Saying goodbye is always hard, especially when it’s to a long-standing and well-established restaurant on Portland’s West End. But, as we all know, endings make space for new beginnings, and those are almost always exciting, fun and filled with delicious beverages. Let’s talk about Chaval, which resides in what used to be Caiola’s on Pine Street.
Caiola’s sold to Piccolo owners Damien Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez in summer 2016, but they opted to keep things as they were for a while, getting to know the restaurant’s clientele, but eventually closed down in the winter. Renovations began in early spring, and their Spanish-inspired restaurant Chaval opened its doors in July.
Although it’s only been open for three weeks, Chaval already seems to have grabbed Portland’s attention in earnest. When I popped in on a Wednesday evening, all of the tables were filled, and I was lucky to squeeze into the last available seat at the bar.
Located at the back of the restaurant, the wide marble bar provides a bird’s eye view of the inner workings of the kitchen which, while everyone was extremely busy, seemed to be running very efficiently. Watching all of the running around made me thirsty though, and the neighbor to my immediate left had just received a large goblet of sparkling goodness, so I began studying the cocktail menu in depth.
It certainly would have been easier to ask my neighbor what the drink was, but as a shy person with a do-it-yourself attitude, I was confident I’d be able to figure it out for myself: And I did.
The Spanish gin and tonic ($13), served in a sizeable fishbowl-type glass, was a combination of French gin, juniper and fever tree tonic, which was provided in a bottle that you could add to the drink yourself, served with a grapefruit cube. As a fan of gin and tonics, I was pleased to find the Spanish version to be light, bubbly and a little dry around the edges. The taste of the gin itself was excellent as well.
If cocktails aren’t your bag (though, at Chaval, you should maybe consider making them your bag), there is an excellent wine list at your disposal. All of the bartenders and wait staff are clearly very knowledgeable about the menu and were providing guests at the bar and tables with recommendations and pairings according to what food they were going to order. For future reference, the Herra rose ($7) pairs well with the Amish Chicken ($21).
Beers are also available at Chaval, with six taps including Allagash, Lawson’s Finest, Oxbow and Foundation, all for $4 to $9. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend trying the Trabanco cider ($7), the only Spanish option on the bottles list.
Upscale yet relaxed and inviting, Chaval was a fun and unique drinking/dining experience that I look forward to repeating again and again as the summer dwindles into fall. The cocktail menu alone is worth working your way all the way through, one – or two – beverages at a time.
WHERE: 58 Pine St., Portland
HOURS: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday
AMENITIES: Large bar, outdoor patio, small tables and high-tops, excellent cocktail list, wine and beer menu, friendly and attentive staff
BOTTOM LINE: Making itself right at home in what used to be West End staple Caiola’s, Chaval already gives the impression that it’s always been here. Inspired by Spain in all aspects – food, drinks, and atmosphere – the restaurant provides an upscale experience with a laid-back vibe.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes