- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cava, a new Greek mezze-style restaurant on Capitol Hill, goes above and beyond its online promise of offering “skillfully crafted” dishes.

One after the other — or rather one better than the other — the mezze dishes arrive, fresh and perfectly prepared.

How rare, for example, to order grilled baby octopus and have it arrive — instead of chewy and charred — lightly grilled, sprinkled with lemon juice and with a consistency reminiscent of lightly sauteed scallops.

It reminds us of the freshness that can be had on the Greek Islands, except that Cava’s presentation is flawless — which is not necessarily so with your run-of-the-mill taverna on the isles where aesthetics belong more readily in the natural landscape than on the plate.

It’s obvious that great attention at Cava (which is the second of its kind; the first is in Rockville) is given to the whole life-cycle of each dish - from the freshness and overall quality of ingredients to preparation and presentation.

Not just any yogurt or feta, for example, fills the restaurant’s small, white plates and bowls.

“We’ve all had bad feta,” says Andreas Xenochristos, who owns the restaurant with his brother and three other descendents of Greek immigrants. “But we serve Dodonis feta, which is really good and creamy.”

The statement might sound pretentious, but it’s also right. The difference between good and bad feta is almost as significant as the difference between good and bad oysters. It can make or break an evening. Almost.

What can also make an evening is good company and lively conversation, says Mr. Xenochristos, which is why he and the other owners decided on an all-mezze (63 in all) menu intended to satisfy the palate as much as inspire conversation and sharing.

The mezze value is decent, except for the village salad, which at $9.95 seems a little steep considering it is only of a small heap of cucumber, tomato, capers, olives and scrumptious feta.

“Our inspiration is our own Greek families and the meals and dinner conversations we had growing up,” said Mr. Xenochristos. “We’re trying to share some of that.”

Except that the menu also includes American dishes with a Greek twist such as the spicy lamb sliders served with jalapeno, feta, arugula and Greek yogurt.

The space too is more modern American than Greek, with a few exceptions. On one wall there are dozens of framed family photos, mostly taken in Greece, and on the back wall there is a mosaic featuring an ancient Greek design.

Otherwise the interior is all wood, warm lighting, exposed brick and tables that sit a bit too close together for comfort. Cava seats about 150 people on two floors and in outdoor seating. On busy nights the noise level is on the high side.

The service is friendly and knowledgeable, and when too many minutes pass between orders, wine is comped and apologies are made.

Speaking of libations, the menu features more than a dozen Greek wines and a selection of mojitos. But Hellenophiles need not fret –ouzo is available.

RESTAURANT: Cava, 527 Eighth St. SE, 202/543-9090, www.dc.cavamezze.com

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday; dinner 5 to 9:45 p.m. Sunday-Monday, until 10:45 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and until 11:45 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

PRICES: $5.95 to $44.95 is the range for the all-mezze menu; desserts $7.95; on Sundays a brunch menu is served in addition to the regular menu


PARKING: Limited street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Eastern Market



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