2008 Fall Dining Guide By Tom Sietsema Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008
An order of saganaki comes with a cry of surprise from someone in the dining room and a fireball straight out of a disaster flick. That's what happens whenever a waiter ignites Greek cheese with a shot of 151-proof rum: Poof! In seconds, the orange flame and the heat subside, leaving melted cheese and jokes in their wake: "Just the gray hair, please," a diner sitting nearest the pyrotechnics says to his tablemates. Cava, run by three boyhood friends and fueled with home-style recipes, is no one-trick kitchen, though. In addition to that tangy flambeed appetizer, chef Dimitri Moshovitis sends out a rousing taramosalata (salmon roe and olive oil whipped into a pink cloud), herbed baby lamb chops and terrific grilled whole fish (scored branzino inset with lemon wedges on my last visit). No one will confuse some of Cava's mezze for Zaytinya's small plates in Penn Quarter; the Rockville restaurant's zucchini fritters are dull, for instance, and its braised beef meatballs resemble unadorned hamburger patties. But the generous portions and dishes including "Cava disco fries," which piles good, hand-cut fries with grated Greek cheese and veal ragout, make up for the occasional underachiever. Speaking of discos, this dim, brick-walled dining room with bare tables and heavy brown curtains rivals a dance club with more than its youthful energy. In other words, bring some cotton balls along with an appetite. Easier on the ears: Moshovitis reports he's opening a second Cava on Capitol Hill later this fall.