Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cave 1912--and Greg Cox--miss the mark

I can never quite decide what to think about the Raleigh News & Observer's restaurant critic, Greg Cox.  Sometimes, I find him sensible and applaud him trying to hold local restaurants to the high standards I believe they are capable of achieving.  Then he'll do something that is clearly wrong--ref. his pick of the very good but not great Oakleaf as restaurant of the year a while back--and leave me shaking my head in disbelief.  (I do like Oakleaf, but in an area with [ONE] and Panciuto, to name but two stars, it is not even close to being the best.)  On balance, though, I've decided that if Cox loves a place, I'll give it a try.

His glowing review of Cave 1912 was thus enough to lead me to the relatively new Raleigh restaurant last week.  (I must admit that the fact that its chef, Michael Pryor, had worked for Grant Achatz would have drawn me there eventually.)

A hundred minutes after sitting down in Cave 1912, I concluded that either I had caught the place on an off night, or Cox and I differ far more in our tastes than I would ever have expected.

The service during our small group's visit was atrocious.  The server took five tries to get the order right.  She had no clue what non-alcoholic options the restaurant offered, nor did she seem even to know the dishes, mixing them up during her multiple questions to us.  Three of the four of us ordered a small plate and a large one, but she served only two of our small plates as a first course; she brought me both my dishes at the same time.  That first course arrived ten minutes after we sat.  The second followed almost an hour later.  I watched as dishes sat in the pass getting cold.  I can hope only that Cave 1912 is still training its servers, or that this was her first night, or something similar.

Though the restaurant was less than half full, the kitchen spent most of our visit in the weeds.  More than once, our server remarked, "There's some kind of traffic jam in the kitchen."

None of that would have earned the place this review, however, if the food had been good.  Unfortunately, of the three dishes I sampled, far and away the best was the freshly baked plate of sourdough rolls, which were good but not great.  My housemade fettucine with pork ragu was intriguing but ultimately overwrought, with just too many textures and flavors going on.  I love complexity in dishes, but this one jumped the shark from complex to simply too much two or three ingredients before the chefs stopped adding to it.  My seared Virginia scallops fell prey to a similar amount of over-working; the scallops themselves were quite good, but the rest of the ingredients neither blended nor complemented each other well.  Both dishes were decent, but neither was any better than that.

Having said all that, I must praise Cave 1912 for ambition.  Chef Pryor is clearly going places most area chefs are afraid to tread, and I am happy to see him doing so.  Consequently, I'm going to try the place again sometime in the next few months and hope that both the food and the service will have improved by then.

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