Visiting Novo, a Nuevo Latino “hotspot” at Hudson and Spring, took us past the West Village, into the eerie Midtown-esque Hudson Square, where office buildings lie aglow and silent at 8pm and the din of Holland Tunnel traffic replaces dim tourists.
The restaurant itself, in an anorexic building squeezed between two parking lots, is a cheerful LES/Miami-chic space clad in glass, wood, and expanses of blue-patina’d brass. Despite the spinning NOVO projected onto the sidewalk, it was empty. A lonely bartender manned his keep despite barren glass shelves that will be lined with candy-colored bottles — and 15 different sangrias — once Novo gets a liquor license. He and our waitress apologized for their lack of libations, but I was overjoyed that we could get a decent bottle of wine for what I usually spend on a cocktail.
We ordered a diverse selection of dishes, all priced $8-$12, from a menu broken up into appetizers, ceviches, salads, pasta, and meats grilled ¡á la plancha! We began with a bright, cleansing lubina ceviche, whimsically paired with spiced popcorn and plantain chips, presented in the rectangular, white, partitioned plates the chef prefers. A round lobster omelet came next. My friend and I agreed this was beautiful, accented by a tomato bed and a drizzle of neon-green herb oil, though we doubted it had any actual lobster in it. But what should I expect for $10? Likewise, an otherwise fantastic salad of greens, roasted morels, and crunchy fava beans was missing the distinctive fatted-liver goodness its foie gras vinaigrette should have provided.
Cavatelli pasta with braised oxtail, manchego, and frizzled leek, was an haute rendition of macaroni hamburger helper, though a creamier cheese would have brought the flavors together better. Our last dish, duck breast ¡á la plancha! — one of nine grilled meats offered — was a standout. The lightly seasoned breast, juicy, pink, and protected by golden fat, was complemented by each of the three dips served alongside. Chimmichurri lent contrast to the duck’s salty fat, while a cheese-based sauce melded meat and flesh together (as well as being yummy on the pasta), and olive tapenade upped the richness of the duck without numbing its complex flavor. Paired with a fried yucca croquette, this was $12 well spent.
Novo doesn’t do dessert. Instead, every month they have a different treat at the meal’s end. This month’s dense macaroon, enough to sate a sweet tooth, was the perfect (free) way to end our meal.
Should you make the trek, Novo is a stellar value. Just get there before the liquor license does. The sangria will flow, but so will the crowds. And then Alex Garcia and company may rethink the prices.
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