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|Table for Two
Citizens Bank Plaza
by Bob Mariani
With what is perhaps the most prestigious and high-visibility location in the City of Providence, and a 10-year plus reputation for fine dining, Café Nuovo could probably rest very comfortably on its laurels. But instead, they continue to raise their standards and to add new creative flourishes to their menu.
On a recent night mid-week, the handsome, odd-shaped dining room with its riverside view of the Capital City was filling up quickly. The patrons seemed to be mostly 30-somethings on their way up the corporate ladder.
We settled in at a cozy window -table overlooking the riverwalk and opened the menu to the appetizer page. We could tell immediately this was not going to be an easy choice: Hawaiian tuna tartare with seared ahi, cucumber and micro celery greens served on a black sesame brioche with ginger-lime aioli, pickles and chips ($15.95) seemed like a very interesting amalgamation; but then there was the Torchon of Sonoma Valley duck foie gras with vanilla-roasted pineapple, cracked black pepper and macadamia brioche (market price); and a sauté of exotic mushrooms in a cognac-foie gras emulsion served with black pepper profiteroles ($11.50); and a crab and avocado sushi with a hot sauce ($10.75), and on and on.
Finally we selected the caramelized sea scallops ($12.50), and the cured beef tenderloin carpaccio ($11.95). My first tender mouthful of the beef carpaccio literally melted on my taste buds. Suffused with musky black truffle oil, topped with a caramelized shallot-porcini relish and sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano, this was a starter to end all starters, no word play intended.
The caramelized scallops were at the opposite end of the taste scale, as light and airy as a spring breeze off Narragansett Bay. The skewer of half-dollar size scallops were drenched in luscious saffron-vanilla emulsion and served atop a nest of spinach pave that had been creatively laced with fresh, crunchy string beans. We were off to a sensational start.
From an almost daunting list of entrées, I chose the ginger crusted salmon filet ($22.95). The beautifully cooked piece of salmon with its mild and slightly crunchy ginger crust was topped with a dollop of sweet onion and black sesame jam (surely an original concoction) and sided with tamari-braised spinach and a haricots verts salad. Just when I thought I’d tasted every thing that could be done with salmon, this little gem appears.
My wife’s entrée was the chevre and macadamia nut-crusted rack of lamb ($31.95). The chops were delicate but meaty and the ginger-tinted "au jus" intensified their delicious lamb flavor. The side dressings, as with all of the dishes here, are very carefully thought out by Nuovo’s chef, Timothy Kelly. He’s got a real flair for creating interesting flavor juxtapositions. With the chops, they served a mild, granular mixture of Japanese eggplant and mushroom terrine. Then for an irresistible sweet note, they added a creamy sweet potato flan.
The rest of the entrée menu is equally original and well thought-out with such items as: Hudson Valley duck breast confit with vegetable "Mushu" served with a gingered plum sauce and coconut-yam pot stickers ($25.50); pork tenderloin paired with Littleneck clams with southern braised kale and "siracha-spiked" shellfish nage ($27.50); six-hour lamb shank with San Marzano tomatoes and orzo ($20.95); Panko-crusted swordfish with lemon-caper beurre blanc and spinach and rice timbale ($25.50); orange lacquered Chilean sea bass with orange salsa, poblano and lime-braised Chayote squash and "black forbidden rice;"($26.95).
Although the menu covers a lot of bases, you begin to notice certain recurring themes that hint at a fusion of Asian-Caribbean and perhaps American Southern cooking. But don’t try to pigeon-hole chef Kelly’s vision. He’s a master at mixing and matching and coming up with his own take on just about everything, without the usual affectations.
For dessert I ordered the Nuovo Bar ($8.95), which is about enough deep dark chocolate to last you the rest of the year. Let’s see-- there was a half-inch wedge of hazelnut Dacquoise, topped with chocolate cream and almond croquant and dried sweet cherries along with some crunchy crisped rice balls for a change of texture on the side.
Somewhat lighter but equally intense was the Lemon Charlotte ($8.25), a feather–light mascarpone mousse encased in an even fluffier lemon pound cake. The whole was embraced by warm lemon-blueberry compote and doused with a touch of lemoncello cream.
I feel safe in saying that there was not a single misstep the whole evening, from the Café Nuovo’s impeccable service and handsome, energized surroundings to their remarkably inventive and well-executed menu. Sure, they could have gotten by with a great location and a just-plain-good menu; but instead, they continue to raise their own standards on just about every front. They’re closed Sundays and for lunch on weekends. Contact Café Nuovo at 421-2525.
Bob Mariani is a Southeastern New England freelance author. Besides his "Table for Two" restaurant reviews found here, he also writes jazz articles on allaboutjazz.com.