By Bernie Whitmore

Nuovo Restaurant
92 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester

Worcester’s dining scene has a cycle that follows a standard arc: new restaurant opens, everybody packs the place ~ especially if there’s a nice lounge and favorable buzz. As time wears on another new place opens and the cycle begins again. Those who don’t jump into the game with something special may be doomed when their moment has passed.

Nuovo seems to be following a different path. I’ve dined there a few times and, while there’s always a group in the lounge, I haven’t seen the dining room anywhere near packed ~ something I don’t understand because their cuisine is extraordinary.

On previous visits I’ve tried one of their basic offerings, Pappardelle A’Matriciana, a classic dish of Italian-peasant pedigree: pancetta, onion, pecorino Romano and tomato sauce on wide, thick noodles. Nuovo’s rendition was elegant in its simplicity and flawless in execution. Another evening I ordered Lasagna Brodetto, hot from the oven and served with creamy lobster bisque. Each item was presented with a flair that didn’t venture into fussy complexity.

But when I recently returned to Nuovo, I resolved to explore beyond their pasta entrees. I accompanied a friend on a weeknight when, finding the dining room empty, we had our server’s complete attention. Inva introduced herself to us, then recited the day’s specials and gave us a few moments to make wine selections. She returned with a basket of crispy-warm dinner buns and a dipping oil of herbs spiked with a trace of balsamic vinegar.

One of the special entrees seemed too intriguing to miss, so we asked Inva to see if the kitchen would allow their Lobster Macaroni & Cheese to be served as an appetizer for two. Naturally, the answer came back “Yes!”

Nuovo’s MacNCheese was actually tortellini swathed in rich cream sauce kissed with enough tomato to give it a rosy-orange cast. Each forkful left strands of stretchy melted cheese and most included bits of lobster meat. There were plenty enough chunks of claw and tail meat to serve the two of us graciously. But the crowning touch was a grilled lobster tail, sliced in half, anchoring each end of the oval platter. After extracting the meat I was delighted to find it perfectly juicy, its delicate flavor enhanced by a flash on the fiery grill.

Ok, so that was an over-the-top, rich beginning, but the Roman Salad was the ideal interlude to prepare us for the entree course. Torn hearts of romaine lettuce were topped with fresh croutons and thin strips of roasted sweet red peppers, then tossed with simple vinaigrette and a flurry of grated Romano cheese. I thought the sliced hard-boiled egg was a unique touch ~ a theme you come to expect at Nuovo.

Having begun my meal on a rich note, well, why not continue? So I ordered another special, Pork Osso Buco. This is a dish usually made with veal shanks slowly simmered in tomato, garlic and aromatic vegetables until the marrow softens and adds its own luxurious texture and flavor. Nuovo’s starred one of the largest chunks of meat I’ve seen served as a single portion.

Nuovo’s version was as massive as any and was dramatically served bone ends up, dripping with delightfully fresh and zesty tomato sauce. Forkfuls of flaky-tender meat fell from the bone. However delicious, I’d met my match and challenged Inva to find a take-out container large enough to carry it home in.

My friend ordered Bistecca di Manza, a twelve-ounce sirloin steak grilled medium rare. Nuovo’s chef must be a grill pro as he nailed the steak exactly as ordered and layered on such a tasty crust of char my friend wouldn’t stop raving. It came with garlic-smashed red bliss potatoes, a worthy meal unto themselves.

I’m frequently asked to name my favorite restaurant. That’s always a tough one ~ Favorite pizza? Brunch? Chinese? Meatloaf? Worcester has so many options it’s unfair to single any one out. But I reckon for sheer versatility and craftsmanship, Nuovo’s hard to match.