Café Kanape on Capitol Hill offers breakfast items to baguette sandwiches to entrees, salads, crepes and canapes with an Eastern European bent in a leisurely setting and at reasonable prices.
Where do you eat when you don’t feel like cooking, but you haven’t planned ahead, you’re not in the mood for a scene and you don’t want to drop a bundle? Almost everyone has a go-to place for such times, and I love it when readers share theirs.
“You have recently reviewed two of my favorite restaurants, Altura and Momiji,” wrote Susan from Capitol Hill. “In fact, we go to them all the time. However, sometimes we want a little snack and an inexpensive glass of wine. Where do we go? To the oft-overlooked Kanape just a block down from Altura. We had an absolutely wonderful meal there the other night — lobster mac and cheese, a dessert crepe and goulash, two glasses of wine and a beer — less than $50 and well worth more.”
I’ve passed it dozens of times and probably so have you. Café Kanape has overlooked the 76 Station at Broadway and Roy for just over a year now. It was a change of pace for owner Sabine Ruthensteiner, who ran a nightclub downtown for 11 years. The Latvian native returned from a visit back home yearning to emulate the cafes of Europe. Outfitted with a small bar, cushioned banquettes and impish paintings set against bold black-and-white wallpaper, Café Kanape strikes a leisurely continental pose, removed from the city street, yet archly observing it through a swath of window and, in better weather, from sidewalk tables.
Ruthensteiner loaded the menu with things she loves to eat, or grew up eating in Latvia. It segues from a few breakfast items to baguette sandwiches to entrees, salads, crepes and canapes. These last are the dainty little open-faced tea sandwiches that lend their name, spelled the Latvian way, to the cafe. They are pleasant enough nibbles, but not nearly as interesting as the rest of the menu, comprised largely of crepes and Eastern European specialties like Russian borscht, Hungarian goulash, beef golabkiand schnitzel. It’s fresh, wholesome fare, organic when possible, priced very modestly.
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The ruby-red borscht is a delicious vegetarian soup thick with beets, sauerkraut and tomato. A side of thick Latvian sour cream smoothes its tangy edge, and does the same for the goulash, tender strips of beef with carrots, onion and potato submerged in a ruddy broth rippling with hot paprika.
Schnitzel, a sprawling, pounded chicken cutlet breaded and impeccably fried, is served with a lemon wedge, but really needed salt and pepper. It is ably supported by roasted fingerlings and a green salad tossed with vinaigrette and topped with crumbled feta.
Beef golabki, a pair of fist-sized bundles of ground beef and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and cooked in a garlicky tomato sauce, are excellent. Their companion, a vinegar-sharp “pickled salad,” contained soft green peas studded with chopped gherkins and red onion — odd textures, good taste. Among other salads, I was especially fond of cucumber and tomato dressed with sour cream and dill.
Lobster macaroni and cheese is rich, but restrained. Specks of lobster meat flavor the cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan sauce, clinging like an elegant sheath to ridged elbow noodles.
Savory and sweet crepes with various fillings are a house specialty. Chopped fresh herbs and sour cream bedeck one savory version bursting with herbed chicken, button mushrooms, a little Gruyere and lots of fresh, just-wilted spinach. A simple lemon dessert crepe, bright with lemon zest, dazzled like a diamond solitaire.
Café Kanape is bright and cheery by day, candlelit and romantic after dark. It’s the sort of place where people come and go, or stay for a while, engrossed in conversation or enjoying free Wi-Fi on their laptops. It’s small enough that the waiter doubles as bartender and barista. Usually it’s Ruthensteiner herself. Live music and the occasional DJ quicken the pace on Saturday nights, otherwise the mood is mellow. If you want to nurse a glass of wine, a tall, frosty Pilsner Urquell from the tap, or a dark, delicious Spanish coffee with a whipped-cream head, no one will bother you. The check doesn’t come until you ask for it — and you’ll be amazed at how little you’ve spent. Susan: Thanks for sharing!
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