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Posted on Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 6 a.m.

Pacific Rim: Ann Arbor's creme de la creme

By Jessica Levine


Pacific Rim’s owner, Chef Duc Tang.

Jessica Levine I Contributor

Disclaimer: Pacific Rim is Ann Arbor’s crème de la crème, plating food that rivals (and, blessedly, in some cases, knocks out) the swank, smart and haute brasseries belonging to New York’s epicurean glitterati. As with my other local favorites — Metzger’s German Restaurant and Karl’s Cabin among them — Pacific Rim’s menu isn’t solely a reflection of the ingredients; instead, it speaks to where American and, more specifically, local cuisine stands in contemporary culture and gastronomy. Here is fusion, blends of old time flavors with innovative tastes and twists, led by a chef who’s bold enough to create dishes as unique as shitake pierogies and Thai-style fettuccine.

Welcome to Pacific Rim, owned by Chef Duc Tang. The following describes one of the best restaurant meals I’ve ever had.

First course
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, a place where the past hangs in the air like mist, a crossroads in every aspect of its culture, Duc (pronounced “Duke”) attributes his culinary choices to the flavors that distinguish his childhood home: lemongrass, curry, lime and cilantro. He has also lived in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York, places all known for their own signature food stuffs (Kowloon braised short-ribs and L.A.’s Korean barbeque tacos, say). Celebrating America’s melting pot of cultures and cuisines, Duc has combined those flavors while honoring their original integrity.

“The important thing for me is that my menu has precedence, that it is based on something original or authentic,” he said. “Then it becomes my interpretation of that dish, or my way of making that dish more accessible, more palatable and more elegant.”


Butternut Squash Puree.

Jessica Levine I Contributor

Elegant, indeed. First up for dinner was a house salad of fennel, pine nuts, onion and a light curry dressing (I stuffed this baby down with my slick, silver chopsticks). Next, much in the style of Asian fruit purees, a sampling of butternut squash puree — cinnamon, nutmeg, white wine and cream blended with the squash and served in a bowl shaped like a conch shell.

Exquisite, to say the least.

Second course
Duc describes Pacific Rim’s menu as contemporary Pan Asian in the way he interprets traditional Asian dishes. He insists, however, that he never mixes flavors distinct to certain regions. He explains that those mixes have historically gone awry.

“Over the years, the term ‘fusion’ has developed a negative connotation. [Asian fusion] has a connotation of forcing elements or flavors together that don’t belong together,” said Duc. “For me, I don’t like to go too far off the well-trodden path; using Asian flavors and flavor combinations with respect to their heritage are what keep them intact.”

What it comes down to is that food is a science. It is a thoughtful process led by minds who understand the Everyman’s base craving for the good stuff, the meals that have us literally licking our plates clean of all sauce squiggles and trimmings. Interestingly enough, Duc initially studied to become a physician (he graduated with a biochemistry degree from Yale) before he hit the restaurant biz running. This chef was trained to know the sum of parts, the mix and balance of the best ingredients to make any concoction whole.


Wasabi-Peppercorn Tenderloin.

Jessica Levine I Contributor

I tasted this practiced chemistry in his wasabi-peppercorn tenderloin, paired with mashed Yukon Golds and garnished with bok choy — these were surely ingredients that belonged together.

Unafraid of the untasted, Duc realizes his role as a true fusion chef. “By having Asian roots but growing up in America, I can bridge the gap,” he said.

Third course
I am no chef. Julia Child was a complete mystery to me before Meryl’s rendition on the big screen. But, I know food. I like food. The places I enjoy most really focus on the product they serve, more than the fabricated cache and ritzy trappings. And, though Pacific Rim’s ambience is elegant — the whole place is framed in soft orange and teak wood — it is also accessible. Welcoming and hospitable. Wholeheartedly defying expectations.

“For us, it isn’t about protocol or etiquette, but about the dining experience. It’s about building relationships and friendships. Eating food is just the vehicle for the interpersonal aspect of that dining experience,” said Duc. “Not adding tablecloths, for example, was a decision to make Pacific Rim less formal, to make it elegant but casual. People love the ambience and core.”


Crème Brûlée tasting (left) and warm chocolate cake.

Jessica Levine I Contributor

Poking at the center of my warm chocolate cake — which sent a delicious magma of chocolate fudge and sake-macerated cherries into the coconut Kahlua ice cream — it felt comfortable. Homey, though at a candlelit table, though served by a fella in a jacket. My second dessert, a tasting of green tea, cinnamon and pumpkin-flavored crèmes brûlées, had an equal effect — Julia I am not, but boy did I enjoy my entire dining experience.

Pacific Rim and its head chef are impressively bold, daily preparing amalgams of the old and new. It is truly fusion at its best.

Jessica Levine profiles the culture and history of Washtenaw County restaurants for Contact her at


Kristina Birk

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 4:30 a.m.

A suggestion, why not include the restaurant's address and phone number at the beginning or end of these profiles? Why force us to click through to the restaurant website for this information?

West Side Mom

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

Love Pacific Rim. The atmosphere is serene and unhurried; the wait staff is attentive yet unobtrusive. And the food is consistently delicious. Truly one of Ann Arbor's best restaurants.


Sun, Jan 23, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

An excellent write-up of this restaurant by Ms. Levine.....please contribute more articles to Very well thought out....I'm planning to go to Pacific Rim in the near future.


Sun, Jan 23, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

In response to Juno-- I did not claim that a professional cook has to review anything, only that someone should know something about a subject before writing about it. I have no idea what your "professional" credentials might be, but to me a puff piece is a puff piece is a puff piece. Good intentions are not enough. I repeat that I believe that it is this kind of uncritical writing about the AA restaurant scene that is partly responsible for the sorry state of restaurants here. It is not the main one--that is the high rents that make it so difficult for chefs to open their own places--but it contributes. This blog has certain responsibilities, and I do not believe that it lives up to them. Please, find a real reviewer, who knows and loves cooking and is not afraid to write the truth in a consistent manner. It would also be nice if the writing about food were not a footnote to the ads. Boosterism is not what we need ...


Wed, Dec 7, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

Personx mirrors my thoughts. I also am very fond of Pacific Rim, but I find the article more an advertorial in style than a critical look at an Ann Arbor institution. In fact, I hope that Pacific Rim one days again opens for lunch. As for Ms. Levine's favoring Metzger's German restaurant, I certainly do not get it. Their food (from one of Germanic heritage) was never that good and for years now has been close to inedible.

Jessica Levine

Sun, Jan 23, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

&quot;...I love Ann Arbor even more, a place with an exploding, ridiculously quirky and advanced food scene.&quot;--Anthony Bourdain, &quot;No Reservations: Heartland&quot; (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> ^That's my philosophy as well.


Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

@personX is totally wrong. I love this review, and I love Pacific Rim. Keep up the great work!


Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

I very much like this restaurant and agree with much of what this person says about it, but this is not a restaurant review. a) anyone who only heard about Julia Child from a biopic has no business writing reviews, no matter how enthusiastic they may be, and b) a review should not be a PR showcase for the owner. Real restaurant reviewers, and we seem not have not a one in AA, try to go to a place anonymously more than once, and, at a minimum, should have some experience with cooking and food, not to mention the ability to write good prose without cliche's. They do not interview the owner and pass all of that on. Pacific Rim is indeed one of the few truly good places to eat in our town, but the lack of critical appraisal hurts us all, because most of the downtown restaurants, and especially the ones on Main Street serve substandard fare at high prices. If they were properly judged, it might get them to do more than just coast. Most of us settle for bad cooking because there is hardly any alternative, although when we travel we would never be happy with the things we settle for here. But then, when a blog treats the openings of chain hamburger joints as major culinary news, it is hard to expect anything good.


Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

If you took the time to actually READ Ms. Levine's piece, you would see that she makes the distinction of profiling, and not reviewing, the restaurants she covers. Also, I disagree entirely with your assertion that only professional cooks can offer an opinion on food. That's like saying that only professional filmmakers can write about film, musicians about music, etc. As a former newspaper columnist and reviewer myself, I can say with PROFESSIONAL credentials that you clearly don't know what you're talking about here.


Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

good review.I felt I was there at the table with her

Jessica Levine

Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

Thank you for the kind words, @townie54!


Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Have you tried the pierogies? They sound interesting!!

Jessica Levine

Sat, Jan 22, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

I haven't, but I look forward to a return trip!