There are also at least two excellent Mexican groceries and a Mexican bakery & butcher.

Also, there's a great Indian grocery.

As Aurora mentioned, there is no want for excellent apples & cider here. See the above link for a listing of some of those.

While there's no "food scene" here, what I find interesting (perhaps curious?) is that we've bountiful resources available. At home, I'm able to cook just about whatever receipts I come across without having to mail-order. Yet these local food resources do not seem to make it into the restaurants at a level to make an impact. However, we're close to having enough Slow Food USA members to start a convivia and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council has taken some steps to try to establish a dialogue between some of the restaurants & some of the local farmers. One can hope against hope.

Speaking of hope, I hope that the above doesn't sound negative. I really enjoy living here & I consider myself lucky to have as many good food resources available to me & the ability/desire to share with others. (I love to cook at home & have others over.)

And speaking of dialogue, I'll end here for now.

#21 guajolote

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 08:17 AM

The Grand Rapids Fulton Street Farmers Market is the largest farmers market in the area.  It provides a wide array of products & is open most of week from May to December. 

This farmer's market is great. I make sure to get there everytime I'm in town. The most amazing thing is the price of the vegetables. People in Chicago shop at farmer's markets for the quality, in Grand Rapids they do because it's cheaper than the grocery stores. The selection isn't quite as big, but in the last few years there has been more variety - baby squashes, arugala, purple potataoes etc. They also have great prices for perrenials.
Whenever I'm canning I do my shopping there.

There's a great wine shop in Grand Rapids, Martha's Vineyard (can't find the address - it's in Heritage Hill). Make sure you ask to go upstairs. This place has some of the best service ever. I also really like Russo's.

We've had some good meals at The Sierra Room and Gibson's (the bar).


#22 Michael Laiskonis

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 08:24 AM

  (Note Michael's comments on the changing of the guard at Five Lakes Grill.  I didn't know that so it might effect my "recommendation."  Perhaps Michael might bring us up to date?)

I think I mentioned sommelier/GM Ron Edwards move to Tapawingo, and that the day to day kitchen operations were run by Chris Brown. I've heard Chris has since left, and while I don't know of his replacement, realize that Polcyn's vision has consistently remained intact. While he may not be in the restaurant for every service, it is still "his" food.

Of course, don't expect anything approaching avant garde from Five Lakes. Polcyn's philosophy is one of, "I don't need foie gras and truffles to make something taste good, just give me a carrot and a shank."
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#23 ChocoKitty

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 08:44 AM

Just wanted to pop in and cheer -- woo hoo, a Michigan discussion! Thanks to everyone for posting their lists of favorite places. I'm printing this thread out and planning a few road trips, now that the weather's nice. And I will also toss my hat in the ring if anyone needs a dining companion when they're visiting metro Detroit.

#24 tammylc

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 08:54 AM

And I will also toss my hat in the ring if anyone needs a dining companion when they're visiting metro Detroit.


Me too! Me too!

In fact, I recently organized an Ann Arbor "chowfest" for participants on that other food board, and have been encouraged to organize another one aimed at the Chicago contingent. If any of the Heartland Egulleteers would be interested in joining, let me know. If I get enough interest I can look into getting special hotel rates and puting together an Ann Arbor/Detroit/Chicago foodie summit weekend sometime this summer.

Road trip, anyone?

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#25 Fritz Brenner

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 01:42 PM

GB Russo & Son is an excellent international grocery that's now run by the third & fourth generations of the family.  I'm a regular customer there and I'll leave it at that so as not to sound as if I'm selling for them.

Russo's is definitely cool. My mom, some of her friends, my sister, and I (if the two of us are around) take the forty-five minute trip to GR every November to buy a bunch of wine and cheese and other yummies. It's been a few years since I've been able to go, but as far as I know (MatthewB will probably be sure about this) there is a big ol' sale there on a Saturday in the beginning of November every year. Fun stuff.
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#26 indiagirl

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 07:05 PM

Yaaaay. Egulleteers in Michigan. Egulleteers interested in visiting Michigan.

We even have a Trader Joe's now.

MatthewWB - I mentioned in my earlier post but perhaps it got lost, there is already a Slow Food convivium here - It's called Slow Food Huron valley. PM me if you're interested in details - there is a meeting coming up next week.

You too, Tammylc, Chocokitty, we must meet. Other eGulleteers in and around Ann Arbor. Wow. I had no idea.

And yes, I too would join in arranging a trip to Ann Arbor - Detroit - etc. Infact there has already been some discussion about it in the Chicago thread ... and I've exchanged a PM or two about it.

#27 Aurora

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Posted 01 May 2003 - 10:38 PM

WOOOOOOOOOO-WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!

WGT eGullet-Michigan! You are making me so proud!

You can't see me, but I'm grinning like a cat. :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin:

Now this is what I'm talkin' about! You guys must get together, and when you do, don't forget to invite your exuberant cousins on the east side of the swamp.

Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit -- hey, East Lansing, get in here!

What I mean by "food scene" includes way more than high-end dining. It reaches much further in all directions and it is inclusive -- farmers markets, quirky and not-so-quirky food festivals, the woman at your church who makes kick-ass pot roast for the monthly Sunday after-service dinners (yeah, you know who she is), the phenomenon known as the "hot dish" (don't call it a casserole) in Minnesota, fish boils/frys in my homeland, Wisconsin. This is a more accurate expression of what the food scene is in our neck of the woods.

In no way am I suggesting that high-end dining shouldn't be discussed, but I do want to get away from the idea that the fine dining genre is the sum total of everything that is "good food" in the Midwest. It's really only a portion of a larger picture. There are so many wonderful things that go on here on all points of the spectrum, and we all know it. Our region of the country is full of hidden gems and unique traditions that can also be brought to the table, and everyone forum-wide is starting to bring it.

Suddenly, Michigan has now started to sing. It's music to my humble food-lovin' ears!

#28 indiagirl

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Posted 02 May 2003 - 04:29 AM

Not to detract from what Dawn said, but I would love to hear what people think about:

Pacific Rim in Ann Arbor (which used to be Kana)
But the Ko's (parents) left and their son has now taken over.

Opinions?

Had dinner at Wasabi last night. So Blah.
The art was breathtaking.

#29 ChocoKitty

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Posted 02 May 2003 - 05:28 AM

Suddenly, Michigan has now started to sing.  It's music to my humble food-lovin' ears!

*ahem* mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi.....

o/~ oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam......*sound of breaking glass* o/~

Well, "sing" may not be the best verb to use in my case! :biggrin:

Yes, I'm SO happy to see that the Michigan contingent is rocking! Yes, we must all meet! And yes, I'd love to find out about everything food around here, not just the fine dining stuff (as wonderful as it is, it's not exactly within my budget to splurge regularly). I know I have so much to learn.

I'm glad you mentioned fish frys, by the way. Whenever my sweetie and I walk by a VFW hosting a fish fry, he HAS to go in. I've had some wonderful perch dinners that way!

I would love to meet in Ann Arbor, by the way. I miss it terribly -- I don't visit there nearly as much as I'd like!

Ooh, ooh, maybe in the future we can take a road trip to Canada too?

I'm so excited! *feet tapping*

#30 tammylc

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Posted 02 May 2003 - 06:16 AM

Indiagirl: I've never actually been to Pacific Rim (or Kana for that matter), but some friends whose opinions I trust went fairly recently and were very unimpressed and thought it overpriced. And you're absolutely right - Wasabi sucks.

Chocokitty: I'm all for meeting in Ann Arbor - we just need to decide on a time and a place. Is next weekend too soon? And I second a road trip to Windsor - I keep reading great reviews of restaurants there. I just read a review today in Metrotimes of Three, which sounds like a really neat tapas place. And Wah Court is hands down the best place in the area for dim sum, and it's been far too long since I've been there.

Aurora: The "food scene" in Ann Arbor rocks. There's the farmers market on Wednesday and Saturdays, right outside the Kerrytown shops. Kerrytown is a haven for foodies - Zingerman's is right around the corner, plus there's a great market right in the shops, as well as real butcher and an amazing fishmonger. Plus Partners in Wine and Cheese, and Cav's Cafe, with amazing quiche. Cav sets up a grill outside on market days. Also in Kerrytown is Kitchen Port. I think it's gone downhill since I worked there five years ago, but it's still a pretty neat shop for getting all things kitchen and cooking related, and they do cooking demonstrations/classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

There's a lot of ethnic markets around town too. My favorite (which I don't get to nearly often enough) is the Indian grocer near Packard and Platt, who sells samosas for 35 cents apiece.

The other way cool thing about Ann Arbor is that it's the city that kills fast food. You'd think that a town with 50,000 students would have its fair share of the chain restaurants, but both the McDonalds and Burger King on South University (the major student strip) closed down for lack of business. BK was replaced by a Starbucks (boo, hiss), but McDonald's old space was taken over by a place serving Bubble Tea.

And then there's the wine shops, but I'll save that for another post...

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