I love New Year’s celebrations. This year we began our “celebration” a day early, with our annual “New Year’s Feast” on December 30. We went with our old favorites this year:
- pigs in a blanket
- veggie pizza
- orgasmic cheese dip
Read about our past New Year’s Feasts HERE. Every year since the huz and I began dating, it has been our annual tradition to pick a day near New Year’s Eve and make a dinner out of our favorite indulgent foods.
On New Year’s Eve itself, the huz and I treated ourselves to an indulgent date night out at Ann Arbor’s newest Spanish tapas bar and restaurant, Aventura. The establishment is Ann Arbor restaurateur Sava Lelcaj’s newest business. Her other two successful ventures in the city are babo market and Sava’s Restaurant.
Entryway at Aventura:
Now, if you’ve heard anything about the space, you may have heard how lovely it is. Well, I’m here to confirm that the rumors are true.
Prior to the restaurant’s opening, I followed their Instagram feed for quite some time, and witnessed, in pictures, the massive renovation of the space (it was formerly an Indian restaurant). It is quite remarkable. The space offers a huge bar that spans multiple rooms, charming brick archways, intricate tiled mosaics, dark hardwood floors, and warm, romantic colors. Large windows facing Washington Street also offer great people-watching views from some tables.
In the drinks department, Aventura offers a large wine menu featuring many Spanish wines, beer, and a few craft cocktails (“copas”), gin & tonics, and a few different sangrias.
A craft cocktail was offered on special that sounded like it was made just for me, and I couldn’t resist ordering it: the “Bold Fashioned,” similar to a traditional Old Fashioned made with bourbon, but also featuring warm Christmas-y spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Loved it enough to be a lush and order a second.
Okay, so now what you’re really here for: the food. (Or were you here for the drinks? No judgment.)
We ordered food from both the Pintxos and the Tapas sections of the menus. Also offered on the menu are cocas (similar to little flatbread pizzas, per our server), cheese and charcuterie, salads, soups, and paellas.
We began with a pair of pintxos, which are like small one- or two-bite tooth-picked tastes of dishes served atop bread, ordered individually for around $2-$4 each.
“SOLOMILLO Y CREMA – short rib, horseradish cream, cornichons, piquillo pepper”
These were good, but not worth the $4 price tag each. (Especially the front one, below! Skimping on the meat.) I liked the beef but it was nothing special, in my opinion. The piquillo pepper and horseradish cream were very good, but this just wasn’t a mind-blowing offering to me. The little pickle (a.k.a. “cornichon”) was so cute though!
Now, onto the tapas! These are small plates meant to be shared, and our server recommended 1.5-2 orders per person. For the two of us, we ordered four tapas. It was a satisfactory amount.
“GAMBAS AL AJILLO – shrimp, garlic, thyme, calabrese peppers.”
These shrimp were very good, but I couldn’t help but think that they weren’t quite as good as the “Gambas al Ajillo” I had at another tapas restaurant in Bethesda a couple years ago. (Yes, I remember. I swear it seems that I remember everything I eat. Having a blog documenting it all also helps!) The shrimp were large and delicious in Aventura’s dish, but I simply would have liked a bolder seasoning. The large browned garlic chunks and calabrese peppers were fastastic, as were the slices of toasted bread dipped in the oil at the base of the dish. Overall a good dish.
Second was an item I picked out. (Brussels sprouts… naturally.)
“COLES DE BRUSELAS Y MANZANAS – Brussels sprouts, pistachios, granny smith apples, olive oil, crème fraîche.”
This was a nice dish. The Brussels Sprouts tasted fresh and in-season, had a nice char, and I loved them paired with tart granny smith apples. The dish itself was just a tad liquidy, and I also wished that the pistachios were chopped and sprinkled on top so that they might retain their crunchiness, rather than being left whole and mixed into the dish, where they were somewhat lost. Good, needs a little work.
The next two dishes were my favorites and I loved both of them. In fact I can’t decide which I liked best.
“ALBÓNDIGAS – lamb meatballs, manchego, almond picada.”
Amazing! Not to be missed. The outsides of the meatballs were seared nicely, while the inside was still tender and soft. The creamy sauce was delectable. The portion was also pretty generous. Order these if you go!
And yes, and now my other favorite from the evening:
“CERDO DESHEBRADO – suckling pig, sherry vinegar barbecue, pickles, calabrese peppers, honey aiòli, layered on a brioche bun.”
This trio of sliders featured buttery brioche topped with sweet, succulent pieces of shredded pork, locally sourced from a family-based company that ensures a humane raising and treatment of their pigs. The cucumbers atop the beef were crunchy new pictures and were the perfect crunchy complement to the tender beef and soft bun. Absolutely loved this dish!
For dessert, one might say we went a little overboard, but I’m okay with that.
Pastelón de Chocolate
First, a chocolate cake atop a pool of olive oil spiked with smoky Spanish paprika. Yes. Might sound odd, but I was a big fan of this combination.
The rich, thick dark chocolate ganache on this cake was swoon-worthy. Here is how the cake looked when cut open. Yes it was as good as it looked!
Also we ordered churros. Because churros.
These were piping hot, thick, and surprising light inside. I much preferred these light churros to heavier, dense churros weighted down by oil that I’ve sometimes had at other restaurants. I think these were prepared just right! Three dipping sauces were also offered, including a spicy chocolate, almond vanilla, and a red wine reduction. We both thought the vanilla sauce was the best.
All in all I thought our meal was quite a treat. A couple of the dishes were simply good, but did not stand out. But, those lamb meatballs and suckling pig sliders were both incredible, and are worthy of a return visit on their own. The fact I enjoyed every single dish I ordered very much is pretty impressive.
AVENTURA vs SAVA’S
For the record, based on my one visit to Aventura, and multiple visits to Sava’s, I liked the food at Aventura better. While I do like Sava’s food, nothing has ever “blown my mind;” however, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say I had a couple “mind-blowing” dishes at Aventura.
Aventura also seemed a bit more mature, in terms of both menu and atmosphere. Which I liked. Because I am old. I guess.
We had an 8:30 PM reservation, arrived on time, and had to wait less than 5 minutes for our table to be ready. Our server devoted a fair bit of time going through the menu with us when we arrived, which I appreciated. Her return visits to our table were a bit sparse during the first part of our visit, (it was quite busy – big New Year’s Even crowd) but once our order was finally placed, our food all came out promptly, one dish at a time, with just a few minutes in between the arrival of each new dish. Various servers delivered our tapas throughout the evening, and all explained each dish when it arrived. I was pleased.
Based on the price of our final bill, we might have to leave dinners at Aventura for special occasions. (Or maybe if we were to tone it down on those $9 cocktails, the food would definitely be in our reach for date night more often.) With the exception of the two particular pintxos we ordered (which also happened to be about the two priciest ones offered), all of the relatively generous food portions seemed fair for the price as well.
Perhaps I will return sooner for happy hour, or for a pre-dinner selection of wine, cheese, and charcuterie! We also really want to try one of the suckling pig platters since we so enjoyed the shredded pork sliders featuring the meat. So yes, I’d love to make a return visit.
After dinner, we strolled down to Main Street, which was blocked off for a pre-Winter Class hockey game street party. I loved seeing all of our Ann Arbor businesses packed to the brim and the energy downtown was incredible. I love this city.
We didn’t get a chance to see the big “puck” that had been crafted for the event as it was lit and dropped at midnight, but we did get to see it both on the ground prior to the grand lighting, and then again hanging up in the sky in anticipation of midnight. There were lots and lots of Canadians representing their hockey team downtown celebrating, too.
We rang in 2014 at the Blind Pig, as is customary.
I feel so lucky that I live in such an amazing city that offers so much.
Happy New Year!