Café Nuovo

A celebratory eating adventure
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  April 21, 2010

CAFÉ NUOVO | 401.421.2525 |Cafenuovo.Com | 1 Citizens Pl, Providence | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 AM-3 PM + 5-10:30 PM; Fri, 11:30 AM-3 PM + 5-11 PM; Sat, 5-11 PM | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access

Café Nuovo is one of those places you go to celebrate: proud parents with their graduating sons or daughters; twentysomethings taking their grandmother our for her birthday; business associates bonding; friends reuniting. It was the latter that brought us to this upscale restaurant, with its coveted view on WaterFire nights. A friend from Marblehead was in town; she’s a great cook and an avid foodie. We wanted to sample the new chef’s offerings at Nuovo, and we knew she’s always game for an eating adventure. Chef Jason M. Hooks comes to Providence via his home state of Pennsylvania and some heavy dues paid in New York City, including as sous-chef to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He made more than two dozen menu changes when he arrived at Nuovo (owned by Dimitri Kriticos), reassembling the ingredients of familiar dishes in an unfamiliar way and pairing flavors that seem out-of-the-ordinary until you try them.

Our first example of this was the grilled pizza (a Providence must for our visiting pal, PeiPei). We considered the grilled chicken breast with pesto and the San Marzano tomato with goat cheese, but we couldn’t resist the idea of white truffle oil on a pizza that was also described with cauliflower puree, bacon, asiago, shiitake mushrooms, and bosc pear ($16). The cauliflower was the perfect vehicle for the truffle oil and mild-flavored mushrooms, the thin slice of pear on each slice a terrific palate cleanser for the next piece.

Of course, this means that we bypassed a fisherman’s stew, calamari dipped in crushed graham crackers, crisped pork belly, and a “pikilia platter,” with traditional Greek appetizers from Kriticos’s mom. We could see that it was a generous assortment, as it floated by to a neighboring table.

We pondered the pastas, vegetarian garganelli (hand-rolled ridged penne) with oyster mushrooms, and a new “mac and cheese” among them, the latter featuring rigatoni, cheddar, parmesan, Grana Padano, and crème fraiche, But we all ended up with heavy-duty entrees: chicken, sea bass, and a 16-ounce pork chop.

PeiPei was thrilled about the Chilean sea bass ($32), and we asked about the “coquiallagé fumet,” listed as one of its accompaniments. A fumet is a thickened stock, this one from fish and shellfish (“couquille” is French for shell). The littlenecks were taken out of the shell and, along with the tiny potatoes and herbs, made a delicious complement to the skillfully roasted fish (sea bass sounds so much better than Patagonian toothfish, doesn’t it?).

Bill was in carnivore mode and chose to have his one-pound Kurobuta pork “rack” ($29) cooked medium rare, with two sides of mashed sweet potatoes and port wine-glazed onions. Kurobuta or Berkshire pork is being revived as a breed because of its flavor and highly-marbled flesh. We didn’t hear much from Bill’s side of the table for quite some time, and when we looked, he had actually worked all the way through that hefty piece of meat! “It just tasted so good,” he murmured, sheepishly.

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