By Popular Cuisine: New Place for Italian
Written by Patricia Brooks
NO matter how many Italian restaurants open this year in Connecticut, chances are there are more coming down the pike. Obviously, residents here love Italian food. How else to explain the surfeit in town after town all over the state?
But not all the Italian restaurants that open with such frequency can match the quality and appeal of Cava Wine Bar & Restaurant in New Canaan, which is ensconced in a wine-cellar-like setting (though well-lighted) on the lower floor of a building in the center of town.
The menu is ample, though not enormous, allowing for variety without overwhelming you with decisions. The wine list is large enough for intriguing selections, with an emphasis on California and regional Italian wines from Piedmont, Tuscany and the Veneto, beginning at $28.
One evening four of us enjoyed a $50 bottle of Flowers pinot noir ’97 that worked just as well with our woodfire-roasted king salmon (lightly cooked, moist and delicate) as with the classic veal osso buco (seared and braised veal shank in a mélange of finely diced vegetables and sides of asparagus and saffron risotto Milanese).
Many dishes at Cava seemed especially well-suited to cold winter nights, from a bowlful of Prince Edwards Island mussels in a tasty broth of shaved garlic, diced tomatoes, sauterne wine and extra-virgin olive oil, to a hearty entree of woodfire-roasted Long Island duck. The rosy-pink duck breast slices were accompanied by grilled asparagus stalks and a crisp square of polenta in a maple-infused aged balsamic reduction. Even most of the pasta dishes have a heartiness well-suited to the season.
The peppery fettuccine was tossed with broccoli rabe, house-made sweet fennel sausage, crushed red pepper and an aglio e olio sauce. Pappardelle consisted of wide ribbons of pasta mixed with fire-roasted organic chicken, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs and a chicken broth reduction spiked with truffle oil.
Tortellini was ambrosial, though a bit sweet, with little pieces of pasta stuffed with roasted butternut squash flavored with honey-maple, bourbon-vanilla and a hint of nutmeg in a luscious sweet leek and cream reduction with thin shavings of parmesan on top.
Dishes at Cava are appealingly presented. For instance, a straightforward order of grilled calamari, with an aged balsamic vinegar edge, came with a fan of curly endive — providing a touch of greenery to please the eye and textural contrast for the palate. An order of pan-roasted diver sea scallops had a fresh basil leaf on top — adding a green foil to the lovely mahogany sheen of the scallops.
My favorite dish one evening was a special that didn’t require extra touches, though there were some. It was risotto with shreds of duck confit and, surprisingly, diced green Granny Smith apple. On top were three paper-thin wheels of crisp pan-seared apple. The risotto was nutty, creamy perfection, teased by its inventive accent of duck and apple.
The staff in the Cava kitchen — notably the chef Scott Eckenrod — clearly knows what its doing. There was only one misstep: the mocha pot de crème tasted more like chocolate pudding, lacking the intensity of a true pot de crème. Several other desserts made up for it. The top two were tiramisù (a bit of heaven in its light richness ) and profiteroles (light and eggy, filled with vanilla ice cream and capped with bittersweet chocolate sauce).
Personally, I liked the tongue-tingling lemon tart, though it might be too tangy for some tastes. Coconut cake was light and finely textured, but the dark chocolate sauce enshrouding it was overkill.
Yes, Cava Wine Bar & Restaurant is new and yes, it is Italian. It’s not “just another Italian restaurant,” but a very good one indeed.
Cava Wine Bar And Restaurant 2 Forest Street, New Canaan (203)966-6946
Atmosphere — Sophisticated version of a wine cellar, with brick and fieldstone outer walls, ceiling lighting, well-spaced tables, some banquettes and a separate bar. Noise Level — Noisy, even half-filled. Service — Welcoming, but can be slow. Recommended dishes — Grilled calamari, diver sea scallops, Prince Edward Island mussels, tortellini, pappardelle, fettuccine, wood-fire-roasted king salmon, classic veal ossobuco, woodfire-roasted Long Island duck, tiramisù, lemon tart, coconut cake, profiteroles. Price range — Lunch: appetizers $7.95 to $8.95; entrees $10.95 to $18.95. Dinner: appetizers $9.95 to $13.95; entrees $16.95 to $33.95; desserts $7. Credit cards — Most major cards accepted. Hours — Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Reservations — Accepted. Wheelchair accessibility — Street level; restrooms the same. Reviewed by The Times Jan. 30, 2005. Ratings — Extraordinary, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fair, Poor. Ratings reflect the reviewer’s reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change.