Restaurant review: De-Novo Bistro & Bar

By
From the January 5, 2012 edition

In the Latin-happy world of our legal system, “de novo” refers to “anew,” as in a do-over, as in an appeals court retrial. In the substantially more happy world of Columbus restaurants, De-Novo refers to a new eatery providing a do-over for a vintage Downtown building as well as the owners of the recently closed Vonn Jazz Lounge.

When viewed from across the street at Columbus Commons, De-Novo Bistro & Bar looks humble. There’s just a tiny, spring-awaiting patio space and a long, classic neon sign unassumingly proclaiming “Restaurant.”

But step inside and you might think you’ve tunneled through a wormhole in space. Because far from tiny and humble, this place is wild, flamboyant and large.

Carved out along brick and aqua-painted walls, De-Novo occupies several narrow quarters and hallways. There’s the posterior, private-party-purposed “Tiffany Room,” a handsome and modern bar opposite comfy tables and booths, and a little High Street-facing dining area with fleur-de-lis-embellished indoor fencing.

Tack on an old railway station-type clock plus lots of brash paintings rife with wavy, curlicue and drippy forms, add antler-like tree limb reticula freely jutting forth, white tablecloths and eye-catching chandeliers, and you’ve got a flashy and funky joint like you might see somewhere in New Orleans. Call De-Novo’s vibe upscale-breezy/Midwest-Big-Easy.

Call De-Novo’s food — overseen by the former Short Story Brasserie’s chef — contemporary American bistro. In other words, expect Asian, Latin, French and Italian touches to dress up a Yankee-Doodle-pleasing menu. While you’ll likely experience inconsistencies, expect more hits than misses.

The Kobe Chorizo Burger ($11) was solidly on my hit list. Jammed into a toasted glossy pretzel bun, its juicy patty contained enough spicy sausage to enhance it with a peppery aspect but not so much as to mask its deeply beefy character. The sandwich appealingly arrived with arugula, sharp and salty Carr Valley Menage cheese, and was sided with stubby, crispy and terrific fries plus homemade smoky ketchup.

Those great fresh-cut fries also accompanied the unusual but good Cuban Pulled Pork sandwich ($8). Here, mounds of tender meat precariously balanced cumin with sweet and unlikely cinnamon-y notes.

Less successfully utilizing cinnamon were the Braised Beef Short Ribs ($9). In a drab brown presentation, a generous amount of pot-roasty meat was ladled with sweet brown gravy atop — and rather redundantly on this plate — pumpkin pie-like sweet potato gnocchi. Note: like the next few items, these ribs are happy-hour discounted to about a third off from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• Spicy Ahi Tuna Cups ($10) Tons of refreshing tuna tartare, avocado, spicy mayo and ruffly fried wonton cups added up to my favorite appetizer here.

• Chop Novo ($8) Capped with a haystack of “phyllo threads” and assembled with feta, kalamata olives and cucumbers, this winner read like a Greek salad, but its pleasantly assertive lemon and anchovy-kissed dressing made it taste more Caesary.

• Lobster White Prawn Martini ($11) Absent its advertised horseradish cream and cognac flavors, this tasted bland and was my biggest disappointment.

• Five Spice Shrimp Tempura ($10) Nice. Crackly battered, meaty, clean-tasting shrimp topped a warm orzo salad; all was awash in five-spice and soy saucy accents.

For dessert, the Chocolate “Souffle” — though cakey — had great dark chocolate flavors further awakened by a creme anglaise poured into it by one of De-Novo’s engaging waiters.