West End Grill is a safe restaurant. Have a date or business associate you'd like to impress? Feel confident that you can take them to West End Grill for a reasonably quiet dinner with candlelight, competent but not intimidating service, and food that's good, but won't raise any eyebrows. Be aware that most of the men will be clad in a suit and tie, but this being Ann Arbor, they'll probably let you in regardless of what you're wearing.
While they have a full menu posted outside, they don't give you one when they seat you. Instead, the menu is listed on a little chalkboard at your table, and your server will recite the descriptions of all 15 entrees and 9 appetizers, which I found annoying. It also made it hard to compare dishes. But like many restaurants of this type, however, the name of the game is mostly just "pick your meat" - several different cuts of steak, and one each of lamb, chicken, duck, pork, fish, shrimp, etc. Eric loves steak, so at my urging, ordered the Kobe. Eric does not, however, like pork, so I took this eating out opportunity to order some pork tenderloin, since I never get to eat it at home.
But first, appetizers. My portobello mushroom app was very pretty, and ever so slightly vertical - a polenta cake topped with goat cheese and a balsalmic marinated grilled portabello mushroom. Goat cheese pretty much guarantees that a dish will be a winner for me, and this was no exception. The vinegar marinade on the mushroom made it tangy and flavorful, but managed to obscure most of the mushroom flavor. My only real criticism was with the cutlery - my knife was too dull to cut through the mushroom, so I ended up having to deconstruct the dish to eat it. Eric's Southwestern crab cakes were well executed - a nice balance of crab and other ingredients, perfectly cooked so that the inside was moist but the outside had a nice crust. Very good, and just a little bit spicy in deference to the "Southwestern" in its name.
Salads next. Your entree comes with soup or salad, and Eric and I both chose the salad. Bzzzt - wrong answer. In keeping with the "old school" feel of the restaurant, this was a pretty old school salad. Not quite iceburg lettuce, but close, with a weird assortment of garnishes - blanched squash and zucchini, carrots, radishes, red onions, croutons, optional blue cheese. And all of it topped with too much dressing. I don't expect to have to ask for dressing on the side at a restaurant of this calibre, so that was a disappointment.
Eric's Kobe beef was simply prepared, seared rare and topped with a dollop of wasabi butter. This was the first time trying Kobe for either of us, and we could both tell the difference. The texture and the flavor of the steak were wonderful, and the simple preparation didn't obscure any of it. Definitely worth the $6 difference in price between it and the filet Eric had been considering - at $30, this was a steal. My pork tenderloin was subtly flavorful, infused with rosemary and garlic, and perfectly done - just a tiny hint of pink (although it was hard to tell in the candlelight). It was served on a bed of spinach and topped with roasted vegetables and a sherry cream sauce. Sides for both dishes included mashed potatoes (which unexpectedly included sweet potatoes and were really too sweet for either of our tastes) and haricots verts.
I was too stuffed to put much of a dent in my dinner, so our server gave us lots of time to relax, sip our wine and chat before bringing around the dessert tray. The selection was pretty much what you'd expect - creme brulee, chocolate mouse cake, chocolate brownie with ice cream, an interesting apple-cranberry "sanddollar" pastry, and something unexciting that I can't remember - oh, of course - a molten center chocolate cake (they called it "truffle center" but I'm sure the effect was much the same). We decided to split the creme brulee. It had a nice hard crust of carmelized sugar, while the custard itself was fairly "loose" and more on the side of pudding. Real vanilla beans, though. A perfectly adequate creme brulee, but like much of the meal "nothing to write home about." The house coffee wasn't up to Eric's high standards, so he ordered a cappucino instead, which unfortunately didn't arrive until after we finished dessert (points off, says Eric).
All in all, a perfectly pleasant evening and a perfectly pleasant meal. I wasn't disappointed by the lack of innovation or excitement in the food - it's Ann Arbor, I don't expect much. And everything was very well prepared. Service was friendly and not overbearing or overly formal. Cost was reasonable - just over $100 for the two of us, which included a martini and two glasses of wine, and did not include my free birthday dessert. It was perfectly safe - and sometimes that okay.
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