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We decided to spend our one-month wedding anniversary in northern Michigan. We were excited for the getaway – as it was supposed to be sunny and beach weather. Yea…not so much. Instead of kayaking and laying out in the last of summer’s sunshine, we ended up indulging in high calorie cuisine as we watched the landscape through the rain-streaked windows. Not such a bad trade-off.

The lodging: we’re not typically bed-and-breakfast people. We enjoy modern amenities, martini bars and a boutique-y atmosphere. However, we booked our vacation late in the summer – and there weren’t a whole lot of options left. Our choices were between standard hotel franchises (think Sleep Inn), ratty beach resorts with decor circa 1960, and the quaint little B&Bs throughout the bay region. We decided upon a completely renovated Victorian mansion known as¬†The Wellington Inn. Barb and Hank did a wonderful job refurbishing the 1905 estate in classic decor and accompaniments. We stayed in the Woolsey Suite (aka the Bridal Suite) – and it featured a luxurious jetted tub, fireplace, sitting area and private deck (not so shabby for an ‘antique’ estate. The breakfasts were very appetizing, and they always started with a serving of local fresh fruit.

The food: We received recommendations around Traverse City and the penninsulas…but we’d only really support a couple of those. I’ll dive deeper into why:

Phil’s on Front: Phil – supposedly the owner and chef of Windows (which used to be on the Leelanau Peninsula) now operates a small bistro-style affair on Front Street in downtown Traverse City across from the theater. The restaurant bar was absolutely packed when we walked up to the building, with people waiting outside the door. We perused the daily menu hanging outside before entering – and both the wine list and dinner selections were inviting. Signs were all pointing favorably for this establishment…but things quickly changed. We ordered a bottle of wine while we were waiting for our table, but the Conundrum we had our eye on was sold out (and had been for a while)…so was the next wine…and then the next. The bartender explained that they don’t have a very good sommelier, and this happens a lot. Great. So we chose a Sancerre and went on with it. She poured a taste, and we began to drink it. The wine itself was fine, but the glass smelled like old fish. Apparently Phil doesn’t have a separate washing machine for glassware. We asked for our glasses to be replaced, and the bartender looked at us as if we were insane. Our second set of glasses weren’t much better. This is the point when we should have left…but didn’t. Food: whitefish pate – very good, although the toasts that accompanied the pate were more ‘dried’ than toasted. Sole served with crabmeat – very good. Short ribs with braised vegetables and arborrio rice: meat felt like dried shoe leather, possibly boiled, with all loss of flavor and moisture. For one, I am curious on how a chef can consider chopped flank steak to resemble ‘short ribs’. Secondly, I would like to know how a menu (which only features new selections every day) can support a dish of such low quality. Thirdly, when Phil walked by and inquired on the meal – and asked me if my short ribs were “tough” without any prompt of my dissatisfaction – I had to bite back a snarl. If the chef knows his meat is tough, then why the hell is he serving it to clients? Is all integrity lost? Let them pay for it even though it’s really stew. Make the stew, call it stew, and sell it priced at stew. End rant. Dessert: chocolates with caramel sea salt ice cream. Yummy. Albeit the good end note, it could not make up for this horrible culinary let down. Stay away…

The Cove: located on a canal in a little fishing town called Leland, this seafood establishment is cozy and unpretentious. We dined on whitefish pate (this will be a trend throughout our excursion), which was served warm & creamy and topped with chopped almonds – very addictive – and served with a selection of crackers. The seafood bisque, which is supposedly famous, was only mediocre, and seemed more fattening and less flavorful than anything worth the calories. The highlight of the meal was definitely the Chubby Mary – a Bloody Mary served with a Chub fish sticking its head out of the glass. One is supposed to remove the Chub from the glass, deskin it, and then eat the meat with crackers. My husband was quite a fan of this odd little specialty.

Trattoria Stella: this ‘institution’ of an Italian restaurant is located in a converted asylum just west of downtown Traverse City in what is known as the Village of Grand Traverse Commons. Although the signs are a little difficult to navigate, one is placated just by taking in the view of the estate’s grounds and impressive edifices. The restaurant itself is located in the basement of the building (which is a little unnerving to most people), but once inside, it’s obvious that the space is comfortable, clean, and quite free of electroshock equipment. The genre of cooking is ‘farm to table’ Italian fare – a style that utilizes many local farms for dairy, meats, herbs, vegetables and fruit. Not only does this allow the business to keep costs down, but it sustains the local economy and encourages healthy eating habits. The staff was amazing – and trained in old-style service methodology: hands clasped, do not run the customer over when coming out of the kitchen, know your menu/technique, etc etc. But even these admirable (but quite frankly, expected) traits were underwhelming when compared with the food quality and preparation. ¬†Gastro-orgasmic is the only accurate way to describe the experience – especially the “super special” menu item: Wagyu beef with a fennel pollen crust on a bed of tomatoes and spinach, and a side of roasted onions, garlic and fried shiitake mushrooms (and a glass of Barbaresco, of course), which was mind altering. We briefly considered shrinking Chef Myles and putting him in my purse to take him home. The steak (and the meal, period) was one of the very best that we’ve had in a long time. Kudos to Stella for making us some very satisfied customers. We’ll certainly be back.

The Boathouse: was the most recommended restaurant by TC locals, and by non-locals. As my grandmother would say, it’s “unsalted” – aka, it’s nothing that special; rather bland. Yes, the food is of solid preparation and ingredients. The wine list is quite superb. The service is attentive and provides excellent recommendations on food pairing. The whitefish pate (our little indulgence) was the most disappointing that we had on the bay. It was over-dilled, and tasted like cream cheese. To our surprise, the salads were very pleasing – not over sugared or salted – which the right combination of farm fresh produce to light dressing. The sole special was decadent in a brown butter reduction, marcona almonds, Italian couscous and morels – but the strawberries threw the dynamic of the dish off, so we tossed them to the side. Our Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc was very memorable (and our glasses did not smell like fish remnants). The 20 year port was a nice finish. Overall, we had a nice experience on TC’s most enjoyed fish haus, but we’re not die-hard fans as of yet.

The wine –

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