Review: Mercy’s – Ann Arbor, MI

Wow! Where have I been?!

To my loyal followers (all two of you), my lack of posting may have gotten you down. Please don’t be upset with me. Life has just gotten in the way. Not to mention, my last few cooking adventures? Total flops. My vanilla bean cupcakes with fresh strawberry icing tasted like toothpaste. Any additional forays into royal icing will need a much steadier hand (and proper icing tips). And trying to recreate deep-fried goodness in an oven? Not as messy as you may think, but still, no good.

So I will keep plugging away in the kitchen. I have some yumminess on the docket (including a chocolate mousse pie with a peanut butter crust for a coworker’s birthday) and I want to try to make scones again. Until then, here is a review of the fancy-pants restaurant Boyfriend took me to for a we’re-too-busy-on-Valentine’s-Day-to-go-out-but-the-next-day-works-too date.

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Mercy’s – Ann Arbor, MI

Located in the Bell Tower Hotel near the University of Michigan campus, Mercy’s opened very recently (January of 2011) and, judging by the number of diners on a Tuesday night, is already making its mark on the Ann Arbor dinner scene. The French-Asian restaurant is a bit on the pricier side (the average price of an entrée is around $25), but likely less than one might have spent at the Earle Uptown, which formerly occupied the space.

As I mentioned, Boyfriend and I made reservations for a post-Valentine’s date, settling on Mercy’s based on the menu and the use of a $25 restaurant.com certificate.

The set-up of the restaurant is essentially a bar on the right side of a small room, a couple tables, and a row of booths lining the opposing wall that extends down a corridor, which makes the seemingly tiny restaurant a fairly decent size. What did make the room slightly more cramped was the addition of a three-piece jazz band next to the bar, providing music a little louder than the room could comfortably accommodate (I am a fan of live music, but I have to admit I was relieved when they went on a break and we could actually have a conversation).

(via)

When we arrived at 7:30, there were only a couple other booths occupied, but by the time we left, I was quite surprised by how many tables were full. I believe the staff was just as surprised: the only waiter was quite busy, the manager took our drink order and bused our table, and the bartender doubled as the hostess. Despite what appeared to be an understaffing issue, the service was not bad. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner and the server seemed knowledgeable about both the food and drink menu; he even recommended a winery for us to visit during our trip to Willamette Valley (Oregon wine country) this summer.

In terms of the menu, there were some very nice French choices, accented with Asian pieces. We started with Mercy’s Dumplings, which were filled with a mixture of ground turkey and vegetables and steamed. For my entree I went with the duck over the coq au vin (primarily because I don’t cook duck at home), which was served with fingerling potatoes and bok choy (the vegetable being the Asian flare, I assume). Boyfriend ordered his standard upscale restaurant choice, filet mignon, topped with blue cheese and served with mashed potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus, with a bordelaise sauce. And, since we weren’t quite sure if we spent the minimum required for the restaurant.com certificate (NOT), we ordered crème brulée for dessert, which was topped with fresh raspberries and an artful splash of raspberry puree across the plate.

Hungry yet? I must have been a food description writer in another life.

One of my major peeves in restaurants, even though I have been guilty of this in my own kitchen, is cold food. Even more so in upscale places, where food is masterfully prepared and skillfully plated, temperature is of the utmost importance. This was the crucial flaw during our meal at Mercy’s. The dumplings were barely warm (Boyfriend attested that they were steamed, so they probably were never “hot”), and the duck tepid, although cooked a perfect medium, as requested. This disappointment led me to wonder if they were as short staffed in the back of the house as the front, but I did see a chef wondering around the dining room on multiple occasions, so perhaps something else was amiss.

Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to get past the temperature in order to appreciate the taste of the food, and even so, the preparation was pretty standard: good, but not the quality I expected for the price and the upscale atmosphere.

Located near to the University’s Hill Auditorium and the Power Center for Performing Arts, this is a very nice location for a more elegant experience without having to trek down to Main Street: the service is definitely comparable, as well as the prices. However, in order to continue to compete with the other downtown establishments, Mercy’s needs to take the food up a notch. The menu choices are solid, but the execution lacks that little something special that would make you come back for more.

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