Stepping into Ivan Kane’s Café Wa s instantly makes one forget they’re at Sunset and Vine. Upon entry my pupils were immediately dilated by the vast space and quickly contracted to take in small details and decorations. The interior pairs French traditional with eclectic in a strangely compelling way that makes absurdity of it all seem enviable. There is grand stairway leading to nothing, paintings cut in half and a room wallpapered in pages torn from Charles Bukowski books. A rotating piano ties it all together in the center of the room.
The drink menu was also a heady mix of classy and trashy. At one point we had a 350ml bottle of Jack Daniels on our table in a brown paper bag with decanters of mixers on the side. Then things went uptown as I sipped on a concoction of absinthe that made me feel like a genius. I felt like a dangerous genius when half pint size glass of murky white liquor arrived at the table. When you tell your waitress to surprise you, she just might. My surprise was absinthe, brought by our bouncy and insightful waitress Raewyn. Haya and I were both having such a good time that we never got around to really reading the menu. Luckily, Chef Alex Reznik was very hands on and when he came to introduce himself, he had lots of suggestions. We all agreed that his discretion was best, so with ease we nodded our heads to the offer of a tasting menu.
The first phase was a sampling of Canapés. Now I must confess that I have a weakness for bacon-wrapped dates. Yet, somehow I managed to save them for last as I reached out to first sample the Blinis aux Saumon Fume. The Scottish salmon was as soft as the crème fraishe and served on a neat goldfish shaped spoon. I was curious about the tiny tart on our plank, which coupled foie gras with pear and ginger marmalade. It took a moment for everything to register, like a joke you don’t get at first and then find profound. There was no delay in my satisfaction with the Carpaccio de Thon. Tuna is like the black jacket of the sea; it goes with everything. Put said Tuna in a bite-size morsel with avocado, mango and sweet soy and I will be grateful for your services. Saving the best for last, I felt like I had demonstrated some measure of restraint. However, the bacon-wrapped date would wait no longer. This plump Madjool date was stuffed with Roquefort cheese and surrounded by thick smoked bacon. If you have never tried this Spanish treat, I highly recommend it. The fat of the bacon cooks through the soft flesh of the date. Just as you bite into the date and get a feel for the amazing texture and flavor you come to the melted blue cheese.
To our surprise Ivan Kane stopped by our table to say hello. We had lots of questions for him about the menu, the décor, the staff selection and so on. Our gracious host was happy to be engaged and share his passion for first restaurant. We invited Ivan to breach that barrier between dinners and the owner. To see Kane at the intersection of joy and vision provided a contagious brand of enthusiasm.
Just as Ivan slipped away to check on other guests a pair of appetizers arrived. The quiche of the day was spinach and goat cheese. I really enjoyed how the quiche was layered with spinach on top and cheese on the bottom rather than mixed together. The two flavors were much more distinct this way and the crust was like the kind mom used to make, flaky and tender. Next I tried the lump crab on heirloom tomatoes and avocado. The green tomatoes were firm and crisp which contrasted nicely with the large pieces of tender crab and avocado.
Chef Alex returned to check on us and see how we were doing. As we spoke another server brought us entrees of confit de canard and daube de boeuf. The duck confit was very lean, very tender and the taste was unbelievable. After one bite I was stunned to hear Haya tell me that she wasn’t a fan of duck and to help myself. It was a bit confusing to savor something so delicious and hear someone claim total disinterest. Yet there was no delay in moving the rest of the duck to my plate. As I ate the duck I couldn’t help but stare at the pot roast in its shimmering red wine au jus. Braised for six hours and joined with potatoes, carrots and green beans I knew it was going to be as good as it looked. When I put my knife at the top of the pot roast it quickly sunk straight through to the bottom of the plate as I applied the slightest bit of pressure. Upon taking the first bite I set my fork down to let the endorphins surge. I took another bite and it was clear to me that this roast wasn’t just braised for 6 hours; it was loved for six hours. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for, a bit of love on a plate and a cozy chair?
Ivan Kane’s Cafe Wa s
1521 North Vine Street, Hollywood, CA