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Looking for Ann Arbor dinner recs

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Hi Gang,

I am Boston area foodie. I will be in Ann Arbor on a Wednesday night and I am looking for dinner recommendations. I am staying at the Campus Inn. I am looking for a nice-ish dinner. I am taking a friend out for his birthday.


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  1. What kind of food do you prefer? There are the traditional places that are high end and then there are the newer places that are high end. If you are into wine I would say go to Vinology for some tasting but don't eat there, they don't have anything truly substantial.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Phaedrus. I am open when it comes to type of food. I am an open-minded omnivore. Can you suggest both traditional and new places?


      1. I'm still a sucker for The Earle downtown on Washington street. I've had several enjoyable experiences there, though if it's "just a friend," it might not be the right place, since it's quite a romantic setting. Good place, though.

        1. I'd second the Earle downtown--it is dark, but it's not just couples there.The Earle has an amazing wine list, if that's an issue. Always a solid choice.

          Another option would be Cafe Zola across the street. Good bistro dining, with some unusual twists. Fun cocktails.

          Pacific Rim is new Asian cuisine. It's excellent but quite small. It's downtown on West Liberty.

          These are all about a 15 minute walk from the Campus Inn. Even closer is the Earle Uptown (related to the Earle downtown, but much fancier and more $$$). Also nearby is Zanzibar, a nice restaurant with a tropical fusion influence. It is on State street near Liberty.

          1. Traditional I had in mind is The Earle, which everyone has recommended. Weber Inn and the Gandy Dancer are other recs. I have heard that the Gandy Dancer has slipped in many's estimation. I thought it was good for a town this size.

            I have heard great things about the Metro Cafe and Pacific Rim.

            Zingermann's Roadhouse is pretty good, a tad expensive for what you get but the food is excellent I thought.

            Rush Street had good food but the decor and the noise level was unbearable to me. I wanted some conversation but I couldn't hear myself order.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Phaedrus

              I really like the Earle, but I always warn people that it's got great drinks (wine, etc.), very good service, very good atmosphere, and decent, but not great food. So it depends on what you're looking for.

              I think Rush St. still has that early dinner at a big discount. Good food, minus the crowd (before 6?) and cheap.

            2. I went to the Metro Cafe last night, just for drinks at the bar (fabulous martinis!) and looked over the menu, which was full of interesting items. Pretty much everything sounded good to me. They had several creative veggie options. It's a nice-looking place. Looking forward to eating there asap.

              1. Welcome back to Ann Arbor, Chris Weber!!!

                1. If you like steak, the Quarter Bistro's ribeye is second only to the Chop House, and less than half as much. By far the best $20 steak I have ever had.

                  I was at the Earle a couple years ago and was disappointed. Food was made by people who don't know food.

                  1. Logan is a great little chef-driven spot on Liberty. I had a particularly savory Oaxacan braised beef short rib in red mole there last year.

                    1. I don't want to get into a tit-for-tat concerning The Earle, however, MW and I had an anniversary dinner there last October. My beef tenderloin was superb, the sauce sublime, the potatoes gratin were poetic in their presentation, and the Oregon pinot noir was affordable and complimented the meal perfectly.

                      While I understand that even a great restaurant can have an off-day once in a while, leading one to have an unpleasant experience there, I think that we need to be careful in making comments like "Food was made by people who don't know food".

                      1. I recommend the West End Grill on Liberty:


                        Skip the Earle for food - only go there for wine, if you want to try it out. Sorry I can't agree with you Summerfield about the Earle. I've eaten there 2 or 3 times, and at best, it is okay. I didn't try the beef tenderloin, though. I'll try that next time (if there is one).

                        You can get good wine at the West End Grill, too. I'd say Vinology isn't for someone that is really into wine - they use "icons" like a piece of candy for sweet, or a pair of lips for fruity wines with intense flavors, etc., either.

                        Write and let us know what you try out, neocx!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: momskitchen

                          Of course you can't agree with me about The Earle, Moms, you didn't eat my meal. But, I have to say, "Skip the Earle for food" is bad advice. The point of my post was that comments like "Food was made by people who don't know food" (and now yours) have to be made very carefully. I think that, concerning any restaurant, there are dishes that one eats, and, there are dishes that one avoids. I love Paesano's but I'm willing to admit that I didn't care for a particular dish, be it their preparation or my own taste preferences. There is a consensus on The Earle, obviously at odds with your opinion. You might want to note that in your caveat about The Earle.

                          1. re: Summerfield

                            Based on your experience Summerfield, I think I might give the Earle another shot...usually though, if I give a restaurant a couple tries and they disappoint me, I can't recommend it. There's hardly a consensus on the Earle, though, on this thread. It's okay to disagree.

                            But I am curious about Paesano's....tell me more! Like the Earle, I have eaten there 3 times and been disappointed. They are not on my recommend list....please suggest a dish to try there. I am willing to give it one more shot!

                            1. re: momskitchen

                              Hey moms, I'm not saying that it's not okay to disagree. I'm merely suggesting that, when criticizing or disagreeing, we stay away from closed-end comments like, ""Food was made by people who don't know food", and "Skip the Earle for food". I do think that there is a consensus on The Earle over time. No one is raving that it's better than La Tour D'Argent in Paris, or even that it's the best restaurant in Ann Arbor. It's one of a handful of okay places to eat at that price level. I'd rather spend $100 at The Earle than $150 at The Chop House.

                              On to Paesano's. You know, moms, my wife has a curious talent for ordering the absolutely wrong thing when we go out. I'm just thinking that maybe, just maybe you understand, you might fall into this category. Heck, I've done it myself. Anyway, at Paesano's try the Spaghetti Carbonara (not made with cream!), Rigatoni with Country Greens, Sausage, and Hot Peppers, or Fettuccine Bolognese. The Spaghetti Carbonara was one of the best I've ever eaten. Leaving out the heavy cream elevates this dish. One thing I like about Paesano's is that the menu changes seasonally. The Bolognese is a traditional one where the liquids evaporate leaving flavorful, seasoned ground meat. I'm not a big fan of antipasti so I can't recommend anything in that category. The soups (especially the minestrone) and salads are good. Good luck!

                              1. re: Summerfield

                                This is interesting, because I've been amazed by how inconsistent Paesano's can be. I've raved about it, and then gone there and gotten food I can barely choke down. I second the emotion on the pastas--I've always enjoyed them. They do one in late fall with turnip sauce that's good, too, and one with ground duck. Very country Italian, real chow. I've had good meats and a stuffed quail that was outstanding. Soups and salads are very fine; the dinner upgrade for the fancy salads, whereby you get them for $3.75, is one of the great deals in town. I have generally been very unsatisfied with their fish, even though the waitstaff always pushes them. Always thought I was just unlucky sometimes, but the recent Observer review of this place had the same reaction--magnificent more often than not, but sometimes just plain poor. Weird.

                                1. re: Jim M

                                  At Paesano's, I tend to stay away from meat- or fish-centered dishes. However, I do want to try the Veal Scaloppine. Also, I don't go that often. The last time there, MW ordered Oxtail and Beef Cheeks Ragu Pot Pie, which looked good on the menu, but which turned out to be disappointing. Some people like to go to a restaurant and try everything on the menu. I like to go to different restaurants for different things. I guess the big question is, when summing up one's experience at a restaurant regardless of whether it was good or bad, was it the dish or was it your taste, or some combination thereof?

                                  Anyway, MW is leaving town this weekend, so we want to go out somewhere for a meal. Maybe it's time for Daniel's, or West End Grill or Logan.

                                2. re: Summerfield

                                  Sorry - ..I rarely am disappointed with what I order at restaurants. I know what I like and I appreciate good food. Besides, it woudn't be my fault the dish isn't good - it is the restaurant's fault...I am paying them for it! If they can't deliver, they don't get by business anymore.

                                  I will try P's again for the carbonara - one of my favorite dishes! Thanks for the recommendations.

                          2. As long as folks are weighing in on the Earle, here's my $.02: when I have gone there with friends for wine and appetizers after work, I've enjoyed myself a great deal. When I've had dinner there, particularly with the pastas, I haven't been blown away--felt as though I could have cooked the dish myself with a little effort. It's a nice place for a date, but I think they're a little stuck on the time when they were one of just a few good restaurants in a meat-and-potatoes town.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jim M

                              Well, here's another 2 cents on the Earle:

                              I've been to the Earle downtown several times this year and last and every single time I felt a little disappointed in the food. I very much agree with the post by Jim M - I could've certainly made most of the dishes myself. In addition, I don't feel the dishes, french or italian, are truly authentic. A restaurant like the Earle can survive and do well in the Midwest, but it would never be able to compete in an area like NYC/Boston/LA/SF. If you're a meat n' potatoes person, then the Earle might be an experience. Otherwise, I'd recommend other places --

                              Cafe Zola has decent entrees. The savory crepes are fairly good.
                              Casey's Tavern has great burgers and really good onion rings. They've got a great selection of beer on tap.Their dinner specials are fairly reliable.
                              Totoro (on State Street) has decent sushi (not the best, but good for Ann Arbor).
                              Eve (Kerrytown) is a little pricey and portions are not huge, but the quality is great. Definitely one of the best places in Ann Arbor more fine dining.

                            2. Had dinner last night with the family at the Quarter Bistro in Westgate. Never had a bad meal there over the past two years. Last night was not exception - raw oysters, salad, steak, pastas, - everything was great. We really enjoyed it. The place was packed even with the impending winter storm.

                              1. My family and I have been to the Metro cafe on a few occasions, mainly for dinner but I tried lunch once. In the past we enjoyed the food and atmosphere, in particular the small plates (e.g. lobster ravioli, lobster and shrimp plantain cakes). Last night, my youngest boy suggested that we go back for dinner since he was very fond of the Duck confit. This dinner turned out to be the worst dining experience of my last 10 years.

                                Most of the blame can be assigned to the service. First, the waiter forgot to mention the daily specials and, when later asked to describe those items, he could barely give the name of those in English. Then, he brought the bread only after being asked and it arrived late, while we were eating the main course. Half of the table ordered an appetizer and the other half had a salad included with the main dish. However, the waiter brought salads and appetizers at different times which led half the table watching the others eat and vice versa. The oddest moment was when the waiter brought lobster ravioli instead of lobster and shrimp plantain cakes. He apparently misunderstood the order and caught only the term "lobster". Since he brought the main dish right after the appetizers, I ended up eating my appetizer after the main course. To top the list, he overcharged one item (charged for lobster ravioli that are more expensive than the plantain cakes). To check the cost of these two items, I picked up a menu at the front desk and then was told it was an old menu since the prices were much lower than the ones I saw before when ordering. All this was very confusing..

                                In addition to the abyssal service, some of the food was not very good. Either the chef had a bad day or they changed chef since last Spring. The salads looked miserable, the fries were overcooked and my Lobster and shrimp plantain cakes turned out to be a complete mess in terms of presentation (instead of cakes, I received a mixture of shrimp and lobster meat, and the plantain was nowhere to be found) and it was burned. Evidently they rushed to prepare this appetizer following the ordering mistake. All the family has a sweet tooth and usually we are looking forward to try deserts. This time, our waiter brought a small tray with 3 pitiful choices: a lava cake, a cheese cake and a Grand marnier cake. We didn't take the time to ask where the great deserts they served in the past had gone missing.. We asked for the check and rushed for the door... It is certainly the last time we go to this restaurant and I would be surprised if it survives until next spring.

                                1. I second either West End Grill or Logan's (prefer the former) - great food, interesting menu, quiet & sophisticated ambiance and knowlegeable waitstaff. Can't go wrong.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mogul

                                    Just a heads up: The OP started this thread for a dinner rec in Feb07. So...I think that the, uh, statute of limitations has been reached.