Restaurant Review: Zingerman’s Roadhouse

What and Where:

Zingerman’s Roadhouse | 2501 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 | (734) 663-FOOD

Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 4
  • Service: 5
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 4
  • Value: 2.5 (too expensive for what you get)
  • General vibe: 3
  • Comments (as of 2/9/06)

    (This is the first in what I hope is a series of “guest reviews” from Annette– that is, I wasn’t there for this experience. Enjoy.)

    We went to Zingerman’s Roadhouse just after it first opened a few years back, and were so turned off we never went back. We were outraged by a pretentious menu with $16 hamburgers and $15 mac and cheese. We ordered a “fried green tomato� appetizer for $7 and they brought three slices of tomato with some sauce drizzled over the top. We vowed never to return and were surprised that the place was still open even six months later.

    So, when I had the opportunity to go back to Zingerman’s Roadhouse for a business dinner—on someone else’s tab—I thought, “What the heck. I’ll try me one of them $15 hamburgers.�

    Was it worth it? Well, yes and no.

    The theme of the place is still pretentious: diner food with high-falutin’ ingredients and pseudo Roadhouse décor.

    Four of us shared a $19 sampler appetizer with ribs, hushpuppies, crab cakes, onion rings, and some other greasy stuff. It was good. Probably better than what you might get at an Applebees.

    My companions had fried catfish, which looked pretty average. I tried the $15 gorgonzola/bacon burger with a side of sweet potato fries. It was very good, and so big I took half of it home. But, you know what, I can get a better, greasier burger with sweet potato fries at the Sidetrack in Ypsilanti for half the price.

    The best part of the meal was the service. We had a very professional and informed server, who made the experience quite enjoyable.

    Restaurant Review: Yotsuba Japanese Restaurant

    What and Where:

    Yotsuba Japanese Restaurant | 2222 Hogback Rd. Ann Arbor, MI 48105 | (734) 971-5168

    Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 4
  • Service: 3.5
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 3.5
  • Value: 3.5
  • General vibe: 4
  • Comments (as of 1/17/06)

    • This review is based largely on the lunch I had there yesterday with Annette and Will, though I’ve been to Yotsuba a couple of times before, both for dinner and for lunch.
    • Of course, they’ve got sushi and it’s darn good, probably the best I’ve had around Ann Arbor (though I haven’t had that much sushi around Ann Arbor, to be honest). Interestingly enough, Will loves sushi, which strikes me as odd for an 8 year-old. His favorites include the tuna roll, and also the California roll (Annette likes those, too). Yotsuba’s California rolls are a little different in that they roll the rice on the outside and there is some kind of crab salad sort of filling. Very good, though.
    • But there’s a lot more than sushi. I’ve had good luck with various teriyakis (chicken, beef, salmon), the tempora (sweet potatoes are awesome fried up like this), soup and salad (which you get with a meal), etc. The best thing I’ve had there was a stewed tuna Annette and I had one night as part of a bento box we shared.
    • Speaking of the bento box: that’s my general pick for lunch, largely because it’s usually a bit of a surprise. Yesterday, for example, it included three or four of these weird little red squid or octupi. They weren’t a whole lot bigger than an inch around and I’m guessing they were pickled or something, but they included the tentacles and everything. This made for much “eww”-ing from Will and even a bit from Annette. They didn’t taste like much, by the way.
    • The servers are nice, but our waiter yesterday seemed a little over-worked and his English skills were a little suspect.
    • Price and value-wise, it’s kind of a hard call. On the one hand, Japanese food in general is kind of expensive, and this isn’t any different. On the other hand, Yotsuba has ample portions and they include a salad and a cup of miso soup with every entree.
    • They don’t bring you silverware– chopsticks. I have never seen anyone in here eating with a fork, though I assume if I asked for one, they’d bring it. But I’ve always been too embarassed to ask, so I muddle through with the chopsticks.
    • It’s lovely decor– blonde wood everywhere, a sushi bar up front, a couple of different dining rooms, very clean, etc. I went to lunch there one time with someone from work who was a bit surprised by this because she had been in the place one time years before when it was a kind of skanky bar called the Red Bull or something like that. Fortunately, the walls don’t talk.

    Restaurant Review: The Common Grill

    What and Where:

    The Common Grill (“upscale American Bistro”) | 112 S. Main Street, Chelesa, MI 48118 | (734) 475-0470

    Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 3.5 to 4.25
  • Service: 4
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 4
  • Value: 4
  • General vibe: 3.5
  • Comments (as of 1/8/06)

    • I know this is a lot of restaurant reviews all at once like this, but like I said the other day, I’ve somehow managed to eat out a lot lately. Anyway, we had a lovely gathering out at the Common Grill, eight of us total (me, Annette, Will, Bill, Leslie, Lilly, Steve B., and Michelle), a good time was had by one and all, and I thought I’d go ahead and write about it.
    • This is one of those places that Annette and I go a couple times a year– when the parents/in-laws are in town, when we want a special night where we can take Will, etc. Atmosphere/vibe-wise, we like it a lot, but it is a very crowded and noisy place. It isn’t a place for a “romantic dinner,” but it is a good place to take a kid because they can damn near scream their heads off and it wouldn’t bother anyone.
    • The clear specialty of the house is seafood. Annette always gets the bouillabaisse. She doesn’t bother with the menu. Personally, I have tried a variety of different things. My favorites are the tuna, the paella, the whitefish, but I’ve usually had good luck for the specials.
    • This is not a cheap restaurant, but I do think it is a good value. The entrees are large– enough to share if you’re looking for something light– and they include a choice of a salad. The wine is reasonably priced (we always get the “Fishtown White,” which is a very drinkable Michigan white wine), and the deserts are good, too.
    • To me, I didn’t think that the food tonight was as good as I’ve had it there in the past (which is why I have the split rating for tastiness). My dish– the swordfish special– was very good, but two of my dining companions had some unopened/questionable clams. That’s not the kinda thing you send out to a table.
    • On weekends, this place is REALLY busy. If you go in at about six or so on a Friday or a Saturday, expect to wait 45 minutes, and they don’t take reservations– unless you have a big party (which is another reason to bring the kids). What’s interesting is that the best meals I’ve had there have been on Friday or Saturday nights. I don’t know, maybe because that’s when Craig Common is in the kitchen. Anyway, waiting isn’t so bad because the bar area is nice and the people-watching in this place is pretty good, too.

    Restaurant Review: Quarter Bistro and Tavern

    What and Where:

    The Quarter Bistro and Tavern (pseudo New Orleans food, I guess) | 300 S Maple Rd, Ann Arbor, MI | (734) 929-9200

    Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 2
  • Service: 2
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 4
  • Value: 1
  • General vibe: 2
  • Comments (as of 1/7/06)

    • Before I got done with the reviews for the day, I wanted to include a review of at least one “bad” restaurant– or at least a place we didn’t like. We went to The Quarter Bistro and Tavern (or, as they tried to cutely say on the menu and such, “The Q”) a couple months ago, shortly after it opened, so it might have gotten better. But I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.
    • The food wasn’t “terrible” really, but it just was not that good and it was clearly over-priced. To me, it kind of seemed like what a midwesterner might imagine food in New Orleans to taste like, only said midwesterner had never actually been to N.O. and not even watched one of Emeril’s cooking shows.
    • Okay, the place had just opened and they were still trying to sort stuff out. But even with all that, I thought the service was stinky.
    • It’s in a big barn of a place– it used to be a Mexican restaurant we kind of liked okay– and I think they are trying to make it a place that is both “a tavern” and a place for fine food. They haven’t gotten there for either one.
    • If it’s still in business this time next year, it means they will have gotten their shit together and so it might be worth checking out again. Until then, go someplace else.

    Restaurant Review: Dalat

    What and Where:

    Dalat (Vietnamese Restaurant) | 100 W. Michigan Ave. | Ypsilanti, MI 48197 | (734) 487 – 7600

    Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

  • Tastiness: 4
  • Service: 2.5
  • Price (1=super cheap, 5=super expensive): 1
  • Value: 5
  • General vibe: 2
  • Comments (as of 1/7/06)

    • I’ve never actually eaten at this place at night– only for lunch– so keep that in mind.
    • I am far from an expert in the cusine of Vietnam, but if it’s anything there like it is at Dalat, then they eat some damn good food in Vietnam. I’m a fan of the chicken salad, of the chicken kabobs, the beef dishes, the various kinds of rolls (fried and otherwise), the soups… well, I guess everything I’ve had there.
    • I’m pretty sure that this is the cheapest/best value of a place to eat in town. I mean, seriously, where else can you can eat a really good non-fast food kind of meal where you are sitting down and not eating out of a paper or plastic container for less than $6?
    • The service? Well, it’s either kind of sucky or just kind of quaint. As you might guess, the people who run this place are from Vietnam and their English skills are sketchy. Best to just point to items or say the letters/numbers on the menu. I tend to go there with a large group of people from work so you have to cut these people some slack, but we always end up eating in shifts based on whatever comes out of the kitchen next.
    • The atmosphere and vibe? It’s clean and the people who run the place are very nice, but it’s all white plastic and linoleum. And its location in downtown Ypsi is its own problem. The last time I was there (which was this past Thursday– again for lunch and with folks from work), a homeless guy wandered in and sat himself down at our table. Made for an interesting moment.

    Coffee House Review: Bombadill’s

    What and Where:

    Bombadill’s Cafe | 217 W Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti, MI | (734) 544-5080

    Ratings (1=terrible, 5=mind-blowingly great)

    • Coffee quality: 3.75
    • Service: 4.75
    • General vibe: 3.5
    • WiFi: 4.75
    • Baked goods: 4.75
    • Other food options: 4

    Comments (as of 1/7/06)

    • I think Bombadill’s greatest overall strength is that it is a local (for me– it’s like a 2 minute drive) and locally-owned and operated establishment– no chain crap here.
    • The coffee is certainly above average, but I don’t know if it’s the best in town really.
    • The service is almost always fantastic. I go in and say “hi Pete” to the owner and he says “hi Steve” to me. Ya gotta like that. There are a few “young people” who work there who are trying for that cool n’ surly thing, but even they do a good job.
    • The vibe thing is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the decor and comfort of the place is extremely high– easily the cleanest coffee shop in town. On the other hand, because it’s on Michigan Ave. in Ypsi, sometimes the people watching is poor. And once in a while, the music isn’t my tastes.
    • Very reliable and free WiFi access. Better yet, because of the service and “owner-operated” nature of the place, if you run into problems, feel free to ask the person behind the counter to restart the router. Try that at Espresso Royale.
    • This is one of the few coffee houses in town where you can really eat well. The baked goods are excellent, the sandwiches are well-above average, and the soups are great, too. I’m a big fan of the chicken chili.

    Dining and Coffee Reviews: A New Unofficial Feature

    As part of the new 2006 season here at my unofficial blog, I’d like to introduce a new category, “Dining and Coffee Reviews,” wherein I provide brief reviews of eating establishments and area coffee shops.

    Why, you ask? First off, because Annette and Will and I end up at a lot of different area restaurants and coffee shops on a regular basis. Just this week, I’ve been to Bombadills, Delat, Zanzabar, Beaner’s, The Sidetrack, and the New York Pizza Depot, and I’m going to the Commond Grill tomorrow. I will admit that’s a bit more than usual, but you get the idea.

    Second, I would say that two of my more significant hobbies/activities are eating food and drinking coffee. Certainly more than going to the gym, which is one of the reasons for my new mantra for the year is “smaller portions.”

    I’ll rate things on a simple 1 to 5 scale, where 1 means “terrible” and 5 means “mind-blowingly great.” For dining, here are the categories I have in mind (and if anyone has any suggestions on how I should do it differently, let me know):

    • Tastiness
    • Service
    • Price (here, 1 means “dirt cheap,” while 5 means mind-blowingly expensive)
    • Value, by which I mean whether or not the dining experience is “worth it” money-wise. This is different than price in that, in my experience, it’s possible to spend way too much money on a meal but still have it be “worth it;” on the other hand, I’ve had $1 hot dogs that were a “poor value.”
    • General vibe, which includes things like decor, music they play, people hanging out there, etc.

    The coffee shop rating system is a bit different, though also on a 1-5 rating system:

    • Coffee quality (and I should point out that I am only kind of a coffee snob and that when I go to a coffee shop, I almost always drink coffee and not Lattes or Cappuccino or whatever)
    • Service
    • General vibe (with a big emphasis on music and people-watching)
    • WiFi, which is key for me since I am often in coffee shops to do work of one sort or another
    • Baked goods
    • Other food options
    • My goal is to do these reviews in a sort of short/bullet-point kind of pattern. I’ll start writing one or two now and we’ll see how it goes.