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Wednesday, October 9,2013

She Ate

Adventurous indulging

by Gabrielle Johnson
Let’s get one thing straight. If you’re looking for traditional Italian food dripping in mozzarella cheese and topped with a breaded chicken breast, Tannin ain’t the place for you. You’d be better served going across the street to the Olive Garden to indulge in their most recent vaguely Italian-sounding concoction.

However, if you’re in the mood to indulge in a little adventurous eating with a Michigan twist and support a local business, Tannin fits the bill. The boyfriend and I met my bestie and her husband for a double date. The menu is small and the price point is high. When one of the men requested a starter of the minestrone soup listed on the menu, our server told us that they no longer had it, but the chef had replaced it with a miso vegetable soup “that he thinks is even better.” The soup was, essentially, a bowl of vegetable stock. To suggest that any chef could think this was better than minestrone was puzzling. (I’ve been happy to see upon return visits that it is no longer an option.)

The boyfriend and I returned a few weeks later for dinner. He started with the soup of the day — braised chicken with coconut milk. He liked that the cup was full of shredded chicken, more like a stew, and the broth had a lightly tangy coconut flavor. I started with a Caesar salad but was disappointed that the white anchovies, which I had enjoyed on my first visit, were no longer atop the salad.

For his entrée, he chose the lamb sugo — shredded lamb with mushrooms and few gnocchi dressed in a light tomato-based sauce. He hates mushrooms and laid them on the side of his plate for me. I ate a few and stopped after realizing that they were completely tasteless. He couldn’t stop eating the lamb. The meat was tender and the flavor of the lamb came through. The boyfriend loved the gnocchi when he could find them. The potato-filled pasta pillows were sparingly scattered through the dish.

I had the angel hair with smoked tomato Bolognese; the pasta was a few moments past al dente and couldn’t stand up to the heft of the sauce. I was surprised that the sauce contained ground pork. Don’t get me wrong: I am an enthusiastic carnivore and I devoured it, but I think a notation on the menu could prevent potential confusion for vegetarian diners.

I planned a return visit for lunch and hoped that the menu would be more reasonably priced. My seven-month pregnant sister-in-law joined me. She started with the tomato and mozzarella soup, which she slurped down. She said the baby liked it. Roasted red peppers don’t do a thing for me, so I declined a taste of the soup and turned my attention to my Brussels sprout-and-hon-eycrisp apple salad, which included thinly sliced turnips and chunks of bacon. The combination of flavor was remarkable and I cleaned my plate in short order.

Mama and baby continued with the carbonara — orechiette pasta with bacon and cheese, finished with capers and arugula. The pasta was al dente this time and the elements of the dish were well executed. I tasted it and had entrée envy. My plate was filled with the pescatore — two seared scallops atop squid ink pasta mixed with crabmeat, herbs and butternut squash. The ink gives the pasta its black color as well as a slightly briny taste. The scallops were slightly rubbery and the squash gave a sweet note to the dish that didn’t need to be there. The chunks of crab were large and generous.

She had one more craving to satisfy and ordered the tiramisu. I decided to sympathy-eat and chose the chocolate mousse cake. Our server noticed my sisterin-law’s condition, which might account for the massive portion of dessert that he served her. She said she loved the texture and she finished all but one bite. My chocolate mousse cake was actually three small squares of a thick mousse cake atop a chocolate-and-coffee-crumb crust. It was rich, decadent and still tasted like chocolate when I closed my eyes — my typical test of a chocolate dessert.

Tannin offers specials to its Facebook friends, but inconsistently. I’ve learned that the menu on the website might not reflect the menu being served. Service has been attentive, but frequently intrusive. Our lunch visit put my previous dinner visits to shame; I’ll limit myself to lunch at Tannin until the dinner service settles a bit more.

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