Cafe Nova: almost a great experience
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.