We ventured to the wild MoCo frontier for lunch today — that’s right, I’m talking about Olney. Specifically, Cavo’s Tex-Mex (4007 Norbeck), which was called Tabasco until a month or two ago. Online reviews had been generally positive, and we were hoping for above-average Tex-Mex, by DC area standards anyway. Their marquee proclaims “New name…same owners” but the unanswered question is, same chef and kitchen crew? I am guessing maybe there has been a change in the kitchen, because for us, Cavo’s did not even remotely live up to the billing it has gotten on the intertubes.
The chips were crisp fresh warm and good, and the salsa was also warm — reviewers have often lauded the warm salsa, but all we could taste was the warm; there was very little kick, and no discernable salt, cilantro, or any other particular flavor. I guess it’s a matter of taste, but I prefer my salsa at room temperature, or slightly below. The lack of spice was an omen: every dish we ordered was undersalted and bland (and I rarely complain about undersalting).
Various online reviews have also talked up the fajitas, but none of us got fajitas, which may have been our fatal error, because a nearby table did get them and they sounded (loud sizzling on the plate) and smelled great. Tacos were okay, and Mrs. Me liked her burrito in verde sauce well enough. I attemped to order a beef/cheese enchilada combo, but was delivered a chicken enchilada and a beef taco. I didn’t send them back because I didn’t feel like waiting, and also because it wasn’t that big a deal, as for me the enchiladas are primarily a vehicle for the rice and beans.
Refried beans and rice are crucial Tex-Mex platter components and are the central gauge by which I measure a Tex-Mex restaurant; I am continually surprised at the percentage of places that get rice and beans wrong. Cavo’s were an epic fail: the rice was the kind of rice my grandmother would have loved, medium-grain, perfect ovals, studded with (almost certainly from a bag o’ frozen veggies) peas and beans and diced carrots, completely flavorless, and dyed a startling bright yellow — must have been either food coloring or cheap turmeric powder, because assuredly no saffron was harmed in the making of my rice. Just last night a friend made excellent paella for a dinner party, and the difference between her flavorful saffron rice and Cava’s rice was noche y dia.
The menu said all dishes come with refried beans, but what arrived at the table were little pots of essentially pinto bean soup. I asked the waiter “do you have refried beans instead?” and he said, confused, “these are refried beans.” Sweet fancy Moses: these beans were not fried, much less refried. Saucy pinto beans can be wonderful (these looked okay but were totally bland, surprise surprise), although I have found that barbecue joints, on average, do them better than Mexican or Tex-Mex places, but a true Tex-Mex place should first and foremost know how to do refried beans and do them well. Very disappointing.
The margaritas also failed: for their primo margarita, they give you a choice of Cointreau or Grand Marnier plus one of seven or so top tequilas, which sounds great, but if you’re going to make a margarita with Cointreau and Herradura (for example), why would you use sour mix? Why?! What’s the point? It just ruins the excellence of the other ingredients. At least it was strong, so I guess all wasn’t lost.
What was good? The chicken enchilada was okay; the steak in the tacos was perfectly seared and juicy; I can still hear and smell the steak fajitas we should have ordered. The place was packed for lunch, and clearly has its fans, but I am sorry to say I won’t be heading back voluntarily.