Since I was starting to feel like one of the only people in town who had not yet dined at Lena, this past Friday I finally took the plunge.
But first, drinks at The Bar at 327 Braun Court. My favorite cocktails in the city, by far.
The menu had been changed up since my last visit. I was excited to try one of the new ones, and ordered the Lisa/Lisa, featuring stratified layers of red wine and rye whiskey, with citrus, which the menu described as, “tart, complex, devastating.” Yup, that pretty much sums
me it up. I adored it.
The space is really warm and romantic inside. Chic. They’ve admittedly done an impressive job revamping the interior. Many people criticized the furniture choices, but I had no issues with them. My chair was comfortable, my table was sturdy, everything seemed clean, and I enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere.
I was kind of relieved to not be seated in one of these booth cubicles along one wall of the interior, though. They’re kind of neat, but I spend enough of my life in a cubicle at my job, thanks.
Usually I prefer wine over cocktails with dinner, but I really wanted to try one of the enticing craft cocktails. Before visiting Lena, I did a little research online (I am totally one of those people who study restaurant menus online before I go in!), and noticed that multiple people mentioned that the Violet Beauregarde cocktail was good. I decided to go with it, but it was just too sweet for my taste. The menu says:
“Dumante pistachio liqueur, rum, fresh blueberries and orange blossom syrup with blueberry flake rim.”
First of all, where is my blueberry flake rim? Sad face. Am I missing something here?
When I drank this cocktail, I pretty much just tasted SWEET followed by a mild pistachio flavor. So it was fine, but I probably just ordered the wrong cocktail for my taste.
Though it wasn’t the huz’s first choice, I was hell-bent on getting a charcuterie platter this particular evening, and so we did. Nothing too impressive here. The platter featured a goat cheese and a manchego cheese, but they were very similar in both flavor and texture. I would have liked to have seen at least two different textures of cheese on the plate. A soft and a hard. I mean that is fairly standard, right? I also wasn’t super thrilled by the decision to include orange marmalade. And what was with all of the cantaloupe!? Too much. I want more of the good stuff, please. The figs and serrano ham were delightful. The grilled bread was unimpressive.
Next we shared one of the small plates, which was actually I dish I’ve tried before. When I ordered the Ecuadorian Humitas, our server informed us that it had been recently voted the ‘Best Appetizer’ in Ann Arbor at the Taste of Ann Arbor event. At first I played coy, but then the huz revealed me as one of the judges at Taste of Ann Arbor this past year.
So yes, this past summer at Taste of Ann Arbor, Lena offered these Ecuadorian Humitas and they blew me away with their deliciousness! Fresh dense, moist, mildly sweet corn cakes with a rich lemongrass-tomato stew, topped with melted queso fresco = foodgasm. These are incredible, packed with so much flavor. The Humitas alone are worth a trip!
Lastly, the huz and I shared an entrée. Naturally, he wanted meat and since he’d indulged my charcuterie platter craving, I obliged his request and we shared the Braised Short Ribs, which were served atop a really nicely prepared, well-seasoned dollop of creamy polenta, and accompanied by a few pan-seared vegetables, which were really just a teaser because I wanted more! Somewhere between braising (cooking in a covered pot with liquid) and plating, this meat somehow dried out, at least on the crisp exterior, but the veal reduction drizzled atop the dish nearly remedied the situation. I just needed much more of it. The beef was somewhat tender and fell apart fairly easily, had a nice flavor, but it wasn’t as rich and well-seasoned as I’d hoped for. I found the large portion size to be very reasonable for the price. All in all, this dish was good but needs a few tweaks, in my opinion.
In terms of service, we were seated immediately after arriving early to our reservation on this busy night. Our server did a fine job, keeping things pleasant and professional but still down-to-earth, and the meal was paced well.
Overall I would rate our general experience at Lena a 7 out of 10, which is about a C grade.
I think I would perhaps return to enjoy the warm ambiance with a glass of wine (not a sweet cocktail!) and an order of Ecuadorian Humitas in the future!