Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lunching at Lena - Ann Arbor

I love an invitation to discover. And when aforesaid come hither is to delve into a culinary adventure, by all means, do call.

And so it was with much deliberation that my beautiful Mom and I scoured the lists of Ann Arbor's restaurant week. I have already written about the cosmopolitan offerings in this universtity town and I am delighted to see that the ante has only been upped since my previous visit in 2012.

That was the year when Lena opened in the midst of the downtown area, after extensive renovations which transformed the space that had previously held a Greek diner into a modern, light filled aerie whose design intentionally drew upon the building's original form as a drugstore.

Chef Gabriel Vera uses traditional French (!) and Italian techniques to bring a new spin to an inspired menu that focuses on the "food of the Americas." Alas, as it was a dreary, rainy day, what had drawn us to Lena was not the duck confit soup with Serrano ham, lime and glazed carrots ("Whaaat?" I know) but a search for comfort food in the form of his Chipolte turkey burger. It was served on a perfectly puffy bakery roll with avocado, feta, braised fennel and carmelized bacon (as if bacon was not amazing enough on it's own) and smoked jalapeno aioli. As it was restaurant week, the burgers were two for $15. Oh yes, there also happened to be a copious side of crunchy sweet potato fries that was made even more delightful when Stephanie, our charming server, brought us out ramekins of the house's chimichurri sauce to dip them in. 

All of the above was washed down with a perfectly fine glass of Malbec and suddenly...

...I was no longer thinking about the rain but wondering how quickly I could return to settle into one of the long row of booths to partake in Lena's $5 Happy Hour in order to nibble Nachos El Diablo while sipping a  Sweet Hot mojito spiked with peppers and orange honey syrup. Ah, America...happy hour...

...and the land of space. A luxury simply unaffordable in my part of Southern France. And yet...

...this is exactly the kind of restaurant that would be a phenomenal success in Arles. Open all day and late into the night at Cafe Habanas on the cellar level...something in-between Michelin striving and the frozen tourist joints that pass as "Provençal" cuisine...but yet reasonably priced enough that one could go often enough to make friends. Eh, oui. Bravo to the team at Lena for creating a wonderful ambience and inspiring, happy culinary delights. A wonderful discovery, all around...

226 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tel. 734-994-2773

Yet again, I will just toss it out there that this was in no way a sponsored post, just passing along a good thing...and a merci to my Sister for letting me use her ipone 5 to take these photos as my trusty Canon will be in retirement until I return to France...

Have a lovely weekend well and be merry...


  1. Ha. Who ever said that America doesn't have fine cuisine! For sure, I keep thinking that if I opened a place like this on France it would fly. Mais, oh-la-la! All the variables, especially utside Paris or Provence.

  2. An idea for your next adventure: a collaboration to bring the best of Lena to southern France? I know that you are a person of Many Talents....! Do you know about the blog Unbrave Girl, written by a bright and funny woman who has been teaching at the university in Ann Arbor for almost a year? If you have time, you may want to connect with her while you are there. Email me if you need to know more to find her...her name escapes me right now because I am in the fog of post-surgery painkillers, but I can look it up, and her blog's address, if you wish. Warmly, Leslie in Portland, Oregon

  3. Mmmmmm - you captured it! The ambiance, the yummy food (pretty sly not to tell what that crazy dessert was!). I think you might start to convince me that Ann Arbor has some good restaurants after all! What do you know! Fun to read these blog posts when I was there with you! (so happy to have you here!)

  4. thanks for this info--sometimes I work in A2--and of course get in a rut as far as food goes--message me and you can escape to Birmingham--many great non-chain rests

  5. Looks yummy! And I love the decor. Looks like I place I could stay for hours.

  6. Yes! What is the dessert?

  7. Hello Heather,
    Lena looks to be our kind of place, that is for certain. The food and the environment all have a confidence that makes one feel totally at home. Yes, so perfect to have a restaurant where the good is delicious and homely and at a price that is affordable for many happy returns. In that way, one does form a closer connection with the people and the place and the whole experience becomes even more special. Surely, Lena or its equivalent would work almost anywhere.

    It sounds as if you are having a happy time with your family and that is so good to hear. Amazing that you are even pointing out to them new delights in their own town. But, what fun to experience it all together. Joy!

  8. Really looks like an amazing restaurant. Very unique - especially those booths. And that Chipolte turkey burger looks amazing!

  9. But now I'm hungry!! Otherwise it's perfect :-)

  10. It's nice to visit Ann Arbor. A real American fare paired with Malbec. Good choice. Rain in Victoria also.

  11. Looks utterly delicious, Heather. You are making me crave a turkey burger before 7 am here in Seattle! Your taste buds certainly had a treat and I also really like the look of the place. Cool, but not aloof. Stylish but not snobbish. Hope the sun has come out for you! XOXO

  12. Glad to hear this place was so good! I'll have to go there soon. Are you still here in A2? Have a safe trip back to Arles and can you take me with you? :)

  13. Lena looks like a wonderful treat - perfect ambience and food. The best combination.

  14. My salivary glands are in overdrive ... and who would think to put bacon, avocado and fennel in the same place. I'll have to go google lime carrots, because that sounds super yummy too.

  15. My husband and I made plans one evening last summer to meet our daughter and her boyfriend for dinner in A2. While walking to our selected destination, we passed Lena and decided on a whim to eat there instead. That evening provided one of the best memories of the entire summer; the food and drinks, the ambiance - I couldn't have scripted it better (perfect weather didn't hurt either). Sadly for me, our children have both now moved out of state, but my husband and I still dine regularly in A2. It's full of great restaurants and we've decided to try a different one every time for the time being (unless one of us will absolutely not be denied Zingerman's). After reading of your visit, I'ved moved Lena several places up the list. Go Blue!


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