New chef reinvigorates menu at Melange
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When I first reviewed Melange five and a half years ago, just after it opened, the food didn't quite measure up to the dazzling ambience. But recently, several foodie friends raved to me about the restaurant. I was eager for the chance to return and sample the offerings of the new chef, Chris Wanke, who took over in October and who had previously worked at The Moveable Feast in Manchester.
Wanke is hanging onto some of the restaurant's popular staples, like the river rock strip steak appetizer and the sea bass. "But he's changed the sauces and accompaniments to step it up," said Gwen Huffman, assistant general manager.
Melange remains a sophisticated spot, with take-your-breath away surroundings, starting with the giant clear glass door with an elaborate silver handle, beckoning you to enter. As you descend the stairs to the underground space, you feel like you're walking into a 1930s-era speakeasy. The colors are rich hues of red; the vibe is cool sophistication, with low lighting. Some dining parties are lucky enough to snag one of the more private oval-shaped pods, essentially semi-enclosed booths.
Melange has more than 15 wines by the glass and more than 100 by the bottle from many regions, including France, Italy and California. I started with a smooth tortoise merlot, full bodied and vibrant. My husband ordered the C&T Macon Villages French chardonnay, another standout. A member of our dining party opted for a Bloody Mary that was too spicy for my palate.
Melange boasts an extensive sushi menu. We decided to order two of the sushi choices as an appetizer. The fish in both the avocado-topped cali caterpillar maki and the zen maki tasted fresh with zesty accents. I particularly liked the clever way the sushi chef wrapped the zen maki roll in thinly carved cucumber.
312 S. Main St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Monday-Wednesday, restaurant is open from 4-10 p.m.; The bar is open until midnight with a late-night menu of appetizers, desserts and sushi. Thursday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m. for the restaurant; the late night menu is available until 1 a.m.; the restaurant is open until 2 a.m. Closed Sundays.
- Plastic: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Discover.
- Liquor: Full bar.
- Prices: Expensive.
- Value: Good.
- Noise level: Fairly loud.
- Wheelchair access: An elevator is accessible through The Ark next door.
Melange's menu focuses on traditional American fare, offering fish and other seafood, meat, poultry, pasta and beef dishes — with a European/Asian fusion theme. We sampled one of the "introduction" offerings, phyllo samosas, triangles filled with curry potato and green pea filling. They phyllo crust made this taste more like a heavenly pastry than the traditional Indian offering. The only drawback was that there were only four tiny triangles.
A member of our dining party opted to splurge on the 12-ounce Kobe beef, the champagne of meat. Perfectly seasoned and expertly prepared, it was rich and flavorful. Still, with a price tag of $43, I'm not sure it was worth it. The pan-seared scallops were so fresh and soft they melted with the touch of a fork and were accompanied by excellent fingerling potatoes.
At our server's recommendation, my husband sampled the Chilean sea bass, considered a house specialty. It was topped with cherry tomatoes and capers and drizzled with a sweet soy vinaigrette sauce, an ideal accent that provided essential punch to the fish. But "sample" is the best term, since the fish looked to be no more than an ounce or two, not enough to satisfy even a modest appetite. This was the only entree with a noticeably small portion.
I ordered duck, and I much preferred the moist, hearty leg to the slightly dryer pieces of breast that adorned the side of the plate.
Ordering — and eating — dessert here proved to be a fun experience, since the items are tapas size and are priced at an average of $2 apiece. For me, that's ideal, since I long to sample bites of a variety of sweet treats.
We tried one of virtually everything offered. I most enjoyed the Chocolate Devastation, a mini parfait glass full of chocolate mousse. Though I had to work my spoon delicately around the layer of cream to get to the mousse, it was so good we ordered more than one.
The cordial cake balls provided three chocolate lollipops, balls of chocolate cake on a stick. One paired chocolate cake with either Bailey's, Grand Marnier or coconut rum. Another joined chocolate cake with York peppermint patties, while others featured cookies and cream and Whoppers malted milk ball accents. Each combination was better than the next, and I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Service was leisurely yet attentive, and this is the type of restaurant where you want to linger, so it wasn't a problem. Unless you plan on just ordering light appetizers and dessert (or you're using a Groupon, as were many of the diners on a recent Saturday night), this is a pricey establishment. Many entrees are in the $25 range and are a la carte; salad is extra.
Still, I left here feeling like I had been treated to a great dining experience. I've changed my tune this time around. If you're looking for a first-rate special occasion destination, I now highly recommend Melange.