For all of the glitz at Nove Italiano—it has plenty, as this is a stupendous room, far more stylized and over-the-top than its steakhouse cousin N9NE—the place is refreshingly candid and down-to-earth when it comes to the food.
You might expect a restaurant of this class (“class” meaning “$100 a person”) to be caught up in the pursuit of authenticity. In Nove’s case, that would mean Italian as made in Italy. But Nove isn’t hung up on that. It’s content with its people-pleasing fusion of Italian-American, so long as it can throw in a little steakhouse on the side.
Executive chef Chris Conlon, who also supervises the kitchen at N9NE and Ghostbar, makes the effort to procure fine artisan ingredients and to treat those ingredients thoughtfully. But Nove is not about pioneering new dishes. It takes the safe route with tried-and-true staples like chicken parmigiana. So it goes without saying that said chicken parmigiana was a comforting monster, a double 12-ounce breast pounded until thin and slathered with red sauce and cheese. The chicken was so tender you could cut it with a fork.
There was nothing dainty about the spaghetti, either, as it came piled high with lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops, and calamari, in a spicy tomato sauce. This wasn’t just spaghetti—it was presentation spaghetti. Owners Scott DeGraff and Michael Morton wanted to bring the kitchen into the dining area for entertainment value, so they created a cook’s station in the dining room, where one guy’s entire job is to make that one spaghetti dish.
The salumi and prosciutto appetizer plate made the big statement for procurement. Its prosciutto, salami, soppressata, and other fabulous meats came from two West Coast purveyors: Salumi in Seattle, owned by Armando Batali (father of Mario), and Framani in Berkeley, Calif., owned by chef Paul Bertolli. The meats were unbelievably good, especially the one cured with cocoa, whose hint of sweetness gave us a cool, disorienting jolt. The salumi plate, served with thick chunks of Italian cheese, including Taleggio, ricotta, and pecarino, and squares of the tomato-painted flatbread Nove uses as its thin pizza crust, could easily serve as a carnivore’s entrée. So why was its seafood partner, the crudo plate, with a paltry dose of diced raw tuna and yellowtail, barely sufficient for one?
Do bypass the spicy fried calamari for grilled octopus, which is poached before it’s grilled to a char on the restaurant’s mesquite-burning grill. Its tender texture and sharp flavors charmed everyone at the table, even the diner who swore she’d never eat octopus.
You can’t bypass the lobster, though, as you’ll find it everywhere: chopped and stuffed into a cannoli shell for an appetizer; cut into bites to be set afloat over the minestrone soup; and strewn throughout the pennette alla vodka, one of the restaurant’s fine pasta dishes. You’d think this would be no big deal, as it’s not a complicated dish to make. But the pasta, which Nove imports, hadn’t been over-cooked, so it was still pleasingly firm. And the kitchen skillfully found the balance between cream and tomato, kicked up with red pepper and a shot of vodka.
The question for Nove, then, isn’t about the quality of its food. It is, “Will Dallas ever feel good about paying $36 for a plate of pasta?” We’ve been raised on a glut of inferior Albanian-Italian restaurants where the pasta comes overcooked and over-sauced, or else it sits as a subservient side to the meat. One woman at my table confided that she’d never order pasta at a restaurant because she can make it at home. Well, you can cook steak at home, too. It’s just that we don’t have a lot of respect for pasta, not understanding there’s an art to cooking it as well.
As for steaks, if a $46 porterhouse is not enough, you can pay $5 to $10 extra for a topping. Ouch. One used balsamic vinegar; another, called al forno style, coated the steak in garlic and Parmesan cheese and capped it with three crispy veal ravioli. Vegetables came as steakhouse-style sides to be shared: roasted potatoes, heavily herbed; truffled polenta; super-sized gnocchi; and broccoli di rabe, garlicky and deep green.
Italian wines make a good showing, and the staff, including sommelier Rudy Mikula, helps find moderately priced ($50 to $60) bottles such as the 2003 Il Borro Pian di Nova, a non-traditional Tuscan red made with 75 percent syrah and 25 percent Sangiovese. A special drink menu includes a hilarious cocktail called the Pink Pussycat, a glass of sparkling rose clinking with heart-shaped rose cubes.
The staff was attentive bordering on intrusive. If they know you or recognize your face, as they did mine (despite the wig I wore to avoid just such a recognition), they’ll really pour it on, although any coddling would pale next to the lavish rush given to the table across the way, occupied by one Tom Hicks. “The Victory folks are being very nice to us,” whispered one server, as a private party for “Mrs. Perot” began in the glass-enclosed private room—glass being perfect, as it underscored to the diners on the outside that this was a space they could not enter.
Much has been written about Nove’s 12-foot-tall “naked” female topiaries on the patio, its grand entrance stairway, its shimmering bar. The interior pulsates restlessly. Glass chandeliers shift in color, from pink to purple to blue. Plasma screens depicting famous paintings switch endlessly, from the Mona Lisa to The Blue Boy. The wine cabinet blows the mind, with each bottle pinned by an LED, and the LEDs used to create fierce images such as flames.
Nove’s desserts are as much about form as function: interactivity and whimsy rank as highly as flavor. The make-your-own cannoli sums it all up. You get a pastry bag of sweetened ricotta filling that you pipe into an empty cookie tube. Then you choose from a variety of toppings—chopped pistachios, colored sprinkles, strawberry sauce—grandly displayed in a glass plate with nine slots. It’s visually striking, a lot of fun, and has next to nothing to do with real Italian food. Get contact information for Nove Italiano.
Update: Nove Italiano has closed.