It never ceases to amaze me the differences between the French and American cultures and the widespread misconceptions that each have towards each other as well. Certainly one of the most emotionally charged of those concerns food and our respective eating habits. After having lived with a Frenchman for ten years, I can tell you that it would be unwise to ever even hint to him that his countries cuisine is not the finest in the world. But is it, as too many Americans still think, nothing but heavy sauces and foie gras? Of course not. Just as in the States, we actually do eat more than fast food and frozen dinners. Voici la preuve...
One of the aspects of contemporary American cuisine that I love the most is how the influences of our many ethnicities have taken hold in our cooking to create a fusion that is not reserved for the ultra-luxe. Such creativity can be found on fine display at my favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Vinology. I remember being slightly skeptical (snotty ex-NYer that I was) when I first heard that there was a wine-based restaurant in Ann Arbor but this was before my first visit to this very cosmopolitan town. I remember strolling up to the wine racks over the bar and not only did I immediately spy a Bandol but a Domaine Tempier at that. Pas mal. How far the Midwest has come since the 70s when my Dad asked for Perrier in our local grocery store upon his return from a visit to France and the clerk asked "Perry who?"
Vinology is wonderful at any time of day and has a rotating menu of regionally sourced specialties including small plates that are served late into the night. My Mom and I were able to go for lunch this visit. A quiet moment for just us two to stretch out and enjoy.
Now, I can hear ample scoffing from both sides of the pond at my salad choice. Iceberg lettuce? Yes, and let me tell you, if it always tasted this fresh it would have never gone out of fashion. I had forgone the Thai salad with its tofu-massamam curry cream because I was still in need of consuming all of the Americana I could get. And with its farmhouse cheddar, smoked bacon, hand-cut baby frites and creamy potato dressing, I wasn't disappointed. All of this for $4. $4! Sheesh.
As Vinology has decided to extend Happy Hour throughout the day and wines are half off, we both splurged on a Syrah that what would have been an otherwise scoff-worthy price of $14 per glass. Luckily, we sipped as we chatted because who knows what the alcohol content of that puppy was. Off the charts is all I know. Note to our cute waiter: such a powerhouse is probably not the best recommendation for two ladies at lunch. Fortunately, we had hearty meals on our way.
Lamb Osso Bucco isn't exactly American but when it is given a spin with rosemary glace, sofrito and pickled cherries...well, you see where the fusiony bits come in. That it was falling off the bone was especially appreciated as our waiter had forgotten to replace my knife. I happily mushed away at it with my fork. It was one of the very best I have had anywhere.
I will also be dreaming after my Mom's choice--the House-Smoked Turkey enchiladas, something of a gauntlet toss on her part, as, having lived in San Diego for over twenty years, she cooks fine Mexican herself. And yet, oooh la. Local corn tortillas filled with a spinach and artichoke goo, topped with Monterey Jack and a tamarind mole sauce? Thump-thump goes my heart.
You might be able to see why Vinology inspires loyalty. So much so that the regulars have wine lockers to store their best bottles. I may not be in town frequently enough to need one of those but I will certainly be back the next time I am in Ann Arbor or A2 as the locals call it.
A newbie (for me) to add to the favorites list is the Jolly Pumpkin, also smack downtown. That we had to wait for a table at nearly 2:30pm says much of its popularity.
I loved the boho cool vibe and funky decor (not to mention the flattering low-lighting) but fell head over heels for the truffle fries with fresh rosemary and house-made mayo. Thank you!
That plus a more-user friendly Shiraz and I could have been good to go but thank goodness I listened to our adorable waiter's suggestion (if you have never waited tables, just take this one bit of advice, always listen to the waiter, they know) and dived into a delightfully sloppy Porchetta sandwich. The slow-roasted garlic and herb-infused pork shoulder was perfectly moist but the spinach gave it a bit of snap and the salsa verde aioli (never thought you would see those words together, did you?) as well as the fennel sauerkraut gave it a that sweet/salty tang that was just absolutely fine.
There is a brewmaster on hand pumping out house-made ales if that is your sort of thing. I can imagine that this miight not be the place to be on a brawlsey Saturday evening in summer or when the University of Michigan has a home game on but otherwise, go forth and munch wisely.