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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cava Mezze

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2014 Top 100, Washingtonian 2013 Top 100, Washingtonian 2012 Top 100
Neighborhood: Three locations: Clarendon, Capitol Hill, Rockville

The Setup

With a drink together long overdue, Official Friend of DCWD Greg and I met halfway between our respective homes at Cava Mezze.

The Vibe

All of the Cava joints share the same aesthetic, one that in this day and age is fairly ubiquitous: the orange and brown and black dim-lit dining room, with polished wood tables and an amber glow. The dining room is at-once boxy and serpentine: the former from the sizable chest-high partitions that separate the bar from the seating and that create Tetris-like booths throughout, the latter from a curve in the restaurant that uses the bar area as its spine. Even on this Tuesday night, the place is buzzy and tables feel squelched together; I feel like we're practically on top of the two-tops on either side. It's cool but crowded.

The Food

In many ways, Cava is a nice rival to Zaytinya, the Jose Andres Greek/Mediterranean spot formerly helmed by Mike Isabella. Both concentrate on mezze, the Balkan/Middle Eastern version of small plates. Both feature uniquely Greek ingredients, like Old Fashioneds or Manhattans spiked with ouzo.  And both feature crisp flavors and clean presentations. Our favorite for the night is the cava mac and cheese which is actually ribbons of papardelle mixed with olive oil, Greek cheeses, and arugala. It's simple and slick and light like housemade pasta should be.

The other dishes we sample are at a similar level. Greg's introduction to pork belly comes at this dinner, with crispy pork belly glazed in honey and dusted with thyme. They're wonderfully balanced, fatty on one end and crispy on the other, with flavors that show a certain level of welcome restraint. Each tiny bite lets the natural deliciousness of the belly come out while only hinting at sweet, which is incredibly pleasant.

We also try the special of the day: braised Greek-style meatballs the size of billiard balls atop a mound of pureed potatoes and covered in a sherry-based red sauce. I never grew up with meatballs, but these are how I always imagined homemade meatballs might taste like: chunky but crumbly, flavorful but not overwhelming.

We finish out the night with Cava's take on poutine - fries covered in beef, feta, and an interesting tomato sauce (which the menu attributes to cinnamon and burgundy). I like the way that the meat falls apart here and the fries exhibit a great crispiness; the only drawback here is that the whole thing strikes me as fairly dry.

The Verdict

Very, very good Mediterranean mezze. If you can handle a bit of the crowd and noise, then it's a great spot (plus there's a dish they set on fire tableside).

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
  Suits Scene
(out of 5) ($20-$50 for two)
: A day of shopping at the Market Common in Clarendon.

Cava Mezze Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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