Monday, August 17, 2009

Don’t Believe the Hype with CAV

CAV (short for Coffee, Antiques, and Victuals – all of which the owner has traveled around the word to collect) seems like no other dining experience. Hidden away in a secluded part of downtown Providence, RI in a converted warehouse, the restaurant claims to serve up fusion cuisine as eclectic as its unique space. Over the years, CAV has been showered with rave reviews (i.e. Top 5 restaurant in Providence by the New York Times), but would Paul’s Palate agree with these assessments?

Certainly, CAV’s ambience merits recognition. Though situated in a remote (somewhat unsafe?) neighborhood of Providence that’s a bit challenging to find (CAV’s website has its own set of driving instructions, and instructs customers not to follow Google; there’s a free parking lot behind the restaurant, though, which is a plus), its funky interior is visually intoxicating. From the exposed pipes, brick walls, mirrored ceilings, white lights, to the crystal chandeliers (originally from the Four Seasons Hotel, the owner proudly boasts) and African artwork adorning the walls (carvings, wooden masks, drums, woven rugs, many of which are for sale to the public), it is as if customers were plopped into the movie Beetlejuice- an eye-dropping, dream-like setting, only paired with fine dining.

CAV’s food, however, sadly fails to deliver an equally satisfying sensory experience. For appetizers ($6.95 - $13.95), the calamari ($9.95), which were pan sautéed with fresh garlic, hot peppers, and fresh basil, were disappointingly bland. While the lobster bisque, infused with vanilla extract, packed plenty of flavor, it was served lukewarm and its consistency was not thick enough.

Entrees (pastas $15.95-$18.95, chef specialties $19.95-$28.95) fared somewhat better, though again, failed to deliver on a spectacular scale. Sesame Hijiki encrusted tuna, Sashimi quality, served rare with Wasabi aioli, Maki rolls, and pickled cucumber salad ($23.95) came highly recommended by our server, but I found that the tuna was neither as rare a cut as I had hoped, nor was there much bite to it (Wasabi – what Wasabi?). While my duck ($28.95) tasted delicious, the meat perfectly cooked and melding with creamy mashed sweet potatoes, the presentation was downright ghastly and frankly, disgraceful for a restaurant that prides itself in plating aesthetically pleasing dishes. It looked like the mush slopped onto the plate by the high school cafeteria lunch lady. My wife’s poulet aux Poires, however, a panseared chicken breast with pears poached in a red wine and ginger pear sauce ($21.95), was the rare dish where CAV seemed to find its groove both presentation and taste-wise: ultra-tender chicken with delightful accompaniments, particularly tasty sautéed Asian chive dumplings.

Where some of the food faltered, service was superlative. Our waiter was genial and prompt over the course of the evening, while the equally friendly owner periodically dropped in to greet and check in on our party.

CAV distinguishes itself with its unique interior and exceptional service. If only its cuisine were equally inspiring. On a scale from poor to outstanding, I would rate this establishment’s fare as merely good, but instantly forgettable. Unfortunately, that translates into CAV not living up to its own hype.

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