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Cava, Portsmouth, NH: One of the Best Restaurants with Outdoor Dining

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.

Tuna with radish, pickled blackberries, pea tendrils, and saba!
Tuna with radish, pickled blackberries, pea tendrils, and saba.

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.

Grilled asparagus, romesco, cured egg yolk, and crispy shallot.
Grilled asparagus, romesco, cured egg yolk, and crispy shallot.

What is Cava, Portsmouth Like?

Though we’d originally wanted a waterfront meal in Portsmouth, NH, 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.

Scallop, clams, chorizo, cipollini onion, and garlic beer broth.
Scallop, clams, chorizo, cipollini onion, and garlic beer broth.

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.)

The outdoor dining patio of Cava, Portsmouth, NH.
The outdoor dining patio of Cava, Portsmouth, NH.

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.)

Duck breast, strawberry red wine, hazelnut duck skin crumb, and whipped chèvre.
Duck breast, strawberry red wine, hazelnut duck skin crumb, and whipped chèvre.

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!”

Beef short rib, garlic, saffron sauce, giant white bean, and cauliflower.
Beef short rib, garlic, saffron sauce, giant white bean, and cauliflower.

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%!

Dark chocolate pot de crema, dulce de leche, sea salt, mascarpone cream, and candied hazelnuts!
Dark chocolate pot de crema, dulce de leche, sea salt, mascarpone cream, and candied hazelnuts.

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!

Cava Portsmouth, NH restaurant
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Love the fact that Portsmouth, NH is just an hour from Boston? See my giant list of more weekend getaways in New England here!

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