Other dishes require a bigger appetite: the portobello ravioli arrives with a chili-rubbed, goat cheese-stuffed salmon filet that had Zakalik's signature preparation written all over it--satisfying, inventive, lots of flavor. And the penne with sausage and Chianti sauce, which we chose as a second course one night, was irresistible. You see here how Zakalik manages--expertly, artfully--to walk the line between hearty and delicate: the sausage comes crumbled rather than in chunks, the peas are bright green and still firm. But on the table, it's easy to forget all that and dig in. You just want to eat it all and not share.
In fact, it was while eating these pasta dishes (which we did share) that we realized what dinner at Cafe Zola is all about: upscale comfort food for adults. We've seen the same trend in other Ann Arbor restaurants, like Zingerman's Roadhouse: take a selection of comfort food favorites and treat them with great creativity and expertise. But Zola's menu goes one step further to bring us not only comfort foods made fancy but upscale dishes brought down to earth, made homey. Here's a place where you can have your whole fish baked in parchment paper in a way that doesn't scare you (if you're timid about that sort of thing). Under Zakalik's hand, the food might be delicate, but it's never dainty. Whether it's from a nice place like Zola or from your grandmother's kitchen, comfort food never calls attention to itself--eating it, you don't need to think about much of anything other than how delicious it is, and maybe--maybe--whether you're being a little too indulgent.