Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Classical Greek treasures at La Cava

La Cava impresses by sticking to the fundamentals of Greek cuisine: rustic food, simple fresh ingredients (meat, potatoes and olive oil) while still managing to innovate. La Cava uses the best of quality ingredients so naturally the result is classic winning taste.
La Cava is a project from Costa Spiliadis of Milos fame who has just opened a branch in Sin City at the Cosmoplitan of Las Vegas. The new restaurant got an amazing review in the Eating Las Vegas blog. The focus at Milos is fish but at La Cava attention is paid to mainland cuisine. The master hand of Spiliadis seems evident when you consider all the restaurant’s perfect details. It is therefore no surprise that La Cava was one of En Route magazine’s best new restaurants of 2010.
We went to La Cava to celebrate (Opa!) a friend’s birthday and were with a large group of almost 40 people. Our friend who is a Chef, arranged the menu so all we had to do was sit back order some wine and enjoy the food. Our food came from the late night menu, after 10 pm, and is a great discovery because you get 4 courses for $55.51 (plus taxes).
Greek treasures on display
Immediately you notice the pantheon of great ingredients that are proudly displayed like artifacts in a museum’s display case. The food exhibition nearly takes up an entire wall of the restaurant only to be broken by large fenestration that serves as the pass offering a view of the kitchen. The spectacle of the kitchen is made even more grand with a massive mirror sitting above the pass. 

The ingredients wall, view of the kitchen and Chefs demonstrates simple logic but makes for a great idea in restauration. There are so many great elements in this operation that we would love to talk about but that would take away from the food. Some quick highlights include the building (an old bank that looks like a fortress from the outside), hospitable staff (they wear blue jeans, white Converse high tops and angelic white dress shirts), the interior (floor tiles from an old church) and warm lighting that to makes everything and everybody glow. La Cava was a noisy with voices and chatter but we were there to celebrate and after all it was Saturday night on the Plateau. The only drawback of the noise was that it made it difficult to understand the staff’s explanation of our dishes and the Greek words. 
Organic dry-aged beef
Say cheese
The Alpha Feta
La Cava uses ingredients that are best described as beautiful and this is probably the reason that they are on display. Consider the olive oil, that first makes an appearance as a condiment for your bread, emerald green in color the smell was fragrant, like flowers, as was the taste. Our meal started with a surprise from the kitchen but all we understood was lemon and egg. The dish, served in an espresso cup, was a warm and comforting milky broth with some added tang from the citrus. Overall the flavor was peppery but is a great way of waking up your palate. 
Amuse-bouche: lemon and egg
Baked Feta
Next came the bougiourdi, feta cheese baked in parchment paper topped with green peppers, cherry tomatoes and spices. The warm cheese offered more comfort and was coupled with the aroma of oregano. The sharp herb flavors have even more-punch because it is a spicy dish.
Miniature souvlaki platter
Another surprise from the kitchen arrived at our table, a miniature souvlaki platter with pork shoulder and belly, pita triangles, tzatziki, onion and tomato salad. A classic Greek dish with tender fatty morsels that melt in your mouth. 
Stuffed Phyllo, fresh greens, charcuterie and tzatziki
Our next course was a spanakopita type dish served with tzatziki, we assume this is the menu’s hortopides that is described as homemade “phyllo pastry, wild herbs, and feta chesse.” The phyllo was a standout, a light, crisp, golden brown shell that cracks under your fork before hitting the soft filling. The filling tasted like watercress, spinach and dill. The dry aftertaste of the spinach and watercress balance nicely with the crisp pastry shell and the tzatziki that is a cool and refreshing contrast.
Meat Masterpiece
Our showcase dish arrives and this time we could hear our waiter’s explanation. Organic beef from Kansas that La Cava has the exclusive Canadian rights. The meat is dry-aged at the restaurant and is served with a rosemary and thyme topping. The beef is served with potato puree, grilled asparagus and yellow peppers. We were also brought fries cooked in olive oil that were thick cut and resembled English chips. The meat was deep red with white marbling causing a stained glass, mosaic effect. The sirloin is cut into large cubes, charred on the outside and rare on the inside creating a glorious, carnivorous experience. The meat is extremely satisfying and filling, so much so that you feel stuffed after a few bites and we ascribe this to the high quality of meat.
Potato puree made with olive oil
The taste of the mashed potato seemed peculiar at first. Instead of being cut with butter the potatoes are flavored with olive oil. In fact, the kitchen does not use any butter because olive oil is favoured instead. The intense flavor of olive oil makes even a small bite feel like a mouth-full. As mentioned, the combination of mashed potato and olive is a strange combination, but it is an amazing accompaniment to meat and vegetables, so delicious and silky we even dipped our fried potatoes in the puree. Think of a potato and olive oil sauce. The fact the kitchen can take the most basic dish, like mashed potatoes, and create something innovative using another simple ingredient (olive oil) demonstrates La Cava's greatness. 
Potatoes fried in olive oil
Okay, one last look
Our desert was svigous (fritters) with Kaimaki ice cream and sour cherry compote. The ice cream is flavoured with a sap from plants that grow in the Greek mainland. The starchy fritters, creamy light ice cream and intensely flavored cherries were a perfect finish to a great meal.
Final moment
La Cava offers classic Greek food made with the highest quality ingredients. This formula to great food seems simple but it means that every bite is a treasure to be cherished.

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