Kasana, 241 N. Broadway, has undergone a transformation of sorts.
Owner, Ana Docta opened Kasana Group as an event venue and collaborative kitchen in October 2012. In January 2013, she added Kasana Cafe, serving simple meals with an international flair.
But, these days, the café concept has been replaced by a much warmer dining destination – a place to go for dinner, linger for drinks and spend time among friends.
"It’s all in the name," says Docta, who explains that Kasana is a play on the phrase "casa de Ana," or home of Ana.
And the new look of the restaurant follows suit. Tasteful tables with comfortable seating fill the dining area. Small couches offer diners places to relax and enjoy the elegant environment Docta says embodies what she does best.
"Closing the café, for me, was a very good thing," says Docta. "It gives me the chance to go back to where I started, to do what I want to do."
And what she really wants is to serve straightforward, approachable and delicious fare.
"I wanted to bring to the table real, simple food like we cook every day," she says. "And the food on the menu, that’s what it is. Some of the dishes are how my mother cooked, and others are made how they serve them in Brazil. It is the food I grew up with."
Dishes, which include a large selection of tapas (small plates) as well as a few larger plates, are made with natural ingredients, organic when possible, and are free from GMO’s, hormones, antibiotics and other additives.
"If I don’t eat it, I won’t serve it," Docta explains.
And although the dishes on the menu aren’t necessarily familiar to Milwaukeeans, Docta says she strives to make them accessible.
"The names might be foreign," she says, "But, each dish is made with just a few quality ingredients. People are surprised by the simplicity and the approachability."
Dishes like brussels sprouts, sautéed in coconut oil with garlic and chiles, are the norm on the menu.
"The coconut oil is the thing that makes the difference in the way that it tastes," she says. "But they are so simple. So delicious."
The remainder of the menu includes cold plates like shrimp ceviche with mango and pineapple, salads and stuffed roasted pimiento peppers. Warm offerings like empanadas ($11) and croquetas ($11)are served alongside takes on traditional Argentinian and Brazilian fare like sautéed Cornish hens with garlic bread ($12), baked leeks with Serrano ham in bechemel ($10), chicken fricassee ($13) and marinated lamb flambe with cognac ($12) .
Meanwhile, traditional Portuguese bacalao ($12) is served deconstructed with a portion of baked cod, potatoes, olives, onions and Parmesan cheese. And filet of trout is breaded with mandioca (yucca flour) and served with organic lemon remoulade, yucca fries and micro greens ($12).
Desserts include Docta’s mother’s recipe for tiramisu, along with Argentinian cookies and a variety of custards, priced from $3.50 to $7.
Gluten-free items are plentiful, and vegan and vegetarian options are also available, and clearly marked on the menu.
In addition to offering community through food, Docta says also wanted to create an environment where people felt at home. So, she created a space that was clean, cozy and elegant.
"I want people to come in and feel as if they are in my home," she says. "That’s how it’s supposed to be."
A homey feel means that, at Kasana, guests are encouraged to eat and linger as long as they like. Hookahs are available for those who choose to imbibe. Cocktails, beer, wine and coffee drinks are plentiful. And, unlike the practice at most restaurants, the bill won’t appear at your table at the end of the meal.
"You won’t get the bill until you ask for it," she says. "We aren’t pushing you out the door."
Docta was born in Argentina, but grew up in Brazil. Her mother was from Spain, and her father from Italy. While living in Brazil, she worked as a producer for MTV South America. She also owned her own restaurant.
"I went to school for hospitality," she notes, "So entertaining people is what I’m good at."
Docta moved to Milwaukee 14 years ago, and five years ago started a catering company, Kasana Gourmet, which hosted regular pop-up dinners even before the restaurant became a reality.
"I always enjoyed a lot the pairing types of things," she says, "And events. So, in a sense, the restaurant Is going back to where it all started."
In addition to being open for dinner and brunch on weekends, Docta will host events, beginning with a Portuguese dinner on Wednesday, Dec. 10, beginning at 6 p.m.
The menu will include twelve courses and live music as well as an appearance from Phillip Rodrigues, expert in Portuguese wines.
Courses will include Caldo Verde, a soup with onions, potatoes, kale, garlic and olive oil paired with Seacampo Dao Encruzado Riserva White, Bolinhos de Bacalhao (cod with potato fritters) served with Esporao Monte Velho White, Portuguese gaspacho salad, Pao de Queijo with manchego, yucca flour and egg with pear-Port glaze with Esporao Reserva White. A palate cleanser of apple and grappa granite will be served before a course of Arroz con Pato, a dish featuring duck and jasmine rice.
Pao de Figo (housemade bread and figs) will accompany Esporao Touriga Nacional Red, while Azeite Portuguese with coriander will follow, cleansing the palate for feijoada, a stew of black beans and pork paired with Esporao Reserva Red. The final two courses will include flan with Port caramel and pudim de arroz, rice pudding with saffron Chantilly cream and Quinta dos Murcas 10 Year Tawny Port.
An RSVP is required for the dinner, which is $85 per person or $160 for a party of two. To purchase tickets, call (414) 224-6158 before Dec. 7.
The dinner, says Docta, will be an expression of the food for which she has a passion.
"This feels good," Docta says "It feels better. The café was the product of listening to too many other people telling me what I should do. And this is about doing what I want to do."
Kasana is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Brunch is available on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kasana will be closed Nov. 24-28 for the Thanksgiving holiday, resuming brunch and dinner service on Saturday, Nov. 29.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.