If you’re plugged into Ann Arbor’s tiny but active “underground” supper club scene, you’ve already heard of Bona Sera’s principals, who cook under their noms-de-cuisine Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman. They’ve come out into the light with the establishment of Bona Sera Café (slogan “Bad Women Cooking,” derived from their nicknames) in downtown Ypsilanti, and it’s a great addition to the building Ypsi food scene. One of the advantages of low property values is a low cost for entry into the market for small businesses. That’s why you sometimes find amazing ethnic restaurants in run-down strip malls, and that’s what happened here: when the partners were looking for a site for a recent charity dinner, they discovered how cheap it could be to rent the space long-term. Some personal investment, and a successful $10,000 Kickstarter campaign later, and they’ve got an idiosyncratic and spacious restaurant right on Michigan Avenue, new careers, and a budding reputation for serving up some excellent food. They also cater, and plan to continue the charity dinners.
Bona Sera’s style follows two basic threads. In one, epitomized by the Tom Yam Shrimp with Grits, they do fusion-y dishes which may be discordant in concept but are totally harmonious in taste. In the other (the Surfy Turfy is a good example), they get their hands on excellent ingredients and do as little as possible to them in order to bring out their taste. What this means is that both thrill-seekers and more conservative diners can find things to like.
Salads and Appetizers
Crunch Time — A delightful combination of shaved fresh fennel, apple and mixed greens, and a zippy lemon vinaigrette. If you like your salad with more kick, then the I’m Not Bitter salad (it is) might be more to your taste as it adds radicchio to the mixed greens and fennel with the same lemon vinaigrette.
Sesame Peanut Noodles — Local Al Dente noodles cooked to a perfect, well, al dente with julienned carrots and pea pods tossed in a peanut and sesame oil sauce. Garnished with peanuts and sesame seeds.
Caprese salad (special) — Summer on a plate; we visited at the height of the tomato season, and garden fresh heirloom tomatoes from the local Ypsi farmer’s market were showing off their best flavors.
Shrimp Louise (special) — Punning off of the classic Shrimp Louie, this gorgeous salad could serve as a small meal. The shrimp were dressed in a creamy cucumber remoulade with tarragon, rice wine, and bell peppers.
Mean Chick Chicken Wings (special) — Served with fresh mixed greens and house-made blue cheese dressing on the side, our chicken wings were moist and meaty and beautifully grilled sporting some caramelized char.
Tom Yum Shrimp & Grits — If any dish represents how Bona Sera’s two chefs combine ingredients in unexpected and creative ways to produce a dish that really does work, it’s this one. White hominy grits are served with a spicy sauce, shrimp, scallions, pancetta, white cheddar cheese and a balsamic reduction.
Banh Mi – Not truly a banh mi — it uses a double-wide Chinese steamed bun instead of the usual roll – this is their own creative fusion take on a Vietnamese sandwich, which itself is a fusion of Asian and French cuisines. The porchetta and shrimp versions are our favorites. The porchetta combines thick juicy slices of Italian pork roast with a fennel-apple slaw and fennel vinaigrette. The shrimp one features “Tom Yum Shrimp” paired with a daikon & carrot slaw, lettuce, and cilantro.
Surfy Turfy (special) — A kicked-up version of their Steak Salad, featuring a trio of large scallops to satisfy the surf portion of the name. Our steak, cooked to a proper medium rare, with a lovely thin char on the outside, juicy on the inside, was topped with a few delicate shavings of parmesan. Served over greens and accompanied by roasted potatoes, this is pretty much a perfect plate of food.
Carrot Cake — one of the best we’ve had. A tall moist and light cake, not too sweet and with good carrot flavor, topped with a great cream cheese frosting.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream — Bona Sera makes their own ice cream, and lucky for us this happens to be one of our personal favorite ice cream flavors.
Not a fancy place, at Bona Sera you go to the counter and place your order before seating yourself. Table service is in the works, as is a collaboration with another outfit in the same space to make alcohol available.
The next Bona Sera Supper Club charity dinner is Saturday, October 27. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow them on Twitter @SeraSupperClub, for more info.
Lisa and Joe have been blogging about food in the Ann Arbor area (and points beyond)since 2004. Check them out at www.kitchenchick.com.