After perusing downtown Portsmouth and a quick trip over to Kittery, Maine for some treats from the When Pigs Fly factory store, we settled in for dinner. When we visited Portsmouth earlier in the year, we passed by Cava, a tapas and wine bar with a lovely patio tucked away on Commercial Alley. We weren’t able to go that time, but wanted to be sure to check it out on our next trip.
We sat outside on the front patio and enjoyed the beautiful, mild temperature. We started out with glasses of a dry 2007 Tomero Malbec from Argentina. We ordered four dishes and the servers did an excellent job in pacing the arrival of each. I was extremely impressed with the service overall. We were attended to by our server, as well as the restaurant’s general manger and owner John Akar, and the chef and owner Gregg Sessler. Our server was extremely pleasant and helpful in answering my many questions.
Our first dish was the queso de murcia with pecans, blackberry sauce, and cinnamon, served with thin slices of toasted baguette. The murcia itself, an aged goat’s milk cheese, was fantastic even without the accompaniments. It reminded me of a goat’s milk gouda I like. It was firm but very creamy, mild and a little bit sweet. The textures of the cheese, nuts and fruit went together beautifully.
The next dish was the roasted medjool dates stuffed with Manchego and wrapped in Serrano ham. I have had many a stuffed date, and these might be the best I have had yet. Most that I have tried were stuffed with a soft goat cheese but I very much liked the firm, melted, salty Manchego stuffed inside these. There is an emphasis on the word roasted in this dish. The dates were warm, soft and sweet on the inside, with firm, slightly crispy skin on the outside. Even without the ham, these were reminiscent of juicy, roasted meat.
I enjoyed every dish that we ordered, but I enjoyed the spanish tortilla with potato chip, Mahon, and Serrano ham the least, though that’s really not saying much, considering the high quality of the meal. Each of the components was excellent: the chips, the tomato-eggplant mixture, and the bright green parsley oil. The one thing I did not like was the thick layer of Mahon cheese on top of the tortilla. I very much enjoy the flavor of the fried potatoes and egg in a tortilla, and I felt the cheese was too overpowering and masked this flavor. Aside from my qualm with the cheese, the tortilla was delicious and the dish was nicely put together.
Our last dish, the patatas bravas with garlic aioli, herbs & sea salt was positively perfect. The potatoes were cooked to a soft sweetness, slightly crispy on the outside and creamy melt-in-your mouth on the inside. They were swathed in paprika and a slightly unusual choice, rosemary. I don’t believe I had ever had patatas bravas with rosemary, but the fragrant herb provided a mellow foil to the more assertive spices. I liked it a lot. The rich garlic aioli was thick and creamy against the crispy potatoes. These were patatas bravas done beautifully.
I didn’t go into this meal with the highest of expectations, my low expectations being a result of the onslaught of tapas restaurants in recent years with less than stellar food. Even though the restaurant looked charming and the menu enticing, I have had more than a few disappointing tapas meals. Our meal at Cava was quite the opposite. The setting was extremely pleasant, the service attentive, warm and friendly, and best of all, the food was high quality and the dishes were put together with care. We did not order dessert that night but we did catch a glimpse of the churros con chocolate at the table next to us, which looked fantastic. I fully intend to try them on my next visit, which I hope is not too far in the future. I commend Cava for creating an excellent dining experience all around I highly recommend Cava to anyone visiting Portsmouth.
10 Commercial Alley