leave your inhibitions at the door
I guess the third time really is the charm.
The Ravens Club has been open for four years and I had always felt that it was a great place for cocktails, but not for food.
I first went there when they just opened and the food was downright terrible. They had a Prohibition-era theme with a lot of dark woods and oversized black light fixtures that was (and still is) a gorgeous space. The theme worked well with their drink program, but food-wise… is there such thing as “speakeasy cuisine?” I don’t remember specifics, but there were things that sounded compelling on the menu but the execution, flavors, and presentation were not there. The second time I ate there was during Ann Arbor Restaurant Week a couple years ago. At that time they had a “farm-to-table” menu, which is a nice concept with its focus on local ingredients and simple preparations. Their execution was definitely better, but as with all farm-to-table restaurants, I generally don’t like going out to dinner to spend $25 on roasted chicken.
Recently, several other local writers and bloggers were invited for a special dinner to preview the new fall menu. I’m all about giving restaurants another chance at redemption so I couldn’t pass this up. And, of course, it was dinner on them. Duh. But my general lack of social niceties should leave you with the confidence that you’re going to get my honest thoughts, not anyone else’s.
What We Drank
As I said, cocktails have always been their forte and nothing’s changed in that regard. They have an incredible collection of spirits with a strong focus on Bourbon, including hard-to-find gems as George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle.
Their wine list is on the short side, but they what they’re doing with it is interesting. All of their wines by the glass – around 7-8 total – arrive to TRC in small barrels and are served from a tap. This is why they don’t have a lot of variety, but it gives them an opportunity to bring in wines that are unique and not available elsewhere. So there’s a lot of pressure on them to choose a good wine, because otherwise they could be stuck with something pretty bad for a while.
My good friend The Winegetter was sitting next to me, which allowed us to sample several different wines. The downside – I may or may not have had a bunch of his backwash.
– Stolpman Sangiovese Carbonic , Ballard Canyon CA. This was interesting because I’ve never really heard of Carbonic Maceration as a selling point. Most wines are made by crushing the grapes and then fermenting the juice. Carbonic maceration is the process where the grapes are placed in a tank with carbon dioxide pumped in. The pressure actually causes the juice to be fermented inside the grapes. It speeds up the process quite a bit, but the wines tend to be fruity and lacking tannins. This wine was just that – fruity with not much character. A step above Kool-Aid.
– Blacksmith Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville CA. As expected, fruit-forward with generous amounts of oak. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people drinking it, but it was too flabby and unstructured for my tastes.
– Corvidae Lenore Syrah Columbia Valley WA. This, on the other hand was terrific. A lot of fruit and smoke, but very refined with nice earthiness and spice.
– Corvidae Ravenna Riesling, Columbia Valley WA. This was also a very pleasant surprise with its bright, lime flavors and hints of minerals. It was described as off-dry, but I barely detected any sweetnes on it. The Winegetter and I both described this as very Alsatian.
– Roco Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley Oregon. This was one of their few bottled wines and was excellent. Beautiful citrus and apple flavors, and restrained use of oak. Definite must-have.
What We Ate
We started out with:
These along with the pork confit rillettes (not pictured) weren’t anything special, very bland. But the pickled veggies were tasty, though.
This is the second time in the past couple months where I’ve had deviled eggs in a restaurant. This HAS GOT TO STOP. It’s probably some hipster thing, but anyone who’s ever worked in an office has probably had a thousand of these at various potlucks.
Overall, I was very impressed with this new menu. I get the feeling that they’ve come to terms with what they are and what they aren’t. They’ve tried being a fine-dining restaurant and, in my opinion, failed. But they’ve always had a beautiful atmosphere with dynamite craft cocktails. So why not make that the focus and build from there?
There’s nothing at all wrong with simpler pub fare as long as it’s done well. It may not be as sexy as fine dining and, outside of the marrow and chicken liver mousse, there’s not much you wouldn’t see elsewhere. But there’s still a lot of room for creativity and they did a great job of elevating standard pub fare with good ingredients and technique.
I’ll still go there for cocktails. But now I’ll probably even eat there, too.