A TRUE TAVERN should offer the following things: Good, cheap food. Good, cheap drink. Dark wood. A diverse clientele. A certain quirkiness. And pleasantly dim lighting. Anytime a tavern deviates from this formula, it becomes something else. Deep-fry everything in the same oil and you’ve got a gritty dive; offer new Riedel wineglasses and you’ve got a snooty wine bar. Indeed, opening a tavern is a more subtle art than one might be led to believe. This probably explains why few taverns here meet such standards, and it definitely explains why I was suspicious of Cava, which billed itself as a tavern before opening in October on SE Foster.

On my first visit, however, I was pleasantly surprised. With walls painted in a dramatic dark red, funky bordello-style lamps hanging from the ceiling and dark wood tables, the ambience felt almost European, in that small-Irish-village sort of way. While the service was a bit lacking (as in extremely slow), the very homey food most definitely was not. A mushroom bruschetta offered grilled whole wheat toast topped with wild mushrooms cooked with shallots, cream and thyme, while a simple butter lettuce salad offered a luscious, house-made green goddess dressing. Although my dining companion thought her hanger steak too rare, I found it to be perfectly cooked, while the pan-fried pork Milanese in my ham, gruyère and mustard sandwich could have benefited from a few more minutes in the pan. That said, the sandwich, as well as most of our dishes that night, seemed excellent foils for the many inexpensive bottles (under $30) and glasses (under $8) of wine offered here, as well as a handful of excellent beers (most under $4).

All good signs that, so far, this tavern’s proving to be the real thing. (Closed Tue.) —CD