Cava Mezze: Ambival-ambiance


The small plates trend seems to be growing.  I am not opposed to this.  Two of my current favorite restaurants are Estadio and Agora, which both feature small plates. I like the idea that I don’t have to labor over ordering decisions.  I can try multiple things on the menu and if there’s something I don’t like I can just move on.  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, the larger the group, the more difficult it can be to manage ordering small plates.  Do you order multiples of one dish?  If you don’t, you may end up with a teaspoonful of a particular dish.  This is a bad thing.

Some people don’t like small plates because they leave a restaurant still hungry.  That does not happen to me. If anything I tend to over order, and as a result overeat.

On a recent Saturday night we had tickets to the newly renovated Arena Stage.  I must digress for a moment to comment on the beauty of the new space.  I was an usher at Arena Stage years ago, and it was surreal to see how the outside of the buildings were preserved inside of the new building.  It’s quite genius.

Arena Stage is in an area that is still basically a wasteland when it comes to dining.  I focused my attention somewhere that would be convenient and settled on Cava Mezze in the Barracks Row area of Capitol Hill.

I’ve had a number of good dinners at Cava in Rockville, the only impediment being that the sound level is deafening..  This ends up being a deterrent, particularly if we’re going out with people who we actually want to converse with.

We arrive at Cava Mezze early to accommodate our theater tickets.  This means that the sound level is going to be manageable.  It takes awhile to figure out our order, taking into consideration the two people who don’t eat meat and the taste preferences of myself and the other three diners.  We settle on twelve small plates for the six of us.

Our server seems distracted or indifferent or just not happy to be there.  Or maybe he is just accustomed to a younger demographic.  Whatever.  I sometimes forget how important the server is to an entire dining experience, until I have a server who is so unenthused. We ask him to be sure not to bring all the dishes out all at once, and he nods.

My advance look at the menu has me most excited about the spicy lamb sliders with jalapenos, feta, frisee and greek yogurt.  This dish features some of my most favorite ingredients.  I find myself in a race to eat it before the bun gets soggy.  I can’t say that I won, but I enjoy the effort.

The Cava fries are always a must. This time, I wish they are a bit hotter, but the flavor is good.

The spanakopita and the tyropita are similar, save for the latter dish including goat cheese.  Both are  somewhat ordinary.

The dishes are now being served fast and furious.  There is an outcry to slow down, but the server says he is helpless.  The kitchen is preparing dishes to order and since they are not terribly busy at this hour, not much can be done.  We finally ask them to hold the last dish as there is nowhere on the table for it to be placed.

The saganaki is a cheese which is flamed table side.  This is entertaining and it tastes good, making it a worthwhile selection.

The mac ‘n cheese doesn’t leave much of an impression in terms of texture or flavor.  A heavier hand with the spices would have helped.

On the other hand, the kokkinisto (braised short ribs with tomato and cinnamon) is a tasty dish, although at this point we are frustrated with the service and so it becomes more difficult to enjoy the food. 

I don’t try the calamari, but it is declared a real winner among those who do.

After all the slowing down we ask from our server, we now realize that we are running out of time.  We order dessert and wait impatiently for its arrival.  I imagine our server is ready for us to leave right about now. We order Cava truffles and fried donuts.  The truffles are amazing and my favorite part of the meal.  The smooth texture and not too sweet flavor is perfection.  It really is too bad that this is the one dish we neglected to photograph. The donuts are good too but we are now officially in a big hurry, and so we grab our donuts and run.

My friend’s opinions are mixed on their ratings of the meal.  They range from a 2.5 to a 3.5.  I am ambivalent, so I wait for a week while I ponder it.  A week has passed and I am still procrastinating.  I’m waiting for a thunderbolt of lightening to hit me in terms of what I want to say and how I want to say it.

The thing about small plates is that you can like some of the dishes and some may not be so appealing.  At that point, the enjoyment level is either enhanced or detracted from by the dining experience as a whole.  In this instance, indifferent service result in indifferent diners.

I may find myself at Cava Mezze again.  If I happen to be in the neighborhood I wouldn’t mind dining on lamb sliders, fries, and those truffles.  On the other hand, I am not rushing back.  Sometimes ambivalence speaks louder than we think.

Cava Mezze, 527 8th St SE, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   2.8- 3.2 ?
Washingtonian, 100 Best Restaurants 2010, #45
Washingtonian, 100 Best Restaurants 2011

Cava Mezze on Urbanspoon


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