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May 24, 2009 11:34 AM

Cavey's in Manchester, CT: Highs and lows

Cavey's is an Italian and French restaurant in one building. When you approach and enter Cavey’s you should be impressed. The beautiful tall, old, weathered doors and the nice landscaping. You immediately see the bar and the entrance to the Italian restaurant to your left. Down in the basement is the French Quarter. There were several people yakking it up in the bar so we decided to skip having a drink there. We were seated right away and at 6:30 on a Saturday, they were yet to get busy. Later, as we were about to leave they still had a few tables (and all of the red room), vacant.
Cavey’s may have the biggest wine cellar in NE. Supposedly over 15,000 bottles! Most wines are astronomically expensive! We were hard pressed to find a dozen bottles of red under $100 and the average price was probably $200. One red and one white "house wine" is a hand picked daily by the sommelier. That's it. They do not sell any other wines by the glass. Australian Shiraz, which is usually affordable were $300-400. Between the two of us we drank five glasses of the House Sommelier’selection @ $15, each. One glass of wine was full of sediment, meaning they didn’t decant it or pay attention.
The meal was good overall, but there were numerous flaws: They did not have Lagavulin 16 and only had Laphroaig 10 ($15!!). The butter was too cold to spread. The service was at times amateurish with the bussers trying to clear my amuse-bouche before I had touched it and alternately not removing plates when we were clearly finished with a course and had placed our silverware to signify so. The pace of our meal got all screwed up, with us waiting 25 minutes for my main entrée; a small portion of monkfish for $26, while the duck appetizer SO ordered was mistakenly upgraded to a main entrée ($28). My fish got a little dried out in the process, I’m pretty sure they held up my cooked-too-soon fish, while the duck breast was getting prepared. We declined to complain about the upgrade to an entrée mistake and took home a lot of beautiful duck breast! We wondered whether SO had been intentionally upgraded, thus overcharged (a $14 difference).
The “Caesar Salad” was strange and a very loose interpretation. It had whole romaine leaves with montasio frico (a toasted, grated cheese “cracker”), perched atop the leaf pile and finished with a well-cooked quail egg on top. The cheese was hard and salty and not good with the salad (in our opinion). The whole romaine leaves were hard to deal with. SO liked the quail egg touch. I had a crab salad with chilled asparagus and a creamy dill sauce. My monkfish had a slight Asian note to it. The meal took two and one quarter hours for drinks and three courses!

High notes: The bread they make is excellent and they gave us two, small loaves. The crab/asparagus was delicious with the dill sauce. The sweetbreads were very good with the soy dressing. One was slightly overcooked. The rare duck l’orange was divine. We were trying to leave, to pick up someone at Bradley, and told the waitress we had to forego dessert. Still, she insisted on bringing us a dessert amuse-bouche. It was quite nice, but waiting for it almost made us late to the airport.

Cavey’s is highly rated by some; we think overrated. There’s not a lot that’s French about the restaurant except (perhaps) the room’s accoutrements and the bread (though they do call the food “Modern French”). I thought the interior of the French dining area to be semi-gross with its gaudy, highly raised, flocked wallpaper and "French" appointments. There was an all red dining area, too! They started with some jazz but soon switched to playing louder tired, rote and sentimental French songs (sung by Edith Piaf [good/OK], and then another singer who was over the top in shrillness). The whole thing seemed plastic and Vegas-like, including our waitress with the permanent smile and too effervescent and charming demeanor.
Cavey’s is pretty much only for high rollers! There were women there in evening gowns. We dropped $220 in a heartbeat (and skipped dessert)!

It’s also an Old Fogey’s Place. The maître d’ reminded me of Dick Cheney. He asked, “Was everything acceptable?” Acceptable, yes, but not good enough, nor our style. I think we can forgo Caveys.

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    1. Guess you should have stuck with the bar - better prices for sure, with many "small plates" for under 7 bucks. Had dinner upstairs about 3 weeks ago, and while a bit pricey, it was very good with many wines available by the glass. (Virtually every restaurant price gouges on drinks these days. So sad.) Too bad about the French restaurant. Haven't been in years (prices), but you seem quite knowledgeable and I hope it was just an off night. When I first moved to this area over 30 years ago, Cavey's was the only Ct restaurant to earn the NY Times' highest rating. Maybe "downstairs" need an upgrade.

      2 Replies
      1. re: thos

        I don't know what you mean by "you should have stuck with the bar". We had reservations for the "French" restaurant....
        I see now they have "bar bites".
        Is there really an upstairs? I thought the Italian restaurant was on the ground level, as you come in. This is confusing. I didn't see a stairway going up.

        1. re: Scargod

          There is a stairway going down. The Italian restaurant is on the ground level, and the French is below. This is why they refer to the Italian restaurant 'upstairs' .

      2. Thanks for the great review!
        Was that old man Cheney in one of the pics?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Td61

          Yes, the very last one of the second set. I tried to be surreptitious and not be seen too many times taking photos, thus no flash. The camera did output an orange glow (for focusing), just before the shot, so it was a giveaway that I was taking pictures, just less intrusive than the flash. The bussers, scurrying around like worker bees would invariably walk in front of the camera just as I took a picture of the room. I use my scotch glass and other props for a tripod. After a while I felt like I had to stop, thus no pics of our entrees or the dessert amuse-bouche. I felt like I had sneaked a camera into a meeting of the Skull and Bones at Yale rather than just taking pictures in any old restaurant...

        2. Didn't realize you had reservations for the French restaurant. Sounded like you just walked in to check it out. "Upstairs" is, in fact, the ground floor, but most people refer to the Italian part of the place as "upstairs" as opposed to the French or "downstairs" area. A little confusing I guess.

          1. We ate at Cavey's downstairs in April and felt it had lost alot of the qualities it had 30 or so years ago, when it was at the top of places to eat. Decor needs updating for sure, but we had missteps in our meal, preparation of some things so oversalted we had to complain. Definitely not really "French" anymore. There was only one server and the level of service was less than good really. Very expensive though they say their prices are comptetive. I am sorry it has lost its specialness etc.