Quality food on a pretty patio or indoors…
When a gal is able to have her first indoor dining experience in over a year, only the BEST restaurant will do! Given that one of the top things to do in Portsmouth, NH is to eat, the hunt for which spot to pick was fierce. My friend and I pored over Portsmouth restaurant reviews and menus until — whoa! — we found the most affordable and luscious-looking TASTING MENU imaginable at a highly-recommended spot called Cava.
What is a Tasting Menu?
For those unfamiliar with the wonder that is this form of fine dining, a tasting menu is a multi-course meal which is constructed by the chef to feature the best of their craft and ingredients. Dishes are usually small (so you don’t get uncomfortably full), creative, and artfully plated.
In the words of my restaurant-loving friend, “A tasting menu is DINNER THEATER. It’s an incredible deal, because you essentially get a show along with your meal, since each dish is so surprising and beautiful.” No, it’s not an everyday experience, but is absolutely worth the splurge for the right occasion, at the right place.
What is Cava, Portsmouth Like?
Though we’d originally wanted a waterfront meal in Portsmouth, NH (I so loved seeing sunsets in Seattle while eating dinner by the bay!), and though we’d decided on outdoor dining, the rainy weather had other plans. Luckily, Cava has excellent indoor dining protocol, including a large air purifier. Should the clouds part during your visit, their back patio is exquisite, lined with a vibrant green “living wall” vertical garden, and ornate heat lamps, all tucked in the brick-lined charm of petite Commercial Alley in downtown Portsmouth.
Cava History and Highlights
Cava was opened in 2008 by Chef Gregg Sessler and John Akar, so you know they must be doing something right to stick around this long. The restaurant is a “modern interpretation of Spanish tapas,” focusing on fabulously fresh, high-quality ingredients. My friend and I don’t imbibe anymore, but if that’s your pleasure, Cava is renowned for its extensive wine cellar.
The eatery does take reservations, which we appreciated. Did I mention we enjoy 5pm dinners best? Oh, and it bears saying that this review is NOT sponsored — all funds and opinions are my own here, so I can be honest. (I’ve now honed that craft through my many reviews of Beachbody workouts, thank you very much.)
Tasting Menu Tip: Rank It!
Though Cava’s tasting menu is an incredible bargain for the quality and taste ($48 at the time of this writing), one of the best ways to get bang for your buck with this fancy form of dining is to rank your dishes. Basically, the parade of plates becomes the evening’s base of conversation. Decide: Which dishes did you like best, and why? (Though of course my friend and I also managed a good chat about future hopes and dreams, too.)
The Best Dishes at Cava, Portsmouth
During our tasting menu, the ranking was as follows. For me, the hands-down #1 was the duck, pictured above. There was a deep, rich, earthiness in the meat that was paired to perfection with the fruity strawberry — a wondrous flavor juxtaposition example. When the kind waiter came by to ask how that course was, I gasped: “THIS. IS. SOOO. GOOD!”
Fresh, Quality Ingredients
Closely behind the duck at #2 was the tuna with pickled blackberries (shown in the first photo in this article). The quality of the fish was evident from the first silky bite (reminding me of a splendid tuna dish I had in Falmouth, MA), and the berry contrast bowled me over with delight. #3 for me (and #1 for my friend) were the scallops, boasting a broth so complex and satisfying, we mopped up every drop with the bread.
The short ribs were a close #4 in our tasting menu taste test ranking, and were hearty and filling, despite the “small plate” size. Really — everything we ate was amazing, so the ranking game was really about telling apart which dishes we loved 99.9%, versus those we loved 99.8%!
Does Cava Make YOUR List for Best Portsmouth, NH Restaurants?
So what about you? If you’ve been to Cava, Portsmouth, what has been your experience with the food, including the tasting menu? Do you agree the duck is divine? What other nearby downtown restaurants do you recommend? If you haven’t been to Cava, which of these dishes look best? Do share!
Love the fact that Portsmouth, NH is just an hour from Boston? See my giant list of more weekend getaways in New England here!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!