By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
This intelligent menu, which Tony Bova is calling "Nuovo Classico," is presumably a collaboration with his executive chef, Peter Masiello, trained at the Culinary Institute of America and thoroughly apprenticed throughout Italy and New York (most recently, Masiello was executive chef at the Pelican Hotel in South Beach). There was nothing terribly nuovo, perhaps, in my meatball dish it was a flawlessly executed classic. The veal and pork meatballs were dense and tender in a wonderfully refined veal broth sprinkled with grated parmigiano, meltingly soft white beans, and velvety strips of kale. This dish was triumphant. Ditto the clams and mussels steamed in pinot grigio, the briny, chewy little shellfish balanced by silky textures of artichokes and beans. The combination of flavors was irresistible.
We also split a finely chopped insalata mista ($9) of soft Bibb lettuce, radicchio, arugula, radishes, and a delicious crown of applewood-smoked bacon and gorgonzola, tossed in a light vinaigrette.
For reasons that never became clear, we weren't offered bread with appetizers or salad. Maybe the chef thinks too much bread ruins the appetite, and he's probably right. Still, we would have welcomed a little hunk of something to sop up our superb broths. Instead, bread was offered between courses, focaccia hot from the wood-fired ovens, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil. It was excellent.
I'd ordered homemade maccheroni in a Sicilian preparation ($16) of braised cauliflower, shallots, toasted bread crumbs, roasted garlic, parsley, and mint. My partner opted for braised short ribs "in padella" ($30), with autumn vegetables and mashed potatoes.
I wanted my Sicilian maccheroni to work better for me. I love the ingredients separately chunky, chewy pasta, smoky cauliflower florets, the sweet bite of shallots and roasted garlic, the green pungency of parsley. Maybe it was the mint. I know Sicilians use mint with tomatoes and anchovies, for instance, or with roast chicken. But here it unbalanced the flavors and sapped the dish of vitality. Of course, I ate the whole thing. It wasn't that bad. I just wish I'd ordered something else maybe the barrel-cut filet mignon with lobster tail-oreganata and asparagus risotto ($38); or the veal chop with chanterelles and porcini mushrooms and cipollini onions ($38); the wood-fired rotisserie chicken with polenta cake ($23); a wild salmon "agra dolce" with tomatoes, butter beans, and haricots verts ($25); or a pizzette della trattoria with tallegio cheese, sliced pears, and pancetta ($12).
Spouse took prizes for choosing short ribs in padella. Short, of course, is a completely misleading term for what came to the table, roughly the size and shape of a police baton. Only you'd have trouble beating anybody senseless with this melting and entirely boneless piece of meat. Short ribs are essentially a magic trick: an inferior cut too tough for anything but long, slow braising in wine. When done right, in the Tuscan style, as these were, they're luscious, laced with fat, practically falling apart with a prod of the fork, a sponge for hearty flavors. With buttery whipped potatoes and a medley of root vegetables, this is a heavy, warm-hearted winter meal. A gastronomic luxury.
A crumbly apple crostata ($9) a small freshly baked pie and an espresso ($4), plus a glass of house-made lemoncello (vodka infused with lemon zest, $8) made a fine dessert. I hate to cede a place to my other local Italian culinary loves, but repeat visits (which I'm already planning) may eventually give Bova the edge. Yes, it's all very glamorous. But don't let the footlights fool you there's more than smoke and mirrors here. We felt like we'd arrived and the place we'd ended up was actually a splendid meal.