All words: Jeff Spross
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
One thing you have to give Cava Mezze Restaurant right away is they know how to set their aesthetics. Our dinner took place in a large alcove at the building’s roof, which would normally serve as an outdoor bar and seating area, but Cava Mezze had repurposed it with heaters and a plastic drape enclosure. The wood paneling was inviting and old world, and the lighting was warm and low.
The initial snacks before everyone sat down were a pleasant spread of pita chips and the restaurant’s signature dips. There were three cocktails to choose from: the Social Butterfly, the Martinique, and the Whiskey Island Punch. I confess I stuck to the latter, because, well, whiskey — but it was certainly a drink I’d have again.
One: Roasted Beet Salad, Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Saganaki
Things started out with a flash, rather literally: the staff lit the saganaki right there by the table, tracing alcohol fumes in the air above the pan for the flames to follow, and putting on a quick show for the guests. (The guy in charge told us Cava Mezze had to get a letter from the city’s relevant regulatory authorities, certifying they were, in fact, allowed to light cheese on fire.)
The saganaki itself was tasty and nicely seared, and its sharpness combined well with the beets in the salad. The brussels sprouts were sweetly caramelized and drizzled in a thick vinaigrette.
The wine — a Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé from Amyndeo, Greece — was on the dry side, but was also just the first of several Cava Mezze has apparently procured from Greek supplier.
Two: Charred Octopus, Black Tarama, Black Tzatziki, Citrus
This was a cool little dish which — between the tzatziki sauce, the citrus, and the modest helping of octopus — was laid out with visual panache. The octopus was cooked in a way that maintained both its flavor and firmness. Overall the tastes balanced out nicely.
The wine was a Gavala Assyrtico from Santorini, Greece.
Three: Pan Roasted Rockfish, Santorini Fava Puree, Xinomavro, Shitake
This dish was a nice touch. The rockfish was unusually meaty so the texture effect wasn’t the usual lightness one expects from fish. It came closer to an old-fashioned steak, but with rockfish flavor. Between the red wine reduction — which was hefty and enjoyable — the shitake mushrooms, and an unusually floral Tetramythos Black wine out of Kalavrita, Greece, the whole thing definitely had a steak-dish-yet-not-quite-a-steak-dish feel.
Four: Braised Lamb Shoulder, Homemade Noodles, Kefalograviera
About the lamb and noodles there wasn’t all that much to say. Meat and carbs is a reliable choice, and this was no exception. The wine — “Hedgehog” — was also solid and enjoyable.
Five: ”Family Style” Roasted Pork Belly, Shaved Onion, Cilantro, Tzatziki, Marinated Tomatoes, Grilled Pita
This was, without a doubt, the pinnacle of the night. The presentation was clever — essentially a do-it-yourself pork belly taco approach with pita bread, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and tzatziki sauce. But the pork belly itself is what really sang. Some touch of acidity — lemon perhaps — cut the oiliness of the meat for a nice balance, and the central spread gave the pita-taco-making process a nice communal touch. The chopsticks were a little cumbersome for picking up the meat, but then that injected a bit of humor into the proceedings as well.
I was lucky enough to take some of the pork belly home with me. Three days later I heated it up in the microwave, and the smell was so good that all my roommates commented on it as they passed by.
The cocktail that came along was a Double Smoked Metaxa Old Fashioned, a smokey-sweet number made with dry ice. So it literally smoked from the top of the liquid as it was laid down. The staff revealed that some of the ingredients had been smoked beforehand, and the combination of flavors with the sweeter liquors resulted in a nice balance.
Six: Greek Yogurt Cheesecake, Cypriot Pudding, Black Cherry Sauce
Dessert was also rousing success. The Vinsanto — a dessert wine from Santorini, Greece — was delicious, and a good pairing with the enjoyably thick pudding. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cheesecake wasn’t just light, but extraordinarily so, and a good match with the black cherry sauce. Both deserts were first rate and there was a hint of sourness when the Vinsanto combined with the cheesecake.
The accompanying cocktail, a Skinos Swizzle, didn’t combine terribly well with either desert but it was a tasty and fascinating concoction on its own. It was another smokey-sweet approach that included bitters, grapes, and what was probably some kind of coffee liquor. Yet what came out was a drink that seemed to have a Caribbean influence. If that sounds a little difficult to wrap your head around, believe me, it was an unusual experience at the time, too, but a good one, and definitely recommended. Well done, Cava Mezze.