i’m eating the leftovers from the final installment of figi’s birthday weekend – sunday dinner at a little place on the border of brentwood and santa monica that no one really talks about much, kay ‘n dave’s cantina, my favorite kind of california fresh mex.
i usually don’t associate mexican with health, not only because it is fat-laden, fried, horrible for the heart, but also with oversized portions of calorie- and carb-heavy foods, it’s horrible for the waistline. kay and dave are not necessarily great for a diet, but they are better for the heart. the menu proudly boasts that no lard is used, grilling is done sans butter, beans are made without oil, anything that is fried is in canola oil, all sauces and salsas are made fresh daily and are vegetarian, and chicken is skinless white meat. that’s all nice to know, but i just care that the chile rellenos, tamales, burritos and tacos all taste fantastic.
sure, it may not be “authentic” or regional mexican, but the local brentwood-ites don’t seem to care, as it appears to be a loyal crowd. they know the routine – no reservations, show up, step inside, write their names down on a list hanging from a clipboard attached to the wall, and wait for a few minutes. with many tables taken by families with small children who aren’t there to linger over a long meal, tables turn fairly quickly. we join several more parties who are noshing on chips and salsa outside (yes, it’s that crowded) and browse the menu.
a sweet, smiling bald headed man points to two small tables pushed together to make room for six and says that it’s for us. even though our party is not yet complete, go ahead and sit down. we suspect this is dave, who according to the story on the back of the menu, was an unhappy lawyer before opening the original kay ‘n dave’s in pacific palisades. “are you dave?” and like a happy host, he introduces himself and welcomes us to his place.
their mascot is a little cartoon aztec mask, that many a child has copied with colorful crayons onto paper placemats that are hung on the walls after they leave. there’s also a huge chalkboard that hangs in the front area with daily specials. breakfast is only served until 3 p.m., but the mexican breakfasts, chorizo, machaca, huevos, are served all day everyday.
we ordered a liter of the very sweet sangria – just red wine and orange juice – which didn’t taste like regular sangria, but was refreshing just the same. the chips have no salt (why do restaurant tortilla chips never have salt?!?) and the salsa is not too spicy. it tastes almost like a chunky gazpacho. while we wait for jess and jimmy, we order their made-fresh-daily guacamole, served in a tiny little tortilla bowl. guacamole is rarely, if ever, bad. well, bad tasting that is – did you know an avocado can have up to 500 calories?!
the thing that i love at kay n dave’s is the tortilla soup, which i couldn’t stop talking about in the short car ride over to 26th street. somehow, the soup is not brothy, but thicker, as if vegetables or tortillas had been pureed and added in. there are no tortillas strips as a garnish on top, but even mixed in with the soup, still crisp. we all had a cup, and i’m pretty sure everyone liked it – all the cups were empty.
the menu has several different types of quesadillas, some which are very california: a tropical with pineapple salsa in a spinach tortilla, and a spinach, mushroom and onion quesadilla. the steak fajita quesadilla jenn orders is huge, and quite the perfect vehicle for sour cream and guacamole. but it’s not nearly as enormous as jimmy’s kitchen burrito, “with everything but the refrigerator,” at the other end of the table. it must have been good because there was only a tiny flap of tortilla left at the end of the meal. james’s machaka (with a “k” for kay) burrito is smaller, so no leftovers.
jess had a chopped salad with grilled chicken. the lime vinaigrette it came with on the side was a bit overly oily and too tangy, so with ranch dressing instead, there was not even a hint of south-of-the-border there. i’ve had the lime cilantro chicken salad before, which was quite nice. i think that’s the only time i can ever really feel healthy in a mexican restaurant – eating a salad.
john had carne tampiqueno. the huge plate of steak, a cheese enchilada, and a chile relleno looked a bit scary to me at first. the steak was cut into long narrow pieces, which curled up on cooking, so it looked a bit like…squiggly caterpillars. i tried one, it was good, and then i attacked the chile relleno. now this is why mexican food will never be healthy to me. though kay n dave’s chile relleno didn’t appear to have a heavy, fried batter, if any at all, it was absolutely bursting at the seams with cheese. usually, i love the light, eggy batter coating on chile rellenos, but i think the amount of cheese in this one made me completely forget about it.
tamales can be made with chicken, carnitas diablo (my guess – spicy), veggie, and the one i ordered, spinach. the corn meal was tinted a light green from the fresh spinach inside. it was good, but i was so enamored of the chile relleno, i almost forgot about it.
our server asks us about dessert, and though we are absolutely stuffed, says it’s on the house. we certainly can’t turn down a complimentary dessert!. when the birthday boy asks which is better, the banana flautas or the mudslide, the servers says “how about both!” the mudslide was a simple nutty fudgy, almost candy-like brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. though the mudslide was delicious, the banana flautas got the raves. chunks of bananas had been rolled in flour tortillas, deep fried, and served with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. healthy? no way. fresh? maybe. delicious? absolutely.
kay ‘n dave’s cantina
262 26th street
santa monica, ca 90402