Black Pearl's winning dish
by Sally Mitani
Black Pearl's fish taco has won either Best of Show, Best Entree, or both at Taste of Ann Arbor three out of the last four years (downstairs neighbor Melange won in 2011). Co-owner Jan Z. Cohen ("there are at least three other Jan Cohens in Ann Arbor, so I like to put in the Z") struggles to explain why out of the roughly forty competitors, it consistently does so well. Obviously, she believes it starts with a quality fish taco: "It's been a top seller [at the restaurant] for five years. We get people from California, Texas, the Southwest, who say our tacos are the best." The website foodandwinehedonist.com even posted a recipe that claims to duplicate them.
But when she noted that Black Pearl has also taken three firsts in the "Artini" contest (2009, 2010, and 2012), Cohen realized her manager Michael Hole might be playing an even bigger part than she realized. For the Ann Arbor Art Center fundraiser, participating restaurants/bars serve an original cocktail, and participating customers vote for their favorites. Like Taste of Ann Arbor, "Artini is a high-pressure event, in which you're also trying to run a regular restaurant at the same time. We always have a line out the door, from beginning to end." Hole, she says, not only can stand up to the pressure, he flourishes under it. "He's out there greeting every person, and treating them with efficiency and kindness. As opposed to 'We're out of that!'"
As for the fish taco itself, Observer restaurant critic and taco lover Lee Lawrence has never tried it, but looking over the Food and Wine Hedonist recipe, she emails: "sounds delicious to me. Fried fish with slaw, mayo and avocado in a corn tortilla--what can go wrong?"
[Originally published in August, 2013.]