The Bowl Bowl
February 3, 2020 9:03 AM   Subscribe

In an arbitrary battle of bowls, Mediterranean chain Cava wins the ring... but not everyone is impressed: "If Cava elicits any emotion from customers, it’s deep, unsettling ennui. ... Cava is only a place to be alone with your choices, namely the weird flavor combo you decided to overload in your bowl. ... a meal at Cava is like an allegory about the dangers of too much choice, overabundance, flavor without context or consideration." posted by tofu_crouton (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wait, what? They just entered the concept of bibimbap against a bunch of actual restaurants?

I'm not sure whether this offends or delights me.
posted by potrzebie at 9:14 AM on February 3 [7 favorites]

This all just makes me miss Shophouse. The one near work was replaced with another fast casual Korean spot, which is just fine but there were already four or five bibimbap places in splitting distance, and I thought Shophouse was actually a decent stab at fast cas. SE Asian.

The problem with Cava is I can always taste it for the next couple hours.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:16 AM on February 3

Where is Yoshinoya?
posted by cazoo at 9:19 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]

food tastes better in a bowl than on a plate

God, hard disagree. Plates forever.
posted by penduluum at 9:28 AM on February 3 [7 favorites]

Bibimbap is one of my favorite meals ever, but the fast casual versions tend to be lackluster. I wish they had chosen a specific fast casual version to put in the bracket, though, so as not to just dump the entire CONCEPT.

I'm also angry at the Noodles Mac and Cheese inclusion. It's my least favorite dish at Noodles.

Mostly I'm just sad that I missed so many limited-time-only stunt foods, like the Panera boob bowl.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:31 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I'm both impressed that the Yumm Bowl made the cut for the 16-bowl bracket and skeptical that they actually went and ate at a Cafe Yumm (it's not vegetarian like The Eater claims -- they have chicken and turkey on the menu).
posted by bassooner at 9:53 AM on February 3

I don't ever want to eat anything described as a 'bowl'.

I made myself a delicious 'hand' earlier, though.
posted by pipeski at 9:59 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

Apparently there are "broth bowls" now. Isn't that just soup?
posted by madcaptenor at 10:11 AM on February 3 [14 favorites]

six dressings FOR NO EXTRA COST

That’s a soup too, I think.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:24 AM on February 3 [8 favorites]

Wait, what? They just entered the concept of bibimbap against a bunch of actual restaurants?

Maybe it's stealth marketing for Bibigo? I hope it is, I ate so much Bibigo before leaving California and I miss it a lot.

Anyway, Panda quality varies, but orange chicken w/ half noodles and half veggies tastes fantastic on a Friday night after a rough week.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:29 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I kind of like the fact that if something's served in a bowl, you know that it was nobody's job to make it pretty. Bowls don't come with edible flowers. Nobody did the thing where they wipe the edge of the plate with their "I'm-a-professional-chef" towel at the very last second.

A bowl is about the food in it. Here's a spork, don't instagram it, shut up and eat. I'm convinced that only very good food can rise above the perception of "entirely edible glop" under those circumstances. If you really want to know if your flavor is right, serve it in a fucking bowl I say. Or like, a trough.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 10:36 AM on February 3 [5 favorites]

We've been throwing a Eurovision watch party the past few years, with themed food based on the host country. I'll say loosely based, because I won't claim any kind of accuracy for a country I've never been to, based on stuff I can buy in America. For last year in Israel, I had made falafel I was very happy with a little while before, so I made that and I made a meatball option for people that wanted that. Then we got toppings that made sense, some tomatoes and cucumbers, some pickled turnips, some sauces, and when I put it all out and looked at it: it was Cava. It was just a Cava with fewer options, in my home, after doing a lot of work.

I like Cava, but I agree about too many choices. Three dips PLUS dressings is too many competing flavors.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:15 AM on February 3

I need to find one of these superior Panda Expresses, because the two I've eaten at were both depressing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:53 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

"I'm also angry at the Noodles Mac and Cheese inclusion. It's my least favorite dish at Noodles."

Yeah. The Truffles 'n Mac is pretty good, though. But my favorite is the "Steak" Stroganoff. It's my favorite dish. The one nearby me closed and I am sad because of this. About 3/4 of my diet are pasta/noodle dishes, so I really liked that place a lot.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:20 PM on February 3

If we are allowed to judge on the restaurant's non-bowl items, then I just remembered that Cava would 100% win because of the watermelon mint agua fresca.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:33 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

A bowl is about the food in it. Here's a spork, don't instagram it, shut up and eat.

Oh, friend, you have not been eating in the "right" places.
posted by praemunire at 12:49 PM on February 3

I need to find one of these superior Panda Expresses, because the two I've eaten at were both depressing.

A few years ago I was tasked with meeting up with / entertaining a visiting librarian from one of my institution's sister campuses in China, who was stateside for a library conference (ACRL) in Indianapolis. I'm fairly sure it is possible to find good food in downtown Indy, somewhere, but they were definitely not interested in anything involving cheese or bread or "Hooters," leaving a sort of Izakaya-style Japanese place or Panda Express as the choices for three of the meals. Neither of us had ever been to a Panda Express.

The first of those meals was at Panda Express. The other two were decidedly not.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:26 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I've only been to the Twin Cities locations but Big Bowl has never, never let me down.
posted by Ber at 1:36 PM on February 3

I live right by Columbia University. There are two older Chinese places 5-6 blocks away that are excellent. There is a new fast casual chain called Junzi that does wraps (Bings) and noodle bowls that is less than a block away. There is a Xi'an famous foods a subway stop away. There are probably other Chinese places around. Given the size of the Chinese student population at Columbia, this is not a surprise. And yet, someone had the audacity/brilliance to open a Panda Express two blocks past Junzi. And people are going into it. I don't know who, I just know they are. I don't get it. There are places that do food from various places in China. There are multiple fast casual Chinese places. Some of these places also do American Chinese. And yet the Panda Express is still there. I guess there are people for whom this is American Chinese, a reliable, constant in a world of change.
posted by Hactar at 2:31 PM on February 3

I was living in DC at the Dawn of Cava, and it always frustrated me because it seemed like it was SO! CLOSE! to being really good, but there were just little things that prevented it. The protein options were always too dry, the flavors sort of ... abrasive in a way Mediterranean food usually isn't. Maybe it's just the nature of all those different choices - things are bound to clash and it takes a long time to figure out the right combination of flavors.

I always wished Amsterdam Falafelshop was the one to grow exponentially instead. Their topping bar is amazing, the flavors go well together, and they have bowls! I still think about their zhoug sometimes.
posted by lunasol at 3:26 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]

As far as I can tell, Hactar, the Chinese (and other East Asian) student population at Columbia U sustains the dozen or so food carts along Broadway north of the main gate. Have you seen the lines for the Asian food stands? Quite a variety of options. Lines 12-20 deep at lunchtime on weekdays. I get the impression $5 is the price point that matters.

Other than Junxi (which is good) there are no Chinese places at all north of 110th and south of 125, except the terrible Panda Express on Broadway. Atlas Kitchen and 108 are a little further down and the closest decent choices.

And the options aren’t much better even further down the upper west side. The usual Szechuan Garden old school stuff.

I frequently have to take guests out for nice dinners in the neighborhood. If you know a really good Chinese option within a short walk of campus I’m all ears. Junxi or Atlas are it unless you want to get a cab or on the subway. Or eat greasy mediocre noodles and dumplings from a cart.

Oh yeah the bowl thing, meh.

ETA maybe you’re remembering good old Columbia Cottage at 110 and Amsterdam, now gone? It was a solid choice.
posted by spitbull at 5:07 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

a discussion of bowls on metafilter previously (self-FPP alert)
posted by vespabelle at 5:55 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

the options aren’t much better even further down the upper west side

Yu Kitchen's at 101 & Broadway. Too far for non-ambitious pedestrians to walk, but worth noting for other occasions.
posted by praemunire at 6:11 PM on February 3

Yu’s.... It’s is good but if I have a party of 6 just leaving a reception after a talk at 7pm hungry, it’s not in range. Or if it is, Flor de Mayo is right there too.
posted by spitbull at 3:54 AM on February 4

Cava is the only place I ever felt judged by the staff for my choices. Thank goodness Spice 6 is right around the corner.
posted by sonascope at 4:20 AM on February 4

This all just makes me miss Shophouse
Shophouse had an extreme version of Cava's problem -- several of their ingredients were disgusting when combined into the same bowl, and there wasn't really any good way to know which ones worked well together.

BiBap (the chain that bought Shophouse's DC locations) actually has a selection of ingredients that mostly go well with each other (satisfying the main criterion that makes Chipotle successful).

[But, yeah. Dupont Circle's sudden glut of fast-casual bibimbap places is vaguely baffling, given that it's emphatically not a thing elsewhere in the city]
posted by schmod at 7:07 PM on February 5

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