When Eve Aronoff Fernandez first came onto the Ann Arbor dining scene in 2003, her upscale eatery of the same name was met with praise for its locally sourced, seasonally ingredients and a menu influenced by French, North African, Vietnamese, and Cuban cooking. Her cuisine has been served for the James Beard Foundation, she landed a spot on Bravo's Top Chef reality series. Her skills were honed at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
They're all in the makings of a fulfilling career in one of Michigan's most dynamic food cities. That is until she seriously injured her back while on a trip in Honduras in 2010. She had just opened her Cuban casual dining spot Frita Batidos and, by orders of her doctor, scaled back her work load by closing her original Kerrytown location.
All has not been lost for eve fans, as Aronoff Fernandez relaunched the restaurant at the end of 2015. She hired back most of her original crew, including Carlos Fernandez, who originally joined the team just before the Kerrytown closing, and who is now married to the chef-restaurateur. The return of her staff has helped ease the new incarnation through a smooth transition, as evidenced by the consistent foot traffic into the spot.
The new eve is tucked away on the ground level of the tiny Bell Tower hotel on South Thayer Street. The aesthetic is simple, yet sexy in looks, with a nearly all-white interior, accented with grays and silver, and soft lighting. University of Michigan architect professor Neal Robinson was brought on to come up with the preliminary design concept for the just under 90-seat space. It's the type of setting that attracts a mix of well-heeled university types, families, and date night couples alike.
Upon being seated, each guest is welcomed with a chilled, beautifully plated dish of crudité, a medley of heirloom carrots and peppers accompanied by a zesty dipping sauce. Also complimentary is a heavenly loaf of brioche bread with three pads of infused butter (a heat-filled harissa, sweet mango, and garlic herb). The staff is attentive — refilling water, giving recommendations, and checking on each customer consistently, even on a busy night.
The new eve carries a number of classics, including a delectable plate of curried mussels. Soaked in a rich, non-traditional curry sauce and served with a thick hunk of rustic bread for dunking, you'll be eagerly slurping it up as soon as it hits the table. Also making a comeback are the "inspired nachos" made with fried wontons, slow-cooked black beans, sharp white cheddar, habanero jack and goat Gouda, cilantro lime salsa, avocado, and crème fraiche.
The restaurant's evolution from its original iteration is visible in a more pronounced focus on vegetable-based fare.
The menu's "Bounty" section is in fact entirely vegetarian, with dishes like a spicy Creole Ratatouille, which this time of year comes loaded with roasted summer veggies that are lightly stewed with shiraz, fresh garlic, and aromatic spices, and finished with a White Lotus Farm's chevre, and again joined by a baguette.
For entrees, we're introduced to a number of fresh fish options, including a cool poached wild king salmon that sits over aromatic bulgur, with gazpacho puree and a cool cucumber salad. The fish is rubbed with spices that give a nice kick, the bulgur wheat adds a hearty texture, and the salad is crunchy and vinegary. In all, the meal has a strong Mediterranean flair to it.
On the Latin side is a filet of beef chimichurri, a 6-ounce cut, rubbed with a mélange of chilies, served with coconut ginger rice, chiffonade of snap peas, Bermuda onions, and pear tomatoes. The green sauce bursts with tangy flavor that offsets its meaty counterpart.
Other intriguing entrees include a spicy shellfish pasta, with fresh fettucine, seared gulf shrimp and scallops, chilies, Bermuda onions, seaweed, micro lentil greens, and black sesame; or a braised chicken with a spicy tomatillo salsa over a goat cheese polenta, with a salad made of avocado and heirloom tomatoes.
For couples or groups of three or more, eve offers a "Feast" option, wherein diners select ample, shareable entrees of marinated flank or wild sockeye salmon, and then pick four plates from the "Bounty" section. At $36 per person, it's an efficient way to get a taste for a large portion of the menu at once.
For dessert, we indulged in a decadent triple chocolate pots de crème with a brown sugar cream and topped with a chocolate button. It's one of those treats that will have you scraping the bowl for every last bite.
The new eve also serves a simple breakfast buffet, for hotel guests (free) and nonguests alike ($12). The spread includes soft scrambled eggs and Gouda, spiced potatoes and onions, biscuits, sweet breads, house-made preserves, seasonal fruit, and house-made granola with milk or Greek yogurt. An even more elaborate brunch menu is also available, with pancakes a la mode — served with a flight of maple syrups from Michigan, Vermont, and New York — a chilaquiles with chicken braised in tomatillo salsa, a shrimp breakfast sandwich, and a number of items from the evening menu.
In all, the reincarnation of eve gives a fine balance between preserving the restaurant's strong hold in Ann Arbor dining, while growing into its next chapter. We say Aronoff Fernandez not only accepted the challenge, but has gracefully helped her dream evolve.