Disher Review #11: Nove

Wow, this one’s a doozie! The perfect way to start off the morning. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, relax and read on (with pics).

Restaurant Week works no diminution of Nove’s boundless capacity for seduction. Calling to mind the great god Helios straddling the mouth of the Manraki harbor, Nove’s wide stance lands one bare, hirsute foot in the sun-warmed Italian loam of traditionalism, across from a Ferragamo nappa sandal tapping impatiently on the cold Carrara marble of modernity.

The siren song commences with a delicate whisper, in the form of neatly manicured feminine bushes, the ample curves of the shrubberies stirring warm recollections of verdant Etruscan tumuli. Shouldering through the Brobdingnagian entryway, the subtle sensuality of the landscaping is surpassed by the spectacle of a congeries of greeters, hostesses, and hangers-on of strict, unvarying pulchritude. (An assistant manager later confided that the N9NE Group personnel manual bears a preface from the lawgiver Solon: “Put more trust in nubility of character than in an oath.”) Snug, ivory torsolettes only accentuate the staff’s service skills.

Much has been said of Nove’s stunning interior. Old World bordello charm abounds in the inverted pyramidal chandeliers, rich burgundy wood tones, woven leather placemats, and deep, well-like booths calculated to foment furtive frottage. Discrete modern touches bring an air of controlled whimsy to the room, without risking discomposure of the essentially classic feel. Imagine Italian cinema leapfrogging unpleasant neorealism, allowing Fellini to makeover the “white telephone” era on a tight budget. Framed televisions beam the cropped and pixilated works of Italian masters. A lofty, diode-encrusted wine wall pulses and coruscates magically. $35 would not be too dear just for admission to sit and soak up this room–the wood burl and neon, the lambent lights, the bulging basques in Old Lace, the Vatican Museum as wall-mounted screensaver.

Our waiter, whom we shall call “Tom,” shuffled up to the table with a stack of menus. Squat, swarthy, and with a certain pithecanthropoid charm, Tom helpfully reminded us at the beginning of the meal (and at every turn thereafter) that numerous and more costly options were available to us, should we desire to turn our backs on the Restaurant Week menu. Though not cheap bastards, per se, none of us are of the privileged class. We returned the wine list and non-Restaurant Week menus to him and asked that he send out a round of Dallas’s Finest. A dining companion was tempted by the waiter’s offer of a soft drink, but the menu didn’t include prices. (As they say, “If you have to ask….”) The Restaurant Week menu presented three appetizer options, three entrée choices, and two desserts.. This reviewer will refrain from describing dishes enjoyed by others at the table on the off chance that his dining companions may also share their experiences with the charming Ms. Eveans.

While awaiting our first courses, lumbering Tom deposited a bread basket and a cup of olives to whet our burgeoning appetites. Swaddled tidily in tissue emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo, the bread staggered us with the light texture and miraculous uniformity of crumb. One dining companion ejaculated, “It’s like a pillow! Not a feather or down pillow, but one of the ones with sort of an off-yellow, resilient foam center!” Since none of us are sophisticated diners, we sensed no incongruity between Tom’s description of the marinated olives as Kalamata and the fact that said olives were large, rounded, and light green in color. We happily scraped the scant and bitter flesh off the oversized pits, grateful for the unexpected prelude nibbles.

Heavy-lidded Tom planted a thick-stemmed martini glass on the table. A first course of salmon tartare lurked in the deepest extremity of the glass. This reviewer’s two perennial complaints about fish dishes are that he can taste the fish and/or feel the texture of the fish. With relief and even a measure of elation, we can relate that Nove fell into neither hazard with this dish. The salmon, unctuous as a (small) bowl of buttery grits, offered no resistance to tooth or tongue. Bright citrus exploded across the palate, leaving nothing in its wake. Sharing bites with tablemates, we brainstormed how we might replicate this definitive fish dish within the constraints of a home kitchen. Trial and error will tell, but the most promising hypothesis entailed removing the breading from a single fish stick, bringing it to room temperature, pureeing it with an equal part of grapefruit juice, spooning a dollop into a martini glass, and allowing it to marinate in the refrigerator for two days. Failing that, we may have to wait until Restaurant Week 2009 to partake of such excellence, since it does not appear on Nove’s regular menu (and, even if it did, we’d be too skint to order it).

By now, the restaurant was filling, and the cachinnation of a nearby flock of beldams (attracted to Nove for the first time by Restaurant Week, as we could overhear) added yet more energy and excitement to the already stimulating atmosphere. Tom beetled up to the table once again. Eyeing this reviewer, he paused, his thin lips contorting hesitantly. Whether tick, grimace, or overfamiliar grin, Tom’s expression lapsed into its customary stolidity as he sensed all eyes of the table upon him. He let his head fall forward, in natural line with the slump of shoulder and curve of spine, and proffered four turgid inches of meat.

With a confidence that only comes from fronting for a flawless kitchen, Tom shambled off without waiting to see if the Kobe flat iron steak was cooked correctly. The charred and dusky surface bulged with the ensanguinated flesh beneath. Rare. T206 Honus Wagner rare. “Grind me like the salmon and call me tartare” rare. Alarm that the steak fell short of the requested “well done” receded as this reviewer cut through the cool crimson slab, stifled a retch, and took a bite. Moist and supple, with scattered, slender threads of fat, the meat was silky, decadent, and utterly sublime. Sharing bites with tablemates, all agreed that Nove trumped Salt Grass, Outback, and even Dunston’s. The magnificence of the steak almost overshadowed the side of grilled asparagus, the long and gently tapered spears of which dexterously unicycled across the high wire between sinful pliancy and deflating flaccidity, all while artistically releasing ecstatic spurts of Balsamic vinegar from a plastic squirt bottle. The only fault one might find with the dish was the marginally creepy manner in which Tom delivered it to the table.

At this point, Nove was standing room only. Celebrities and captains of industry stippled the room, wheeling, dealing, signing autographs, posing for society page photos. Tom deposited our desserts with dispatch, his brow creased deeply with the pain of concentration with the rush of customers. A thin slice of chocolate tart topped with whipped cream and pistachios angled across the plate, the remaining expanse hosting wild spirals of burnt umber sauce. This was the essence of chocolate–dark, musky, with the quondam purity of a bustiered hostess. One dining companion bemoaned that, “After that thimbleful of tomato soup and lonely plank of chicken parmigiana, I was hoping for something more along the lines of a torta from Tio’s.” However–and one hopes if he reads this he does so in a spirit of honest self-reflection–the dude is large.

None of us realized that there was no tax on top of the $35 price. Since Tom did give it his simial best, we tipped him 20%. $42 may seem like a lot of money, but we all felt it was well spent. The food was unparalleled by anything we have experienced in Dallas–adventurous and edgy, but rooted in deep family traditions. (A passing corseted coquette told us that the chef’s great grandmother was receiving last rites before she would agree to give up the recipe for her coveted Kobe flat iron steak and grilled asparagus dish. Negotiations bogged down over details of an overreaching nondisclosure agreement and she passed on. The chef had to work out the recipe on his own.) The food’s excellence is buttressed by the light show, exposure to art, and the sensation of a seraglio without a cover charge or the temptation of costly table performances. This reviewer offers an unqualified endorsement of the Nove Restaurant Week experience.

Nove Tartare

Kobe flatiron steak

Torta

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