Bon Appetit introduces Ypsilanti to Guinean cuisine

Husband-wife Kenisha Warford-Diallo and Ismael Diallo opened the restaurant in the former Golden Wall space on Cross Street

Bon Appetit Cuisine’s red snapper.
Bon Appetit Cuisine’s red snapper. Tom Perkins

Bon Appetit Cuisine

421 W. Cross St., Ypsilanti
Noon-9 p.m. Tues-Sat,
closed Sun-Mon
Handicap accessible

Bon Appetit seems to be the only dedicated Guinean restaurant in southeast Michigan, though other West African nations with similar fare, like Senegal, are represented and among the best spots in metro Detroit. The region’s meat- and fish-heavy dishes that are often grilled or stewed pop with the liberal use of aromatics, flavorful rubs, and acidic sauces composed of dijon mustard and caramelized onions, peppers, or cucumbers. One will find French prints — like dijon — in West African food, which is residual from France’s colonial conquests in the region.

It’s often the case that the dishes’ appeal owes as much to the texture as taste. Bon Appeitt’s red snapper, for instance, is a full fish with shatter-crisp skin that’s achieved after it’s first fried then grilled. The snapper’s flavorful rub is complemented with the almost creamy, vinegary dijon and onion sauce that adds depth with its acidity, texture, and flavor. We chose to get ours plated with a mound of jollof rice, and the snapper is adorned with a lime for general garnishing.

Husband-wife Kenisha Warford-Diallo and Ismael Diallo opened the restaurant in the former Golden Wall space on Cross Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in a neighborhood that holds a high concentration of student housing serving nearby Eastern Michigan University.

Ismael’s mother is from Guinea and passed on many of the recipes to her son, while Kenisha, who got her degree in business, handles the front of house and the day to day responsibilities. The restaurant opened last June, and she says the reception has been warm. To broaden the appeal, they added some student-accessible, easier to carry out options like bowls and ish kabob sandwiches. But if you’re not on your way to class, it’s worth trying something like the red snapper, or the dibi, a dish with nubs of tender, lightly charred lamb and purple onion. It’s often cooked with powdered mustard in West Africa, though Bon Appetit wasn’t revealing its secrets, and Kenisha noted that each country does the same dish in its own way. The dibis is first cooked in the oven then grilled, which helps keep it moist and tender while the quicker run above the open flame imparts some char.

Bon Appetit buys a whole lamb from a halal meat packer and has it butchered, which helps keep it fresher and gives the restaurant an added layer of quality control. Another fine lamb dish is the fiery red lamb stew, which is tomato-based and arrives with carrot, potato, cabbage, onion, garlic, and adobo flavoring the super tender meat. The broth has depth, and is thick and slightly spicy. Also excellent is the grilled chicken, which is enhanced with Bon Appetit sauce, a tangy, ranch-based West African condiment, not unlike a yum yum or zip sauce. We missed the habanero-based hot pepper sauce, but will try next time around. Each of the entrees comes with sides like sweet plantains, couscous, and attieke, a cassava-based dish not unlike couscous.

A good way to open the meal is with the fataya, a golden fried empanada that holds moist flavorful ground beef, and the package is served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. Next time around, I’ll try some of the West African classics that I missed, like yassa chicken and maafe peanut butter stew with lamb. Among the drinks are ginger juice and bissap, a hibiscus punch. The dining room is a small, no-frills space — it seems the majority of Bon Appetit’s business is carryout, as a friend and I were the only people eating in on a Friday night, though a steady stream of customers grabbed orders from the front counter.

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