ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Cava just ended its first year in business, and Danny Millan must be breathing a sigh of relief. This is the first restaurant proprietorship in his long career, and he went through all the usual problems of launching a new eatery. The place was jammed at the beginning, creating issues of staffing, inconsistency, and noise. He worked his way through all of that, and now that the novelty-seekers have moved on to gripe forever in social media, Cava has leveled off with a strong regular customer base and very good cooking.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Cava is the Spanish word for bubbly wine–a good mascot for this new Lakeview restaurant. Owner Danny Millan is so effusive in his welcome that you get the feeling he’d turn a handflip if you asked him. Despite the name and Danny’s heritage, Cava is a thoroughly New Orleans-style restaurant in both kitchen and dining room. It fits right into the ever-growing Harrison Avenue restaurant row, but with a style distinct from other eateries in the neighborhood.
Cava’s menu is locked into conventional local dishes, and puts me in mind of the 1980s, with even a few homestyle touches. But so few restaurants play that part of the field that it’s welcome. The style is Bistro Creole, employing fresh, classy ingredients served more generously than we tend to find in upscale restaurants. Don’t order more than two courses, and split a dessert for two.
In the 1970s, Mexico City native Danny Millan was a protege of Tommy Andrade during the glory years of the Sazerac restaurant. From there he worked in ever more responsible positions up to general manager at Brennan’s, Henri, and Restaurant August. When Le Foret opened in 2004, Danny was in almost complete charge of the operation, and brought it to the five-star category. He also helped launch two other restaurants before opening his own place early in 2014–a project that took almost two years. The space Cava occupies was for many years a neighborhood seafood restaurant called Landry’s (not the chain).
A modern, rods-and-glass bar sets the visual notes just inside the front door. Two walls of large windows and a looping, see-thru staircase dominate the main dining room. Upstairs is an open wine rack that makes its own statement. For a change, here is a new restaurant with tablecloths. That helps keep the sound level down, but it still is a bit lively when the place is full. The service staff is a stylish group of well-trained young men and women. Their boss is one of the most adept service specialists in town.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Soup du jour (espeically black bean soup)
Roasted tomato soup
Grilled romaine Caesar salad
Fried oysters with brie, bacon and spinach
Steamed mussels with apple cider and apples
Crab cake trio
Crab fingers with lemon cutter
Confit duck wings, avocado aoli
Smoked lamb ribs, jalapenos and barbecue sauce
Gulf fish en papillote
Grilled salmon with green beans and pine nuts
Sea scallops, p[arsnits, shiitake mushrooms and artichoke hearts
Risotto primavera (vegetarian; can be a great side or appetizer)
He4rb-crusted lamb chops
Creole glazed pork chops
low-roasted pork osso buco
Chocolate mousse cake
FOR BEST RESULTS
The quietest tables are near the front of the room, between the windows and the staircase. Get a reservation even if you don’t think you need one.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some day, they must put down carpets to ameliorate the noise problem. And a vestibule to keep the cold air from blowing through the dining room in winter. A place this sophisticated really should have a website.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +3
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness -1
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday dinner
- Unusually large servings
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended