Cafe Nuovo

Cafe Nuovo1 Citizens Plaza
Providence, RI 02903

The Word

The food was a roller coaster, the crowd was old, the kitchen lights were bright, and the prices were high: I won’t be returning to Cafe Nuovo anytime soon.

The Good

  • Great service, kind and knowledgeable
  • Beautiful location right on the river–perfect for WaterFire
  • Food came at the perfect pace: three courses in 2 hours exactly
  • Huge variety of food on the menu, and likely something for everyone
  • Food portions were appropriate
  • Mark’s Tasty Take-Home Special: they served olive oil with fresh olives with the bread, not butter–always the better choice

The Bad

  • No wine by the glass menu (the waitress had memorized a limited selection by grape type)
  • Bread was a bit on the stale side and cold
  • Hugely expensive for the quality–much better picks exist elsewhere in Providence
  • Menu couldn’t seem to decide what genre: too much disparate choice
  • Worst point: the kitchen was purposely visible, extremely loud, and too bright…never a good thing

The Meal

When I walked into Cafe Nuovo, I noticed two things immediately: I was the youngest person in the restaurant by at least 30 years, if not 40, and the kitchen in the back of the room. While the lighting was low and the windows were large, ostensibly creating a pleasant dining atmosphere, the visible food order tickets and kitchen bar did much more to stifle this scene than enhance it. A picture below:

Cafe Nuovo Kitchen

Outside of the age and kitchen problems, the ambiance was great: we were seated promptly after a kind coat-checking gentlemen provided his assistance, offered us a table ideally located overlooking the river, though we ultimately opted for a table elsewhere due to the draft flowing through the windows. There was ample room between tables, allowing both privacy and normal-voice-level conversations, and most tables were appropriately lit (though ours was unfortunately bright…I don’t look good under the spotlight).

When the menus came, the problems mounted: I couldn’t figure out what this restaurant was trying to be. The menu had everything from lobster spring rolls to escargot to t-bone steaks to home-made farfalle pasta. My own personal opinion is that, oftentimes, less is more: you don’t expect a 30-page menu when walking into a fine dining restaurant, because you assume that they do only a few things extremely well. The same concept applies here: the ambiance, location, wait staff, and wine list all suggested that this was a fine dining restaurant, yet the menu was almost Cheesecake Factory-esque in its breadth. It took me 10 minutes to read everything…

That said, choice isn’t always a bad thing, and the options themselves were all top-quality. I was a bit disappointed that there was no wine-by-the-glass menu, but they did offer us certain wines from memory which were fairly priced and reasonably good (I had a syrah–gotta love the pepper!). If you’re there for a bottle, though, I should say that the bottle list is basically a tome with bottles ranging in price from $30 to over $300, so you’ll probably be able to find something that strikes your fancy.

We began our meal with escargot and lobster spring rolls appetizers. The spring rolls were beautifully presented, though were slightly lacking in taste–they essentially tasted like normal, greasy, extra expensive spring rolls. The escargot were good, buttery as can be, and salty as expected. The only issue we had with them was that they didn’t come in their shells, meaning it was questionable whether they were actually fresh or not. The sauce they were in was also a bit heavy, but what do you expect with cooked snails? Overall, I would give the appetizers a 7/10 for quality : price ratio. Also, a small point, but the bread basket had 4 different breads in it and came with olive oil, not butter–these are two of my favorite things that can be done with bread. Variety is key, and olive oil is delicious…I would put it on anything. Really, anything.

Lobster Spring RollsEscargotBread Basket

After our delightful and colorful appetizers, we moved onto what was unfortunately the most disappointing part of the meal: main courses. We had penne pasta with beef tenderloin and porcini mushroom risotto with duck confit. In one word, my pasta tasted like meat. While the pasta itself wasn’t very fresh, my main problem was with the beef: there was way too much, and it was all too fatty. Not only that, but the pasta sauce itself tasted like meat, and so the overall taste was simply and powerfully meaty. While meat isn’t necessarily a bad taste, it was in this case: I really didn’t like it. Rating: 4/10.

Beef Pasta

The risotto was better. Though a bit salty, it packed on the umami in spades and was hearty and delicious. The duck was tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked. My only complaint here would be that there were too many peas in the risotto, which obscured the taste of the dish itself. I’m as much a fan of peas as the next guy, but sometimes enough is enough. Rating: 7/10.

Risotto and Duck Confit

Ah, dessert. By far the best part of the meal. We had a Winter Parfait and Chocolate Mousse Cup, and both were stellar. The winter parfait consisted of strawberry compote topped with delicious carrot cake cooked with apple smeared with maple cream and topped with cinnamon ice cream and oatmeal raisin cookies. Ah-ma-zing! It may be a bit too much for one person, but it was outstanding and no one flavor overpowered the rest. The other dessert, a chocolate mousse cup, had white chocolate mousse which was perfectly light and fluffy, regular chocolate mousse which was thick but still airy, and dark chocolate genache truffles, a perfect topping. The portion was perfect for one and the different chocolates gelled perfectly with each other. Dessert rating: 9/10.

Winter parfait Chocolate Mousse Cup

Overall, a good meal, but it’s unfortunate that I have to rank course quality in the following order: dessert > appetizer > bread > wine > main course. Maybe we got unlucky, but this order, given the prices of the menu, aren’t an encouraging reason to return to Cafe Nuovo anytime soon.

Mark posted this on February 28, 2008 and is filed under Providence, Restaurants.

2 responses to “Cafe Nuovo” so far, care to add your two cents?

  1. I agree that the kitchen in back can be distracting, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that that “never is a good thing”. Depending on the fanciness of the restaurant, sometimes the open kitchen is a delightful way to include the diners with the creation of the food. I know lots of wood fire grill places open the kitchen purposefully to allow the patrons to see the fires flame up and smell all the delicious food. While, for a gourmet place, this might not fit the ambience, the open kitchen definitely works for some restaurants.

  2. Agreed. In fact, I’ve been to a gourmet restaurant in New York called Cafe Grey that is built around displaying the kitchen, and for them it works beautifully, but I just felt that in Cafe Nuovo, it was all the bad parts of the kitchen that were exposed (hanging order tickets, naked ovens) and none of the good (actual dish preparation, sauce application, hurried madness of waiters). Exposing the kitchen in the right circumstances, though, certainly adds something nice to the ambiance.

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