Sunday, 27 January 2013

Experiencing Columbus's Restaurant Week: De-NoVo

De-NOVO Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

This past Tuesday, I participated in Columbus's Restaurant Week via Manifesto Tusco Grato and Scotch Bar. Following a meeting and taste sampling of two new Snowville Creamery yogurt flavours (get excited, if you aren't already!) last night, Maureen (who most recently went with me to see Chef Carla Hall last weekend) and I made it to De-NoVo Bistro & Bar and the last night of Restaurant Week. Latin for "from the beginning, anew," De-NoVo opened about a year and a half ago. Just as is the case for Manifesto, De-Novo is owned by Yavonne and Wade Sarber of the former Vonn Jazz Lounge, with foodie friend Robert Harrison of the former Short Story Brasserie also as Executive Chef. The first of (currently) two restaurants, it very well seems that last night's dinner at De-Novo exemplified just how much of a revival of sorts the restaurant scene has been for these three, in the great food city of Columbus.

Seated in the Tiffany Room, Maureen and I were soon greeted by our very friendly and conversant waiter Tyler, who I had met on Tuesday during my De-Novo tour with Chef Robert. Presented with De-Novo's $35 Restaurant Week menu (a sincerely great value, as all RW menus tend to be), purposefully ordered different dishes so we could try as much of the mouthwatering menu as possible. And between each of our intended choices, we happened to try all of Tyler's recommendations (T), minus the rabbit.

To accompany our meal, we were served soft dinner rolls with garlic butter (let me type that again, garlic butter) and each ended up getting a glass of merlot which I need to especially highlight here. If I'm not mistaken, this was perhaps the first glass of wine that I've ever had that was poured and served at the proper room temperature. For the winos among you, I have the feeling you could appreciate not needing to wait for the wine to get to just the right temp, where the wine has reached a smooth, full bodied mouth feel that glides along the palate and ends with somewhat of a spicy touch.

For me, that touch paired extremely well with the Trio of Beans Vegetable Chili (T) that Maureen ordered. The chili had a hearty and somewhat meaty quality (meaty, in that I enjoyed it despite the fact that this was a vegetarian dish) to it, as well as a spice kick on top of all that. Perhaps to be added as a counterbalance to the heat, there was also a bit of sweet corn purée which I could have taken more of. Corn purée or not, an entire bowl (or two) of this would be more than an enough as a standalone meal. I've also got to give props (I don't think I've ever used that word anywhere else throughout this blog until now) to whomever was responsible for cooking the beans (black, japanese red and chick pea); they were cooked perfectly, with a beautiful bite to them and not overtly soft/mushy as I've almost come to expect with chili.

From the heat to the cold (I ended up tasting in the opposing order), I ordered the Open Faced Lobster & Crab Roll. And out of everything we ordered, this is hands down the one dish I would go back for without much hesitation. Served on a thick slice of butter toasted brioche, a healthy mound of cold and refreshing pescetarian delight was beautifully presented in a form not all that dissimilar to nigiri sushi. As for the spicy mayo sauce in my analogy, i.e., the smoked spicy rémoulade: oh my wow. As I've noted in the past, I've found an affinity for sauces, the mark of many a great restaurant, and this one's definitely up there. Bright and creamy, this rémoulade has somewhat of a global appeal as well (reminiscent of a smooth guacamole but more accurate as a relative of tartar sauce, thus the great pairing with the seafood). I'd like to make mention here, too, that I loved the fact I could actually bite into morsels of lobster and crab. (For those who know my previous eating habits where seafood never went missing for a good chunk of time, that's saying something.)

Soon after we finished our first course, round 2 came and for a while I forgot that here in the States we have takeout boxes. That aside, I got the classic meat and potatoes option, the Pan Seared Ribeye (T). Of the only two execution issues I had across all six dishes, there was something about this preparation that seemed to be off. Either the steak was cut unevenly or the cooking surface was a bit uneven, but a small portion tasted borderline dry/well cooked; concurrently, I was expecting something a bit more melt-in-my-mouth but at least the delicious port demi glace helped with that. That being said, the majority of the steak was cooked wonderfully to medium rare and paired very well with the Merlot and the other items on the plate. If meat and potatoes is a classic, the dish itself represents a bit of the old order when it comes to plating (50% protein, 25% each starch and veg). As noted in the previous link, 50% veg is nutritionally more commonly recommended depending on the dish, and let me tell you whoever among Chef Robert's crew cooked the haricot verts did a wicked job. I've tasted green beans that were simply blanched and just too crunchy for my tastes, while my tendency is to cook them so their a bit on the softer side. Touched with a bit of butter, these were tender and simply perfection in my book. Successful in its own right, too, was the loaded redskin mash which completed the dish.

As for Maureen, she got the Chicken De-NoVo Pasta (of which Tyler had an interesting story to share; btw, Tyler, if you're reading this: we weren't able to meet him). I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but something about it reminded me simply of home, or at least some part of my childhood, to a time when I would cook Ramen noodles and then stick them in the freezer to cool off. Specifically the aforementioned process resulted in something of a slightly creamier texture and consistency where the noodles had a delicate bite before falling into the flavour of whatever seasoning I cooked into it. In a strangely similar way, the smoky-spicy vodka sauce elevated that flavour profile and experience for me, as did the firmer textures of the shiitake mushrooms and bacon, all of which was tied together by queso fresco.

Given the fact that we chose to select our desserts after our second course, I was rather surprised (and I'm pretty sure Tyler and Maureen were, too) by how quickly our desserts were prepared and brought to the table. [By this point, much of the restaurant had been filled.] Appearing before Maureen, on an awesome storybook plate (which in retrospect reminds me of the exact moment in time when I knew this food thing would be sticking with me for a while; summary, par. 8) sat a large serving of Chocolate Torte (T) which was glazed with an utterly addictive sour cherry reduction. I'm a sincere fan of cherries and chocolate (especially in this form) and on its own, the torte was wonderfully rich and decadent, especially with the quenelled cream. In regard to the second execution issue, it appeared on this plate in the form of the hazelnut brittle. While I particularly appreciated it as a textural element, as the torte itself was so moist and monotexturally soft, the brittle tasted a bit bitter; in this case, it seemed either the hazelnuts got over toasted or the brittle reached a slightly higher than desired temperature.

As for my dessert choice (are you somewhat surprised as I was that I didn't get the chocolate?), I went with the Key Lime Parfait (which Tyler had mentioned at the start of our meal as a second option). In taking another look at what was printed on the menu, I don't recall tasting caramel or fresh berries, but I definitely didn't miss them, as what was presented to me was utterly delicious and in this form very cohesive. Tart and full of personality, the parfait easily represented a different take on the classic key lime pie, complete with its own quenelle of whipped cream, along with a graham cracker topping and surprising bottom layer of graham cracker crust. A bit on the custard side, a part of me was ready to just drink this dessert rather than to go a spoonful ata time. As if there wasn't enough key lime flavour, I also appreciated the final touch of candied lime peel that added the visual greatness that is key lime green.

From the relatively quieter ambiance in this back room (compared to the main door entrance by the bar), to the thematic and inspiring décor (by Yavonne) to the personable staff (can't forget Lincoln, the General Manager of both De-Novo and Manifesto, who stopped by our table a few times) to, of course, the great food (an aside: when we stopped briefly by the kitchen to say hi to Chef Robert, I was impressed by how many folks were in the kitchen working together-- a step or three up from the small kitchen space at the Short Story), I was extremely happy (and very full) with my first (and hopefully not my last) experience at De-NoVo. (I think I used enough parenthetical phrases?) For these, and other photos, from this dinner, click here.

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