Review: Kanapa [Канапа]

23 Feburary 2015

The one place I targetted for my Kyiv trip to check out the fledgeling food scene is Kanapa, which is the first place I’ve seen that talks about new Ukrainian cooking. I looked at the menu and it indeed had many extremely adventurous items on the menu. It was recommended to me by food people I trust, so I was looking forward to the evening.

It was relatively busy compared to most places in town, as it was half-way down the touristy Andriyivskyy uzviz. My table was not in a great location, near steps and it constantly got kicked by quick-moving waiters, which was rather annoying. And most of the tables were larger parties, so staff were pre-occupied by them. But I was glad to see them busy.

Although the menu had many fantastic items I had decided to do the tasting menu — to see how they handle it. It missed a few items I wanted to try but this is a good balance. Took awhile for the wine to show up but I’m reserving judgement…

01-canapes

The first item to arrive was a tasting of 4 different canapes — a combination of fillings and toppings. The pate with onion marmalade was nice as was the potato mousse with herring. I do apologise for the photo, as the last Android update screwed up the focus of low-light photos — YET AGAIN…

02-salad_mousse

The second dish was a cute service, on a glass panel with stuff you don’t eat beneath it. The salad wasn’t bad, but a bit excessive of the goat cheese mousse. The boar ham was a nice touch.

03-varenyky

The third dish is a take on an Ukrainian classic, the varenyky (dumpling). These had interesing fillings such as pike-perch with salo. I really enjoyed this item, including the odd “onion sponge” in the middle. Good stuff.

More wine and then the star of the night arrived — the potato “sausage”.

04-potato_offal_sausage

This is actually just some potato, but also minced sweetbreads and veal brains all covered in caul and cooked. A fantastic offal dish, wonderful flavours here. Offal lovers will love this dish, as would non-offal lovers. A complex and strong dish, it really shows excellent promise of this kitchen!

05-rabbit_ribs

Following this was the cute, almost heartbreaking serving of rabbit ribs. Very tasty and a beautiful serving, but you know it can be frustrating to eat rabbit because of the size — especially trying to clear meat between the ribs. But another excellent dish.

06-beef

Next up, with more wine, was a nice bull cheek. Cooked well, with strong flavours. I enjoyed this dish as well, solid stuff.

07-egg_meringue

The dessert was a “sweet” egg meringue and quince. A nice presentation and it went down quickly. It closed a relatively good meal.

I have to say some were a miss, but some were excellent. Service was a little trying, and being kicked constantly was annoying. A table-full of drunken brits misbehaving was also unpleasant, as were people taking flash photo nearby. I can see a lot of potential here. Maybe they need to streamline the menu a little, as it is huge. Take a look, some of it is spectacular, but it’s way too much stuff. Better to have a shorter menu and improve the execution.

But just to show how bad the local economy is, the food part of the 7-course tasting menu cost me…under 15 euro. Yeah, really.

But I do recommend this place, it has a lot of potential, and some of the dishes are fantastic. Some growing pains and other issues, but for Kyiv, this is indeed a great example of new Ukrainian cooking. Makes me optimistic for my next trip…one rare moment…sigh…

Kanapa [Канапа]
19a Андріївський узвіз [Andriyivskyy uzviz]
Kyiv [Київ], Ukraine [Україна]

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A Heartbreaking Few Days in Kyiv…

I made my way to Kyiv from London on a very long-awaited trip to Ukraine. The local economy stinks, and frankly anything I can do to help — in return for filling my stomach — I’m happy to contribute! 21 years after I took Ukrainian language in college, I step foot in Kyiv.

My Ukrainian was beyond rusty, but at least I can read it. Most people were speaking surzhyk (a pigeon hybrid vernacular) anyway, so that was confusing enough. I had my first meal after a stroll around the hilly town, stopping in the middle of the small Shevchenko Park at the restaurant O’Panas.

The meal wasn’t bad considering it was a little of a tourist trap — though lacking in tourists. They made a garlic salo spread with some dark bread, which was a good start.

spread

The beef tongue (I love tongue) was not bad, the beet-infused horseradish made it more interesting.

tongue

And finally, the veal cheeks were pretty good, using a sweet-ish sauce. The puree was a little of an unnecessary sideshow.

cheeks

Not a bad first meal, a good fuelling for me wandering the town in the evening. It is very hilly, and you need all this energy. The evening I walked around the Maidan area and just looked at it with my heart skipping beats. It was just a year ago that Russian-paid snipers shot innocent people all over the square, and at the points where their lives were taken were spotlights shone into the sky. It’s emotional to say the least.

I needed to remove myself from this. This was as mentally damaging to me as the Hiroshima visit, partly because how close I was/am/will be to the Ukrainian freedom movement. So I dropped into the nearby brew-pub Slavutych Shato and enjoyed a few hearty brews. I also enjoyed 2 large plates of smoked pigs ears, one of my favourite beer snacks. Mmm…

pigs ears

Then some nice local sprats…

sprats

And with several half litres of good beer it didn’t even cost me close to 10 dollars…

I wandered back to my hotel and had a nitecap before turning in for the next day, which would prove to be very busy. And food-less, as events overtook most of the day; for dinner I had my one tasting menu in town, which I will chronicle in the next review.

My last full day in Kyiv also had me skip food again, as I was too busy — this time doing touristy things. I had wandered down near the Dnipro, the river that bisects the city, and hiked up to the Holodomor Monument. Frankly, when you visit a monument that commemorates all the millions of lives lost in the Soviet-created famine, you lose your appetite… I hiked further to the historic Pechersk Lavra monastery complex for a long exploration of the buildings and areas, as well as into the amazing caves.

I was running low on daylight and had to make my way to Baykove Cemetery, so I skipped lunch and hiked across town. With the weather warming so much the cemetery was a muddy mess, and it was a challenge to hike around the hilly but muddy environment. Throw in a dinner-time meeting and I was running on empty basically, except for some nice fried small fish at a really nice Czech pub.

So I got back to my hotel, 11 Mirrors, and during my nitecap they admitted (the hotel bar) that they had salo — the ultimate Ukrainian treat.

salo_1

I had the plate with quite some vodka, and actually asked for another…

salo_2

I heard the kitchen ask with some incredulity when I ordered it… Oh, this was fantastic. Just melt-in-your-mouth goodness. I can eat this all night but I’d be dead by morning. Mmm…

Before I had to head to the airport to bid my farewell to this struggling but fair town I went for a last meal at Kozatska Hramota, another bit of a tourist-trappy place (but no tourists). I had a pretty interesting lunch, starting with the студенець (studenets) — or jellied meats.

01-studenets

Not bad, a combination of pork and chicken. I enjoy jellied meat, but this was a little too large. Still, not bad. Main course was baked pepper pork.

02-pork_pepper

Now Ukraine knows its pork and this was very tasty. Grilled nicely, with good cuts of meat. I probably should have gotten some veg on the side, but too late now.

I left Kyiv with a heavy heart, fearing for its future. So many people once again talk about leaving, and they’ll take the heart of this country with them when they emigrate. The economy sucks, what little I did was less than a drop in the bucket for what they need. They need not just major amount of tourism — which they can easily support — but just wholesale restructuring of their economic framework. Then maybe this city will have a chance and shine as much as some of the domes on the city’s many churches.

Слава Україні! Героям слава!

O’Panas [О’Панас]
10 Терещенківська [Tereshchenkivska]

Slavutych Shato [Славутич Шато]
24 Хрещатик [Khreshchatyk]

11 Mirrors
34a Богдана Хмельницького [Bohdan Khmelnytskoho]

Kozatska Hramota [Козацька грамота]
19a Пушкінська [Pushkinska]
Kyiv [Київ], Ukraine [Україна]

Review: Tar & Roses

28 January 2015

My epic Japan trip had to end at some point, and it didn’t end very well. After a rather boring spicy pork lunch pushed on me by a restaurant that went back on its word and forced me to order only from the lunch menu after I was seated, I made the long trek to Narita Airport and the even longer flight back to North America.

I landed in Los Angeles and having not slept the entire flight (thanks to the awesome entertainment system on Singapore Airlines, I watched Godfather, Godfather II, and Godfather III — but only up to the start of Cavalleria Rusticana  as we landed early). I had pretty much zero jetlag going west to Japan, but I know going east is always my downfall…

I didn’t eat anything but planned for an early dinner, deciding to walk into one of LA’s most raved-about restaurants, Tar & Roses. I’ve heard many good things about this restaurant, especially their wood-fired vegetables. After all the fantastic veggies I’ve had in Japan I wasn’t ready to give up on them 3 hours after landing back in the States.

I cabbed it out there and at 5.30pm it was already buzzing, and the counter had just 1 spot left — for me. Albeit I have to say it is a squeeze, a very poorly planned system. If they keep suggesting small plates for people, it doesn’t fit on the counter the way they squeeze folks… And the only person working the entire counter is also the bartender, so it is very hard to get her attention; she’s working frantically and other members of the FoH staff are standing around. Poor management, but I digress…

I ordered a few snacks and enjoyed some wine. Soon the food started arriving, and I was wondering how I can eat without elbowing my neighbours (I know I was being elbowed when they started eating).

oxtail_dumplings

First to arrive were the oxtail dumplings. Sorry about the pix, it was dark in there too. These weren’t bad, with a little bit of a bite for the fillings.

pork_chicharones

Coming out a minute later were pork chicharones. Sorry, you can’t see them really from this picture. Not bad, but wee overcooked. It’s never good when you taste the fatty portion and then the dried-out lean part that aren’t in synch — and the dried out parts are really dry…

octopus_skewers

Finally I had some octopus skewers. Bad order, since I had so many excellent octopus in Japan like at Yoshitake (those marinated ones) and also at Iwa. Not bad, and still better than the horrible ones I got at Mizutani…sorry for mentioning it again.

I ordered a few other things since I skipped lunch, and enjoyed more wine. This place was buzzing, but I don’t see why so far. Food has been average, and it’s loud, warm and annoying with hipsters trying to pair their small plates with craft beers. So damn West Coast… The next set of plates arrived soon.

sprouts

First were the Brussels sprouts — one of my very favourite vegetables. Now what did they do to this? Completely unnecessary overdose of something vinegary, even the bacon tasted soaked. The sourness completely overwhelmed the taste of the vegetable. It’s like a chef trying to cover up very bad quality produce, not something a restaurant that is known for its wood-fired vegetables should be doing.

lamb_belly

My heart sank as the lamb belly appeared. It tasted really bad, cooked much worse than the chicharones earlier. It was so overcooked it was tough as a board at places. Just poor execution.

cauliflower

And finally, the cauliflower. This was a total disaster. It’s like they squeezed an entire lemon on this. Again, why overly-adulterate fresh vegetables? Is this the disease of cooking shows on TV, that you feel you NEED to screw with the food?

This is why I really dislike eating in LA and the West Coast. Completely unnecessary crap done to natural ingredients. All the fresh stuff in California and you go and ruin it because you want to show the world you’re doing something creative. No, this is just bad. It’s like Bestia — highly rated by Angelinos, for me it was rubbish.

And sadly, Tar & Roses isn’t far off from that. I abandoned most of those 3 dishes and closed up and waited for a cab to take me home. Frankly some chicken wings sound more appealing than this dinner. You gotta think Angelino hipsters would scoff at food in Sicily or Galicia because they are fresh and requires little adulteration — and served often as such.

Ugh…first meal back in the States and it’s a major fail…

Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, California