In Michigan, Mingling the Old with the New

Ahhhh vacations…. Recently we traveled to Michigan for a wedding and a baby shower in the lower half of the state; followed by a family vacation in picturesque Emmett County in the very northwestern tip of the lower peninsula. Our first leg of the trip took us to the Ann Arbor area, home of the University of Michigan, my alma mater. I was looking forward to some reminiscing from my college days—and to show Russ around the beautiful campuses.

Since several family members would be busy with a rehearsal dinner the night before my nephew’s wedding, we knew to make advanced dinner reservations. Having researched Ann Arbor’s top restaurants, the Pacific Rim came to the forefront, an upscale fine-dining establishment serving contemporary pan-Asian cuisine that draws from the best of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food. What I didn’t know, was that it was Restaurant Week. Luckily the host was able to squeeze us in for a 7:30 reservation.

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The Pacific Rim is nestled between many store fronts lining Liberty Street.

Our hotel was about 15 miles outside of Ann Arbor so we had to drive in for dinner. Navigating our way through a busy Friday night on Liberty Street, Russ decided to let me out so I could claim our table and he could go park. I was mentally patting myself on the back for pre-booking because the place was packed and spilling out onto the sidewalk—yet within five minutes, I was shown our seats.

We could choose from the regular menu, or get 3 choices for only $28 on the Restaurant Week Menu… what’s to decide??

The waitress explained that we could order from the regular menu, or from the prix fixed Restaurant Week menu, which had a limited, but tempting number of selections. On it, you could choose one from each of three courses, all for the low price of only $28—what a steal!! When our waitress asked about drinks, I mentioned my husband was parking the car and should be along shortly… or so I thought…

After reviewing both menus several times, scanning every inch of the interior, and deceptively eyeballing the other patrons for 20 minutes, I finally decided it was time to call Hubby and find out where the H he was. Panic set in when I realized I must have left my cell phone back in our hotel room.

Another 10 minutes went by, and still no sign of my other half. Now I’m panicking. I begin thinking he didn’t know which restaurant he left me at, and couldn’t call me because I had no phone. Finally I decided to make a plea with the host. In a not-so-calm manner, I explained my dilemma and asked if there was a phone I could use to try and call Russ.

With a smile on his face, the youngish host pulled his cell phone from his pocket and said I was welcome to use it. Talk about a relic, it was a model from the 1990’s before flip phones—a technological dinosaur!  But hey, who’s going to kick a gift horse in the mouth?
An exact replica of the cell phone the host handed me!

When no one was picking up on the other end, I realized Russ would not recognize the number and probably not answer. But before I succumbed to full-blown hysteria, he did answer and irritatingly explained he was trying to call me while he sat in line in a parking lot that was not moving AT ALL in either direction, and he had no idea how much longer he would be.

After verifying he knew at which restaurant to find me, I hailed our waitress and ordered a bottle of wine to appease my rattled self. Luckily so, because it took Russ another 15-20 minutes before he walked in the door—all said and done, nearly 1 hour from the time he dropped me off!

By now, I knew the menu backward and forward and regaled Russ with my knowledge, resulting in agreement to order from the special menu. The selections were decidedly western in commitment of using top-notch ingredients, with a reliance on basic French techniques and an emphasis on freshness and seasonality. Right up our alley!

Lynn’s crab cake from Course One.

Russ chose the lettuce wraps as his first selection.

For the first course I chose the Pacific Rim Crabcake made with Australian crabmeat, served with a cilantro-lime sauce and a spicy mango salsa. Not a fan of the crispy wontons, I pushed those aside. Russ opted for the Vietnamese Beef Lettuce Wrap with tender cubes of marinated beef sautéed with red onions, served with Boston Bibb lettuce and pickled daikon. We were off to a great start.

This coconut-curry soup was exquisite.

The spring salad was Russ’ second choice.

Next up, I selected the Coconut-Curry Soup, green curry soup with sweet potatoes, butternut squash and shiitake mushrooms—in a word, divine! The Mr. elected to dine on the Spring Salad with Soy-Balsamic Vinaigrette with mixed spicy greens, radish, turnips, spiced pecans, fresh mozzarella cheese and a soy-balsamic vinaigrette. With each bite, our earlier tensions now gave way to a more relaxed mode…

While there were six options for Course Three, for our final choice we both chose the Korean-Marinated Ribeye, consisting of thin slices of grilled Certified Angus ribeye, with sesame crispy rice, sautéed julienned vegetables, quail egg and Korean chili sauce (which I asked for more of)—Fantastic!

We both gravitated to the Korean ribeye as our final choice.

Not ready to call it a night when dinner was over, we took a quick drive (with no parking issues) to a well-known landmark, the Gandy Dancer, where I fondly remember having my college graduation dinner a few decades ago. I was thrilled to see that it was still a working establishment, and with no reason to rush back to the hotel, we decided to go there for an after-dinner drink.

Russ seated on the Gandy Dancer’s patio.

The beautifully restored 1886 Michigan Central Depot is surrounded by cobble stone streets. Known as a popular wedding destination, there was an outdoor wedding reception in full swing when we arrived, and we scored great patio seats where we could enjoy the band on a balmy mid-June night.

Lynn enjoys a glass of wine while listening to the band.

It was definitely a memory-jogger going back to Ann Arbor. And while many of my old haunts had gone the way of locomotives, I was enamored of the progress and the youthful energy it still possessed. With a week and a half of vacation still ahead of us, we were looking forward to new adventures…

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