leave your inhibitions at the door
Is a good meal always a good meal, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you have it? Do you like it when a restaurant serves the familiar or do you not mind if it changes?
Pacific Rim’s family-owned, has been around for a long time, and is high-endish, so I’m supposed to be a good Ann Arborite and gush about how their food tastes amazing, is innovative, is Manhattan-worthy, and has cured people of lupus. Not going to happen. Unless they pony up with a discounted meal to try to
bribe me win me back.
It’s considered one of the best restaurants in town and got a mention in the New York Times’ “36 Hours in Ann Arbor, Mich.” It started as a family-owned Korean restaurant that, when it moved downtown in 2000, was taken over by their young son. He then teamed up with a chef friend to change it from traditional Korean to its current incarnation. Over the years it’s grown both in reputation and size, taking over the retail space next door.
There are a ton of Asian restaurants here (probably too many), but they mainly skew towards the casual and are fairly traditional to their region. For higher-end contemporary the other choices aren’t as good as Pacific Rim. Mercy’s is French-Asian but isn’t very inspiring – I went there, took pictures, and half-wrote a post on it until I got bored. The other, Melange, seems to have put its focus on their nightclub and has lost its way as a restaurant. Although, to be fair, I haven’t eaten there in a while. Again, here’s an opportunity for
a bribe consulting fee.
Drinks-wise, they have a pretty good selection of cocktails, wine, and beer. I ordered a Hitachino Nest White Ale and Boom Boom ordered a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Didn’t have anything else because we wanted to keep it mellow.
What We Ate
Apologies ahead of time for the shitty pictures – the place was dark. (And apologies after the fact for my use of the word “shitty.”)
The Unagi Terrine ($9) is their take on the dragon rolls you see on sushi lists everywhere – Marinated and broiled eel layered with avocado and sushi rice, served with a soy syrup and wasabi oil. We’ve had this many times before. The eel was tender and executed nicely. However, the eel sauce and pool of soy syrup made it a salt bomb.
Coconut-Curry Soup ($5)- Coconut-green curry soup with sweet potatoes, butternut squash and shiitakes. This was also really good and never fails with it’s balance of flavors. Kudos to them for providing the recipe on their site.
Korean-Marinated Ribeye ($25) – Thin slices of grilled Certified Angus ribeye, with sesame crispy rice, sauteed julienned vegetables, quail egg, and Korean chili sauce. The ribeye was tender and juicy but, DAMN, that’s a lot of veggies. They completely took over the meal.
Quinoa-Crusted Scallops ($27) – Pan-seared jumbo scallops with kohlrabi, fennel, edamame beans, served with coconut-jasmine rice and a carrot-lemongrass sauce. This is our favorite dish here and the scallops are always done perfectly.
- Farmers’ Market Salad ($8) – This was a special salad with produce supplied from the market – spicy spring greens, roasted beets, shallots, and some other stuff. Obviously, not very memorable.
- Thai Basil Pesto Fettuccine ($18) – Housemade fettuccini pasta tossed with seasonal vegetables, Thai basil pesto and a Chinese black bean sauce. Again too much of the vegetables overtook the meal.
We’ve also had in previous trips:
- Five-Spice Duck ($28)
- Japanese-Style Sablefish ($28)
- Pan Roasted Berkshire Pork Loin ($25)
Outside of going nuts with the vegetables, this was a pretty good meal. Their preparations of the the beef, scallops, and eel were done perfectly. And their judicious use of spice and balance of flavors were commendable. It may not have been as good as previous visits there, but it’s still better than most.
There are two big problems and they both have to do with their location here in Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor residents are fiercely loyal to homegrown talent – restaurants, bookstores, whatever. That’s generally good for keeping out big chains but in Pacific Rim’s case it has led to laziness. It really seems they’re just kicking back and living off their reputation. We’ve been there a bunch over the last six years and, outside of their daily specials, the menu has not changed one bit. There’s truly some talent back in the kitchen and at one point they had some fresh ideas about food. But they really do need to change things up if they want me to return. Heck, even McDonald’s and Applebees changes their menus more frequently.
The second problem caused by the steady stream of customers is that it gives them free reign to overcharge people. I usually don’t mention prices in my reviews because I usually don’t think it matters. But in this review I did because they are too high for these ingredients, small portions, and overall flavors. My Ribeye was basically a $25 dollar glorified Korean bibimbop which I can get elsewhere for $7. I can’t fault them for charging what the market will bear, but I think lowering their prices 10-15% would be about right.
Bottom Line: If this were the first or second time I ever ate there, I’d give it an unqualified “Ann Arbor Rocks.” But if you’re a “high-end” restaurant charging these prices, you have a responsibility to innovate. Otherwise, diners like me will get bored. Frequent contributor to this site The Sicilian has often questioned whether this place has the quality to survive in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. I say no.
So again I ask – Is a good meal always a good meal, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you have it? Is it wrong to think that with the high prices should come innovation? Am I being unfair? If you’ve been there, does it rock or does it suck?