Twenty five years ago, when Cafe Nuovo opened in downtown Providence, it heralded a new era in the city’s culinary evolution: modern, creative, artistic creations using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. To be sure, there was a lot of wonderful food already in Providence and elsewhere in the state, but these mostly consisted of Italian, Portuguese, and classic New England seafood type places serving chowder, fried seafood, and lobster dishes. The chef-driven, farm-to-table organic movement hadn’t quite reached these shores. But Cafe Nuovo changed all that, and today, downtown Providence is home to not only some of the best restaurants in the state, but also in the entire United States, as chefs here have access to some of the highest-quality seafood, meats and vegetables in the country thanks to the myriad small-scale, non-industrial fishing and farming providers found here in Rhode Island. With a location directly on the Providence River – the perfect spot to view the famous WaterFire summer celebrations – and with a sophisticated, upscale atmosphere in a modern, sleek building, Cafe Nuovo quickly became a favorite among those seeking stylish food in a stylish setting. Twenty five years later Cafe Nuovo still serves some of the most beautiful, colorful, and flavorful food in Providence.
When we filmed at Cafe Nuovo recently for our upcoming “Elevated In Downcity” episode, we were blown away by the food. This place definitely draws the “suit and tie” crowd, with its location near the heart of the downtown business sector, but the menu was progressive and adventurous, combining classic Mediterranean cuisine with New American and Asian influences. A quick glance at the appetizer options gives you a sense of the varitey here: crabcakes with pineapple-ginger relish, corn chow-chow, and cucumber kimchi, a long-time favorite; octopus carpaccio with white bean ragout, citrus vinaigrette, olive caramel, fennel, and pesto; lettuce wraps with korean bbq sirloin, julienne vegetables, and mango chutney; and crispy spring rolls stuffed with spinach and feta. It’s an unsual combination of food traditions, but it works because, well, everything is delicious and exquisitely prepared. This is truly modern cuisine, not bound by any traditional conventions.
Executive Chef Manny Largo is originally from Texas and has trained and worked with the likes of Bobby Flay, brings a wealth of cooking knowledge and traditions to the kitchen at Cafe Nuovo. He prepared for us an incredible duck dish that we are still dreaming about: chai tea marinated duck is prepared two ways: the breast was seared perfectly, the confit duck leg was baked to crispy perfection but was still moist and fall-of-the-bone. It was served on a bed of braised winter greens, along with cauliflower and celery root mousseline, roasted carrots, brown butter almonds, beets, pomegranate, and finished with a luscious duck jus. It was a remarkable dish, with so many textures and flavors, unctuous and savory, bright and sweet with a crunchy pop from the toasted almonds and pomegranate.
While home to a variety of lovely, small plates and salads, there is also a wide selection of pasta and meat dishes such as the short-rib tagliatelle with house-made pasta; braised steak tips with root vegetables, fresh peas, and port-mushoom reduction; a lamb shank braised for 6 hours and served with toasted orzo, san marzano tomato braising sauce, parmigiano reggiano; and a gorgeous stuffed rigatoni of veal, prosciutto + portobello, endive, radicchio, fresh mozzarella, portobello-madeira sauce. Check online for their new fall menu, but definitely don’t overlook this iconic eatery in the heart of Downcity.
For more info: cafenuovo.com