Fusion restaurants are an oft-attempted endeavor in modern cuisine, sometimes presenting foodies and an eager public with a unique culinary experience. And then there are times when the result is more reminiscent of a Dr. Frankenstein experiment.
Fans of Café Habana – both the Ann Arbor and Royal Oak locations – will be pleasantly surprised to find that Habana occupies the basement of the historic building that is settled neatly on the corner of Main and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. The modern yet rustic feel of the bi-restaurant establishment actually encompasses 8,000-square feet of Latin-inspired amazingness.
In the basement, you'll find a gem of modern adornment, with high ceilings and a remarkably gorgeous bar – with hand-crafted signature cocktails utilizing fresh ingredients made in-house (think habaneros, mint ice, rum and raisin, etc.). Upstairs at Lena, you'll be treated to equally delicious drink offerings – plus an incredible array of Latin-inspired and -executed dishes in an inviting, open floor plan that takes inspiration from South American establishments.
Executive Chef Gabriel Vera does a magical job of presenting dishes from countries like Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina – but using more traditional cooking methods, like those utilized in France and Italy. "I use French and Italian cooking techniques to prepare Latin cuisine," says Vera. "That way it is truly American contemporary with a Latin influence."
Both lunch and dinner menus offer a variety of plates – everything from small plates to tacos (think "real" tacos, unlike anything you've likely had before), sandwiches and more. All of their ingredients are made fresh daily, from their addictive chimichurri sauce (literally addictive, I could drink this stuff it's so good) to rice and beans made fresh daily. Even their signature fish – pan roasted corvine – is a unique offering that you won't find everywhere. It's flaky and not overly "fishy" tasting – and it's delivered every Wednesday (which, considering it's caught on Monday, makes it a pretty damned fresh option).
It would also behoove you to try the sea scallops, also pan-seared and served with a creamy and delicious barley risotto, glazed fava beans and cilantro foam. They are enormous scallops – nothing like the flimsy scallop appetizer plate you'd be served elsewhere – and perfectly cooked and presented. Also highly recommended is the beef churrasco, which is a traditional skirt steak served with white rice, tomato sofrito and topped with a fried egg and matchstick plantains (see, I told you this place was forward-thinking!). A gorgeous dish aesthetically, you'll find it equally pleasing to the palate. Finally, one of their more popular and famous dishes that you simply can't pass up is the basted palomo. Braised hen with orange butter, escabeche onions and mustar jus comes with a delicious sampling of roasted fingerling potatoes, and it's no exaggeration to say that everything on this plate is so perfectly marinated and prepared that you're unlikely to encounter anything so tender.
If you're looking to experience culinary fusion executed properly – plus a unique and beautiful interior within a fun town (on Main St., mind you) – it's pretty obvious that Lena is beckoning you to visit. | RDW