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SAVORING SAVOREZ: Downtown’s new Latin American restaurant is worth every word of hype

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Danger: Ninjas and pirates and lasers and shit.

LIVING ON ISLAND TIME: Savorez tuna tostados are crisp, fresh and flavor-packed, taking Rosa back to Hawaii one bite at a time. Photo by Tom Dorgan

LIVING ON ISLAND TIME: Savorez tuna tostados are crisp, fresh and flavor-packed, taking Rosa back to Hawaii one bite at a time. Photo by Tom Dorgan

No, I have not lost my marbles (those fell out a long time ago). I’m quoting the sign that protects the kitchen magic in North 4th Street’s newest hot spot, Savorez. Readers may have seen it: the cute, standalone brick building, also known as the former home of neighborhood breakfast, lunch and bake shop Flying Pi. When the bakery’s black-and-white emblem came down, a yellow pineapple suddenly popped up in its place. As soon as the Brooklyn Arts District got wind the upcoming restaurant would be run by ILM native Sam Cahoon—known for his stints at Ceviche’s and Port City Farmers’ Market Kitchen in the mall—the crowd went wild. Since opening a few months ago, Savorez’s score around town easily has hit 10 out of every 10 with every patron who’s walked through their doors. And as I sit here writing this review with a belly full of tuna, I’m pleased to report every bite was worth the buildup.

Savorez’s colorful, cheeky vibe bears almost no resemblance to Flying Pi’s cozy café-style interior. Out went the pastry cases and in came the tequila. (Thanks for that, Sam. We NOFO-ers needed one more place to get our buzz on.) The restaurant’s name (Spanish for “flavors”) embodies the cuisine well: a bold union of spicy Latin American fare and a tiny twang of the South. I rarely say this, but diners  can’t go wrong with any dish off the Savorez menu. Cahoon’s fresh, local ingredients speak for themselves on each stunningly vibrant plate. Folks will leave feeling like they’re on vacation, which at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday I’m cool with.

Wait, I lied. The only wrong ordering that will take place here is if hungry patrons don’t order the lobster ceviche. Or start off with a cocktail. We’re on vacation, after all.

Several fruity concoctions caught my eye while scanning the drink menu, but the words “Grand Marnier Floater” did me in. Cahoon really had me at tequila. I started with the Black Cadillac Margarita—a beachy drink loaded with fresh pineapple and lime juice and rimmed with zesty flecks of Sea Love Sea Salt (a Wrightsville Beach-based company, nonetheless, so high five for keeping it local, Savorez). Paired with a pile of thick, homemade tortilla chips and guac, I was in Margaritaville within minutes. The guacamole was expertly smooth and slightly chilled. Without the salty crunch of the chips, the spread could have used a pinch more salt, but when eaten together, every mouthful was expertly balanced.

OK, repeat after me: Langousta Y Coco. (I don’t care if you can’t pronounce the name; I can’t either.) Anyone craving a taste that put Sam Cahoon on the map as a top Wilmington chef will need to learn to say this. The lobster ceviche is marinated in a citrus-coconut-ginger sauce, which should be served by the pint in my opinion. The creamy avocado slices added a buttery note to the warm, tropical flavors, and dots of grassy cilantro, red onion and sweet red bell pepper gave a necessary crunch. I cannot emphasize enough how ridiculously rich the sauce is. Ever known anything to outdo lobster? This sauce does. The crustacean, of course, was skillfully cooked (moist and tender and without a hint of chewy overcooked-ness) but when married with the limey, coconut-y sauce … sweet mercy! I suggest using a spoon to scoop the ceviche onto crisp tortilla chips, as well as to scrape the plate clean. No speck of sauce left behind!

Up next on the tapas trail was the seared tuna tostadas—another signature masterpiece from Cahoon. This small plate featured three mini-fried corn tortillas, topped with nearly rare tuna, avocado, pineapple salsa, pickled shallot rings, shaved raw  jalapeño, and bubbly circles of “caviar.” Underneath each work of art came a smear of citrusy yuzu aioli. It wasn’t easy to fit a whole one into my mouth, but I was up for the challenge. The silky tuna and sweet pops of pineapple flashed me right back to Hawaii. It became official: I was on island time.

The dinner prices are on the higher side, but rightfully so. I suggest swinging by at lunch time to avoid the hungry mob and to advantage of the lunch time values. I originally had planned on an evening review and had my sights set on the quinoa flounder. But upon landing for lunch, I noticed the flounder was on the daytime menu in taco form. Anyone who knows me know tacos are always a “yes”— especially when tequila is already involved. The handhelds came on gorgeously homemade corn tortillas with the perfect amount of char around the edges. The quinoa breading on the flounder crackled with delight despite needing a hint of salt. Garnish-wise: The citrus cabbage slaw, chimichurri ranch, fresh tomato salsa, and avocado were a wonderful balance to the crispy fish.

Oh, and, yes, there were avocados in pretty much everything I ate. But the green fruit is an ideal partner for fresh fish, so…

On the other side of my plate sat a dreamy white pile of coconut rice, dotted with chives. As someone who almost always picks noodles over rice, this starch will keep me returning to Savorez. The exotic flavor and fluffy consistency tickled every taste bud on my tongue.

Cahoon and his team have elevated the level of excellence in the downtown dining scene. I’ll be back to savor every bite.

402 Chestnut St.
Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Sat., 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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