Kancha is the little tapas and bubble room I’ve always dreamed downtown Santa Rosa would support.
For starters, Chef Angel Cayllahua is an experienced chef and sommelier with a simple but ridiculously good menu of cold and warm tapas-style plates that draw from his Peruvian upbringing and Japanese restaurant training. His sake collection is stunning, the bubbly flights are fantastic and the cozy interior space that previously housed the Jade Room and Fourth Street Social Club has been toned down to match the clean, bright dishes coming out of the thimble-size kitchen.
Cold seafood bites of ceviche, tartare and causas (a Peruvian potato dish) are Cayllahua’s specialty. Salmon Tartare ($17) is topped by a gentle foam of ponzu (tart Asian citrus) and studded with pine nuts and serrano chiles for a sweet-tart-briny mouthful. Especially good is the Limena Causa ($22), made with a base of whipped purple potato mixed with lime juice and aji amarillo (a Peruvian yellow chile) and topped by creamy Dungeness crab salad.
Larger hot dishes include Dungeness Crab Cakes ($24), Mushroom Risotto Fritters with tiger shrimp ($16) and Lomo Saltado Empanadas ($18) made with strips of beef tenderloin in soy sauce. Don’t miss the Very Adult Mac and Cheese ($16), a shockingly good Peruvian play on traditional macaroni and cheese that uses creamy, tangy huancaina sauce made with garlic, queso fresco, Saltines, cream and aji amarillo chiles with panko crust. Cayllahua said he plans to add crab to the macaroni, which would make it all the more decadent.
Mussels ($18) are served with a curry-like Peruvian green sauce and grilled bread. Though the broth is reminiscent of sweet green curry, it’s flavored with Chica de Jora, a corn beer, and Huacatay, a black mint paste. It’s a distinctly Peruvian combination that works perfectly with the sweet, ocean-y mussels.
For dessert, Cayllahua offers a refreshing coconut parfait with coconut tapioca pearls, shaved ice, mango puree and coconut foam that’s a perfect ending to the meal.
The wine list is impressive, as would befit a professional sommelier, but tasting flights ($35) of premier cru Champagne and sparkling wines are your best bet.
However, the question remains whether Cayllahua’s fledgling business has a chance against ongoing struggles with parking, homelessness, high food costs, staff shortages and Sonoma County’s general disinterest in Santa Rosa’s city center.
Kancha’s outdoor dining parklet will soon expand, and with cool evening weather, the front window seats are a prime dining and people-watching location. Happy hours from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. daily are a good start, with deals on small bites of ceviche, crisp empanada, bubbles and low-alcohol cocktails. During a recent Wednesday night market in Old Courthouse Square, a handful of people wandered into Kancha’s bar for drinks.
After two other failed restaurants in the space, our fingers are crossed that the talented Cayllahua will draw the kind of crowd willing to pay for quality food in a toned-down, upscale atmosphere. The restaurant would undoubtedly succeed in Healdsburg or Sonoma, seen as dining destinations, but in Santa Rosa? Let’s hope so.
643 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-623-9793, kanchasr.com. The menu is available for takeout. Vegan and vegetarian options available. Please note: Staffing was slim on our visit, but with patience, you’ll find that the service is delightful.