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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Date Ideas: Bookalokal

Through the blog, we were invited to try out Bookalokal, a new venture that solves the "how do I meet new people in a new city" conundrum. Whether just passing through town and looking for the authentic local experience, a newcomer to the city, or an old-timer trying to branch out, Bookalokal offers a chance to break bread with strangers in a casual way. Bookalokal hosts organize meals at their homes, trips around the city, or other food related activities that can be booked through an online marketplace. On this trip, I was able to join Official Friend of DCWD Sam at the Make Your Own Mimosa Brunch at founder Evelyne's house.

Serendipitously, I was treated to the first delight of the morning when I first walked in - the door to the apartment was opened by a former colleague of mine who I hadn't seen in ages and didn't realize would be there. I guess that is the fun in something like this - not only do you get to meet new friends, but in a city as small as DC, you never know who you will run into. If that is a frightening thought to you rather than a pleasant one, don't worry; Bookalokal has an option of connecting through Facebook where you might be able to see if any of your friends (or frenemies) have signed up to attend the same event.

Once over the surprise of seeing my old colleague, I was able to take in the sights and smells that were filling the sunny apartment. Evelyne was busy putting the finishing touches on what I immediately realized was going to be a huge feast. A make-your-own mimosa bar sat near the table and she encouraged myself and the other guests as they trickled in to imbibe.

It was an incredibly pleasant setting with delicious food we had: breakfast casserole, Mediterranean quinoa salad, vegetarian and broccoli cheddar quiches, bacon, bread, and a dessert of yogurt filled with fruit and zucchini bread. Both the food and the mimosa bar lived up to my expectations, and the company was great. The truth is that every person will have a different experience depending on the host and type of event you attend. And that is perhaps what is so intriguing to me about Bookalokal: each meal or trip will be a new group of people, and therefore a new adventure.

All in all, it's a great experience that I'd recommend. I'll leave it to one of my breakfast-mates, who said it best: "this feels a little like a nice Thanksgiving: lots of food on the table, and lots of great conversation."

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