Friday, April 2, 2010

Dalat and Dresses on Date Night

Tom and I planned a “date night” for this past Thursday, the 1st -- opening day for the Docent Invitational exhibit in which he is showing 3 photographs at the Riverside Arts Center (76 N. Huron in Ypsi). We tend to be a couple of homebodies, so we have determined that it is important to go out and experience the world on occasion rather than simply isolating ourselves peacefully with our various creative pursuits of digital photography, writing, and cooking. We may not need to hire a sitter to watch any children -- his daughter being 25 and living in Philly, and Jeremy being 19 -- but we do need to take time for ourselves just to have some fun and to find new diversions. Daily life can become too routine without deliberate efforts to seek new stimuli.

So we started with dinner at Dalat (100 Michigan Avenue), conveniently located across the street from the Arts Center. I had heard of it -- and even driven past it countless times -- but never eaten there before … provincial child that I am, as a product of NYC and its neighborhoods, I tend to stay very much in Ann Arbor with its multitude of offerings. I also like to cook, so obviously I spend more time in my own kitchen than I do in restaurants.

I really do enjoy Vietnamese food, though, despite not eating it very often. Therefore, as you can well imagine if you know me -- or know of me -- at all, I was overwhelmed by a menu filled with 59 listings of different salads and soups and entrees PLUS desserts and beverages. Fortunately Tom has a favorite dish which we knew we would share, and we decided to try a new option, as well, in addition to that.

The favorite is #14 -- Bun tom thit nuong cha gio: “Rice vermicelli, grilled shrimp & beef, cut eggroll, bean sprouts, cucumber, topped with cilantro and crushed roasted peanuts. Served with sweet and sour sauce.” Oh, the mundane details of this ingredient list do not begin to evoke the beauty of the dish! Before you even see the large, deep bowl you can smell an extraordinary fragrance; and then the food is so beautifully, artfully arranged … it entices, and yet it almost seems sacrilegious to disturb the array. On top of the rice noodles and bean sprouts there are bite-sized pieces of meat and of small (but not baby) shrimp, each with a dusting of the nuts and a drizzle of both the nuoc cham -- chili-garlic-fish sauce -- and sweet-and-sour sauce that Tom had added judiciously. The egg roll was sliced into not-quite-1” pieces -- perfect for eating, but without making the mess oneself of either cutting or biting into it -- and carefully placed around the circumference of the bowl. Truly it was a thing of beauty to behold, and a labor of pride and love.

But that’s not all, oh no! We also ordered -- after much deliberation over hunger levels vs. desire for too many delectable options -- #32: A nameless entrée described simply as “A steamed rice plate of grilled basil chicken breast with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.” Zzzzzzz, right??? It sounds like a grilled chicken sandwich from McDonald’s or something! Oh, but let me assure you -- this dish had an even more fabulous aroma than the other. The rice had an indistinguishable hint of spice that did not impart much flavor but which seduced with its fragrance. It was perfectly cooked -- each grain distinct, and yet with just enough cohesion (rather than actual stickiness) to be easy to eat without losing stray grains. And then there was the chicken breast -- so tender, so moist, so full of flavor, but not overpowered by either basil or cilantro. And mixing/matching the rice with the beef and the noodles with the chicken … these two dishes were perfect complements to each other.

Unfortunately, since the photos on the menu looked so gorgeous and the offerings were so unique (i.e.: “Red beans, yellow mung bean and green jelly. Served with coconut milk and ice”), we were too full for dessert … sounds like a future adventure to me!

Then we meandered through the neighborhood for a bit, as Ann Arbor’s pre-Yuppified (too many hair salons, phone stores and chain restaurants these days for my personal liking) character has clearly wandered down Washtenaw and into downtown Ypsi. There was an alternative art gallery that Tom wanted to show me; but it has apparently been displaced by my new favorite clothing shop, which is saying something considering that I am the Queen of Thrift Shops and never buy anything but shoes and underwear new or at retail prices : Lezley Anne’s. It is at 128 W. Michigan Avenue, and is worth going to even if you have to crawl in torrential rain on blistered knees; I am completely and utterly enamored!

There are dresses and more dresses, each one more colorful than the next … well, how could a girl like me, who wears gold and purple nail polish and sprinkles glitter into her hair for special occasions, resist??? And Lezley, herself, is just the kindest, warmest hostess you can imagine, placing no pressure upon customers as she shows off her amazing artworks (that’s really what they are); she seems far more intent upon making new friends and sharing her pride in the neighborhood than she does in making a sale.

But oh, it was hard not to become her new best customer as I perused the beautiful clothing, fabulously sensuous fabrics (Tom even took a picture of one gorgeous cream-colored skirt with pink and green dots, to use as a photographic texture), and vivid colors. I tried on several dresses, completely abandoning my usual stoic ability to resist full-price items (even if “full price” is only $35 … $35 for a brand new dress!!!) only to become utterly infatuated with several options, including some I could’ve/would’ve worn 20 years ago before age and gravity wreaked their miserable havoc upon me. But there was a clear winner among the contenders, which I will wear for the April 10 reception for the Docent Invitational at Riverside. Tom’s face lit up when he saw me in it, which meant everything in the world to me and made me feel beautiful as I twirled around in the full and flirtatious skirt.

As we talked to her, we learned that Lezley actually designs some of her own fabrics and is delving into organic cottons; the printer across the street lets her create her designs there, before she then cuts and trims and sews her one-of-a-kind dresses. Lezley told us that she’s never felt such a strong connection among neighbors and pride in a community, such that the shopkeepers and restauranteurs along Michigan Avenue are like members of an extended family. Tom and I were proud to support a local artist, as well as a collective spirit such as the one we were welcomed into as we ate and shopped and just immersed ourselves in the ambiance.

But there’s more -- don’t forget the art exhibit, which continues through April 24! We meandered into the nearly-empty room to revel in seeing Tom’s pieces, which brought me enormous and indescribable pride, without the noise and bustle of crowds intruding upon the experience. The reception for Tom’s (I call it his, even though there are 15 other artists involved!) art exhibit is on Saturday, April 10 from 5-7 p.m., and everyone is welcome to attend and to schmooze with the artists. (I’m bringing food, too, with a plan “du jour” of baby bagels with cream cheese and lox, a spicy dip with chips and vegetables, and a chocolate dip with cookies.)

There is an extraordinary variety of works being presented by the docents who work at the Arts Center, as well as by the guests that each docent was permitted to invite -- everything from paintings to sculpture to photography, with the simple listing of each of these media really seeming inadequate. Tom’s works are stellar, of course, with one of them -- twin, though not identical, images of a mannequin no longer able to maintain a public façade -- being a particular favorite. His friend Tara -- one of the docents, who very graciously invited Tom to participate in the exhibit -- also has some photographs on display; the one of an abandoned armchair in an alley with a vibrantly colored "Jesus" graffiti-ed in the background, and another very peaceful one of lovely pink flowers, are two that I found particularly distinctive and touching.

So come on down to the Riverside Arts Center on the 10th to see Tom’s work, to meet the artist (and later say “I knew him ‘when’!”), and to watch me giddily spin in my beautiful, sassy new dress ….


Lauren said...

I'm glad you came down to my neck of the woods! I live downtown in the Ypsi historic district. I enjoy Dalat but I have to say my favorite place down here lately is Beezy's. Have you been yet? Seriously fantastic. I'll have to walk down to the art center and see the exhibit!

Yenta Mary said...

Beezy's is very high on my agenda, but there's just SO much to do down there and so little time -- this business of having to work for a living ... oy! Sometimes it cramps my style!!! I will push Beezy's higher up the list, though, after your recommendation ... :)

sandwich365 said...

Yenta Mary, You kill me. Thanks for the input on "curtsy". Tom is very, very good, isn't he. This food looks amazing, and a great read. What don't you do well? Your ex sounds like a couple of my x's, then I switched roles and became the slippery one. This didn't work either, so I started the sandwich biz.. much safer and loads more satisfying. Keri

Nostalgia said...

First time here and good to see so much of art and food mixed in.

Karen Harris said...

Best of luck with the opening. Your food sounds great.

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