The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Ann Arbor Eats – Vellum

When I heard that Vellum was “contemporary and seasonal” American fare, alarms went off in my head.  I had thought that it would be just another new entry in this ubiquitous farm-to-table/rustic trend.  You know, where locally-sourced food is used in simple preparations in order to highlight the quality and seasonality of the ingredients.  I think a big part of the rise in popularity of these places is due to the economy being in the tank for the past few years.  The message of simplicity resonated with diners who have actively scaled back in other parts of their lives.  It was time for America to tighten up, get rid of excess, and go back to what made this country great.  (Feel free to add your own Clint Eastwood-esque clichés.)

I’m totally down with being as much of a locavore as possible.  It supports local farmers, it’s better for the environment, the food is fresher, more nutritious, and downright tastes better.  What I have a problem with is the “rustic” or “simple preparation” part.  I’ve seen a lot of these restaurants charging $25-30 range for roasted chicken or salmon with vegetables.

I’m sorry.  I think I missed something.  These are things I make at home when I’m out of ideas on what else to cook.  Why would I want to order those (or one of the other “simple” items on the menu) in a restaurant?   And why would I pay crazy prices for them?  As sole grocery shopper in our household, I realize that quality, local ingredients can be expensive, but they don’t cost THAT much more.

So maybe the high prices have to do with labor which, to me, is even harder to justify.  If you’re a chef and you’re going to charge me $25 for a coupla pieces of chicken, you better work for it.  Don’t just throw it on a plate and pour a pan sauce over it with a sprig of parsley.  Give me something labor-intensive.  Give me something I can’t make or don’t have the patience to do at home.  Give me something special.

Enter Vellum, which is trying to bring back elegance, artistry, and service to the restaurant scene.  Peter Roumanis is the owner/chef who, although very young, has already had some terrific experiences worldwide.  His vision for Vellum is to take familiar food but apply new techniques, surprising flavor combinations, and innovative presentations.  The goal is to not only nourish, but to excite.  Now THIS is worth paying for.  I really hope this catches on.

Ann Arbor

The Space

V Space

The two-story first floor is a beautiful space that is at once traditional and contemporary.  The century-old floor is mixed with rich, dark woods and leather and there’s a beautiful staircase leading to the second floor.   But it’s also pretty sparse to give it that modern minimalist feel.  We were seated in second floor dining room which had just opened that night.  Compared to the first floor, this was a little disappointing.  Not only were the ceilings lower, but there was cheesy wallpaper and ugly carpet.  I’m not sure if there was something they were trying to achieve with the look, but it just didn’t have that elegance of the first floor.  We did notice, however, there was a small table sitting in the wine room that looked pretty sweet.

design

The Drinks

They have a great selection of cocktails, beers, and wine here.  While other restaurants in town might have wider selections, none of them has as intriguing a selection as Vellum.   For example, with beers there’s about a dozen different ones available.  In terms of volume, that’s on par with a lot of restaurants.  However, some of the beers here – like Kuhnenn’s Crème Brulee Stout and Flemish ale Duchesse de Bourgougne – are usually available in dedicated beer bars that have five times more beers.  Same goes with the wine selection as well.  We opted for the suggested wine pairings, so more on those later.

dining

The Food

There were several things we wanted to try, so the tasting menu seemed like an obvious choice.  There are two versions – a 5-course for $50 and a 7-course for $70.  We chose the 7-course and opted for the wine pairings for a reasonable $30 extra.  Upon the recommendation of our server, we ordered two additional starters so we had enough to eat.

Starter 1: Smoked walleye with apples and jalapeno emulsion.  This was just ok.  I thought the walleye tasted great but perhaps a little too thick, thus overpowering the apples.

 V smoke walleye

Starter 2: Bone marrow mousse, braised short rib, and glazed root vegetables.  This was fantastic.  I’d order that again in a heartbeat.

 V Marrow

ann arbor

restaurant

Now on to the tasting menu…

First course: Poached egg, with celery root puree, dates, and cider vinegar.  Wine pairing: Delamotte Brut Champagne, NV

 V egg

Second course: Charred Vegetables.  Wine pairing: 2011 Chateau de la Greiffere, Macon, White Burgundy (Chardonnay)

 V veg

Third course: Agnolotti, sweet potato, dried plums, chestnuts, amaretti crumbs.   Wine pairing: NV Alvear Amontillado (dry Spanish Sherry) – Sorry, no picture.

Fourth course: Pan-fried walleye, hand-pressed onion broth, shallot, brandade, apples.  Wine pairing: 2010 Domaine Charles Audoin, Marsannay, Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir)

 V walleye

Fifth course: Pork shoulder, belly, loin, pear, lightly-braised mustard greens.  Wine pairing: 2009 Numanthia Termes, Torro, Spain (Tempranillo)

 V Pork

Sixth course: Rose Ice, mint, white chocolate. Wine pairing: NV Renardet-Fache, Cergon Bugey (France), demi-sec rose

 V rose ice

Seventh course: “Madeleine & tea”  – Earl Grey foam, crushed madeleines and honey jellies.  Wine pairing: NV Campbells  Muscat, Rutherglen (Australia).

V tea

food porn

Extra Bites

At a couple points during the night, we were given complimentary amuse bouches:

Apple mousse, apple crisp, and walnut vinegar reduction (no picture)

Iberico Jamon topped with dehydrated olive oil and game consommé.

 V AB

Honestly, I can’t think of another local restaurant that would give an amouse bouche as well thought-out as these.  Hell, I can’t recall any other local places that hand out ANY amouse bouche at all.  Unless you count the breadsticks at Olive Garden.

A week later, we went there for a couple cocktails with a bunch of friends.  The waitress brought out these “chocolate explosions”.

v choco

Did I ever mention that “chocolate explosion” is one of my nicknames?

explosion

One other extra that we partook in was the tobacco service.  Yes, you read that right.   If you want to have a smoke, you still have to go outside.  However, upon request, the bar will hand-roll a cigarette (with filter) for you using heir own special tobacco blend.  I’m not even what you would call a social smoker, but I had to try it.

 review

The Verdict

You can see that there was a lot of detail and care in all of the dishes.  Everything was delicious, bursting with flavor, highly innovative, and beautiful to look at, too.

In addition to atmosphere and the food, a crucial part of elegance is service.  In general, we found the service was very attentive and informative.  There were some issues that night with pacing, but I think that’s reasonable since the place is still new.   Also, with us splitting the tasting menu we ate things twice as fast, so I think we threw them off a little.

Was it expensive?   It’s certainly more than Applebee’s.  But when you consider that the price point is on par with other fine dining choices in town – many of which stretch the definition of “fine” – it’s pretty damn reasonable.  Highly recommended.

food

Vellum

www.vellumrestaurant.com

209 S. Main Street

734.929.4929

ann arbor

dinign
Vellum on Urbanspoon

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

35 comments on “Ann Arbor Eats – Vellum

  1. TheOthers1
    February 5, 2013

    You write a great review. If I’m ever in that neck of the woods, I may have to try this place.

    I will say I’m not a great cook, but even I can throw down some chicken and veggies. So high end places that go that route without any flare bother me. Bob Evans does it just as well for cheaper.

  2. the drunken cyclist
    February 5, 2013

    Excellent! Duchesse de Bourgogne is my absolute favorite beer! Will certainly have to try this place this summer (if I can only convince my brother and sister in law that going out to eat does not have to include a Bloomin’ Onion).

  3. a2sicilian
    February 5, 2013

    Hedonist, very well done. You write extremely well for a “data warehouse analyst.”

    The food looks very ambitious, and I look forward to trying out the restaurant this Saturday. I am a little concerned, for the restaurant, as to how well it’s going to do in Ann Arbor. I was reading its reviews on OpenTable–mostly positive–but one that said “too pretentious.” Pretty typical of our humble MIdwestern college town. But if you go to a four-star restaurant in someplace like New York City, say Daniel (where I read the chef has worked), this is not considered “pretentious.” It’s considered modern French food. But this is Ann Arbor–burgers, craft beer, beer cheese soup, steaks smothered in blue cheese and mushrooms, and restaurants that pour cream-sauce anything on gummy noodles and call it “pasta.” It’s probably closer to that movie “Seven-Year Engagement” than any of us would care to admit.

    Nonetheless, we had great drinks (try the Serentity!) and chocolate explosions ;) (those things were INCREDIBLE–not you) there on our first visit and very much look forward to trying the food.

  4. thefoodandwinehedonist
    February 5, 2013

    ahem… Data Warehouse Consultant, thankyouverymuch.

    IN addition to suffering from the Midwestern “we don’t do things like the coasts” mentality, we also have the Ann Arbor White Guilt – to be truly cultured we need to be eating at shitty Korean and Indian restaurants. Add to that the general American mentality of – “If I’m going to spend that much, it’s gotta be 20 pounds of food on my plate.

    Hopefully they can keep costs relatively low so the drinks can prop em up for a while. And maybe they can attract enough people from the Detroit burbs as well.

  5. musingsoftheamusingmuse
    February 5, 2013

    Vellum sounds absolutely lovely!

  6. a2sicilian
    February 5, 2013

    Please explain the charrred vegetables. It looks like a torte with chocolate glaze.

  7. Jessica
    February 5, 2013

    I’d love to hear more about the specific dishes. It would be interesting to hear how the dishes you ate compared to what I had.

    I did the 5-course tasting menu and wine pairings on Saturday, and my experience was nothing like yours. In fact, it was as close to an unmitigated disaster as I’ve had in a restaurant as ambitious as Vellum. It took well over an hour for the first course poached egg to arrive after I ordered, and when it did, it was cold. The rest of the night followed in much the same way.

    The agnolotti had a texture that suggested that it might have been sitting under a heat lamp for a long time – the edges of the pasta were hard and chewy while the center (and the filling) were reduced to a flavorless mush.

    The cracklin that sat atop the pork shoulder was cooked insufficiently, (which I didn’t realize until it was in my mouth – my bad, I guess) so I ended up with a large piece of nearly inedible pork skin that I had to chew for a good two or three minutes before I could swallow it. (Blech)

    I think my favorite was when I asked the person who was trying to bring me the apple snack amuse bouche for the second time if there might be an ETA on the poached egg and she offered to tell me about the chickens.

    Or when the L Mawby sparkling white was referred to as a “California sparkler.”

    I think they have a lot of kinks to work out. Based on my experience, they’re not delivering on their promises yet.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 5, 2013

      d’oh!! The only blatant miscue I experienced food-wise was the inbalance of the smoked whitefish to apples. The charred veggies weren’t my favorite, but that’s personal preference.

      Pacing was off, but nowhere near what you experienced. I found my server very informed and helpful, though. It’s early, though. Hopefully they can get something more consistent.

    • a2sicilian
      February 9, 2013

      I guess on first blush it might seem silly or pretentious to think she wanted to tell you about the chickens (especially when it’s a stall tactic for overdue food!) but it’s an increasing trend at high-end restaurants. When we ate at French Laundry in Napa at a special birthday dinner years ago, the waiters gave an intricate dialogue about the source of anything we asked about. It was my first exposure to that kind of thing. Yes, maybe it was a bit much. But the point is, restaurants want to show patrons they are taking great care in sourcing their ingredients. Because many restaurants in Ann Arbor, it’s from the Sysco truck at the loading dock. ;)

      • Jessica
        February 9, 2013

        Oh my gosh, yes. It wasn’t that she wanted to tell me about the chickens that I found worth mentioning (I’m all about locally-sourced, sustainable food … really! I even buy my eggs from a friend with a small flock that squawks around their two acres and lays happy multi-colored eggs). It was the timing. We’d been waiting for an egg for so very long, and rather than chase down our errant appetizer, she thought it would be great to wow us with stories of happy chickens.

  8. Jessica
    February 5, 2013

    My waiter rocked. He was aware that my dining experience was ridiculous, and seemed grateful that my reaction to all of it was to laugh and make jokes. Since he didn’t seem to have any control over how quickly food was coming out of the kitchen, he tried to make up for it by bringing me free drinks. Many free drinks. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2013

      Ah, I see.

  9. a2sicilian
    February 5, 2013

    Sounds like the kitchen was in the weeds that night. I know most restaurants aren’t reviewed for at least six weeks after opening. Hopefully things will smooth out. The free drinks touch is nice; I was at another unnamed restaurant in Ann Arbor on Main St. (hint: chain) where we waited an hour for our appetizer on a busy night and I wasn’t offered anything.

  10. jpp_A2 (@jpp_A2)
    February 5, 2013

    I ate at Vellum three times this week, and I am ecstatic about the place. A2 does not have a real grownup restaurant that could stand comparisons to good big city restaurants – until now. The cooking is sophisticated and interesting, the wine list is big and eclectic, and the service is knowledgeable and fun. This is a foodie restaurant and it will only get better as they get established. I share some of the concerns mentioned above — will the A2 public be willing to eat creative food that isn’t beer-based or served by the pound?–but there are some foodies out there. Everyone who buys wine at Morgan and York or appreciates the high-quality food at Plum or spends an hour at the farmer’s market getting the best produce, go to Vellum!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 5, 2013

      I agree it would appeal to them, but I’m concerned about what The Sicilian said – that it’ll be considered too pretentious. I think the pendulum will swing back away from rustic/simple. But it may take some time for that to happen here in A2. Really hope they can get a chance to grow.

  11. yoonanimous
    February 5, 2013

    will have to check it out on my next visit, and will recommend to my sister-in-law who had the meal of her life at alinea and visits AA frequently. salud

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 5, 2013

      Well, it’s definitely not in the Alinea range but it’s pointing in that direction. I’ve heard some mixed reviews on Alinea from foodie friends in The Chi – mostly that it’s too much out there. I definitely want to find out for myself. But everyone says Achatz’s Next is definitely worth it. The problem is getting in…

      Lemme know if she needs any other recommendations. And gimme a shout when you’re in – I’ll buy guys some dirty martinis. ;)

  12. serialeclectic
    February 5, 2013

    Good review and I hope they ultimately do well here in AA. I will be requesting main floor when I get around to visiting…thanks for the heads up.

  13. the winegetter
    February 6, 2013

    Sweet. I was waiting for that review. Sounds great.

  14. Mysterious
    February 6, 2013

    If I go to a restaurant, it’s because it’s something I can’t make at home or wouldn’t make at home. For example, I won’t deep-fry anything because I’m just too lazy to clean-up after that.

    And, so, while I might not be a particularly good cook, I’m not paying a huge amount of money for the example of a simple roast chicken. Well, it would have to have something really spectacular about it, but I can’t imagine what that could be — I never get roast chicken in fancy restaurants, so I guess I haven’t seen anything too exciting to justify paying a higher price.

    So I really understand this point of view in the post, that Vellum is more than just a pricey menu, but unique and delicious food to go along with it.

    • a2sicilian
      February 7, 2013

      I’m with you on that, mysterious. I will not order roast chicken; I roast chicken all the time. I also won’t pay $40 for a steak in a restaurant (highway robbery!) as it’s very easy to grill a tasty and high quality steak for a fraction of that price. That’s why I’ve never seen the appeal of places like Ann Arbor’s The Chop House, which so many people think is just the bomb. Really?? It’s extraordinarily pricey for a steak, baked potato, and grilled asparagus, which are three of the easiest things in the world to make. Even when we’ve gone for 1/2 off birthday dinners, it hasn’t felt like a bargain. We make steak, potatoes and vegetables at home on the grill all summer long!

      I usually order fish at a high-end restaurant, as it’s hard to find really good fish in Michigan and the restaurant purveyors usually work directly with the fish supplier. If I’m going to pay to pay $20 a lb. for high quality fish at Whole Foods Market, I’d rather eat it expertly prepared at a good restaurant.

      And it should be interesting. There’s a popular restaurant downtown A2 that I’ve always loved for its farm-to-table concept, but recently had some fish that was breadcrumbed and panfried and was very disappointed at the price (around $25). Not only was it not prepared well (overcooked, almost burnt crumbs), but that’s literally the type of thing I’ll cook on a weeknight for the family–fish or chicken dredged in breadcrumbs and panfried or baked.

  15. applesandclovers
    February 8, 2013

    I’ve been wanting to try Vellum, but haven’t found the time (or money) to visit. Now, seeing this very interesting tasting menu, I really need to get down there!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 8, 2013

      We did tasting menu because I was afraid we wouldn’t get back to Vellum. It’s hard to web just get out for a night an there are other places we still need to check out. But can definitely go and share a few thngs without going all out. Let me know what u think!

  16. a2sicilian
    February 10, 2013

    Sicilian reporting in on Vellum…we went last night, table of six, and all splurged and had the seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings for each course. It lasted about three hours, which is fairly typical of a long tasting menu with pairings and a large table, and was generally a very good experience.

    The service: these people are professionals. These are not UM students hired off the street for minimum wage. The waitstaff was very informed about the food and wine and obviously very excited about it, too. This fact alone really steps up the restaurant scene in Ann Arbor. The professionalism and knowledge really made it feel like a special night out, and our dinner splurge worth the price (approx $100 per person).

    Pacing: a little off in the beginning. The restaurant was full, you could tell the kitchen was in high gear. My least favorite dishes were the first two, and I think it had to do with the fact that the kitchen was so busy at that time, it impacted execution. By the time we got to the third course, things were under a little more control and that was reflected in the food.

    Food: very good, very thoughtful. I noticed a lot of sweet notes in the food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and could have a lot to do with the season (things like apples and dates being more “wintery”). I would like to try some things off the tasting menu–the salmon with chorizo sauce, the fisherman’s stew–too see how the chef handles more savory, less formal fare.

    So the tasting menu, which is slightly different than the one the hedonist reported on above:

    My before-dinner cocktail: The Serenity. With hanger vodka, maple syrup, meyer lemon, strega, walnut bitters. This drink is simply awesome. You must try.

    Amuse bouche of dehydrated apple with an apple cream. A sweet amuse seemed somewhat odd to me. Impressed with how the kitchen achieved those paper-think wafers of dehydrated apple. It was fine, if you really like apples.

    1)”Egg perfectly poached, Celery Root, Dates, Cider Vinegar”. My least favorite dish, because the dainty egg wasn’t perfect. It was poached fine, but sort of cold and shriveled. I couldn’t really taste the egg because the wafer, date, and celery cream it was served with just created a sort of sweet mush. The whole dish had a sweetness to it I didn’t really get.

    2)Roasted vegetables layered like a terrine and served with a a smokey “ash” sauce. I’ve probably butchered that description (as it’s not on the web site and therefore I can’t copy it). This dish was just “good” for me; eggplant in the terrine was a little cold. The ash sauce, which the waiter said is a new trend in fine dining, extremely tasty.Paired with an absolutely delicious French white made from a grape I have never heard of (and noticed the whole bottle was only $26. I will be back to find that wine!! Sorry I can’t remember the grape, but it was not the chardonnay the hedonist had with his pairing.)

    3)”Agnolotti, Sweet Potato, Dried Plums, Chestnut, Amaretti Crumbs, Sage.” WOW. This dish rocked the house. Perfect soft little pillows of pasta–I mean cooked perfectly–served with a little dab of chestnut mousse and tiny marbles of sweet potato. Very classy, very delicious, paired with a dry sherry–a perfect pairing. It reminded me of something I’d had a Mario Batali’s Babbo in NYC. It was that good.

    4)”Pan-fried Walleye, hand-pressed Onion Broth, Shallot, Brandade, Apples.” Delicious, thoughtful, creative, interesting. Loved it. Maybe could have used just a tiny sprinkle more of salt on the fish. (But generally, I found the dishes seasoned appropriately, lending to the chef’s confidence to not put salt and pepper on the tables. That takes guts.)

    5)”Pork Shoulder, Belly, Loin, Pear, lightly braised Mustard Greens.” Also delicious,and served with two types of mustards, too. Everything worked together very well. Interesting preparation.

    6)Rose ice, mint, white chocolate. This was okay for me. Very sweet.

    7)”Madeleine & Tea, Earl Gray, Sea Salt, Honey.” Okay, this is the best.dessert.ever. Sweet, salty, depth of flavor, earthy, homey, sophisticated. It hit all the right notes with me. Loved it.

    So two thumbs up for me. Now that I’ve done the tasting menu, I’ll be back to try other things. But I found in general the whole experience very positive. The food continued to surprise, which is what you should expect from fine dining. I could see some issues of pacing, but Saturday nights are tough for new kitchens with a full house. I met the chef and am very impressed with that level of maturity for someone who’s, what, 25? And while I wouldn’t call every concept on tasty menu perfect, I think the very talented chef and his restaurant have enormous potential and will only continue to develop.

  17. lindsaynhyatt
    February 12, 2013

    This place looks intense. Once I save up enough money, I may have to try! haha!

  18. Donna Johns
    February 15, 2013

    My Valentines was Vellum ! incredible. I must add, you may know food, but you don’t know carpet. The 2nd floor is intimate and the carpet is classic, good taste, Like the entire first time experience at Vellum !

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 15, 2013

      Haha. Thats fair. I’m more of a hardwood or marble fan. Glad u had a great dinner. I want that place to succeed as it can improve the overall scene. Btw- Isalita is tremendous. Review coming soon!

      Thanks for stopping by

  19. aretailsalmon
    February 18, 2013

    so glad to see your review of this. I recently saw the menu and just wasn’t that impressed.

    • misummers72
      February 18, 2013

      Like the food, the menu IS different, and once you’ve been there, it all makes sense!

  20. Pingback: Ann Arbor Eats – Isalita | The Food and Wine Hedonist

  21. Pingback: Ann Arbor Restaurant Week: Vellum | Clover Eats!

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