Flat Top Grill Dinner, Ann Arbor, MI

I’d been anticipating the opening of Flat Top Grill, a Chicago based restaurant chain, in the Huron Village shopping center at Washtenaw and Huron Parkway for the last several months. I had fun with their interactive website that let’s you “create your own” virtual stir fry. I received a special email invitation last week to make reservations for a pre-opening charity event. They offered preview meals to email insiders for $5 per person before their official opening on Monday, November 15; all proceeds went to Eli’s Place.

My husband and I made reservations last Friday night for 7pm. They were packed when we arrived, but they were well organized and we were seated within a minute or two of coming in the door. The host also gave us a coupon good for a free dessert that night, a nice surprise.

Our waiter, Kurt, greeted us enthusiastically and promptly after we were seated. After learning we were “newbies” to the Flat Top Grill he walked us through their process. From past experience,  Mongolian Barbecue, and similar restaurants, had made me leery of these create-your-own stir fry places because I feel like the customer is often left to fend for themselves, but still leave a tip at the end of the night. Flat Top Grill has a much better system: they have your wait person meet you up at the stir fry station and take you through step-by-step if you need it. They also had additional staff on hand the night were were there to help you put together your ingredients as well.

I wasn’t sure what type of sauce to go with so Kurt was nice enough to ask about some of my tastes and mix a sampler cup of sauce for me to try with peanut sauce, sweet and sour sauce and Jamaican jerk sauce. It was awesome. I added the appropriate proportions to my bowl of white rice, tomato, summer squash and onion. For my protein I chose beef. Shrimp is normally a little extra, but it was free the night we were their for the event so I added that as well. I also added their special bread, called roti prata which was sort of like a thin naan if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine.

One of the best things about Flat Top Grill is that you have a wooden stick with your table number and your name penciled in that stays with your dish while it’s prepared so you don’t have to stand and wait for your food. The waitstaff brings your completed dish back to your table when it’s ready so you get to relax with your drink instead. I also appreciated their strong attention to any food allergies. They have special colored sticks that you insert with your ingredients before they’re prepared to make sure the appropriate precautions are taken to avoid contamination.

My stir fry was fantastic. The sauce combination that my waiter suggested was even better than I had imagined. The beef came out nice and tender, not dry. The shrimp was fresh and delicious. I loved the texture and taste the bread added to each bite. I’m used to eating most breads on their own, but it was a nice change to incorporate it into the main dish.

We chose the Cinnamon Fresh Fruit Roti for dessert. They take their special thin bread coat it in cinnamon-sugar and stuff it with seasonal fruit and creme anglaise. A cherry orange glaze is added to the top and a side of French vanilla ice cream. They also serve two sides of house-made whipped cream. I love fruit based desserts so this was a winner for me. The crisp cinnamon-sugar coated bread and soft fruit on the inside were a nice contrast. The house whipped cream was nice and light and the small scoop of ice cream was just enough without going overboard. For you chocolate lovers they also have an amazing sounding Triple Chocolate Storm dessert to finish your evening.

This is how all create-your-own stir fry restaurants should operate. I never felt like I was floundering to figure out how to make my meal. I was able to sit and relax while my meal was prepared and then brought out to me. I felt like service was incredibly attentive and friendly. The atmosphere was fun and  lively. I definitely felt it was a place I could feel good about leaving a tip for my server despite the fact that I put my own ingredients on the plate because they created an interactive experience.

We’ll be headed their for breakfast tomorrow and I can’t wait to report back on that visit!