Last night I had the absolute pleasure of dining at the newly-opened Isalita in Ann Arbor. I cannot remember the last time I was so excited to try a new restaurant!
[above picture source: freep.com]
Isalita is the brainchild of the owner of the high-touted, nationally acclaimed restaurant located right next door: Mani Osteria. I have also eaten at Mani in the past and loved it!
We arrived a little before 6:00 PM on a Friday night, placed our name on the list to be seated with the hostess, and enjoyed a drink in the lively bar area for 30-40 minutes. Behind the bar, shelves made of reclaimed wood housed the numerous bottles of tequila offered by Isalita.
I tried one of Isalita’s cocktails, called La Condesa, made with El Jimador Tequila Blanco, muddled berry, lemon, cranberry bitters, and cava (Spanish sparkling wine), which was served in a champagne flute. The huz went with a Michigan beer. My cocktail was wonderful – tangy and not overly sweet.
All the seats at the bar were filled but we found a place to stand behind the bar where we could enjoy our drinks and people-watch.
Reclaimed wood, brick walls, rich wood grain tables, and light fixtures made from inverted wooden baskets form the bones of the décor, while lime green and neon pink accent walls bring style and a splash of whimsy to the warm, casual space.
This giant mural also decorates one of the interior walls of the restaurant.
Once we were seated, our friendly server gave us background information on the restaurant. She indicated that the menu consists of Mexican street food-inspired small plates that are meant to be shared, and pointed out a few of her favorite items from each category. Two-to-three small plates per person was our server’s recommendation, and so, for the two of us, we selected four small plates, to begin. I switched to drinking Merlot for dinner.
Originally we’d planned to try the Spicy Tuna Ceviche, but after our server recommended the Hamachi Ceviche, we ordered that instead. I think we made the right choice! How incredibly bright and fresh this yellow fin tuna was, served with an orange habanero sauce, and lime granita! While this was a small portion, every bite was heaven. Everything was balanced and just worked – acid, heat, texture, flavor – perfect.
Our next dish was from the “Botanas de Calle,” or Street Foods, section of the menu – the Flautas. This was the dish I really wanted to order, as I was intrigued by the duck confit. The Flautas were crispy and tasty, and not greasy. The duck confit that filled the Flautas was very finely shredded in a rich tangy sauce. While this dish was very good, it was the least-mind blowing of the four we ordered. I wished that the avocado sauce beneath the Flautas was a bit thicker, with more substance.
Next up: my personal favorite of the night! Our server indicated that the enchiladas were being debuted on the menu, and we tried the Verde Enchilada, which was filled with shrimp and jumbo lump crab, and covered in a green tomatillo salsa. This was just one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Every bite was an explosion of flavor ecstasy.
And lastly, from the “Nachos y Fundido” category, we ordered the Queso Fundido with Chorizo. My Spanish is getting rather rusty, after taking two years of it in high school and three semesters in college. I had admittedly forgotten that “fundido” means “melted,” and so, here, we were expecting more traditional nacho dish, rather than a skillet of melted cheese – but it ended up being for the best because: This. Was. Amazing!! Spicy, meaty house-made Mexican chorizo formed the base of this dip, while oodles of melted cheese, pickled onions, and jalapeños dressed the top of the dish. The Queso Fundido was served with the cutest little basket of the most tender, warm flour tortillas, upon which one could scoop their melted cheese. This was the favorite dish of the huz!
All in all, every bite of food we had at Isalita was bold and amazing, and there were some bites that were even phenomenal. Yes, the hype is true. Isalita is just, well, awesome! The prices are on the high end, but it is worth it for a treat of expertly executed, quality food on a special occasion. Our service was great all night too, from hostess, to bartender, to server.
Here’s a tip! The bathrooms, which are located downstairs, are also connected to Mani Osteria. If you take a different set of stairs back up, you will end up in Mani Osteria. This is
what happened to me and I got lost just what I heard.