Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s not unusual for a restaurant owner to name his establishment after the woman he loves. Robbie Kane, though, did it before he even met her.
Kane opened Cafe Medina in 2008 and it instantly attracted Vancouverites who wanted brunch fare. Among the early customers was a woman who had gone through life envying people whose names adorned keychains, pencils, souvenir nameplates and buildings.
“I was just walking by on my way to an appointment and I saw a sign with my name on it. I was like, ‘What? How did I not know about this place?'” says Medina Hahn. “My name is so unusual. I never had anything with my name on it when I was growing up, so I just had to go in.”
Despite the fact that Kane was preoccupied and, by his own admission, not as gracious as he normally would be to a customer, Hahn returned to her namesake eatery a few weeks later. She and Kane struck up a conversation, later enjoyed what both would describe as their best first date ever, and discovered they had significant things in common — including a Middle Eastern background. He is Jewish, she is Lebanese. The food at Cafe Medina is reflective of the Middle East, and not by Kane’s design. It was the choice of flavours of Medina’s original chef.
“There are a lot of things about us that has made me realize we are fated,” Kane says. “Plenty of serendipity went into us getting together.”
For instance, if Kane followed his first inclination to name the restaurant after his dog, Gypsy, the couple may not have met. Kane, who is now the sole owner of the restaurant, was talked out of that name by his business partners who had teamed with him to open up shop on Beatty Street in the pocket of downtown Vancouver that is between Yaletown and Gastown.
As they brainstormed for ideas, Kane came up with Medina because it was the surname of a friend, it wasn’t already taken by another business in town, and it sounded European. The name stuck, the restaurant opened to plenty of fanfare, and in walked Hahn, attracted to a place that she felt was calling her.
“That was way too big of a sign for me not to pay attention. It was like the universe was saying, ‘Here is a sign as big as I can give it to you,'” says Hahn, who is an actress and writer. “But it wasn’t just that. Robbie and I could have gone out and not had any chemistry. It turned out that wasn’t the case.”
Vancouver’s Romantic Restaurant Tale
The couple have been married for three years and have a son together. Nearly seven years later, they still marvel at the circumstances of their meeting. It has even sparked jokes from friends and family who are awestruck by the love story.
“My nephew asked me to open a restaurant for him and name it Jessica Biel,” Kane says with a grin.
His nephew will have to stick with wishful thinking, though. Kane says he isn’t planning to expand. Medina is keeping him busy enough. Last August, the restaurant moved west from Beatty Street to a renovated 60-seat locale on Richards Street close to the Vancouver Public Library’s landmark central branch.
Current chef Jonathan Chovancek turns out dishes like Tagine and Harissa that evoke Mediterranean flavours. “What we do is fusion food,” Chovancek says. “I wouldn’t say we are a Middle Eastern restaurant. I would call us a Canadian restaurant because our owner is Canadian, our chef is Canadian, the type of ingredients we have here are really well suited to this type of food.”
The Harissa Pain Plat ($17) is brilliant. The ground beef is stuffed inside a grilled pita and topped with a fried egg. It’s a dish you might try in Tel Aviv, except over there it’s not likely to taste this good. The Tagine ($17) features two perfectly poached soft eggs served alongside a pair of spicy, flavourful Merguez lamb sausages.
Along with the savoury plates are Medina’s staples — waffles, done Belgian style, thanks in part to the influence of original co-owners from Chambar, a popular fine-dining restaurant on Beatty Street. The Liège waffles ($3.15 each) can be ordered with a variety of toppings, including white chocolate rosewater pistachio that is a flavour also used in one of the restaurant’s selections of Mochas ($4.50).
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and brunch daily, and occasionally opens for special evenings. It will host its first Valentine’s Day dinner this year. The five-course meal will cost $125 and include wine pairings. Those who attend can know they’ve made a fine choice, realizing a fascinating love story is tied to the restaurant.
Speaking about all that Cafe Medina has given him, Kane says, “It’s occurred to me often how fortunate I am to have this place.”
MORE ABOUT CAFE MEDINA
Address: 780 Richards Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Hours of Operation: 8 am-3 pm (Monday to Friday); 9 am-3 pm (weekends and holidays)
Menu Price Range: $8-$18