Momofuku Ssam Bar (or, Where David Chang Leads, I Will Follow)

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A few weekends ago, I had friends in town. We had a list of places that they wanted to visit and eat at while they were here, and so on Sunday night, we made our way to one of those restaurants – BaoHaus. Except, we got there and realized it wasn’t really a sit down restaurant, and we all wanted to have a nicer meal. So, we passed on BaoHaus and began thinking of other places, which is right about when it occurred to us that we were around the block from Momofuku Ssam. A David Chang restaurant that’s long been on my list of must-try places in NYC? Sold!

So we headed to Ssam and put our name down for a table. We waited about a half hour which, from what I gather, isn’t that long for Ssam (the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and wait times can often be lengthy). We started our meal with pork buns for everyone. If there was one dish I wanted to try at Ssam, it was the pork buns – and they did not disappoint. Very flavorful:

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For my main course, I ordered the Roasted Jurgielwicz Duck. There were lots of little garnishes and sauces on the plate; I’m not quite sure what everything was, but I know it all worked in harmony together quite well. This was a tasty entree (though the pork buns definitely take the top honors for the best dish of the night):

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I often find that, when I’ve been wanting to go to a hyped restaurant for a long time, it inevitably disappoints me when I finally make it there. But, I can honestly say Ssam did not let me down. And now that I’ve been to two of David Chang’s NYC restaurants (Ssam and Ma Peche), I only have two left to go (Noodle Bar and Ko). Checking them all off is, most definitely, a delicious quest.

The Details: Momofuku Ssam Bar | 207 Second Avenue, New York NY, 10003 | 212.254.3500

Vellum

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The other day, someone found my blog by searching for the term “venom rest in ann arbor.” While it might be possible that there’s some sort of snake exhibit in A2 I don’t know about, I find it more likely that they were looking for information about Vellum, a new(ish) restaurant on Main Street. So in the spirit of giving the people want they want, it felt like the right time to post about my recent dinner at Vellum.

I went with a friend a few weeks back, and I really enjoyed the restaurant. Among Ann Arbor restaurants, Vellum reminded me a bit of Grange in terms of style and price point, so I couldn’t help but mentally compare the two as I ate my meal. And, I have to tell you, Vellum definitely won that battle in my mind.

We had dinner at the tail end of happy hour, so I was able to sneak in a cocktail at happy hour prices. I had a Negroni, which I really like and always tend to order when I see it on a cocktail menu. I thought this drink was quite strong, but I tend to be a lightweight drinker, so take my opinion here with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it was tasty!

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I ordered the Walleye, with onion broth, shallot, brandade, and apple. I really enjoyed this fish, especially the touches of apple. The presentation of the dish seemed a bit random and scattered, but still sorta fun:

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I also got a side of cornbread, which was the only letdown of my meal. There were little touches of maple in it, but overall I thought the cornbread wasn’t too flavorful. I think I’d try a different side next time.

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Overall, I enjoyed my first foray to Vellum! I’d definitely go back, and I’d especially like to return for a happy hour and sample more cocktails.

Fellow Ann Arborites (Ann Arborians?), have you been to Vellum? If so, what did you think?

The Details: Vellum | 209 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 | 734.929.4929

Easter Brunch at Lexington Brass

I know Easter was a few weekends ago, but it’s never too late to discuss chicken and waffles, so let’s talk Easter brunch in NYC. We made our brunch reservations fairly late (and by “we,” I mean my negligent sister who was entrusted with this task, tsk tsk), so none of our first choice spots had openings. We ended up at Lexington Brass, which was an easy ten block walk from our hotel, and it was a pretty good choice. Or, at least, I enjoyed my meal – I think my family was a bit less jazzed about the items they selected.

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Lexington Brass offers a fixed price menu for Easter Brunch, but I didn’t really like any of the fixed price options and opted to order from the normal menu instead. I went with a splurge choice (it was a holiday, and I was on vacation!) and selected chicken and waffles (and a Bellini, of course). The waffles were really, really tasty – particularly the syrup that came with them. Good choice on my part, I must say:

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As for everyone else, I didn’t sample their meals, but from their comments, they were pretty much your standard issue breakfast/brunch items – that is to say, fine, but nothing special. At restaurants, I always see what other people get and feel like I ordered wrong, so this may be the first time in history I wound up with the best meal. Anyway, here’s a peek at what everyone else got. Starting at my chicken and waffles and going clockwise, we have: my sister’s frittata, my mom’s granola and eggs, my dad’s pancakes, and my best friend’s waffles:

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We also shared an order of truffle fries for the table. These were nice and crispy, and very flavorful:

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After brunch, we realized we had a bunch of time to kill before the musical that we were going to see (Once) started. We decided to grab dessert somewhere and randomly wound up at Taina Cafe. We were literally the only people in the place, which immediately made me question our choice, but we ordered tres leches cake to share and it was actually pretty good (and, if nothing else, nicely presented):

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And that was our Easter Sunday. Coming up next: my last Easter-in-NYC post, covering our afternoon seeing Once on Broadway. Spoiler alert: it’s an incredible musical and everyone should go.

The Details:

Lexington Brass | 517 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10017 | 212.392.5976

Taina Cafe | 134 E 48th St, New York, NY 10017 | 212.421.1116

Brunching at Cafe Zola

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Every time I have brunch at Zola, I wonder to myself if Ann Arbor thinks this is the only restaurant available in town for weekend brunch – it’s always insanely crowded. Even with a reservation, you have to fight your way through the hordes of people and wind up waiting for a while in the jam-packed entryway.

But once I finally make it to the table, I remember why everyone is there – because the food is pretty damn tasty. Also pretty tasty? The drinks. And when you’re brunching with your Instagram-obsessed friends, it’s perfectly acceptable to push together everyone’s drinks in the center of the table and take a photo because the colors look pretty. Perfectly acceptable. Trust me on this one.

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By the way, my drink was a lovely Kir Royale, but my friends forced me to try the Bloody Mary against my will. And I would like to take this moment to ask: am I the only person on planet earth who cannot stand Bloody Marys? I am told that the look on my face after I sipped the drink was priceless. Yuck.

For my meal, I chose the smoked salmon bagel and it was quite delicious. I have a mild – or major – smoked salmon obsession, and it shows no signs of abating any time soon:

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The cool thing about Zola is that, even after visiting a few times, there are still so many things on the menu I want to try. I mean, I’ve never had any of their fancy waffles or crepes, which seems like an oversight on my part. I guess I’ll just have to make a return visit…

The Details: Cafe Zola | 112 W Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104 | 734.769.2020

Lunch at Lena

I had dinner at Lena last fall and I must admit…I was not that impressed. The food was fine but, in my opinion, pretty overpriced for what you got. In fact, the most impressive thing to me about the restaurant was the space itself; it’s amazing how transformed it is from its days as a rundown Greek restaurant. Lena looks very cool and modern – I love the ambiance there.

Despite my lackluster first experience, I decided to give Lena another try, this time for lunch. I enjoyed my culinary experience much more this time around. My working hypothesis is that, since Lena is a new-ish restaurant here in Ann Arbor, perhaps it just needed a little time to come into its own. Plus, if I’m being honest – I found the prices more reasonable at lunch, which always makes the food taste a tiny bit better, right?

I started with a side Fresh Market Salad. This was the least special part of my meal – it was pretty much your standard salad. The dried cherries were tasty, though:

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We got Plantain Tostones for an appetizer – and while these don’t look that pretty, they were fantastic. I’d definitely order these again:

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For my entree, I got the Fish Tacos, which were delicious. I tend to order fish tacos whenever they’re an option on a menu, and these didn’t disappoint:

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This lobster salad sandwich wasn’t my entree, but doesn’t it look tasty? I had major entree envy:

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So, Lena, you have redeemed yourself in my eyes – and I will probably be back soon.

The Details: Lena | 226 S Main St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104 | 734.994.2773

Girl & the Goat

I had a handful of restaurants that were on my “must visit” list while in Chicago this summer, and at the very top of those was the Girl and the Goat. I wanted to go because 1) The owner, Stephanie Izzard, was on Top Chef, 2) She won Top Chef, 3) She was the first (and only) female to win Top Chef, and 4) She is a Michigan alum. So, basically, she’s awesome and why wouldn’t you want to eat at her restaurant?

I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one who wanted to dine at Girl and the Goat; I attempted to make a reservation back in June shortly before I went to Chicago, only to find out that you had to book much further in advance. So, instead, I wound up making a reservation then for August; Girl and the Goat was to be my farewell meal in the city.

It was worth the wait. I really enjoyed the meal; all the dishes felt unique and innovative, not to mention the fact that they use locally-sourced ingredients. I would highly recommend the restaurant and I can’t wait to go back myself – the menu changes frequently, so I’m sure it would be fun to go back and see what’s new. In any case, here’s what we had:

We started with a bread basket (with very tasty bread and butter). The really important thing in this picture, however, is the goat napkin ring. Cute detail!

I chose a “Best of Three” as my cocktail: vodka, Pimm’s, cucumber, and lime. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if there’s a cocktail on the menu with Pimm’s in it, I will choose it.

Girl & the Goat’s menu is divided into three sections: vegetables, fish, and meats. We ordered three items from the vegetable menu, two from the fish, and one from the meat. First up from the veggie menu was a kohlrabi salad, which was tasty but led me to conclude that kohlrabi is not really my jam.

Tempura soft shell crab with sweet corn elote (no idea what elote is, but the corn was fantastic):

Pan fried shisito peppers:

Chickpea fritters:

Wood-fired Walter’s Chicken with fried pickles (the sauce on the chicken was delicious, and the fried pickles were yummy, albeit guilt-inducing):

Wild striped bass with grilled eggplant and garlic hazelnuts:

We ordered two desserts. The first was my mom’s pick – sweet corn and peaches with brown butter gelato and spiced caramel corn. I love the idea of caramel corn on a dessert; it’s brilliant, right?

And this was my choice: the magic chocolate shell with watermelon granita and royaltine. Never heard of royaltine? Neither had I, but it’s amazing – I can only describe it as chocolatey-cookie-crunchy goodness. I also found watermelon and chocolate to be an unexpectedly wonderful combination:

Doesn’t that look good? The perfect end to a meal, for sure.

The Details: Girl and the Goat | 809 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607 | 312.492.6262

Rockit Burger

Though I’ve been home from Chicago for a few weeks, I still have a few Chicago-related posts to catch up on. First among them is Rockit Burger, which I visited twice this summer (though at different locations).

As you may have guessed, Rockit’s specialty is its burgers, and that’s what I had each time I visited. First up: dinner at the Rockit Wrigleyville location, where I enjoyed the Johnny Apple Burger. The burger came topped with bacon, brie, and apple – an amazing combination. The burger also came with sweet potato fries – double win.

Next up: dinner at the River North location, where I had the Rockit Burger. Rockit’s signature burger is kobe beef topped with melted brie, fried shallots, and aioli, served with a generous side of truffle fries.

The verdict? The apple burger was the winner – I loved the flavor combation of the bacon, cheese, and apple. The Rockit Burger was a little greasier; I didn’t feel as good about eating that one. But they were both quite good, and I would definitely go back to Rockit anytime!

The Details: Rockit Wrigleyville | 3700 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60613 | 773.645.4400

Rockit River North | 22 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL 60654 | 312.645.6000

Sable Kitchen & Bar

When my mom was in town for a visit, we headed to Sable Kitchen & Bar for dinner. As a big Top Chef fan, I loved having the opportunity to try restaurants from former Top Chef contestants while in Chicago this summer. Sable’s executive chef, Heather Terhune, was on Top Chef Texas and my mom and I thought it was cool to see her at work in the restaurant. She even said goodnight to us as we left so, you know, we’re pretty much besties now.

Anyway, I had heard good things about Sable and it did not disappoint – I thought our meal was excellent. The restaurant serves “social plates,” which are basically tapas-sized portions to share. I loved this as it allowed us to try a large variety of super tasty dishes. Here’s what we had:

Soft pretzels with smoked cheddar cheese dip: These were good, but they were the least inspired dish we had that night. It was basically like, “Yep, I’m eating a soft pretzel” and nothing more.

Watermelon salad with feta, basil, and arugula: I have been seeing watermelon and feta salads all over Pinterest lately, so when I saw this on the menu I knew it was a “must order.” My mom thought it was a bit too minty, but I loved it. Definitely a dish I will be attempting to recreate soon.

Sweet corn creme brulee: This was possibly my favorite dish of the meal which, I know, sounds weird since corn doesn’t seem that exciting. But the corn was delicious and quite tasty when paired with the creme brulee topping. Another dish I want to recreate on my own.

Buttermilk fried chicken and waffles with bourbon maple syrup: I have always wanted to try chicken and waffles, so this was another menu item I knew I wanted to order right away. These were crazy good, though I thought the bourbon flavor of the syrup was a bit too pronounced.

Lamb and tzatziki crostini: These were a special that night; my mom and I ordered them because, ever since we went to Greece a few years back, we have been all about tzatziki and Greek-inspired dishes in general. These were plenty tasty but not as special as the other dishes we tried.

Wild mushroom flatbread with goat cheese and white truffle oil: I wish Sable would just be honest and call this what it really was: a pizza. To me, the word “flatbread” conjures up a different looking dish in my mind. That quibble aside, this was really delicious. Cheese and truffle oil? Can’t go wrong.

S’Mores (fudge brownies, toasted mashmallow, and graham cracker ice cream): This dessert was amazing; I would seriously go back just to eat this. I thought the graham cracker ice cream was particularly tasty. This was the perfect way to end a great meal.

The Details: Sable Kitchen & Bar | 505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654 | 312.755.9704

Breakfast (and Lunch!) at Ann Sather

My mom visited Chicago a few weeks back, and one of the spots we decided we had to visit was the Andersonville neighborhood. In researching Andersonville, it seemed like the place to have breakfast was Ann Sather, a restaurant specializing in homey fare with a few Swedish favorites thrown in for good measure. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast there and then set out for several hours of shopping in Andersonville (more on that in another post). When lunchtime rolled around, we couldn’t settle on a restaurant…so we went back to Ann Sather! They sat us at almost the exact same table, but luckily we didn’t get the same waitress. If you go to a place twice in one day, you know it has to be good!

My breakfast: a Swedish waffle, sausage, and good coffee:

One more shot, if only because heart-shaped waffles are super cute:

My mom’s fruit and granola:

My lunch – the delightfully named Swedini Panini (turkey, melted cheese, and lingonberry jam):

The Details: Ann Sather | 5207 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 | 773.271.6677

Recent Dinner Eats: Old Town Pour House and Bar Toma

I’ve already blogged some recent breakfast and lunch eats in Chicago; here are a few recent dinners as well. It’s my last week in the city and it’s starting to hit me – I’m really going to miss some of these places!

Old Town Pour House:

I went to Old Town Pour House with friends before we went to Second City – I would say it’s a perfect spot to grab a meal or drinks before the show. I had a cherry beer that tasted a lot like cherries and only a little like beer, making it a clear winner in my book (I’m not such a fan of beer). We also had mini pretzel bites and an interesting cheese plate – some really great flavors, and a few odd ones.

The Details: Old Town Pour House | 1419 North Wells St., Chicago, IL 60610 | 312.477.2800

Bar Toma:

I’ve visited Bar Toma twice but only have one set of (not so great) pictures. Bar Toma has an interesting selection of appetizers (including black licorice potato chips – not my thing), but where they really succeed is their diverse selection of pizzas. Pictured above is my Spaniard pizza (chorizo, cilantro, and cheese), but I also really enjoyed the Gamberi pizza (shrimp and pesto) that I had at another visit.

The Details: Bar Toma | 110 East Pearson St., Chicago, IL 60611 | 312.266.3110