Making a Mark
by Lee Lawrence
From the June, 2018 issue
The many meanings of Dolores--a woman's name, a park in San Francisco, and a Spanish word for pains or sorrows--are all tied together at a new, unmarked restaurant in downtown Ypsilanti. The restaurant opened in February in the former Elbow Room on Washington St. For owners Andrew Epstein and Marcela Rubio, it reflects several years of unexpectedly tough renovation and labor (pains and sorrows) culminating in a Mexican eatery (with the easily pronounced and remembered Latina name) that also celebrates the spot where Epstein proposed to Rubio (the San Francisco park). Because of a dispute with city officials about appropriate signage for the historic Art Deco building, the restaurant for now is indicated only by its address--the number six above the door--and its distinctive curved red front.
Inside, the couple has completely transformed the space from a dark, gritty saloon into a light-filled, stylish, casual restaurant and bar. Music still happens on some evenings--Epstein himself is a bass player--but the emphasis now is on craft cocktails and light Mexican fare.
A Daisy de Santiago cocktail, rum laced with a bit of yellow chartreuse and lime--suggested by the friendly bartender--eased me into my first visit. Studying the menu while awaiting my husband, I plotted our late dinner--small bowls of elegantly presented chicken tortilla soup and charro beans (soupy pintos heavily enhanced with bacon and ham), followed by two generously laden fried fish tacos and a quesadilla oozing creamy corn, roasted poblanos, and cheese. When we asked for guacamole, the bartender kindly provided a side of the freshest-tasting version I've ever had outside of someone's home. Three house-made salsas sang whichever note we needed--salsa roja the mild tomato-y standard; green salsa taquera the piquant, chunky, vegetal combo of chilies, onion, and garlic; and salsa morita the smooth, biting, smoky overtone.
The entire meal, light but incredibly flavorful, made us ask ourselves if we wanted another round, but we resisted--or mostly resisted, succumbing to dessert. The churros (thick, ridged sticks of
fried-dough pastry) were the one oddity of the meal--small and rather flat and served with Nutella or condensed milk rather than the more typical thick chocolate dip. Still, we had ourselves a new Ypsi favorite.
But an Ypsi First Friday in May, when the town opens its doors late for an art and music walk, seemed to leave Dolores reeling. A DJ spun music, and the place was hopping. After the bartender quickly slung us a couple of drinks and the hostess, after a short delay, seated us, we waited, unacknowledged, at a table for twenty minutes, watching the staff, harried expressions on their faces, run in circles, spending inordinate amounts of time at the point-of-sale station or in the kitchen. Finally my husband flagged down Epstein. Once our order was taken, the food came out fairly quickly, but the house-made chips, apparently dredged from the bottom of the bin, were more crumbs than triangles. The guacamole was still superb, as was the elote, corn-on-the-cob slathered with mayo, cheese, lime, and chili powder. (Tip: order your own cob; it's too good to share.) But frijoles de la olla (pot beans) tasted bland and unsalted, and the chorizo-potato flautas (stuffed, rolled, fried corn tortillas or "flutes") were heavy on the tortilla and light on the filling. Tacos de carnitas (braised pork) were fine, and the three salsas added vibrancy to the duller items, but the wait to receive and settle the bill (though the place had, by then, half emptied) left us tired and impatient.
Epstein and Rubio had suggested lunch service would begin within the first few months, but right now, Dolores remains dinner only. Given the difficulties the staff had on a busy night, I suspect the restaurant is still finding its rhythm. Having provided so much to sing about on that first visit, though, Dolores appears to have the talent to succeed, hopefully by my next visit. I'll pick a quiet evening.
6 S. Washington, Ypsilanti
Sun. & Wed.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-midnight. Closed Mon. & Tues.
Starters, tostadas, soups, and salads $3.50-$6; small quesadilla, flauta, and taco plates $4-$9.
Vegetarian menu items
[Originally published in June, 2018.]
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