I was so excited to visit Cava after browsing their menu that the drooling shorted out my keyboard. This review was written with quill and delivered by zeppelin.
To someone born outside of Iceland, Cava might not seem like much, but after suffering through two decades of stale burritos with second-rate ground beef topped with fluorescent guacamole, the sight of someone attempting real Mexican food gave me goose bumps.
So I descended into Cava with a big, dopey grin on my face. And immediately saw that they weren’t kidding about the name. Steeped in darkness, save for the occasional candle straining against the night, as Kavinsky techno plays at a conversation-diffusing volume and decaying faces bear down on us from the walls. First impression—Cava is a stuffed raven and a bottle of Absinth shy of a goth bar. Perhaps the stress of designing every restaurant in Reykjavík is starting to affect Leifur Welding’s mood.
These cocktails were brought down by the bar staff at the upstairs Bunk bar, which felt like an odd arrangement considering that Cava was wildly overstaffed. We counted five servers for the room, most of whom spent the duration of the evening either staring blankly into space or showering us with unwanted attention while neglecting to clean the tables or removing the menus. There were plenty of smaller issues with the service, most of which could have been cleared with a day or two of proper training. The rules of waiting have not been updated much in the last 150 years and for this price range I’d expect more.
In tune with the service of the evening, the appetizers that were ordered together arrived 10 minutes apart. Having said that, I loved my Ceviche Tropical (1,130 ISK) with shellfish and mango and the Carne Asada (1,090 ISK) filled with a type of ropa vieja was a pungent morsel and a nice window into the alternatives to the usual taco fillings.
The main course consisted of their two main red meat extravaganzas—Adobo (4,500 ISK) and Barbacoa (4,900 ISK). The portions were enormous—great big bulging meat mountains in the Argentinean tradition. The Adobo was the lamb fillet and the Barbacoa was the grilled rib-eye. The lamb came medium-rare, with a strip of fat and marooned in a swamp of mashed spicy sweet potatoes and salsa roja. The rib-eye came nestled in a scoop of guacamole with a wreath of roasted potatoes. The rib-eye didn’t get in the way of the steak but didn’t add that much to the dish either. The sweet-potato mash with chilli is one of my secret comfort foods so that was a major plus in my book. Both dishes worked because of a well-cooked hunk of good-quality red meat.
For dessert we tried the Dulce de Leche (990 ISK) and Pastel de Tres Leches (990 ISK). I couldn’t tell the flavour of the tres leches as it had been suffocated under dulce de leche and strawberries. The Dulce de Leche itself was a fudge brownie that had suffered a similar fate. What a fudge brownie was doing there in place of the angel food cake is anyone’s guess. The result was as if Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory had caught on fire and melted with you still trapped inside and your only recourse was to chew your way to safety.
We ended up over-stuffed and barely managed one post-dinner beer before crawling home on our bellies like overturned turtles.
What We Think: Good first course, great main course, lacking in spice overall. Ambiance and service let the kitchen down.
Flavour: Mexican (mostly)
Service: Plenty of servers for a small room but plenty of room for improvement of service.
Price for 2 (with wine): 20 – 25,000 ISK