Cafe Nova: almost a great experience

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by | June 28, 2008 | 21 Comments

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Cafe Nova is located at 4308 N. Western in Oklahoma City (map). They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 2am (kitchen closes at 11pm) and Sunday from 10:30am to 3pm. For more information, visit their website.

I’ve been wanting to try Cafe Nova for some time now, but a few things have kept me away. First, it isn’t a kid friendly place, and I have a ton of kids. Second, they have a lunch menu, but I don’t have time very often for long, relaxed lunches. So, I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to get out and try it. Well, I finally had another anniversary, and therefore a reason to dump the kids with someone else while my wife and I enjoyed a nice, relaxing dinner. So, we tried Cafe Nova and … well … I really want to like it, but it just falls short.

The problem is they are billing themselves as a premier dining location in Oklahoma City (with prices to match) and that’s going to bring them a higher level of scrutiny. To support this image, they’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders and for me, while there are a lot of things I like about the place, there is still a lot left to be desired. For my money, I’ll be looking elsewhere for a premium experience.

Among the things I do like is the atmosphere. Cafe Nova is a lot like the other eclectic eateries along the artsy stretch on north Western Avenue. Lots of stainless steel, black tablecloths, big, artsy glass panels, and local artists’ paintings on display. It appears that their logo is an Elk. Not sure why. They have an Elk skull (at least I think it’s an Elk, I’m not an expert on big game skulls) hanging behind the chic bar area. They also have a couple of large flat-panels displaying images of clouds and sky. Seems like a waste of money to spend thousands on flat-panels just to put pictures of clouds on them, but hey, it’s not my money (well, I guess it is when I get the bill).

Anyway, we got there around 5:45-ish, hoping to beat the dinner rush. Boy did we! There was only one other party in there besides us. I asked the server where everyone was and he said that the dinner crowd would kick in later. Not sure where they were because they never showed up, even when we were leaving close to 7. The food was pretty good, not fantastic, but pretty good. The service was great (then again, it’s not hard to give one table good service) and the atmosphere was nice. So where was everyone? Is the economy making a play on the small dinner crowds? I’m not convinced of that because, from my dinner table, I could watch throngs of people outside parking and walking down the street to a bustling Sushi Neko. At any rate, we were able to get personal consultation from our waiter and make our selections in peace and quiet, that’s for sure.

The waiter emphatically recommended two dishes, the tilapia and the Tournedos Oscar. I was leaning towards the Tournedos Oscar in the first place. One thing I love about filet medallions is that they are usually fork tender and, since they are nearly bite-sized, you get a larger proportion of tasty sear per bite than you do on a normal steak.

While we waited for our main courses we decided to try the lump crab quesadilla. Far and away, this was the best choice of the night. The quesadilla consisted of lump crab with fresh baby spinach leaves and goat cheese in a very tender, pan-fried flour tortilla. It was fantastic. It was paired with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce that had bits of roasted pepper, garlic, and a tart and peppery finish that paired well with the sweet crab. Fresh bread was brought out as well with an oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce, although unfortunately they overdid the balsamic vinegar portion of the suspension. No amuse bouche here like you get at Tom and Jerry’s or Deep Fork. Too bad. I think the amuse bouche gives a chef the opportunity to really showcase his or her skill.

The main courses had great presentations. The pecan-crusted tilapia was served atop a bed of spinach risotto and decorated with a tomato vinaigrette. My wife said it was “pretty good.” She wished she had gotten the seared ahi tuna instead. To the chef’s credit though, it’s much harder to make a tilapia dance on your tongue than it is a sushi-grade chunk of ahi tuna. God made ahi tuna taste good sliced right off the fish. You have to really work at messing it up.

The Tournedos Oscar featured chunks of filet and lump crab presented atop a bed of mashed potatoes and decorated with fried spinach leaves. The description said that it would also have a Bearnaise sauce, but I could not detect the Bearnaise. Instead, it seemed more like a cheesy cream sauce (and a soft, nutty cheese at that, perhaps with some brie in it).

I was disappointed with the filet medallions on a couple fronts. First, there was no sear. They almost appeared braised in sauce rather than pan-seared. Second, they were extremely fatty. So fatty in places, in fact, that I looked around in a panic a couple times for a place to dispose of the hunks of connective tissue I was unable to masticate. I tried “Fletcherizing” my food by chewing 32 times … but still no progress. I finally had to swallow them like pills. This happened more than once. Sure, there were some tender medallions too, but the tough ones made me a little apprehensive to go after many more.

The fried spinach leaves were interesting. They were crisp and they had a kind of nutty flavor. I didn’t really like the sauce. It had a flavor in the background that I wasn’t very fond of. It wasn’t bad, it was just a flavor that I didn’t like. I had my wife try to figure it out, too. That’s when I began wishing I had tried the Berkshire pork chops or the shrimp scampi.

I really wanted to like everything about this place. Like I said, good atmosphere, and they deliver a contemporary American cuisine in the “cool” part of town. I’m just not sold on Cafe Nova being one of the premier spots in Oklahoma City. When you’re a higher-end restaurant charging a premium for every plate, you’ve got to stand up to a much greater degree of scrutiny, and I think Cafe Nova just falls a little short. On the other hand, I will be back though for those crab quesadillas. Pair one of those up with a bowl of soup or a salad and you could get in and out with a reasonable bill and a very tasty experience.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Cafe Nova on Urbanspoon

This article was posted by Andrew Littleton on Saturday, June 28th, 2008. It is filed under:

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  • Sheri says:
    June 29th, 2008 at 9:27 am   

    My first experience at Cafe Nova was a few weeks ago and it was different than yours. It was a Friday or Saturday night and packed with people (though no one waiting for a table….maybe the turn those away without a reservation?). But there was also a high school reunion in the back of the facility.

    One thing I do remember is that the plumbing was not functioning in the ladies room (no water pressure). But I guess that could have been a fluke.

    I started with a Super NOVA salad that was wonderful and my entree was…. hold on…. looking at the menu….

    I don’t remember. Nothing stands out. Perhaps our experiences are more similar than I thought. We did share a bottle of pinot noir, so perhaps that had something to do with the memory loss. :-)

  • Josh says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 8:16 am   

    My experience with Cafe Nova was for evening drinks after dinner so I cannot comment on the food. I can say that I enjoyed the decor and the overall scene. Based on your review I will probably stick to drinks as opposed to stopping in for a meal.
    One comment about your review. I love the “The Great Masticator” reference in relation to overly chewy beef tenderloin tips.
    “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate”

  • Andrew says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 8:43 pm   

    Thanks for the comment Josh! I figured I better link to an article explaining the master of mastication. Don’t let yourself be castigated.

  • Noelle says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 9:16 am   

    Cafe Nova offers a lot of style, but the substance doesn’t quite match up. A lot of my friends recognize it’s a great place to go for drinks, but not dinner, and definitely not dessert. With other restuarants in town that offer delicious food, unparalleled service and a real atmosphere (think Vito’s or Cheevers), I probably wouldn’t bother with Nova. For me, any restaurant that tries so hard to be upscale chic, has to do an exceptional job with their menu and food, and Nova doesn’t quite measure up to how it’s trying to sell itself.

  • Nathan says:
    July 8th, 2008 at 9:47 am   

    I was not that impressed (primarily because of the service). For the price of the food you better serve it on time and at the right temp. I have only been once but my experience was not the greatest. I can imagine as another person commented, if you were only there for drinks and hang time it would be great!

  • Misty says:
    July 9th, 2008 at 12:37 pm   

    I’ve only eaten there for Sunday brunch and we thought it was exquisite. I had the crab cakes eggs benedict and my husband had the endless omelet bar. We took advantage of the endless mimosas and really enjoyed the apple pastry/danish they brought as bread. Friends with us had french toast and biscuits and gravy. The french toast was really yummy and the the latter was par. It was packed and we had great service. We asked to see the regular menu and figured it would probably remain our brunch place. So try it for Sunday brunch, I think you will enjoy your experience more.

  • Andrew says:
    July 9th, 2008 at 9:08 pm   

    I’m not sure I’ll make it for Sunday brunch. Have you had Ingrid’s for Sunday brunch? It is stellar. I like the more rustic atmosphere of Ingrid’s anyhow.

  • Michael says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 1:14 am   

    I’ve gone to Nova for several months, but I must say the food quality is going down the drain.

    My friends and I now opt to go only for Sunday Brunch. At $18 for an entree and unlimited mimosas, it’s the way to go, if you want to hang out and drink for “free,” so to speak.

    The brunch food, however, is hit or miss. It has been a mixed bag of great food and food I wouldn’t serve a prisoner. The service is always good, but perhaps that is because the servers all know myself and group of friends.

    I haven’t been for lunch or dinner in some time, but I agree with the above comments. I think people are now beginning to think of the place as a spot for late-night drinks. The Yellow #5 is a favorite of mine!

    I hope they can make some improvements, but I fear it may be too late to reclaim its reputation as a nice, upscale dining establishment.

  • James says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 11:16 pm   

    I cannot begin to disagree more with the overall assesment of cafe nova. I have been a loyal patron for almost three years and feel that while its cuisine has at times wandered, they are very much on the right path. The tournedos our venerable author is so quick to oppose is my favorite dish and I find their Sunday brunch to be tasty and quite a nice way to enjoy a lazy afternoon.

    It should also be noted that our ‘well seasoned’ author has only reviewed 7 other ‘fine dining’ establishments in OKC two of which being prime steakhouses and the other being a bed and breakfast. He also mixes the culinary terms ‘mise en place’ and ‘amuse bouche’ to become mise en bouche. Consider the source. I encourage you to try it and draw your own conclusions.

  • Tim says:
    July 25th, 2008 at 2:14 pm   

    @James, thanks for the catch on the French terms. This is really my fault as the editor for not catching that in Andrew’s article. Anyway, you are right and I’ve corrected them now.

    Also, thanks for sharing your dissenting opinion. We always appreciate hearing from all sides so that we get a fully comprehensive look at each restaurant. Please keep the comments coming!

  • madeline says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 4:19 pm   

    I’m from DC and have travelled extensivley [i.e been to many resturants all over] – and learned about food from a young age. I was so disspointed in the bad food: all the menu sounded divine but the food was simply not good or sophisticated. I will not be back.

  • Kevin says:
    November 4th, 2008 at 7:35 am   

    As neither of us imbibe, the review and comments suggest this place may remain Cafe Neva for us.

  • David says:
    June 3rd, 2009 at 4:58 pm   

    I have never really been that fond of Nova. Showing up at midnight to have a cocktail is one thing…showing up for dinner (sober) is quite another. I’m not saying that it’s horrible, there are just much, much, MUCH better options in the area in my opinion.

  • Clint says:
    September 14th, 2009 at 2:46 pm   

    I had much the same experience too, the food just isn’t that great. It’s a trendy place to drink, that’s about it.

  • Richard says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 6:42 pm   

    Ok we went to sunday bruch. I had the omlet bar it was ok but it only had 6 or 8 toppings to pick from and no sides at all that came with it? for $12.Hum. well the wife had the Steak & Eggs Benedict{it was not steak and egg benedict but Eggs Benedict made with steak} and was not good at all the steak was vary salty. so she switch to the apple panacakes they are vary good.the wait staf was good but I think we will pass from now on.

  • schef says:
    February 17th, 2010 at 7:45 pm   

    Great for drinks and only drinks

  • Debbie says:
    September 8th, 2010 at 2:29 pm   

    My husband and I generally like Cafe Nova very much – just one bad food experience that I recall a long time ago. My most recent experience was a few months ago for their $10 lunch one weekday. I am not normally in that area around lunch time. It was a late lunch that day and I was running short of time. I called on my cell phone when I was about 15 minutes away, placed my order to eat there and told them about my time crunch. When I arrived, there were some people just leaving and so I was the only eating lunch. I had the Super Nova Salad and the Frutti di Mare. It was delicious and well worth $10. They brought my salad as soon as I sat down and out came my entree as I was finishing my salad. I received super service after calling in advance and telling them I was in a rush – I am sure it helped that I was the only lunch customer right then but I certainly appreciated the prompt service & the tasty food!

  • Kaylee says:
    November 3rd, 2010 at 10:31 am   

    Went here for lunch a few weeks ago. I had the salmon club. It was ok, and I actually was impressed with the price. It was $10 for my sandwich which came with fries and a side salad. I thought it was pretty decent for lunch, but it was a little stuffy for my taste.

  • Jennifer says:
    November 7th, 2010 at 2:59 pm   

    Had a fantastic brunch CafeNova Okc this morning with starting with bottomless mimosas, fresh poundcake and jam, and finished up with steak and eggs benedict. Not pictured is my husband’s crab cake benedict which was the best crab cake around! We will definitely be back, best brunch for $15!

    Oh, another impressive note on the service, usually when you get all you can drink or eat of something you’re left waiting on servers to replenish you. This time was completely different, our mimosas were never empty then entire visit, even after the bill had been paid we had to tell them to stop pouring.

    Thanks for a great Sunday brunch.

  • Debbie says:
    February 26th, 2011 at 6:29 pm   

    My husband and I had a wonderful experience at Cafe Nova today. It’s Saturday & our 25th wedding anniversary is actually Tuesday but it was more convenient for us to celebrate today. My husband was not interested in their brunch menu but did want to use our Groupon and eat off their dinner menu. We prefer to eat our large meal at lunch. When I called on Friday and talked to Taylor, we originally we going to make a reservation for 4pm – the earliest they normally serve dinner. Taylor did tell me if we wanted to come in earlier they would still allow us to order off the dinner menu even though it was still brunch time. That worked much better for us so we made a reservation at 1:00. Everyone did an outstanding job and really treated us right! We received a delicious free appetizer that wasn’t on the menu – Taylor said he just thougt it up. It was 4 toast points with a crab mixture on top – they should put it on the menu. Taylor also gave us 2 free flutes of champaigne to celebrate. My husband had the super nova salad and I got the roasted vegetables (he ate all the mushrooms) – both very good. I brought some of the vegetables home with me. We also had bread – came with butter and Taylor asked if we wanted oil & balsamic vinegar & brought some. For entrees my husband got the 7 oz Creekstone filet that came with whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables and I got the Fruitti di Mare – they were both wonderful! As thought we hadn’t already eaten enough & Taylor hadn’t already given us enough, he provided free dessert – red velvet cake. After we finished eating, Taylor brought a gift bag to me. I didn’t know that my husband had stopped by earlier that morning and given him the bag with some anniversary gifts for me and asked Taylor to bring it out as a surprise. I was truly surprised since he had already given me something at home that morning. What a wonderful experience we had! Delicious food, way more free stuff than I expected (champaigne, appetizer and dessert), and impeccable service – couldn’t ask for a nicer anniversary celebration. All that even while using our Groupon.

  • Debbie says:
    March 2nd, 2012 at 6:09 pm   

    I love their $6.99 lunch menu during the week but can’t get there very often then. The ham, brie & fig sandwich is unusual & delicious. I do love their shrimp & grits that fortunately is available at brunch on the weekends.

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