It didn’t take long for one of the newer entrants into the thriving Detroit dining scene to make its mark. Ima, tucked into a little brick-faced building in Corktown, opened in late December, and found an instant warm welcome that is continuing well into 2017.
Sunday evening, for example, there was already a line outside when the doors opened at 5 p.m. And the place was still full a couple of hours later as people came in, signed in on the sheet near the door and patiently waited for one of the seats at one of two long communal tables in the center of the room or one of the high-legged metal chairs pulled up to a counter overlooking the street scene and another along one wall.
And the cheerful servers in their black Ima shirts were coping well with the crowd, all part of the charm of the convivial restaurant with techno music pulsing overhead, the hum of conversation and the click of chopsticks against china bowls. Ima, roughly translated, means “in the moment,” and this place definitely fits the definition.
There’s much to like about it, starting with the concise menu of noodle soups, rice bowls and salads. And concise it is. Proprietor Mike Ransom didn’t fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. He and his crew in the kitchen that is virtually part of the dining room offer a few well-chosen dishes, predominately noodle soups and rice bowls amplified with some interesting side lights.
Ransom, who learned to love Japanese cuisine during his years as a vegetarian, concentrates on dishes from the Asian perspective, and they are made with noticeably fresh ingredients, such as the pristine baby romaine in the Goddess Greens salad I had the other evening along with the Ima version of tacos, in which the shell is a paper-thin slice of jicama and the filling made with wakame slaw (seaweed) accented with the mint-like herb shiso and a touch of mildly spicy green chili sauce. I added shrimp from the list of a la carte add-ons and it was delicious.
The tacos are served two to an order, which makes them easily shared before delving into, say, the Forest Udon Bowl made with porcini broth, tofu, smoked trumpet mushrooms and an egg. When the egg is omitted, it becomes a vegan dish.
This is really a menu that gives equal time to vegans, vegetarians and to their meat-eating friends. Most of the selections can easily be customized by choosing one or more from the list of gently priced add-ons, including sauces and meats such as barbecued eel, chicken and pork.
At this point, beverages include Topo Chico, the Mexican sparkling mineral water, Mexican Coke and tea. Stronger stuff is hoped for. Also on the horizon: Lunch, starting in May, along with some outdoor seating.
2015 Michigan, Detroit
Call: (313) 502-5959
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Sun. Closed Mon.
Prices: Snacks $3-$7, noodle soups $11-$13, rice bowls $11-$14, desserts $4
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Moderately high
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★— good ★★1/2 — very good ★★★— excellent ★★★★— outstanding