Mediterrano refocuses and refreshes its menu
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Ever since it opened 17 years ago, I've had a soft spot for Mediterrano and have dined there frequently through the years. The food has never disappointed. I often return to my favorites, which include Turkish vegetable burec and gorgonzola salad, while my husband frequently carries out his favorite butternut squash ravioli. So I was delighted to be asked to check out the restaurant's new menu. I had a strict rule: no relying on the standbys. I wanted to see how the chef would handle the new offerings.
Chris Huey, a sous chef at Logan for five years, took the helm as executive chef five months ago. Previous to Logan, he worked at the highly acclaimed (now closed) Tribute in Farmington Hills, a pricey establishment known for a premier dining experience.
He says his goal is to modernize the menu and focus more on seasonal dishes. For example, he nixed the tomato caprese salad, since he said it can be served only two months out of the year, when the ingredients are freshest. A charmoula grouper is off the menu, replaced by a Great Lakes walleye that comes to the restaurant fresh every day. Camarones de tortillas have been replaced by crab cakes with romesco sauce.
Huey has also added a tasting menu with wine pairings. He's pared down the total number of dishes from 47 to the high thirties, with a goal to reduce it by a few more. "You can't make perfect food if your menu is too big," he said.
The restaurant has a lovely bistro feel, with wide open space and wood floors that lend a contemporary feel. Bright yellow walls are the backdrop for an eclectic mix of sculptures, paintings and royal blue booths. When possible, I opt for a booth, as it better absorbs the sound. It can be hard to hear your dining party if you have a table in the middle.
Meals always start with the restaurant's fresh bread tapenade, which Huey said he was happy to keep. The wonderful spread is a mix of high-quality olives, garlic, chile and lemon juice and is always a highlight.
2900 S. State St., Suite #7, Ann Arbor
- Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, dinner only, noon-9 p.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express
- Liquor: Full bar
- Prices: Expensive. Many entrees are $20-$30
- Noise level: Can be loud.
- Wheelchair access: Yes
Huey has put his stamp on all the menu items, executing a stunning presentation of the food, as well as dishes that have decidedly upscale flavors and ingredients. In some cases, this works, as with the salmon carpaccio appetizer, slivers of delicious, fresh smoked salmon, accompanied by a light, yet flavorful, citrus and dill sauce.
I also enjoyed the unusual gruyere soup, which had a thick flavorful broth, along with a small popcorn puree located in the middle, which provided a burst of flavor. The crab cake was slightly dry but generally tasted great, and melded well with the slightly spicy romesco sauce.
I'm pleased that some of the restaurant's best offerings remain. That includes the gorgonzola salad: fresh greens tossed with walnuts dried cranberries and gorgonzola cheese, a dish so simple, yet wonderful, that I frequently make it the focus of my lunches here and made an exception to the "no standbys" rule. The Caesar was similarly first-rate, with fresh parmesan, homemade croutons and an appealing dressing. Soup au pistou suffered from being served lukewarm.
Huey has scored hits with some of his new entrees. My favorite was the Cornish game hen. The server presented the roasted, unadorned, hen to us first in a dish, which I thought was pretentious and unnecessary; I don't need to see my entrees before they're plated. But when the final dish did appear, it was amazing. The moist hen was stuffed with preserved Meyer lemons and seasoned with rosemary and thyme. It was surrounded by a creamy potato puree and wonderful braised Swiss chard with house-smoked bacon.
Another new offering, plump seared scallops bathed in a buerre blanc sauce, were so fresh they nearly melted at the touch of a fork. The roasted lamb rack was also a great choice. Perfectly cooked with herbs and dijon mustard, the meat was tender and flavorful and was complemented by incredibly rich, creamy mashed Yukon potatoes.
But other new dishes fell short. You have to be extremely enamored of mushrooms to enjoy the special we ordered, the morel pasta. This will soon become a regular menu item. The homemade pasta was doused with porcini and chanterelle mushrooms, along with a morel cream sauce and topped with scallops and shrimp. It was a bit too rich for my taste, and the tiny chilis sprinkled throughout were overpowering.
My husband grudgingly stayed away from his treasured butternut squash ravioli, and the dishes he tried on both visits were average. His first choice, the gnudi pasta, another new entree, involves much effort to prepare. A small amount of parmesan is rolled into a small ball, laid on semolina flour, dusted and then spun. After a few days, the cheese melts into the semolina and creates a pasta dough. In the end, it resembles, and tastes like, small balls of mozzarella cheese. Though it may be a delicacy, I didn't find it particularly interesting.
On the second visit, my husband tried the pan-seared walleye. The bland fish was not significantly improved by the charmoula that was used, though I particularly liked the couscous cooked with saffron and dried fruits that accompanied it.
Mediterrano once had an impressive range of dessert offerings, with a variety of rich treats displayed in a case. Huey says they were frozen desserts purchased elsewhere and now everything is made in house.
Like the rest of our dishes, the desserts we sampled had a gourmet flair. The chocolate dessert consisted of chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream and chocolate squares and was quite good, with hazelnut adding a delicious flavoring. The raspberry cake was an odd concoction, consisting of two meringue circles, with lychee, a Japanese citrus fruit, on the bottom. As more of a dessert traditionalist, I didn't particularly care for it and thought the flavor wasn't particularly appealing.
Our final choice featured a cylinder of passion fruit mousse laid on top of a muscato cake and was garnished with a graceful spiral of chocolate. The bite-size portion was refreshing and delicious; its stunning execution reminiscent of a Tribute dessert.
We had dramatically different serving experiences on two recent visits. On our first visit, our server was uppity, brisk and cold and took a lengthy amount of time to deliver our entrees. I felt as if I was troubling her asking her for recommendations. In a place as pricey as this, where many entrees are in the $27-$30 range, served a la carte, I would expect more. And we got it on our second visit, with a congenial server.
With its high prices and upscale flair, Mediterrano now has a less down-to-earth attitude. And while some dishes were outstanding, and worthy of what you would find in a high class restaurant, others weren't exceptional. Still, I applaud management for trying to experiment with new approaches, and Huey's ambitious spirit is to be commended.