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Review: Cava

Sarah Baird on an upscale Lakeview spot that perfectly fits its neighborhood

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Developing a menu and appropriate ambience are of prime concern for budding restaurateurs, but I've often mulled over the impetus behind restaurant names. For some spots, the choice is obvious: They take the name of a main ingredient or family member. For others, it's unclear, and there is an increasing number of restaurants using nonsensical words or mish-mash portmanteaus to stand out as edgy. Lakeview's fine-dining spot Cava is named for the Spanish sparkling wine, and it's an apt choice — reflecting a sophisticated place for high-end dining that's elegant, accessible and effervescent, like its namesake.

  High ceilings and a dripping, modern chandelier accentuate a clean, glossy two-story space that is both comfortable and chic. Managed by the deft hand of maitre d' Danny Millan, attention to detail and service at Cava are top-notch.

  The dishes may not seem novel at first glance, but the subtle give-and-take of unusual accents and twists make each plate unique. Frog legs' mild meat is breaded, fried and slathered in tangerine-colored, spicy Buffalo sauce, but this is not typical sports-bar fare. The legs are presented atop tangy blue cheese creme fraiche and are accented by slivers of red and green grapes. The grapes might seem like a curious accompaniment for casual finger food, but they balance the dish nicely with a fresh, palate-cleansing effect.

  The use of fruit as a creative accent is common throughout the menu, including a lusty, decadent mussels dish which arrives with a moat of Covington Brewhouse's Strawberry Ale cream, aged balsamic and hunks of ruby red strawberry. Floating among the mussels are crispy, well-seasoned pomme frites, which are shoestring cut and an ideal vehicle for sopping up the broth. (These alone would rank among the top five french fries in New Orleans.) Honey-sweet figs are the star of a low-fuss, high-flavor endive salad, in which the endive leaves are best used to scoop up the dish's various elements.

  Seafood dishes anchor the entree selections, with crawfish meatball pasta taking the prize for Cava's most visually arresting dish. Thick, al dente squid ink noodles are dark as night, with daintily crafted orbs of pork and crawfish perched atop pasta and sprinkled with milky white queso fresco. For all the dish's dramatic presentation, it avoids getting bogged down in overly rich flavors, and bright, lemony herb oil serves as the perfect foil for the delicate, sweet meatballs. Lobster and wild mushroom risotto has the kind of succulent, briny taste of the sea that easily transports diners to a seaside New England town, and the creamy texture hits the risotto sweet spot between runny and gluey.

  Truffle oil is perhaps one of the most abused ingredients in high-end dining today, with the ability to drown a perfectly good dish and destroy any nuance in flavor with one drizzle. Cava's truffled baked macaroni and cheese — served alongside crispy, sweet-and-sour glazed fried chicken and a bed of jewel-toned greens — might just turn me into a believer. The truffle gives the dish's already decadent combination of homespun favorites additional depth of flavor and tugs against the vinegary, syrupy "sweet and zesty sauce" that is drizzled over the dish.

  The bar serves classic cocktails, but the best bet with dinner is to choose from the wine list's more than 300 bottles, organized by type and country. Ribera del Duero Tempranillo is a solid pairing for a number of the menu's heartier dishes, with a deep burgundy hue and oaky full body that reflects the Spanish wine's brambly, mountainous roots.

  Stylish without being stuffy and inventive without being outlandish, Cava brings a deft, well-balanced sense of class to the Lakeview dining scene.

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