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Spotlight: Holding Out Hope For Nova

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What an impressive transformation.

That space across the street from Lake Ivanhoe, the one that had for many years been Brian’s Diner and for one brief moment in 2014 was Elliott’s Public House, is now home to Nova.

It’s beautiful. It’s comfortable and chic. Walls of warm brick and wood-patterned floors. Rustic tabletops and a soft white fabric on the chairs and high backs of the banquettes. The main dining room is more open now, and it flows to a bar area with an honest-to-god bar (albeit a small one) that, thanks to the increased seating from the addition and patio tables, is now able to serve full liquor. I can heartily recommend the negroni.

I wish I could more enthusiastically recommend the food. But a sampling of the menu on two visits showed that the execution falls short.

It started out encouraging enough. I ordered a cup of the Lobster Bisque and found each spoonful filled with the sort of richness and earthy flavors one expects from a well made LobBis.

But then I ordered the Slow-braised Short Rib with Panang Curry. The rib itself was nicely done, braised into tender, shredding submission. But I’ll be darned if I could detect anything remotely panangish or curry-like in its glaze. And the risotto on which it rested also had no hints of the lemongrass and ginger that the menu promised.

I stopped in again for some bar bites. My companion and I settled for the Black & Blue Steak Flatbread and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.

If one were to eat only the tids of steak, tender and tasty though decidedly few, one could be happy, until one got the check for $12. The bread itself was hard and chewy, except in those places that had gotten soggy from the other toppings and juices.

The two small scoops of caked crab were a bit too over fillered and the outside should have been crisped a bit more — that might have helped raise the internal temperature above tepid.

I’m not prepared to give up on Nova. We need more downtown restaurants with a grown-up and sophisticated vibe. But I won’t wait too long for the food to catch up to the ambience.

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