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Cava Cave-in?

Went to Cava a month or so ago and I am sorry to admit we had a rather disappointing experience – mostly where service was concerned. They admitted they were short-staffed that evening, so I am hoping it was a one-off. Perhaps we simply had the misfortune of arriving on a bad night.

I went with a few friends – one of whom is a wine lover from out of town – so I really wanted to make sure this person had a great evening. We were hoping to try some interesting/out of the ordinary Spanish wines and we were quite carefree about prices. When we asked the servers at the bar for advice, one person said (very kindly) that he was new and so really couldn’t help us. There seemed to be no one else who could assist us. I turned to the end of the bar and happened to see the (or one of the) proprietor(s). Apologetically, I asked for some help. We did get assistance with choosing and drank two lovely bottles of wine, but a comment was made to me of the effect that it was his night off and he was hoping to relax a bit. (Note: if you want to relax and be left alone, better not to try to do it in your own restaurant, where you will be recognized!)

The food was good but not particularly memorable and no one in our party seemed terribly impressed.

I contrast this with a visit to the tapas bar at Chiado last week (or Senhor Antonio to be exact). Delightful service and wonderfully wine-savvy staff. Stunning wines (at a cost, but there are wines to be enjoyed there at any price range).

I enjoyed Cava on previous visits and I am a fan of the chef, like the concept, and want to see them succeed, so I am hoping this is just a temporary rough patch. Any thoughts?

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  1. I was there for the first time around a month ago and had quite the opposite experience.

    Our servers were both delightful and knowledgeable and a true credit to the establishment (Cory and Brett were there names if I remember correctly). Two truly charming fellows.

    I happen to work in the same industry (on the wine side of things) and was pleasantly surprised to be assisted by such fluent and educated staff.

    As for the food, both my friend and myself tried many, many dishes and found them all to be extremely well executed.

    I canot wait to return... which will have to be after new year unfortunately... *sigh*

    1 Reply
    1. re: Non Doctor

      That's good to hear, Non Doctor...this one case where I would prefer to be mistaken!

    2. that's a shame MC- I've had several very good experiences there in the past few months...hopefully this was a one off.

      1. I was there a couple of weeks ago and also had very good service. Early reports were that the service was terrible, so I took my experience to mean things had improved. By the sound of things improvements are still happening.

        1. Ekkkkk... please excuse my spelling mistakes... I posted at 5.30am!

          1. I also had a wonderful experience there for my birthday about a month ago. Excellent service, loved the food (beef cheek...yum!), they gave us complementary cava (2 glasses each!) to celebrate my birthday and recommended a delicious Spanish wine with dinner. I do think, having been a there a few times, that they really shine on weeknights when they are less busy, rather than the weekends.

            1. First I agree entirely with Senhor Antonio (except of course they have Portuguese wines).
              And Cava has disappointed me too. The noise bothers me (can't hear the servers) and although the food is OK it doesn't really sparkle.
              I have also enjoyed Coca (on Queen West) - which is certainly cheaper than either of those mentioned so far - and it has more 'genuine' tapas (as opposed to the small plates that are being called tapas). The wine list there is somewhat generic though (although you have a choice of 2oz, 4oz, or 6oz servings). And also good is Kultura (small plates) - but even more expensive. And Kultura offers an 8oz carafe - great for sharing.

              8 Replies
              1. re: estufarian

                Coca is good food also definitely. Dodgy service right now but is still early days- gotta give them a chance i guess. Although I totally agree much more like what tapas is in Spain.

                1. re: estufarian

                  I tried Coca last night (Monday) - it's average to good, but not great. My bill really added up quickly despite $3 tastings of wine, and mostly inexpensive-sounding tapas. I loved the quail eggs (2 for $3) and chicken wings (5 for $5). Everything else was mediocre: ho-hum heirloom beet salad (sold by weight - about $4.40 for a small bowl), cinnamon-laced applesauce and chorizo "coca" (flatbread pizza) for $10; beef cheeks ($5) crumbed and deep fried in old oil; and 3 small pieces of horse tenderloin (why bother cooking Flicka if she isn't tasty to begin with?) for $5. Too many servers hovered around, checking on us far too frequently with too much conversation.

                  I much prefer Cava, where service is excellent, and most of the food is very good. I've never been there on a weekend, however.

                  Kultura is also very good overall, though the food is less memorable (though being tipsy may have interfered with my experience of the food).

                  1. re: Food Tourist

                    We had almost entirely different items at Coca! I did have a Coca, and the superb quail eggs, but also had Licorice Olives; Quail stuffed with pork belly & figs; mushroom paella; and wild white prawns.
                    I was at Kultura the last week of their "old" menu, so haven't tried the "new" one yet. But my experience was excellent.
                    Pricewise (for two with wine) we paid around $100 at Coca, $175 at Kultura and $150 at Cava. So Coca was much better value, although Kultura was my favourite of the three.

                    1. re: estufarian

                      The quail eggs- excellent I agree. Beef cheeks- i thought were quite good, although sadly we had ordered the pork. I also found the beet salad lacking- certainly didn't taste any 'roasting' going on. I'm a little confused about the pricing mentioned though- we spent a LOT more money when we go to Cava then we spent at Coca. Actually now that I really think about it, that's because we moved on from coca to go the Niagara street cafe- so i guess that about says it all. early days though- who knows?

                      1. re: nummanumma

                        Coincidentally, Anton (from Niagara St Cafe) was at Coca the same night as us. So, of course, had to go to Niagara St cafe the next night to show loyalty!

                    2. re: Food Tourist

                      When I returned to Cava on the Friday evening before Christmas, I was dismayed to see that several menu prices had been raised; several dishes had been changed, deleted or added; and the Avalon-level of service had completely dropped off. My theory is that only a few of the Cava servers are top-notch. Ours, a young man who stooped to condescension on several occasions, not to mention casual conversation about his life, ignored us for most of the evening. At the start, I was debating between two unusual sherries, and he suggested one. Upon his return, he announced that it was out of stock and that he had brought me something similar (though commonly available, which was not my preference). I had to send it back and ask for the other one I had been considering.

                      The table beside us (4 men who may have been on expense account) ordered several bottles of sparkling water and wine, had a different server, and were, without a doubt, receiving excellent service. At one point later in the evening, with our plates and glasses empty, I got so frustrated that I actually turned to Chef, who was lurking behind the serrano ham as usual, and complained. Just at that moment, Christopher, our server, arrived and tried to overcompensate by bombarding me with inappropriate compliments such as, "You're so beautiful, you should be a server." I was not flattered and neither was my male companion. When we finally got the glasses of Beronia rioja ($9 for 125 mL) we had ordered long before, I asked to read the bottle label. The server replied, "Girl, you're curious!"

                      Food, for the most part, was good but not excellent. Ho-hum tripe Basquaise ($13) and chewy sablefish ($16) failed to impress. Grilled octopus with hazelnut romesco ($15) was an unusual combination of salty-bitter flavours, the green onions the sweet saving grace. Grilled cuttlefish "salad" ($9.75) was a better choice, and I regretted ordering both cuttlefish and octopus since I enjoy variety. Pinchos of avruga and avocado ($8) and charcuteria ($14.50) were the highlight of a poorly-timed meal. At one point, there was so much food crowding our tiny table that I asked the server, once I located him, to take a break from bringing out food until further notice. Needless to say, he never checked on us again until I complained to Chef. This was in direct contrast to my first experience at Cava, when the food was perfectly timed.

                      One last note: We didn't order dessert. Dave, the pastry chef, listen up -- you need to overhaul that dessert menu and fast. Those churros were actually disrecommended by our server last time and after one bite, we knew why.

                      Dinner for two including 2 beers, a sherry ($6) and 2 half-glasses of wine: $130.00

                      I'm taking Cava off my Top 5 list.

                      1. re: Food Tourist

                        Coca has also increased their prices significantly and changed the stupid sold-by-weight concept.

                        1. re: Food Tourist

                          Agree with the 'sold-by-weight' comment, but not the price changes!. When I was there (again) last week it seemed like the 'large' dishes were the same price (e.g. the Cocas) but the small dishes had been rationalized. Now there are only a few price categories, rather than everything being priced individually. It appears that serving sizes have been adjusted (e.g. the serrano and bayonne ham portions were much larger than the horse cecina, but each serving was the same price - hint: choose the serrano!). My bill was approximately the same as on my previous visit.

                    3. I won't go to Cava, because very noisy restaurants bother me.
                      A great dinner deserves the same great conversation.
                      As for the poor service you encountered, every restaurant has a bad night.
                      About a month ago we took a dear friend from Paris who entertains us at 3* restaurants when we are there and a fish lover to boot, to Chaido.
                      We had never had poor service, and go there about every six weeks.
                      That night the service was less than perfect, and when I ordered the Iberico ham, we were told that it is on the bar menu.
                      I didn't make a fuss, because of my guest.
                      So if Cava is to your liking, I would give it another try.

                      1. Saw this restaurant on a list of the ten best new restaurants in the country. Love tapas, thought it was a natural. But no! The roasted vegetables were WAY overcooked. The list of wines by the glass was dismal, or at least the whites were, and the waitress was snotty. The clafouti was insipid, and much of the food was too salty.

                        Back to Torito! It's SO much better.

                        1. I went to Cava just this past Saturday and had a great time. We had great service, lots of food talk with the waiter and kidding around. The Sable fish was amazing. We tried about 15 plates and we were really please with most. It's made it to my favorites list.