Walking into the West End is taking a step out of time. The decor is dominated by an old railroad clock separating the bar from the front of the restaurant, and the ceiling is festooned with a collection of Tiffany light fixtures. Framed mirrors line the walls. Linen tablecloths and candles adorn the tables, which are just a shade too close together for the Grill to qualify as an intimate restaurant, although the wattage on the Tiffanies is certainly low enough for a romantic dinner.
Welcoming his guests with a friendly greeting and even humor, Pohlman exudes a warmth often missing from the formal dining scene. Servers follow his example, managing to combine genuine enthusiasm with almost Rain Man-like knowledge of the menu and its ingredients. This is necessary because of the West End Grill's unique (in Ann Arbor) menu system, which involves placing a small blackboard on each table--entrees on one side, appetizers and salads on the other--with only the briefest summary of each dish. The details are filled in by the servers, who meticulously describe each offering in mouthwatering detail. (Paper menus are available for diners who prefer them and for those seated at the bar.)
Starting with a cocktail, dismayed to learn they had neither Hendrick's nor Plymouth gin, I was nonetheless chuffed by the Bombay Sapphire martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives. Once the servers brought the basket of warm beignets--deep-fried bread dough--I was in no hurry for our appetizers, happily slathering the light puffs with herb butter (the server will substitute equally delicious baked rolls upon request).