by Brandon Fox
UPDATE: Kanoa Latin Cuisine at 417 W. Grace St. is now open on Tuesdays-Saturdays for dinner.
Think about the look you see on someone’s face when he or she takes the first bite of something wonderful — that’s the look that keeps Yofre Blanco going.
His Mechanicsville restaurant, Sapori Italian and Latin Cafe (not to be confused with Sapori Italian Restaurant in Chesterfield) closed in December. But undaunted, Blanco plans to open another, Kanoa, on West Grace Street this spring.
“I learned what I needed to learn [at Sapori] and I’m bringing it here,” Blanco says. “I took the good, the bad and will merge it to make the best.”
Kanoa’s future home is about a block from the arts district on Broad Street, and Blanco plans to bring Latin fusion cuisine to the area. He becomes passionate when he talks about food. Arepas (corn-meal flatbread), cachapas (a thin corn pancake), pabellòn criollo (rice, black bean and slow-cooked beef) — these are things Blanco grew up with in his native Venezuela and wants to share with Richmond.
He’ll also draw from Peru, Bolivia, along with other South American countries for inspiration — and even Mediterranean cuisine. Because, as he says, “Why not try to do different things?”
Blanco wants to use as many organic and local ingredients as he can and has already lined up a purveyor that he used at Sapori who farms without chemicals. “When he starts planting,” Blanco says, “he calls me.”
The design for the long interior of Kanoa leans toward urban rustic: reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs and big graphics. The space will be loosely divided into three spaces, with dining in the front, the bar in the middle, and communal and private seating in the back. There’s even a chef’s table planned for Kanoa’s huge kitchen.
Blanco wants to mount rotating art shows, poetry readings, live music and dancing. In addition, the restaurant will offer delivery and a weekly lunch package for area businesses.
A big outdoor mural on the restaurant’s western-facing wall also is in the works. “Richmond is becoming an international city. We have people coming from every single corner of the world,” Blanco says. “We accept everyone and everyone is welcome. That’s what I want the wall to say to people.”