Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Not exactly McDo



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.


28 comments:

helen tilston said...

Hello Heather

Those two restaurants look fabulous and the food, before my morning cappucino, is so tempting. It is unfair to generalize and you point to two shining examples.
Violetta who is one of my art partners, married in Traverse City three years ago and I was so impressed by the restaurants there. I shall never forget we went to a breakfast restaurant ( think in Millbrook or nearby) called The French Laundry and it was one of the best breakfasts ever. There was also a privately owned food supplier (in the line of Whole Foods, but privately owned and much better) There were also some incredible stores. I purchase a jacket there which I wear and love.

I love your post and how you are seeing and describing Michigan.

Helenxx

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Heather:
How we love to travel via restaurants [or, indeed, coffee houses] of the world, such a pity that today it is all vicarious and not the real thing.

The two restaurants sound delightful and the food, as you say, such imaginatively creative combinations of favours and textures. We could well see ourselves making a lunch last all day!

We are very taken with the idea of a wine locker for one's favourite tipple. Now that would certainly encourage us to be regular visitors.

As an aside, please be assured that the French have not given cuisine to the world.......ask any Hungarian because they KNOW that they have!!!!!!!!

robin said...

Yay, Michigan! Yay, food! I thought the 2nd restaurant was going to be Zingerman's Roadhouse (waffles with cheese grits and bacon in them - hello??), but the Jolly Pumpkin is pretty great, also. I will confirm that it is not wise to go to these restaurants (or near downtown) on a football Saturday! Love you!

Lost in Provence said...

Hello Helen! Traverse City has a good reputation for its restaurants, if I recall correctly so that doesn't surprise me too much. Isn't Northern Michigan beautiful? I bet it was the perfect spot for a wedding. And how lovely to have a jacket to recall those good times too!

Lost in Provence said...

Oh that made me laugh!! Isn't it fun, though? Both cultures certainly have cuisines to be proud of.

Like you both, I often travel through the food that I eat--and as shaky as my memory is, it is flawless when it comes to where I ate when!

Alas, for the wine locker, while it is a very good concept, I highly doubt that I would be able to save anything long enough to put it to use! :)

Lost in Provence said...

Sister, ssshh!! That is for the Zingerman's post! ;) Hopefully folks are getting too fed up with Ann Arbor as there is more to come! Yipee!
Love you so much...

allumer * decor said...

I love hearing about great restaurants... if ever in ann arbor I'll have to check these out. Thanks for visiting today and for your lovely comments.

Lost in Provence said...

You are so welcome--your talent blows me away!! If any of my designer friends see this, please take a look at her incredibly elegant abstract paintings...

Judith said...

My niece (also named Heather) who lives in Ann Arbor had better watch out. Uncle and Aunt may just have to pop in from Massachusetts to check these places out. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in the states.

Lost in Provence said...

Your neice is lucky--to live in such a cool town but more so to have such fabulous family members... :) Merci pour la visite Judith, bisous...

designchic said...

Truffle fries with fresh rosemary...I'm sold!!

Jewel Yet to Find said...

Hello Heather!
How wonderful! You've never sound so happy (except when Remie was published in NG).
And You're a talented food critic as well. Delicious pictures and descriptions, decor and servings are very nice. Yammy, yammy! Happy for you.

And thank you very much for your lovely comments on my blog. There's more to come.
Natalie

Lost in Provence said...

I tell you they were insane! And I get to each the Frenchy ones all the time. :)

Lost in Provence said...

Yay! I loved all of your photos Natalie. And thank you for your kind compliments--I had the BEST time on my visit!

Acquired Objects said...

I'm with Beth and Kristy, Truffle fries...love them! Sounds like you had some nice meals and wine while visiting. I'm with you nothing like a full-bodied red.

XX
Debra~

Lost in Provence said...

You know Debra, I loved drinking American reds while in the States. I really had some knockout wines--and they are much more accessibly priced than they used to be too.

Aidan said...

Lovely. Yummy. Jealous. I miss variety. Shhhh. I didn't really say that.
Please email me so we can set up a time to meet. I can't find a way to get in touch with you. Conjugatingirregularverbs at gmail dot com
A x

Lost in Provence said...

Email winding its way to you right now...

I Dream Of said...

Mmmmm. Truffle fries. I'm going to be craving them all day! Both places look delicious and fun. Glad you got to visit your old favorite and a new spot during your visit. Both look like perfect places to sip a glass of wine and enjoy a conversation over dinner!

Liza in Ann Arbor said...

Oh my G--those fries are the best! And Vinology is one of my favorite Happy Hour spots. Their flatbread pizzas are to die for. Also, they used to carry my favorite white Burgundy, Olivier LeFlaive. That was a real find, but alas, they no longer have it. Thanks for beautifully describing restaurants in my very own hometown. Still hoping you made it to Mani...that's my new favorite.

Tabitha said...

Yuk to foie gras, the taste that is. My hubs orders it all the time, I think it tastes revolting!

Lost in Provence said...

Yep, absolutely Jeanne--Vinology especially has a great wine list. I would order a bit of Viognier for you--am I right? :) And apparently truffle fries are more common than I could have guessed! So jealous--come on! We HAVE THE TRUFFLES then why do we not have truffle FRITES?

Lost in Provence said...

Oh bummer Liza, I didn't! I should have known to ask a foodie like you but really, we didn't go out very much this trip--ALL I wanted was to stay in and talk and talk. We did have a nice late night snack at Sava's after the Wynton Marsalis concert at the Hill, crazy yummy brunches at Zingerman's Roadhouse and the Quarter Bistro. I'll pass on the word about Mani to my Mom and Sis--merci!

Lost in Provence said...

Tabitha, this is just the proof of my belief that you are the incarnation of the song "The Lady is a Tramp"--in the most fabulous sense of it! What a glamazonian you are.
If you ever come to visit, you might change your mind--the good stuff is indeed the good stuff...

quintessence said...

Count me in on the truffle fries as well - and wine locker? Love that idea too!! Sounds like you had quite the gastronomic holiday!!

jen laceda said...

i like the decor...seems like a place that doesn't take itself seriously, yet is serious about the food...if that makes sense at all. oh, and fries with home made mayo? i'm always on the look out for the best!

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

You did not mention one food item that did not make me absolutely swoon! In the past two years I have been in both Traverse City and Ann Arbor, finding them both delightful. I spent a few hours driving around Ann Arbor up and down the streets, parking and walking before settling on a restaurant. I have made notes of your favorites.

Truffle fries with rosemary? Pass some down the table this way, svp!

Bises,
Genie

Lost in Provence said...

Oh, I am a bit behind on the comments here! Genie, so glad this will be of help for the future. There is also Cafe Zola downtown, which I didn't get to this trip but is a perennial favorite. I love the use of fresh ingredients there. :)