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After teasers of moist falafel and spicy harissa at Cava Mezze Grill in Columbia Heights, we paid a visit to its more refined Capitol Hill counterpart, Cava Mezze.

[Photo: Cava Mezze]

The restaurant is bustling and loud with a bar that gets packed on weekends. We weren’t there long – our group was seated pretty promptly – but other diners have complained of long waits, even with reservations.

Pillowy warm pita and bowls of delicious harissa, olives, and oil arrived as we sat down. We started with a dip tasting minus the salmon spread, featuring some of our favorites: tzatziki, crazy feta (crazy because it’s blended with jalapeños), and eggplant.

Harissa and dip sampler

We couldn’t wait to try what everyone calls “the flaming cheese”, or saganaki. Saganaki is a production: cheese slabs on two little cast iron skillets are lit on fire and put out with lemon juice right at the table. The result is as good as it gets, like the most flavorful cheese crust from a grilled cheese sandwich you could imagine.

Saganaki

Saganaki

Having taken care of the important business of cheese (at least for the moment), we moved on to vegetables, choosing brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and white bean ragout. Both the brussel sprouts and the cauliflower were tasty on the first bite, but overwhelmingly oily without any other flavors to cut through the fat.

Brussel sprouts

White bean ragout was fine, but the components weren’t melded very well, as if the dish needed to cook longer and get creamier.

White bean ragout

When we moved back to Things Containing Cheese, we struck gold again. Zucchini fritters were fabulous – crispy, citrusy, and cheesy.

Zucchini fritters

Spanakopita was well done too, flaky and fresh with lots of flavor.

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

Aaaand the haloumi sliders tasted as good as they looked, with grilled slabs of cheese topped with tomato and onion.

Haloumi sliders

Haloumi sliders

At this point we nixed a second order of saganaki to make room for dessert. Cava Mezze’s baklava makes me never want to eat those small hard squares in boxes again. Here the baklava is moist and oozy with a lovey honey-flavored sauce and big chunks of nuts, topped with melting pistachio ice cream.

Baklava with pistachio ice cream

Baklava with pistachio ice cream

We also loved the hot, yeasty Greek donuts. They came with the perfect amount of that yummy honey syrup, delicately flavored and not too sweet.

Donuts with honey syrup

Donuts with honey syrup

We left full and happy, with the following lessons: anything with cheese at Cava Mezze is fantastic. So are the desserts. Vegetables described as ‘crispy’ or ‘pan-roasted’ are a bit oily and bland, so if you need something between cheese and sweets (and we’re not saying that you do!), maybe a salad is the way to go. Beet tartare is on our list for next time, along with a double order of flaming cheese.

Cava Mezze Capitol Hill
527 8th St SE, Washington, DC
202-543-9090

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