West End restaurant hits here and misses there

The West End has a new restaurant occupying the space that was previously Caiola’s. It remained open for a spell under its former name after changing hands and the new owners closed for renovations earlier this year to reopen as Chaval. As a frequent visitor in its past incarnation, Mrs. Portlandeater was ready to go try the new version and I was happy to ride along.

My first glimpse of the inside revealed a spacious, attractive restaurant that was completely different than I remembered. We checked in and were taken by the hostess to a table in the back room, walking past the kitchen and through the walkway where food came out. We settled in to a semi-enclosed, dark-ish room with a couple other parties also occupying tables.

Looking at the drink list, we took our time to pick some libations. There were ten specialty cocktails and a sizeable selection of beer and wine. When the waitress came to take our orders, I chose the Palabra – tequila, mezcal, strawberry, lime. She went with a glass of the Chardonnay.

Food was divided into three categories of apps – snacks, cured meats, and more traditional starters – and entrees. There was a wide selection of meat and veggie options. The Crab & Cucumber Tartine – peekytoe, cucumber, fennel, radish, toast ($14) – caught my eye right away, as did a couple other items.

By the time we got our drinks, we were ready with food selections. I skipped the tartine in favor of Lettuce and Nuts – endive, cabrales, lettuce, smoked walnuts, sherry – and then went with Amish Chicken – breast, brown butter, roasted peppers, Maine beans. She chose Bravas – twice-cooked Maine potatoes, spicy sauce, aioli – and the same chicken I ordered.

I tried my drink which was quite nice. I loved the fruity strawberry lime combo and appreciated the smoke of the mezcal on top of it. After a short time, our apps came out. She had a small bowl of potato squares with sauce on top and I an attractive plate of salad displaying a variety of colors.

Of note on the salad was the cabrales – a blue cheese – distributed in generous quantities. I tried a bite and enjoyed the mix of flavors and textures. The cheese was periodically a bit strong for my tastes, but I’m just beginning to enter the world of blues, so that was a personal issue more than one of preparation.

As I worked my salad, my wife ate her taters and I tried a few. The sauce and aioli were absolutely outstanding – flavorful with a well balanced heat seasoning. The taste was among the best potatoes in memory, but the outside was soft and we agreed that they should have been crispy. I assumed that the second cooking of them would have made them so, but unfortunately, they were not.

With apps done, our poultry arrived in due time. The plate had four slices of chicken breast and a handful of beans on top. I tried the bird at the same time as my wife. I enjoyed the brown butter flavor on the tender meat. Mrs. Portlandeater thought it lacked something though. I saw her point. The bird wasn’t seasoned in a manner which enhanced it fully, more relying on the butter to taste.

While my wife and I disagreed slightly on our meals, we both finished them. I felt the beans were relatively well-seasoned and added to the plate as did the peppers which I found under the beans. When it was time for dessert, we agreed to consider it and ended up ordering Churros – special made, hot chocolate sauce, salted sugar.

She is more as fan of Churros than I but when we received them, I was intrigued by their appearance. The curly rolls sat with their ends in a bowl of chocolate. They turned out to be the best I ever had with a doughy inside that I couldn’t remember in any others. I enjoyed them greatly, nearly ordering another one to go. I eventually decided against it and asked for the bill. Our meal came to around $90 before tip.

Our food was good overall though the potatoes needed a little more of a crisping and the chicken plate could have used more pizzazz. The bigger issue we ran into was that by then end of the meal, with about 5 of 7ish tables seated in the back room, my wife and I couldn’t hear each other speak. I think the small, partially enclosed room creates acoustic an issue which makes it exceptionally loud.

There is no doubt I’d go back to Chaval at some point. The food wasn’t all perfect, but some, like the dessert, were excellent. The worst issue was certainly the volume. Hopefully there’s some way they can fix that. Like many new restaurants, they have some items to work on, but they’re on a good path that will hopefully lead to success.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start Peterpeterportlandeater.com where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.