with gallery: Mercy's steps up its game with new chef, new menu approach
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When I first reviewed Mercy's, located in The Bell Tower Hotel, just after it opened two-and-a-half years ago, I was disappointed. Mediocre, high-priced food and extremely slow service all were turn-offs. Yet recently, I've been hearing some positive reports from friends who have visited the restaurant, and it cheered me to see that it has managed to stick around.
As a restaurant critic, I do feel it's my job to tell readers whether a restaurant is worthy of the prices it charges. But I don't root for new establishments to fail. Quite the contrary: I hope that each new eatery will thrive and further contribute to the area's lively, exciting restaurant scene. So I was eager to find out if Mercy's had improved. And it has.
A huge asset to Mercy's is complimentary valet parking, since it's nearly impossible to find a parking spot in this area of town. I was interested in checking out the offerings of Mercy's recently hired new chef, Frank Fejeran, who was previously a chef at the esteemed Tribute restaurant in Farmington Hills, which closed in 2009.
He spearheads a seasonal menu that changes four times a year.
300 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, Happy Hour 4:30-6 p.m. with discounted appetizers, dinner, 5:30-9 p.m.; Friday, Happy Hour 4:30-6 p.m., dinner 5:30-10 p.m.; Saturday, dinner 5:30-10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express.
- Liquor: Yes
- Prices: Expensive.
- Noise level: Moderate
- Wheelchair access: Yes
"They have French flavors, but they look Asian," he said. Fejeran is also bringing in more produce and meats from area farmers markets, continuing that local theme with the use of Mighty Good Coffee.
Mercy's has a menu that's not so expansive as to be overwhelming. It specializes in meat, seafood and pasta. The down side is that there are not abundant choices for vegetarians. However, for those following a gluten-free diet, all of the main dishes except the gnocchi can be made gluten free, says Stentzel.
But focusing on a few key items—and doing them well—has proven to be a great strategy for Mercy's. I thoroughly enjoyed the goat cheese onion tart, a triangular-shape that resembled a piece of pie, crumbly and flavorful. However, dividing the tiny piece among the four of us proved to be a challenge; there simply wasn't enough.
Mercy's offered an autumnal version of the Indian samosa, which was made with curried butternut squash, lightly fried but not greasy. It was a hit, served with refreshing cilantro-yogurt sauce. Dumplings were fine, though a bit bland and rubbery. Soy and chili dipping sauces provided essential kick.
Four giant sea scallops were tender and moist, absolutely delicious, as was the fresh cobia fish, pan seared and served with creamy leeks and pancetta-braised kale. My Cornish game hen was also great, soaked in a maple brine for two days.
I was particularly impressed by the way Mercy's cooked its greens. I usually eat these vegetables because I know they're healthy, yet I often find them bland, with a cardboard texture. But the pancetta-braised kale served with the cobia was amazing, as were the Brussels sprouts. Flash-fried and topped with salt, the preparation was simple, yet resulted in full flavor. Those flavors were further nurtured by a sauce that spilled over from the Cornish game hen, an apple cider jus.
Some of Mercy's autumn-themed dishes missed the mark. My husband's butternut squash gnocchi were dry and tasted like one giant sweet potato. And though Steve Kasle seemed to think the carrot cake bread pudding was a wonderful idea when he saw we had ordered it, I consider it a failed experiment. What I most enjoy about carrot cake is the moist texture and cream cheese frosting. Losing that, and adding a dense bread pudding to the already rich carrot cake ingredients, simply didn't work.
Happily, we devoured the brownie sundae, a wonderfully rich, gluten-free brownie topped with caramel and fudge and served with creamy vanilla ice cream. A tiny glass of milk that came with it was a nice touch.
The dishes are still pricey, in the $20 to $30 range for an entree, which includes fresh French bread but nothing else. And the portions are modest.
We were enjoying our company so much we didn't mind the leisurely pace of the meal, but food was served in a reasonable amount of time. The main course was delivered just as we were taking the last bites of the appetizers. The server was incredibly pleasant, and the owner was making the rounds, checking in on all the customers.
I am pleased to report that Mercy's has rebounded since it first opened. It's definitely a restaurant I would now recommend if you're interested in a more upscale dining experience.