Last Friday, my husband and I were walking down the street, musing over the fact that there are still places we haven’t been to in Ann Arbor, despite the combination of his undergraduate years, and our 4 here together. This mostly goes for restaurants, because downtown Ann Arbor isn’t known for it’s huge selection of price-conscious fare. We’d like to own a home someday. Still, in that moment, we decided to try someplace new, wallet be damned. Within a few steps, we found ourselves standing in front of Vellum, a new restaurant I had only read about as opening recently.
What is Vellum, you might ask? Vellum defined is a thick, fine-grained lamb or calfskin used for writing or binding books. Vellum: Ann Arbor is a contemporary restaurant, decorated in a minimalist style with ‘seasonal American’ cuisine. That’s code for a little on the artsy-fartsy side. Read: smaller portions, artistic plating, and steeper entree prices. Vellum also boasted quite a selection of craft liquors, spirits, wines, and made-to-order coffees and teas. We tried to piece together a connection between the dictionary definition and the experience, and while puzzled at the time, Vellum’s website states that they strive to provide a sense of craftsmanship and harmony for their patrons. There is a lot of craftsmanship in book bindery, I suppose? Even if you don’t quite understand Vellum’s title, it does provide a unique dining and drinking experience.
We started out at the bar with beers, and migrated over to the open cocktail space adjacent to a huge window. Tables are spread out against a padded bench wall, lining the space and creating a swank but simple area to converse over drinks. We were the only people in that area, so actual conversation was possible! The staff was very helpful and attentive, concerned (maybe overly so?) that we needed a table for dinner. We obviously didn’t have reservations, a huge no-no on a weekend downtown, but the hostess and bartender frantically worked to find a solution for us. It was actually kind of sweet. After our friends arrived, we were introduced to just how vast the Vellum collection of booze really was. For one gin martini order, there was a verbal storybook of different options to choose from, none of them the “name brands” you’d expect to find. It made for an exciting, but confusing choice to be made. My friend went with a gin she had heard of, local Knickerbocker. She was happy with her selection. I later was faced with this same dilemma when ordering a vodka dirty martini, but chickened out and went with their well, Tito’s. My own fault. I’d probably try something with a cleaner finish next time. Noted. If you’re planning to order some kind of cocktail, ask to see a drink menu first, and feel free to study and ask questions!
When the seating issue was resolved, we were ushered to a long “community” table in the center of the lower dining room. We didn’t mind this, ready for adventure. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your feelings towards strangers in your conversation), no one else was ever seated with us, and we kept the long, beer-pong worthy table to ourselves. Under date night circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have been as game for the community table set up. Food was ordered, and shortly after, we were given fresh Zingerman’s sourdough and churned butter, along with an interesting complimentary appetizer, featuring a creamy, meringue-like filling, sandwiched by two wafer thin ?cinnamon? crisps and a dollop of apple topping. It had the melt-in-your-mouth effect. Nice touch.
First, we sampled a carrot-parsnip soup with tarragon, gingerbread, and a crème fraîche swirl. The soup was creamy, sweet, and soothing. It made me want to get to know parsnips, and also a great place to dip your sourdough.
Next up, two of the more reasonably priced entrees, $14 each for gnocchi with black garlic, water chestnut, and mushrooms, and a burger paired with egg, pickle, bacon jam, and thick cut fries. The gnocchi had a distinctly mushroom flavor, and I was a big fan of the black garlic sauce. Very flavorful. The gnocchi itself was an odd shape, and had a texture that made my friend wonder if it had in fact been made in house, but overall, we both enjoyed it. Her husband enjoyed his burger, with special attention paid to the fried egg. I’m not sure why more establishments don’t put an egg on it!
The dessert that won the sampling vote was the chestnut cake with chestnut ice cream, not something I would have normally picked. The cake was coated in a milk chocolate ganache, so when you bit into a piece, it actually reminded me of a candy bar, perhaps of the Kit-Kat variety. I liked it. The chestnut flavors were subtle and well balanced.
I would return to Vellum. There was something about my experience that left me wanting more, in the, “wait, that was it?…” sense. I’d likely spend more time with appetizers and cocktails. The food was good, but there wasn’t anything I feel like I need to go back for, if that makes sense. I also have to mention the mod fashion-forward staff. Lots of skinny, skinny pants on males and females alike, and some notable nods to Robert Pattinson.
+ Vellum is an upscale, modern take on American cuisine. If you like to try things you’ve mostly heard about on the Food Network, or take an adventure into new liquors, give it a go! It’s located next to The Ravens Club at 209 S. Main Street in Ann Arbor.
– Vellum is similarly priced to most restaurants on the downtown strip. If you want to eat a giant meal with overflowing, American-portioned food, Vellum will leave you wanting more. The decor makes you wonder if they are still under construction, so wear a busy-patterned shirt and bring people you’re very interested in talking to. There isn’t much to look at.