Thursday, February 5, 2009

Salvation From The Mediterranean

I'm not usually the social organizer in a group, but recently I found myself coordinating a night out with a favorite professor from graduate school and some fellow women graduates of my program. As excited as I was for the actual event, I was having a minor panic attack with respect to the venue. I wanted somewhere fun but not too loud, somewhere with good wine and nibbles but not expensive wine and nibbles, and most difficult of all (for me at least), I needed somewhere in the vicinity of the upper west side.

This last one was particularly difficult for me because pretty much the only reason I ever go to the upper west side is to shop at Fairway, hence I have no idea about the food and drink establishments up there (although I do know that Martha Stewart is a huge fan of the new restaurant Dovetail which I fully intend to try at some point).

I was convinced that I would inadvertently drag everyone to an overpriced mediocre loud establishment that would lose our reservation. But thankfully I happened across someone who knew someone who knew something about this Bermuda Triangle of a neighborhood. And this savior pointed me in the direction of Kashkaval on 56th and Ninth Avenue. I'll admit that, based on their website alone, I was a bit skeptical. It looked like a dry goods store more than a wine bar, but New York Magazine gave it a check mark which I find to be a pretty reliable sign of a worthwhile joint.

So we went. This first view did not quite dispel my dry-goods-store fears.

But it began to look up...

And the farther back we got the more it looked up:

The wonderfully friendly staff had set aside a spacious booth in the corner for our group, so my fear about the reservation being lost was dispelled. The relaxed vibe and rough wood paneling made me feel as though I was in an establishment in the Village in the 60s....which I immediately dismissed as ridiculous given that I have had no experience whatsoever with the Village in the 60s. But my wise professor who has assured me that she used to frequent places exactly like Kashkaval back in the day.

The wine list centered around $20 and $30 bottles...and they were actually quite good which was a pleasant surprise. And none of the very delicious dishes seemed to exceed $16...also a pleasant surprise. After multiple bottles of wine, sampler platters with beet salad, walnut spread, eggplant tapanade and brussel sprouts (I could not pick a favorite among these, they were all wonderful), two cheese fondues (I highly recommend the Kashkaval fondue), and several kebabs, meatballs and spinach pastries, we ended up paying...get ready for it...$23 per person. I almost jumped for joy when the check was revealed, which I assure you is not my usual response in these situations.

I don't generally come across establishments that I consider "hidden gems"...a terribly overused phrase in my opinion...but I think Kashkaval is worthy of this title. I daresay you would seem very in-the-know to a new acquaintance if you brought them here. And if you'd rather not push past the cheese counter on your way to your food, they do deliver, as Laia made sure to confirm on her way out the door.

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