by M.B. Lewis
From the March, 2016 issue
A former restaurant reviewer once told me when she knew it was time to quit. First, she ran out of adjectives. Second, she realized she could not deal with yet another "Michigan salad."
If she could have held on until the reinvented Eve restaurant opened at the Bell Tower Hotel in late 2015, fresh adjectives would surely have surfaced to describe Eve Aronoff Fernandez' inspired "Forrest Butler Salad." While not officially a Michigan salad--Eve invented, and named it, for a longtime patron at her original restaurant in Kerrytown--it's a similar combination of dried fruit, nuts, cheese, and greens. Slivers of tangy dried apricots, even smaller snips of crystallized ginger, and toasted pistachios are joined with generous dollops of creamy Maytag bleu cheese; a sweet, sublime fig dressing sows crunchy round seeds through a diverse array of greens (including just-snipped sunflower sprouts).
The menu is full of such conscientiously creative offerings. Seafood and prosciutto lasagna, for example, is deconstructed into a giant planked and crisped noodle piled with sauced tomatoes, chunks of scallops and shrimp, goat cheese, spinach, cream, and a crisped prosciutto cap. Also surprisingly successful is lightly roasted pork tenderloin layered with curried pumpkin, apples, and greens--the sum loftier than its parts.
Patrons of Aronoff Fernandez' Frita Batidos downtown will recognize the coconut-ginger rice, black beans, avocado, chorizo, citrus accents, and abundance of creme fraiche, as well as the stark, whitewashed decor. As at the original Eve, the menu is an elegant yet bold fusion, building entrees around a global mash-up of spices and traditions. Curries, salsas, chilis, cheese, and herbs cozy up in the darnedest ways here, skewing Moroccan, Latin, and French, depending on the dish.
There's also expert simplicity, as illustrated in a daily rotating "simple fish," seasoned and seared to perfection, then plated with a "vegetable melange of season" like crisp, colorful chopped sauteed brussels sprouts. One night in February, the fish was sea-bass-like Malaysian barramundi, sturdy and sweetly tender like lobster, with the extra benefit
of a crisped browning.
"Best fish dish I ever had," a dining companion proclaimed.
The first plate to arrive--unordered, even before bread and butter--is a splayed array of cucumber spears, carrots of various colors, scallion greens, and adorable radish quarters, each still topped with a jaunty green leafy frond. A beaker of intense curried mayo dip accompanies the crudites plate, completing what has to be the most generous amuse-bouche around. It scores points both for health and brightness.
Next comes warm soft bread reminiscent of challah, brioche, or even Hawaiian or Portuguese rounds. As at the original Eve, it comes with sliced discs of house-compounded butter: herbed garlic, pink sweet guava, and brick-red cayenne. I liked all three, individually and as complements.
When the time finally comes to order, consider the "burnished quail" starter. Charred little leg bones are the pickup sticks for smoky dark meat morsels so full of flavor that the little pot of tropical fruit chutney seems unnecessary. You'll want to savor the quail's extraordinary flavor just as it is.
Less successful was a smoked-cheese cazuela: a clay pot mini-stew, which had potatoes and chilis but tasted mostly of onion. It scooped up awkwardly with both torn baguette and apple slices. The "inspired nachos," with high-quality cheeses and black beans piled on fried dough, might appeal to folks looking for an alternative to corn chips, but it's not Eve's most inspired or inspiring offering, by my reckoning.
The sweet potato soup of the season, on the other hand, was wonderfully creamy and smoky, with gently mashed roasted potatoes and amber bits of aged cheese. A meal-sized portion came in a large shallow bowl, the deal of the night at $6.
With so much going on before the entrees and incredible desserts hovering on the menu's last page, a word on timing: Meals here represent slow food in its fullest definition, and if you have time, they can stretch out graciously for hours. If you're headed for a show, on the other hand, you should know that the Thai barbeque half-chicken takes thirty minutes to prepare. We learned this from one of the servers on a first visit, who asked good questions and adeptly kept us on track for a seven o'clock movie.
I ordered the mushroom fricassee that night, which turned out to be the rare Eve dish wherein the parts (butter-fried ricotta gnocchi, mushrooms and cream, basil pesto) were fine, but the combo was too rich. Sauteed mushrooms and a fun little nest of coarsely textured lentil sprouts provided much-needed variation in texture and taste. An even more amazing kind of sprouts topped the Bibb salad: micro scallions that looked like tiny comets with long tails and shot a subtle chive-like flavor through the greens.
As we rushed to leave that first evening, disappointed not to have time for dessert, we were happy to receive a plate of beautiful candied mint leaves with the check. Under a frost of sugar crystals, they looked like a forest fairy's dessert and tasted fresh and sweet.
On a later visit with more time, I knew to order the Thai chicken early on. It was worth the wait. A generous and complex peanut-pepper rub flavored the brown crust fully and inner white meat more subtly. Two could easily share this entree.
With time to linger over coffee, the choice of dessert was difficult. Bypassing more experimentation (pancakes, ice cream, and a flight of three different maple syrups?), we went with the dense chocolate pot de creme, softly pillowed with sweet whipped cream. Even sweeter was apple cherry crumble doused at the table with maple sugar cream.
At the other end of the day, Eve serves a continental breakfast. A lot of the clientele is Bell Tower Hotel guests (they get the buffet gratis), and some arrive in PJs. Expect small batches of eggs with gouda, potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurt, baked goods and farm-style condiments, fresh-squeezed OJ, and endless coffee. Twelve dollars for all you can eat seems reasonable. Lunch is reportedly in the works.
Eve's creativity and attention to detail make these meals to savor and discuss--maybe even argue over. To avoid stress and disappointment, make a reservation, arrive early to enjoy amazing beet chips and herbed Marcona almonds with a drink at the bar--and know that the temptation to squeeze dinner in before a show could compromise your participation in the slow-food pageant that makes this boxlike room so colorful and full of life.
300 S. Thayer (Bell Tower Hotel)222-0711
Appetizers $11-$15, salads and sides $6-$10, entrees $26-$35, desserts $5-$7
Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.
[Originally published in March, 2016.]
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