The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Ann Arbor Rocks (Kinda) – Pacific Rim

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.

Not pictured:

– 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)

The Verdict

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?

Pacific Rim By Kana on Urbanspoon

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.

7 comments on “Ann Arbor Rocks (Kinda) – Pacific Rim

  1. Max D
    June 4, 2012

    Yup. I’ve been asking the same questions. Specifically to Pacific Rim, I’d say the pleasure I derive from their meals doesn’t match the prices. it’s not as if I feel I’m getting ripped off, but it seems they’re resting on their reputation a bit. For now, Logan has become our go-to restaurant in town for special occasions. Pacific Rim does have a good wine list, friendly unobtrusive service, and the damn best restrooms in town. The bathrooms feel like meditation gardens. The food is not quite as Zen-like.

  2. Megan @ MegGoesNomNom
    June 4, 2012

    I’ve got my restaurant week reservation made @PacRim next week (yeah, I know it’s not the “full experience” yada yada). Eager to try it for the first time – interesting reading your review!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      June 4, 2012

      Oh yeah, it’s restaurant week… Def let me know what you think about it. Was just talking to friends about Red Rock – recall seeing your post on it. HOpe to get there soon.

  3. Susan
    June 10, 2012

    Pacific Rim is my favorite restaurant, not favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor…favorite restaurant period. So you think I would be all defensive about it but can’t really argue with your review, especially about the menu not changing (although in the past 10 or so years eating there, I have had a dish that I thought was “off” maybe two or three times ever). We get the same thing most times, namely the sablefish and the tuna – both of which are outstanding and I have now added their excellent ginger grapefruit cocktail to “the list” – have actually hit the bar there before dinner somewhere else to get that cocktail first, its VERY good. But I am amazed that the menu essentially never changes. For us this is a good thing as I love those dishes and these days we only get there about 2 or 3 times a year, so I don’t get tired of them but I have often wondered about folks going there more often and always having the same rather limited choices….

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      June 10, 2012

      Thanks for stopping by… I really was torn while writing this. I’ve had similar conversations about music. Some Rolling Stones are still excellent, but they’re difficult for me to listen to after decades of hearing them on the radio. Every once in a while, I’ll enjoy them though. So that’s probably how it’s going to be with Pacific Rim now. Unless you’re buying. Then I’ll happily go.

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2012 by in Ann Arbor, Dining and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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