There’s a bumper sticker that reads “Ann Arbor: 25 square miles surrounded by reality”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that fair city, allow me to explain the joke. Ann Arbor (or A2 as it’s known in shorthand), home to the University of Michigan, is a liberal enclave where people are SO like-minded that after spending some time there, you’re apt to be lulled into forgetting that other places aren’t as progressive. For someone coming from another city (especially Detroit), going to Ann Arbor is akin to going to Disneyland’s Epcot Center; like visiting a staged example of what a mid-sized Midwestern city could be if everyone shopped at a food co-op, recycled, volunteered, or was otherwise groovy. Everywhere you go, there is evidence of A2′s crunchy leanings: a yoga studio every other block; houses painted various shades of the rainbow; people biking and walking more than they drive. The city hosts an annual Hash Bash (they’re known for their lax marijuana laws), has a high school where kids aren’t given grades, and allows people to keep chickens in their backyards.
Saturday Scarlet Oaks had a show in A2: a fundraiser, held in an urban barn (see photos above & below), in which people were asked to donate art supplies as part of their admission. It was a gorgeous day out, so my friend Melissa and I decided to head out there early so we could wander around, get some food, and basically be tourists. Lest you get the impression by my comments above that I’m somehow hating on Ann Arbor, let me assure you that’s not the case- there are few better places a drive’s distance from my house to spend a sunny afternoon. The downtown area is eminently walkable, and features scads of cute shops, restaurants, cafes etc.
The city is as close as one can get to a food-lover’s paradise in the Midwest. In addition to many great restaurants (several in the budget category- this is a college town after all), A2 boasts a lovely farmers’ market and several gourmet shops. Most notably, it’s home to the nationally-known Zingerman’s mini-empire (deli, restaurant, dairy, and bakery), whose philosophy leads them to source and serve only the best quality slow and sustainable foods. Folks here are very active in the local and organic food movements- a blogging friend runs a business called Locavorious, selling local foods frozen at harvest to be eaten through the winter months; another blogger runs Preserving Traditions, a group that hosts workshops on canning and such. Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers is in Ann Arbor and its environs.
Our singer Steve grew up around Ann Arbor and knows all the good spots, so at his suggestion we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Sadako. He and his wife had raved about how good it was, and how cheap (for sushi)- a rarity. (I realize “cheap” is not necessarily a word you want to associate with sushi, but trust me, the quality was not proportional to the low prices!) We ordered off the lunch specials menu, opting for bento rather than sushi rolls. For a mere $7.45, I got an incredible amount of food: miso soup, a small side salad, 2 gyoza, an assortment of tempura (including 2 shrimp), teriyaki-glazed salmon with vegetables, and 4 pieces of California roll. I was pretty much in awe of what a great deal this was, and felt a little guilty that I couldn’t finish everything. I made a valiant effort though, and finished most of my bento. Note to self: in the future, only eat half the miso; it’s good but fills valuable stomach space that could be better spent on tempura!
Happily sated, we continued across town to Kerrytown, the neighborhood which houses the farmers’ market, Zingerman’s deli, and some other shops. Melissa wanted to visit Hollander’s, a huge shop specializing in paper goods. (As I left, I happened to see that the entire upper level is devoted to kitchen/ housewares… a good thing I didn’t notice sooner, as I probably would have spent an entire paycheck and/ or browsed so long that I would’ve been late for our set!) I bought a set of postcards with illustrations of vegetables from old seed packets, which I’ll frame and use as kitchen decor.
After Hollander’s, we headed up the block to Zingerman’s where I was hoping to find verjus. The place was ridiculously packed; the line winding through the shop and several feet out onto the sidewalk. The helpful employee I asked told me that they didn’t currently carry verjus, because they hadn’t yet found a brand up to their standards! We geeked out on vinegars, and he gave me a few outstanding samples, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to part with $20 for a bottle. Next visit I’ll save my pennies in anticipation of dropping some serious cash there. (Ahem, if you ever need a gift idea for me, they have gift cards!)
Our show was a lot of fun; it’s always a nice change of pace to play during the daytime and not in some smoky bar (19 more days!!!). Unfortunately for the fundraising effort there weren’t a ton of people there, but the sound was good and we got an enthusiastic reception. After our set, we grabbed some carry-out and beer and headed to a friend’s house to sit on the porch and enjoy the last few rays of sun before heading back to the reality of Detroit.
As you might expect, living in such an idyllic town does not come cheap. Although property values have taken a hit as they have everywhere, they are much higher in A2 than most MI cities, and ironically, economic and ethnic diversity is the casualty of this gentrification (lower-income folks who work in Ann Arbor mostly live in neighboring Ypsilanti).
Once again I am doing my Daring Kitchen post at the last possible second… I was planning to make the sushi last weekend but got busy, blah blah. I’ve made sushi at home before, so I guess I thought it would be no big deal to go to the store at noon-ish and have the sushi made in time to be able to take daytime photos and post by this evening. Long story short, all the sushi got made, but it took over 3 hours and I didn’t even get to photograph the dragon roll. It’s just as well- I was rushing so much that it didn’t look like much of anything worth photographing. It tasted great though- I modified a favorite roll from our usual sushi joint, Noble Fish (a restaurant/Japanese grocery, where I got the supplies for the sushi).
Sushi chefs have been doing California rolls since the ’80s; the chefs at Noble went even further south to Mexico for inspiration. The Acapulco roll is one we frequently order- an inside-out roll with tuna, avocado, jalapeno, and rolled in cilantro leaves. Noble Fish uses pickled jalapenos, but I opted for fresh, and added a little cucumber since I had some left over. I made the first Acapulco roll with the cilantro inside and the avocado on the outside (that was supposed to be my Dragon roll), but wasn’t that thrilled with how it turned out so I made the rest as “normal” sushi rolls.
In addition to the Acapulco roll, I made a spicy California roll (pictured above- avocado, carrot, cucumber, and shrimp with sriracha mayo) and some salmon and eel nigiri. I lucked out and found a whole barbecued eel (unagi) in the freezer section- I think they cook it and vacuum-seal it right there at the store. They even gave me a couple extra packets of eel sauce to go with it. The eel was a bit pricey but when you compare it to buying nigiri in the restaurant it’s still much cheaper (same for the raw salmon & tuna I bought). I wish they sold live eels- that would REALLY be a daring challenge to barbecue an eel! (I actually have had grilled eel before, in Sardinia, and it was delicious, but it was a bit odd watching them writhe around in the bag on the way home from the store!)
If I ever get a bug to make sushi again, I’ll be sure to take some nice beautiful shots of my Acapulco roll. However, I think the verdict may just be that sushi is one of those things best left to the pros. I saved a little money making it myself, but three hours is a long time for something that gets devoured in a few short minutes! If you’re thinking about making it yourself, though, I highly recommend the flavor combination of the Acapulco roll. Cilantro+sushi=yum.
I’ve been making a version of this deconstructed sushi salad for years. It’s easy and satisfies my craving for sushi without having to fuss with rolling it up. It’s also a lot cheaper than an order of carryout sushi! This time around, I made it with brown rice to go with the “heart-healthy” theme we chose this month on the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers blog (and discovered I liked it better than with white rice). The salad also contains avocados and yellowfin tuna, all foods that are recognized for their heart-healthy benefits. (I feel a bit sheepish; as I write this, my blog masthead is of a bunch of raw, fatty beef, about the most un-heart-healthy food out there!) I will tempt you (hopefully) with a few photos, but please hop over here to the MLFB blog for the full post with recipe. (And for another hearth-healthy brown rice salad recipe, check out this post.)
Highlights and lowlights: The best thing we ordered, hands down, was the Monster Roll. It had salmon, avocado and some other stuff, but the best part was the seaweed it was topped with- it had the most amazing texture and looked like green Medusa hair. I was wondering where they source it from and wish I had asked… Next time! The pork gyozas were on the top of my list as well. Not so great was the tempura. We ordered shrimp and sweet potato, and the dipping sauces were really bland and uninspired. But I would definitely come back… the atmosphere is cooler than any of the other sushi restaurants in RO or Ferndale.