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Nathan Wood: Serving up the 'musts and busts' of restaurant week

By Nate Wood , Daily Food Columnist
Published January 24, 2013

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas: restaurant week. I hesitate to call myself a seasoned vet of this foodtastic event, so I’ll opt for the humbler idiom of “this ain’t my first rodeo.” (Check out an Ann Arbor Restaurant Week excursion of mine from Summer 2012 here.)

New to campus? Recently acquire your parent’s credit card? Throwing yourself a pity party because you couldn’t keep up with that “healthier you” New Year’s resolution? No matter your situation, there’s a restaurant week option out there for you. So, to help you on your quest for reasonably priced, high-class cuisine, I’ve compiled this simple guide to restaurant week musts and busts.

The Undergrad Gourmet’s Guide to Restaurant Week

MUST: Logan

Eateries like this are exactly what make restaurant week such a cool event. How often do college students get a chance to eat Zagat-rated food at one of the top 10 restaurants in the Metro Detroit area? With the price of a dinner for two normally creeping toward triple digits, I’m guessing the answer is “not often.” But during restaurant week, the opportunity is there.

Boasting “New American Cuisine,” a hot (albeit ambiguous) genre in the culinary world right now, Logan has a great menu lineup for restaurant week that I’m more than excited to check out. For the first course, I recommend the crab and avocado parfait; the Logan salad — featuring an undoubtedly complex 30-year-old sherry vinaigrette — should be your second-course choice. All options for the main course are winners, though I’ll probably opt for the seared sea scallops with aromatic Thai coconut milk sauce.

At $28 for a three-course meal from this highly esteemed establishment, we salute you, Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, for getting college kids and good food together again.

Other MUSTS: Café Felix (five courses for $28!), The Ravens Club (huge variety), Pacific Rim (an Asian-fusion heaven, though Chef Duc wouldn’t like it to be referred to as such) and Mani Osteria & Bar (a large selection of nationally recognized pizza).

LUNCH MUST/DINNER BUST: The Blue Nile

Inevitably, there comes a time — in the natural course of getting to know new people — when the rules of social interaction dictate that I divulge my job here at the Daily. Also inevitably, the response I hear is always the same: “Food critic? Great! What’s the best restaurant in Ann Arbor?” After a quick smile and light laugh, my political answer (as I really don’t answer their question at all) is, “You should try the Blue Nile!”

You see, the Blue Nile is certainly not the best restaurant in Ann Arbor, but for most people, it offers a completely new dining experience. My first taste of Ethiopian food came from the Blue Nile, and I have a feeling that this experience is not an uncommon one.

But beyond that, the food here is fantastic. It’s warm, hearty, saturated to the max with herbs and spices and surprisingly healthy. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do have a couple of things that I’ll ask you to keep in mind: One, you’ll never miss the meat with their vegetarian options, and two, make sure to order an Ethiopian tea or coffee to sip on while you wait for your food.

This restaurant is a must at lunch (two people eat for $15) but a bust at dinner ($28 per person for a drink, first course and a dessert that you don’t really want).

Other LUNCH MUSTS/DINNER BUSTS: Blue Tractor (the food you would normally order at an even better price), Gratzi (try the gnocchi tartuffata as part of your three-course lunch), Shalimar (the mango shrimp is where it’s at) and Jolly Pumpkin (I tend to prefer their lunch offerings over their dinner, anyway — go for the lamb burger).

BUST: bd’s Mongolian Grill

Not that I have anything against being overcharged to stand in line and have my bowl of stir-fry pulverized by obnoxious, loudly clanged swords and served with overcooked rice, but there really are much better restaurant week options: 54, to be exact. The price is not much cheaper than any other week of the year, and the food is no less mediocre. Maybe McDonald’s should be allowed to join restaurant week, too.

Other BUSTS: Grand Traverse Pie Company (better suited for those I-need-to-eat-now-or-I’m-going-to-die moments than restaurant week), The Chop House (the menu’s worst offerings come together to lure in restaurant week noobs) and Real Seafood Company (take note that it’s not called the Fresh Seafood Company).

And just so you know that I really do walk my talk, I’ll personally be hitting up Logan and The Ravens Club this week, and I hope to see you there! bd’s Mongolian Grill? Not so much.


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