Back to those messed-with traditions. Bona Sera offers what the menu calls banh mi sandwiches, but they're so different from that Vietnamese invention they can scarcely be called even an approximation or an interpretation. Bringing together Vietnam's French colonial and native traditions, a banh mi sandwich is one of the world's great subs--a crusty baguette filled with Asian-inflected grilled meats and/or cold cuts, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, mayo, chiles or hot sauce, and sometimes cucumber and scallion.
Bona Sera's banh mi replaces the baguette with a soft, flattened steamed Chinese bun, bread too flabby to maintain its integrity against the onslaught of the filling. A carrot-daikon slaw lacks the sweet, vinegary sparkle of the traditional pickle and offers no counterpoint to the meat, which, in the case of the chicken, was disappointingly bland. The shrimp option was much better, while the Italian porchetta (roast pork) version, dressed with fennel-apple slaw and a fennel vinaigrette, would have been fabulous on a crusty roll and relieved of the wildly inappropriate "banh mi" moniker. Part of Bona Sera's shtick is to reinvent or "twist" classics, but why mess with perfection unless you can improve it?
Another confused dish is the tom yum shrimp and grits. The spicy flavors of the Thai hot and sour soup sauce shrimp piled atop cheddar-y grits dotted with pancetta and balsamic vinegar were tasty in a bizarre way. I found the crunchy pancetta cubes, strongly cured with Italian seasonings, jarring, however, and much better paired with the porchetta version we tried on our second visit.