Cava - Irvine
Let's face it. Nearly everything these days follows Chipotle's operational model. If it can be dumped into a bowl, wrapped in some form of flatbread, or otherwise assembled from disparate components that make up a whole, chances are that slick new Chinese place around the corner is the Asian Chipotle, the spaghetti place is the Italian Chipotle. And let's not forget the proliferation of the poke bowl shop, which should all be called Poke-potle.
Still, the concept works better on some cuisines than others. Cava's Mediterranean food Chipotle is one of those that works.
At first I didn't think it would. It's the ingredients. There were so damn many of them. To build one of their signature "grain" bowls, I didn't have just a choice of rice, I had two. And there was the black lentils that also counted as a grain. For dips and spreads, I had the option of choosing three out of the six available, which included hummus and harissa. But the kicker was the dressings and toppings. There were 20 in all that could be added to my bowl. And I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't say yes to all of it, especially when there's no additional charge.
As I sat down to eat it, I braced myself for a traffic jam of flavors. Yet, upon my first forkful, a strange thing happened: the two dozen plus ingredients somehow managed not to run over each other. Instead the sauces became lube to the proteins I choose while the various vegetable matter contributed tang, crunch, and freshness. As for the grains, the rice was scrumptious, and I loved those black lentils most of all.
I also have to mention that the meatballs--which did not get lost in the morass--were tender, full-of-flavor, and still slightly pink in the middle. And the falafel was craggly and crisp, with a few garbanzos left whole for texture.
If Chipotle is the pace car in the assembly-line restaurant race, Cava is the supercharged muscle car ready to overtake them.
3972 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
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