After our yearly weekend trip to Ogunquit, my girlfriend and I spent the day in Portsmouth on our way back to Western Mass last Monday. We enjoyed a beautiful day walking around the city and stumbled across a cozy looking wine bar and restaurant called Cava down one of the alley ways. After scanning over the outdoor menu board, we knew where we'd be eating for dinner.
We elected to go for the tasting menu for 2, which was $29 a person. Overall, I'd give the experience 3 stars. Like I mentioned, it was a very cozy space with a nice outdoor seating area and our waitress was extremely friendly and personable, in a professional way. The food presentation was gorgeous but ultimately we really only enjoyed two or three of the eight courses.
Some of my gripes:
- Our first course was a crostini with dark chocolate, sea salt, and a pistachio. I remember Michael Schlow talking about amuse bouche (a small, free 'course', usually served at higher end places), saying it should be really light and crisp. He mentions restaurants that serve cheese and crackers and says that rich, creamy cheese just coats your taste buds and dulls them to the delicate nuances of the courses to follow. I think serving chocolate as a first course would go against what Schlow preaches. On top of the thick chocolate dulling the taste buds, I really didn't care for the crostini being the vehicle to showcase the chocolate and to have what could pass as a dessert first was very puzzling.
- I remember reading an article where a study was done on how restauranteurs word their menu and how customers react to it. Two restaurants had basically the same menu but one used fancier words - 'haricot verts' instead of string beans, etc. The dishes off the menu that had the fancier words were ordered more often then when they were referred to by their usual American name on the other. It bugs me to no end when places calls fries 'frites' - please!! If you're eating them in this country, they're fries. It's like the people who call Target 'Tar-shay'. With that being said, patatas bravas, garlic aioli, herbs & sea salt sounds really interesting, but what we got were freaking home fries. Come on!! I don't have a problem with home fries, but don't call them something they're not, don't serve them outside of breakfast, and if you're a more upscale restaurant, I don't know why they'd be on your menu.
- Our scallop dish was really good, with a beautiful sweet corn puree, but they also served something on top of the scallop - like a shortbread cracker or something. I just didn't understand what its place was on the dish. Maybe for texture, but it really had a bland taste and took away from the beautiful puree, scallops, and chanterelles.
- We took some issue with the most beautifully presented dish, our hanger beef with bing cherries, cipollinis, and goat cheese. The steak was cooked to a beautiful uniform pink, perhaps sous vide'd, but was really lukewarm at best when it was served to us. The cherries were quite sour. The goat cheese really worked to counter-balance this and found that I had to first eat the steak with the onion, then finish with the cherries and goat cheese.
My favorite dish was probably the roasted dates with manchego cheese and serrano ham, as well as the desserts of berries with lemon curd and white chocolate, and golden pineapple, lime, and pomegranate molasses.
I understand their was a lot of time involved in putting together our courses so $60 seems like a fair price tag. We weren't particularly full leaving, and the fact that we took issue with a few of the dishes left us feeling like it was a middle of the road experience, although we were both excited to have taken part in our first tasting menu. We enjoyed our service and atmosphere and the issues with our food don't seem like it would take a lot to fix. I'd recommend stopping in and ordering off the tapas menu but would hesitate telling someone to get the tasting menu.
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