Cava Rightfully Earns Its Laurels
Though they studied different subjects in college (Grigoropoulos, for example, is an accountant), they all ended up in the restaurant business. For years, they wanted to open a restaurant together. Their hunt for a suitable location settled on a space in the Traville Gateway Center, a few blocks off Shady Grove Road in Rockville.
The three men and their families spent six months transforming the corner storefront into the Greekstyle tapas known as meze restaurant of their dreams. Not only did they do the painting and decorating, they built the bar and the tables. Friends cautioned that the outoftheway location could be a detriment.
This is Greek food as you will rarely find it: impeccably fresh ingredients, nothing too heavy or salty and everything gorgeously presented. For the most part, the preparations are traditional, not fanciful inventions with Greek ingredients. Moshovitis, who has spent time in the kitchens of Vidalia, Kinkead’s, Bistro Bis and Flaps, has also mastered the art of timing dishes so they arrive in succession, rather than all at once.
The spinach pie (spanakopita) is not the leaden spinach mixture topped with a few layers of phyllo dough that you might find elsewhere, but exquisite, nearly greaseless phyllo triangles filled with a light mixture of nearly equal parts spinach and feta. Grilled meatballs are not dense balls of meat, but light savory patties so good that one of my guests ordered them for dessert.
The saganaki kefalograviera cheese doused with liquor and a hint of lemon that arrives at the table flaming is light but salty. Two slices of the fried cheese are served in separate little cast iron frying pans on a wooden paddle. Baked shrimp, plump, briny tasting and cooked just until done, are showered with feta in a light herb, tomato and garlic sauce and presented in a deep bowl. Use the pita bread (purchased, not made here) to sop up the sauce.
Zucchini fritters look like golden golf balls on a layer of tzatziki (yogurt cucumber sauce) but are creamy smooth inside. What Cava calls a crab cake is almost a misnomer these balls of jumbo lump crab have no filling and seem to be held together with sheer willpower. The minisouvlaki has greattasting marinated pork, but a tasteless tomato garnish, and there is a bit too much bread for the filling.
Dips and sauces are key elements in Greek foods, and the preparations here are exemplary. Garlic dip (skordalia) is cold mashed potatoes infused with garlic; the taste is pure garlic, the texture is grainy potato. Tzatziki has threads of cucumber mixed with rich yogurt. Taramosalata salmon roe, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice is buttery rich. A Cava invention, called crazy jalapeo feta, may be fetabased, but it tastes more like Southern pimento cheese.
Not everything works. Tiropita (cheese pies) were greasy, too homogenized (goat cheese is mixed with the feta) and robbed of their distinctive taste. Stuffed cubanelle peppers, filled with arborio rice, feta and kefalograviera cheese, had the consistency and taste of dried, flavorless cottage cheese. A white pizza, served as a special at lunch one day, when two of three braised meat dishes were unavailable, tasted and looked reheated.
The star of the desserts is the loukoumades, puffs of dough not unlike beignets, drizzled with honey. The baklava, which isn’t made inhouse, is okay, but skip the chocolate version, a marriage of flavors that just doesn’t work.