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Cav Wine Bar

April 18, 2010

Cav Wine Bar isn’t on anyone’s list and it certainly wasn’t on mine. I have been toiling over the experience and what to write about it. I loved several things about my dinner there and my dining companion hated many of those same things. Intensely. As with Art, food and dining are up for interpretation. Always. Each one of us will digest an experience or meal differently as we will internalize a painting or sculpture in front of us. We sometimes agree with each other on a piece of art and sometimes we simply do not. The same with a plate of food. Even still we sometimes miss the point. What is the point again? Oh yes, the artist usually has a point. Usually. I applaud anyone who stands in a hot kitchen most 8-10 hours a day. I’ve done it before, I did it last night, I’ll do it again. One person’s negative criticism can be the next one’s extreme pleasure. On a plate, on a canvas, in a film or written in a book. As an artist I find the point is to: Create, Inspire, Learn, Listen and Love what you do. Keep doing it and don’t give up. Ever.

My reservationist got wind of an interesting little Wine Bar on Market Street that allegedly had designed their menu to accommodate their wine list and not “the other way around”.When we asked our server what was great about Cav and what the philosophy of the place was she didn’t really have an answer for us.The one provided certainly didn’t match the one Cav’s website totes. Again, it’s how you interpret it.

Cav is interesting, to say the least. A graffiti mural of a subway covers a few walls. There are some large-scale photographs of ethnic people from Peru or perhaps Eastern Europe. The front room is well lit and inviting as much as any bar could be. The backroom (where we dined) is dimly lit and minimal with simple dark tables. Very simple. There is interpretational (there is that word again. Get used to the “concept”) art work on the main wall involving wine corks. It is a place I can’t quite figure out. I’d like to. I have to wonder if Cav might be a place that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Or maybe I am really from the planet PiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyjklzskfkkfDax…or so I’ve recently been told.

Chef Maher is young and notable. His accolades are accomplished and include a fortunate moment working at the The French Laundry (not everyone has those). He has recently taken over the kitchen at Cav working as both Executive and Pastry Chef and I suspect he won’t stay long. Or is that wishful thinking? I personally think he is a talented and forward thinking Chef. He is well-trained and creative. His plating is thoughtful, beautifully composed yet still simple and elegant (insert cliche here). The space is too dark, I feel it is too random. It is a Wine bar yes, but his food is not Wine bar material (in my opinion). He is an emerging artist,dammit. And I just would rather see his work in a different gallery.

I’ll start with dessert. I enjoyed that most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(L)”Shortcake”; rhubarb/fennel terrine, mini buttermilk biscuit, thyme ice cream, vanilla cream fraiche. (R) “Rice and Milk”; tres leches cake, confiture de lait, horchata sherbet, puffed rice.

Not sure if Chef Maher is a Pastry Chef turned savory Chef. Whatever the case he does dessert well. The dessert list is small but filled with many “quotations”.”Chips and Guac” sounded interesting but we passed. I can’t quite tell what the theme of the cuisine is supposed to be. Or maybe it isn’t supposed to anything. Perhaps it is “globally influenced”. I loved the two desserts we shared. I thought they were filled with taste. The presentation was simple, but thought out and with originality (no rhubarb with strawberry). Quotations and all. I found the rhubarb terrine, intriguing and refreshing and an absolute delight. The tres leches cake was monochromatic in color but sweet, milky and well soaked. I would have liked more puffed rice, maybe even a rice ball. In contrast, my companion found them both  repulsive in taste and seemed personally offended by the dessert experience. I believe the thyme ice cream was compared to “granny’s panties”. We are all entitled to an opinion. I loved the dessert.

 

We shared several starters.

Grilled Monterey Squid/ housemade kimchi, fingerling potato, olive, green almond

Though I squinted to see the beauty in the plate, the flavors were all there. Let me just say I love spicy food, but even I struggled to swallow this one whole. Somehow though, between the tears, I managed. And if I was one of the distinguished (laughter) Judges on an episode of Iron Chef and the secret ingredient had been kimchi, this would be a very successful dish. I feel the kimchi really overpowered the dish. I know it is a strong and distinctive element but I found it overwhelming for me. My companion agreed. Perhaps the dish should have been listed : “Kimchi”; squid, potato, almond, olive.

A simple salad of:  local lettuce, shaved cheese, and house-made lardons was very good. I think I’ve had a version of this salad far too many times to count, in the 6 months of living in the Bay area. I do keep ordering salads involving bacon and greens, so simple and good. Bring it on.

Crispy Pig Trotters with Gribiche sauce and frisee.

Very good dish. Definitely a favorite for both of us. Would have been great with a glass of Champagne. I tend to think everything is better with Champagne. I hear the Chef at Contigo is doing this dish as well. Or was. In praise of Thomas Keller and the Bouchon cookbook.

There is a hog in Chef Maher’s kitchen and he is making his own pig part delicacies (bacon, sausage, cured cuts, charcuterie) from it. Let him do his thing. There is a $22  Charcuterie plate that sounded tempting (if I didn’t have several school loans to tend to). I’d love to return and splurge on it and of course some dessert.

(L) Halibut Cheeks with sea beans and radish. (R) Duck Breast with farro and spring garlic

The main dishes were plated beautifully. Unfortunately beauty is not everything and one thing should not be judged on beauty alone. The major issue with the main courses was that they were completely cold. Yes cold, cold to the touch. At some point they had been warm, maybe even hot, but that moment was not at our table. It appeared to be a slow and quiet night, so I am confused as to how the dishes could have left the kitchen cold. We did not send them back. I rarely send food back to the kitchen and I can’t remember the last time I did. So in partial confusion and slight embarrassment (for the kitchen) we continued eating what little was on the plate to begin with. The portions seemed small, even to me (but I’m from Texas where everything is bigger). My companion mentioned wanting to pick up some In N Out burger after. I heavily contemplated that idea. Incidentally, we did not. I’m not sure why.

Maybe  the plating and spacing caused a visual trick of the mind? Maybe there was plenty of food. I have no idea. I do know the food was decent, though it was minimal and some of it was cold. I am interested to see what Chef Maher does next and if he stays or goes. If he stays, I’d love to see slightly brighter lighting as to see the lovely plates and of course temperature correct dishes. I’d also like a wine pairing to go with dishes ordered, if in fact the menu is designed around the wine. Definitely a stand out experience. One can only hope the menu is rotating, possibly expanding and stays interesting. And warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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