Thankfully, one recommended address is close at hand, and despite the punishing winds we manage to make it inside the door of Caveau, a hip, yet comfortable and casual, wine bar that would be a regular hangout if I lived here. The menu, changed daily, comes on three giant chalkboards that are brought to the table…one for the raw bar, one for cooked dishes, and a third for dessert…while the wine list comes both in a long, somewhat confusing tome and also on a board of daily specials that’s attached to one wall. The list has terrific breadth and not inconsiderable depth, but though the categories (“time out wines,” “rich and robust”) are obviously designed for the wine novice, they’re frustrating for someone like me, who might be looking for a chenin blanc but has to page through three differently-located categories to find and compare the options. Many are available by the glass, however, and the list is considered enough that it’s hard to go too far wrong, even with haphazard ordering.
The food is ingredient-based rather than fussy, and though it’s a little under-seasoned (a trend that persists throughout South Africa), the largely local produce is shown to great effect. In any case, the wines are unquestionably highlighted by the restraint in the food. We start with a plate of meaty Saldanha Bay oysters, then move on to competing salmon and tuna tartares (the former is much better; the tuna lacks flavor), followed by very rare veal loin with actual vegetables, that modern restaurant rarity: grilled asparagus, salad greens, and an assortment of decoratives, all flavorful and (when applicable) precisely cooked.
The price for all this midday decadence? A mere $66 for three courses each, plus four glasses of higher-end wine, a few large bottles of water, and rooibos tea. I feel like I’m robbing the place. It’s a feeling that will be repeated, time and time again, over the next three weeks. (11/08)
Anyway, it’s long past time for lunch. And now, we do something we almost never do while traveling: we go back to a place we’ve already been. But the ever-changing menu at Caveau, and the vast unexplored territories of its wine list, prove too compelling to risk alternatives. Anyway, who wants to wander around in this weather?
Except for the raw bar, the menu is 100% different than yesterday’s, as are the wine specials on the chalkboard. Oh, this place is dangerous. Today, we start with a delicious bacon and quail egg salad dotted with micro-tomatoes that explode with flavor, then move on to beautifully rare cubes of beef over more greens, and succulent gnocchi with, yes, more greens. They do like their salads here. (11/08)
Copyright © Thor Iverson