It was a rainy, overcast but warm Thursday evening when I entered Cha Chah on Belmont, the new tapas restaurant that has been open a handful of months now. The environment is cozy yet stark. The metal tables, unfinished floor, lots of natural light coming through the windows, and light wooden exterior make the place seem very clean and healthy. At 7pm the place was still very empty of patrons, but as the evening carried on more trickled in, although never filling the place. The clientele was mostly female and sophisticated (hint hint...to any of you men out there that are on the market). The drink menu is extensive and housed in a tall, thin, hardbound cork menu (the food menu only comes on paper for now, so that it can be easily adapted).
I skeptically chose the Vegetable Menestre, half expecting to get a pile of steamed vegetables. I was impressed. It arrived served in a small white tagine. As the server removes the top a delicate display of carrots, fingerling potatoes, favas, and spring onions centered around (and on) a perfectly trimmed artichoke heart was revealed. Topped with a few perfectly crispy fried onions it was all sitting on a small lentil and brown rice, house made, cake which was sitting in a lemony and buttery broth with just the right amount of richness and citrus. When seeing the carrots cut in perfect square dice I was reminded of the frozen "peas and carrots" bags at my local Kroger. However, at first bite there was no similarity. The vegetables were tender but crunchy, fresh and flavorful.
My dining partner ordered an appetizer of the fried calamari which were crispy, salty and not chewy. They came served in a little bowl with lemon, aioli and a fork for sharing. For her main dish she choose the Shrimp and Feta on a bed of polenta which was rich, buttery and flavorful.
While the vegetable dish came to $15 with tax, one can't complain for a dish well executed, even if the cost of the ingredients and labor is probably no more than about $3. The shrimp dish came to $17. So while Cha Chah is not a bargain, it has value, and you should try it.