Grange serves farm-to-table cuisine, but flavor has room to grow
Grange, which occupies the space that for years was Bella Ciao, takes vegetable preparation to a new level. The restaurant focuses on the latest “farm-to-table” philosophy that is intended to provide the freshest ingredients from as many local sources as possible, with produce clearly a highlight.
The buzz about the Grange was evident on our first visit shortly after its opening, when the wait for a table was two hours. We opted to make a late reservation instead, and were promptly seated when we arrived. Since the chef can’t predict which local ingredients will be available on a particular day, the menu changes from the one that’s posted on the web site.
I longed to try the leek tart and squash blossoms, but they weren't offered on either of our visits. (When we returned two weeks later, the menu was identical to that of our first visit.) Since there are only a handful of items available, many of them vegetarian, it’s best to call ahead that day and find out if there’s a dish you like.
As in most any pricey establishment — entrees are $20 and up, a la carte — the food is gourmet, displayed artfully on the plates in various eye-appealing formations.
We started with the chorizo, dates and blue cheese, a creative combination that worked well. All of the food was healthful, in my estimation almost too much so. It resembled what you might sample in a spa if you’re trying to slim down — spartan and lean instead of hearty. Portions are modest.
Green bean salad was simply a mix of green beans and greens in a bland dressing. The salad of greens was basically lettuce with hardly a touch of dressing to give it punch. It’s easy to dress up greens with a light dressing to provide an appealing taste, but this didn’t get me there. I enjoyed the fried green tomato, which had a flavorful sauce, though barely enough of it for the three giant tomatoes.
The fresh, house-made pasta was heaped with vegetables, including cauliflower, carrots, green beans, broccoli, artichokes and others. This was a vegetarian and dieter’s delight, which, again, I felt could have used a bit more pizazz with a slightly richer sauce.
When our server brought our entrees on the second visit, she said the chef recommended no salt or pepper with them. And I could see why.
Both the pan-roasted duck breast and the roasted chicken breast were too salty, though I enjoyed the crispy skin and moist consistency of the chicken breast and the tiny whole-grain salad served underneath the duck breast. In both cases, a heartier side dish, like the scrumptious potato puree that accompanied my son’s ribeye, would have been preferable. The potato salad that came with the chicken breast wasn’t really a salad at all — just some cut-up redskins. Perch suffered the same salty fate as the chicken and didn’t have any particularly memorable flavorings.
The server launched into a detailed explanation about the good care that cows get before they meet their demise in the form of a ribeye. The ribeye, happy cow that it once was, met the standard for a delicious cut of meat. Grilled halibut was part of an innovative stew that included chorizo and potatoes. It was one of the best dishes we sampled.
As for dessert, stick with the fruit offerings. The plum and ginger cobbler was a sweet mix of fresh fruit and sugar, made even more delectable by Calder Dairy’s vanilla ice cream. And the berry shortcake had a wonderful homemade shell and sweet blueberries and raspberries, swirled in fresh whipped cream. The chocolate cake we sampled the first time was rich and gooey, but laced with so much brandy that the taste of alcohol overpowered the chocolate. The chocolate raspberry cake we tried later had barely a trace of raspberries and was so dry as to make it unappetizing.
Our servers aimed to please. We had at least four of them check in on us during the course of our meal the first time.
I applaud Grange’s goal to support the local economy and emphasize fresh products, but the bottom line for me is whether these ingredients come together in memorable dishes that justify the expense. Grange still has some work to do before its dining experience can be considered fully worthy of its prices.
Grange Kitchen and Bar 118 W. Liberty St. Ann Arbor 888-995-2107 Grange Kitchen and Bar web site Hours: Monday-Thursday: 5-10 p.m.; bar open until midnight. Friday and Saturday: 5-11 p.m.; bar open until 1 a.m. Closed Sunday. Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover Liquor: Yes. Prices: Expensive. Entrees are $18-$31 and salad is extra. Value: Fair. Portions are modest. Noise level: Very loud. Smoking section: No. Wheelchair access: None for the restaurant proper, although there is limited sidewalk seating. Restrooms not accessible.
Photos by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com. Top: Grange server Alison Laesser-Keck opens a bottle of wine for Ann Arbor residents Steve Jaqua, center, and W.A.P. John on the second floor dining space of the new restaurant located at 18 W. Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. Left: The roasted chicken with green beans and fingerling potatoes in whole grain mustard sauce available at Grange, located at 18 W. Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor.