This space used to be Gusto, an Italian-focused place that was the first upscale restaurant in Roslindale Square. Now there are three other mostly Italian menus in the increasingly chic little shopping district, so the new owners have taken a new name and now focus on Irish-American bistro food. This is unequivocal good news for those who have never accepted pasta as a substitute for potatoes, but while some dishes are pretty good, NuVo is shaking down as a good second choice — a place to go when your favorite bistro is filled up.
The space is small and intimate, a series of rooms and a small patio that developed as Gusto’s popularity increased. Despite an open kitchen, the main room is more cozy than loud. There has been some retrenchment from the opening menu: giving up lunch, cutting some prices, and simplifying side dishes. On the other hand, a dessert menu, which changed between my two visits, changed for the better.
The bread basket is plain French bread with a crushed-bean spread that tastes like it has salsa in it and is perhaps a little busy. Soup of the day ($3) can be quite good; ours was sweet-potato-ginger, a nice spin on the usual squash-ginger. But a duck spring roll ($7) had too much cabbage and grease, and not enough duck.
The kitchen can deep-fry quite well. An order of calamari ($9) was fresh, dry-fried, quick to the table, and delicious with a modified tartar sauce and a small salad. The parmesan-crusted sole entrée ($18) is two wonderfully fried filets on some fairly oily shredded fennel and cabbage, some fine mashed potatoes, and some good string beans, with a topping of sliced shrimp and raw fennel to make the platter more vertical. “Traditional” Caesar salad ($7) is romaine lettuce with croutons and a lively dressing. Anchovies are optional and added whole on top of the salad. An order of mussels ($8) was a good pile, getting fatter in fall, with a creamy garlic broth that would have soaked up both of the large toasts provided if it hadn’t been so salty (as mussel broth tends to be).
Entrées also thrived when seafood was involved, and all the potato sides were excellent. Mediterranean sea bass ($18) is a farmed bronzino, nicely cooked with a clean flavor, although removing the head is apparently a concession to Rozzie sensibilities. But the plate is dominated by a potato croquette about twice the size of a large hamburger, crisp-coated like a giant tater tot. Again, the side was the oily fennel and cabbage.
A stuffed Statler chicken breast ($18) had fine mashed potatoes with gravy — yes, gravy. The chef kept the boned breast (with the first wing bone sticking up to make it Statler) nice and moist, the skin a little crisp, and the stuffing rather bland. The verticality here was provided by putting the chicken on the mashed potatoes, with a layer of oily sautéed spinach in between. Vegetable ravioli ($10) was fine pasta with a little chew, a mild filling, and a creamy herbal sauce that may be too rich for some diners. The NuVo burger ($10) has potential. It’s good meat that comes very large, and might have been a contender if served medium-rare ordered. The fries are big steak-cut wedges with skin on; not amazing but good enough.