ANN ARBOR — The look and the atmosphere of Dessous in Ann Arbor draws you in before you’ve had a chance to even glance at the menu.
Dessous’ space, in the lower level of a building on South Main Street, is decorated in cool gray, beige, and cream shades with banquets and gauzy draperies that inspire a relaxed, unpretentious mood.
The menu listing Dessous’ French and-Indian-influenced offerings, from appetizers to dessert, notes that dishes are always in flux with the seasons.
★ ★ ★★½
Address: 312 S.Main St., Ann Arbor
Category: Upscale casual
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 5 to 10 p.m. dining, 4 to 11 p.m. lounge; Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. dining, 4 p.m. to midnight lounge; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. dining, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. lounge. Closed Sunday.
Wheelchair access: Dessous is accessed by staircase. Elevator access is available when the restaurant is notified that it is needed.
Average price: $$ - $$$
Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE
Rather than the usual bread basket, we were given some homemade naan with Indian spiced butter. Sharing appetizers, we ordered the soup of the season, a gazpacho ($7), the caesar salad ($12), which was kind of a deconstructed caesar, one of our group said, and the Duck Confit Nachos ($14), fabulous bites of duck, avocado, wontons, Manchego, and sriracha cream fraiche. A little sweet, a little spicy, and hard to stop eating. One companion said she could see ordering these as an entree and keeping them all to yourself.
Instead, her entree was the Braised Lamb Shank ($32), which was everything you want when you order this: tender meat in a luscious sauce, but the subtle Indian spices in the background really elevated it. It had an assortment of vegetables and potatoes in the same sauce, and came with more naan bread to sop up the sauce. So good, with enough left over for lunch.
We shared dessert, the Lemon Sour Cream Cake ($8), lemon curd, apricot ginger jam, brown sugar cream, and fruit of the season, and the Chocolate and Chiles ($9), a flourless chocolate cake with really deep chocolate flavor, and chile-scented chantilly cream.
Another in our group also liked the Duck Confit Nachos as an appetizer, saying that the wontons were crispy despite the confit, which he had thought would make them soggy. They were very rich, with the duck and duck fat from the confit, along with the creme fraiche and avocado.
He was less impressed with the gazpacho and caesar salad, which were not memorable.
His entree, the, Spaccatelli ($28), pasta shaped into smallish tubes, was excellent The tomato cream sauce was light, not too tomato-y. The entire dish had an Indian influence; it was straight up Italian pasta with shrimp, and the peas were a nice touch. The shrimp — there were about five good sized shrimp — were not cooked in the tomato sauce but probably added late in the preparation; it appeared that they were tossed with the sauce before serving and were done perfectly (the menu said they were pan roasted). The portion size was generous enough to take leftovers home, and enough to make him pass on the desserts.
My entree, the Sweet, Savory, and Spicy Sea Bass ($36), served with French baked rice, tropical gastrique (a sauce), baby bok choy, and briny kimchi, was great. Each of the several flavors could be savored, resulting in a fine and unexpected blend of tastes to accompany the perfectly cooked fish.
Overall, the meal was a great choice for anyone with a desire for upscale in Ann Arbor, said one of our party who lives there. Classic appetizers like samosas and nachos were given slight twists to make them memorable. The Skillet Strip with 40 Cloves of Garlic ($28) was cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a few sides, including vegetables flavored with traditional Indian spices. The night ended excellently with the chocolate torte, which was flavorful but not overwhelming in sweetness or spice.
Entrees to try on another visit are the Day Boat Scallops ($34) with country ham butter, French baked rice, and seasonal vegetables, and Simple Fish or Simple Steak (market price) seared with chilies and fresh lime or simply baked, broiled, or sauteed — basically, however you wish. Served with seasonal vegetables and to keep it from being too simple, salsa verde, and tropical chutney.
More traditional appetizers listed on the menu include the Greens and Fresh Herb Salad ($7), with sweet fig and walnut vinaigrette, herbed crouton, and French cheese, and Crab Cakes ($15) with lemon-scented mayo.
Desserts also include Espresso Scented Flan ($8) with natural caramel and candied lemon peel; Citrus Pie ($7) lemon curd and chantilly cream, and Elderberry Sorbet ($8) with cava, basil, and berries. The coffee is made with a house blend developed with Zingerman’s Coffee Company.
The bar menu lists Shellfish Ceviche ($14), with kaffir lime and curried popcorn, Shrimp Tacos Tropical ($12) with mango chutney, kimchi, fresh mango, and sweet chili mayo, a Ham and Cheese board ($14), and a variety of sushi ($14).
The restaurant is in the lower level (the English translation of dessous is “under” or “below”) of a building on South Main Street, so guests take a stairway down to the dining room. Elevator service is available when the restaurant is notified that it is needed; a Dessous employee will meet the guests in the nearby Ark music club, where the elevator is located, and escort the party to the Dessous dining room.
Contact Bill of Fare at: email@example.com.
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