Friday, November 16, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Cafe Habana and Lena

It was Girls' Night Out recently, and my BFF Wendy and I headed to a new restaurant - Lena - which is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. A sophisticated place, some have been surprised to hear that we found options that would qualify for the mandatory $5 per person budget. But if you share an appetizer or a dessert, you can definitely find value on the menu. Sometimes it's important to focus on the quality of the dishes, and on the social aspects of going out with a friend, rather than seeking gargantuan quantities of food.

Our evening began by heading downstairs to Cafe Habana, to visit my friend Bobby Hoffman who was tending bar. Although they are technically part of the same facility and share a chef and some staff, Habana and Lena are different spaces both physically and in terms of atmosphere. The latter is sleek, bright, trendy but welcoming; the former is darker, lively, and particularly giddy once the DJ starts playing and the salsa dancing begins.

Bobby didn't just bring us whatever beverage we'd ordered, but instead took the time to talk with us about what types of drinks we like, what sort of delicious treat we were in the mood for on an oh, so rare evening of frivolity. He brought us tastes of several liqueurs - as they came up in our conversations about food, travel, and amusement - telling us that Habana even makes many of its own from scratch. Bobby is passionate about food, about drink, about experiencing life - definitely a bon vivant. Be sure to ask for him when you go to either Habana or Lena, as he will spoil you rather than merely serving.

Bobby recommended a lovely appetizer to go with our Strawberry Mojito (me) and Posion de Bruja (Wendy, who was tickled to order a Witch's Brew): Baked Goat Cheese. This was a rich, creamy, indulgent treat topped with salsa and served with an abundance of tortilla chips. At $8, it was far more than one person could eat, and it was the perfect dish to go with our potent drinks. (Unfortunately, the bar was so dark that there was no way to get an acceptable photo.) It was an ideal dish to nibble at while talking about life and love ... the kind of stuff Wendy and I always tend towards when we go out.

Although we weren't particularly hungry anymore, we couldn't resist the temptations of Bobby's other menu recommendations; so we walked upstairs to Lena to continue our evening and try a few more treats.

Both Bobby and our waitress had recommended the Ecuadorian Humitas, which are fresh corn cakes with lemongrass-tomato stew and melted chihuahua cheese; essentially, they are layers of polenta filled with rich cheese and topped with a lovely light sauce. At $9, and with two portions served, this is another dish that meets our budgetary standards.

Because it was Girls' Night Out, dessert was mandatory. And who could resist a luscious chocolate treat, especially when it only cost $9 and offered plenty of decadence for two? Pasion de Chocolate, pictured above, is a gorgeous and delicious serving of chocolate cake that is filled with white chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate ganache, and accompanied by sweet lychee ice cream. This was ideal for Wendy's and my evening, and would also be perfect to share on a date.

There are a significant number of options on the Habana and Lena menus which cost only $7-9, such that you could share them with a loved one and still stay within our mandatory budget: the Ceviche Trio, beef or cheese empanadas, plaintain tostones, fried yuca rolls with queso fresco, the charred vegetable platter, and duck confit. Vegetarians will find that they have not been neglected, and that many inspired dishes await them.

For a lively and energetic party, head downstairs to Cafe Habana. And for a quieter, but no less delicious, option, stay upstairs and eat at Lena. But either way, stop by, say "hi" to Bobby, have a drink, socialize, and enjoy some lovely food.

Cafe Habana
226 South Main
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Saturday: 5 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. - Midnight

226 South Main
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - Midnight
Sunday: 12 - 10 p.m.

View Larger Map

Lena on Urbanspoon


Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, that cake looks amazing! I love that you found such a fancy place to showcase on frugal Friday.. just shows you that good deals can be found anywhere, you just have to look :)

Cranberry Morning said...

When I first saw the heading, I thought, 'Wow, that's an odd combo.' :-) But then your post explained. I could go for a little Pasion de Chocolate, or maybe a LOT of Pasion de Chocolate, so it's a good thing I don't live next door. And I'm noticing that there's not a lot of difference between he words 'pasion' and 'posion.' I could get in big trouble! lol

Yenta Mary said...

A very nice gentleman named Matt just wrote to tell me about new deals that weren't available when I visited ... whee!!! "I noticed your article today and wanted to add something to it. I happened to walk by Lena/habana earlier in the week and noticed a $5 happy hour special that just began. There are $5 drink specials including the mojitos, margaritas and sangria. What surprised me were the food items offered. From 4-6pm in Lena you can order mussels, lobster pot pie, some potato cake thing and wings….all for $5 each! Downstairs it was the cheese dip you talked about along with quac and a bean dip I believe. Pretty good deals. Anyways I thought I would share as it seems to fit."

Candace said...

I want to do Girls' Night out with you there. That's my choice. Amen. :)

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

What a fun Girls Night Out! Those HDs and that cake look very satisfying.

Chris said...

Those humitas sound divine! Flavor just layered and layered.

Ghosts of Postings Past and Present

Looking for Something ...?