Unfortunately, this installment of Chow Here should be renamed “Can’t Chow Here No More.” I’m talking about Kafana, the Balkan-inspired restaurant on the backside of Victoria Court, wedged between Olio e Limone and Video Shmideo where the original Arigato lived.
I first entered Kafana more than a year ago, brought in there by my girlfriend after she’d sampled some appetizers and wine there. I knew the space to be tiny, and was immediately impressed with the Balkan theme, the choice wine list, and the friendly customer service. Kafanas, it turns out, are the small eateries and evening hot spots where people from the Balkans hang out at night. As such, it had a lively vibe, even for such a small space. It’s been awhile, but I believe that I started with the Greek salad that time, and probably a glass of pinot noir. I also recall that the bread and oil combo was worth getting refills.
But what I really remember, and what I’ve gushed about ever since, was the entree: medallions of pork sauteed with figs, kalamata olives, and almonds. I’d never considered figs to be natural complements to olives, but when the dish arrived, I was hooked. The aroma and taste of the ingredients blended miraculously, serving up a complex and rich buttery flavor that I’d never experienced before or since. The consitency of the pork was also excellent, moist with enough outer crust to trap the juices inside. I only returned one other time, but told at least one other friend, who ordered the same thing and was equally impressed.
I guess we have chef Chef Onsy “Enzo” Mahrous to thank for that dish. But we also have owners Robert and Doris Vickery to credit for the intimate attention to detail and service. Each time I ate there, either Robert or Enzo would come to our table at some point to say hi and inquire about the food. Oftentimes, such a process can prove overbearing, but they were always cheerful and easy, clearly enjoying their jobs.
Over the past year or so, the Vickerys would bring Macedonian musicians to town and continue to engage what seemed like a dedicated customer base. Yet when I walked by the old Kafana on Monday night, it was dark and closed. A sign announcing Olio e Limone’s new private dining room was posted, ending Santa Barbara’s short era of fine Balkan dining.
The hidden location and miniscule size of the restaurant were surely impediments to steady, profitable business. And I presume that Olio e Limone deserves a private place to dine, so it can compete with its neighbor Bouchon over the wealthiest diners in town. But my friends and I are sad to see such an eclectic and surprising eatery go. Thanks for the memories, Kafana, and thanks, especially, for the pork. It was my favorite dish in town.