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
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.