At Nova, 'farm-to-table' isn’t just a marketing ploy

Super Nova

Grouper with chickpea salad, artichokes 
and heirloom tomatoes at Nova.
Grouper with chickpea salad, artichokes and heirloom tomatoes at Nova. Photo by Rob Bartlett
NOVA 1409 N. Orange Ave. | 407-745-4080 | | $$$

Nova, the Ivanhoe Village boîte touting its "scratch kitchen" and "farm-to-table" cuisine, has left itself open to scrutiny by listing a spate of local farms and purveyors on their website and, unashamedly, as art on the patio wall. If you are even a casual reader of restaurant-related news, you know that the much-ballyhooed "farm-to-table" appellation has gotten a lot of media play of late, with many restaurants found to be claiming indie farms but serving Sysco or the like.

So, without further ado, let's get the formalities out of the way. Aside from Suwanee Farms, from whom Nova no longer buys yet still lists online (as of press time), all the names – Local Roots, Lake Meadow Naturals, Lombardi's Seafood, to list just a few – check out. In fact, chef Val Domingo sources from quite a few other farmers and small purveyors not listed on the website, like Sugar Top Farms (assorted tomatoes), Jackman Ranch (Florida wagyu) and McGregor's Greens (microgreens), so good on you, chef! Henry Melendy, founder of My Yard Farm and provider of various vegetables to Nova, applauds the chef's passion for sourcing local, saying, "Domingo walks the walk." So the question is: How well do all these local products come together?

Luckily for us, Domingo is as skilled at cooking ingredients as he is at sourcing them. A refreshing heirloom tomato salad ($10) – tomatoes from Waterkist Farms – is accentuated with blueberries, feta and two quenelles of peach-basil sorbet before being finished with a watermelon gastrique. The only complaint: not enough of it. If you're looking to sink your teeth into something more substantial, panang curry-braised short rib tacos ($14) with pickled cabbage slaw will certainly do the trick, and at $14 for three tacos, they had bloody well better.

The price point, you'll quickly notice, gives no consideration to the frugal diner. We paid $21 for a piece of fried chicken. That's, like, three three-piece dinners at Popeyes! That said, it was a hefty breast (with wing) marinated in sriracha and buttermilk; also, it was superbly fried in duck fat and came with sides of braised collards and smoky gouda mac and cheese, but still. The fillet of grouper ($26), while modest in size, couldn't have been more perfectly seared, but even better was the chickpea salad on which it laid – the flavors of the ceci and the sautéed artichokes in lemon-caper sauce had me thinking back on some singular meals enjoyed in Italy. (Sadly, though, the fried chicken, mac and cheese, and fish all suffered from underseasoning. More salt, please.)

By the way, if the weather is even remotely tolerable, try to grab a table on the patio. It can get a little loud under the canopy, but after an extensive renovation, it's one of the better outdoor spaces in Ivanhoe Village. So, while the inviting bar area is cozy, the patio is where we've enjoyed dessert and drinks on more than a few occasions – desserts like the double chocolate cake ($6) snagged from the Cake Factory on I-Drive (where it can be had for $3.95 ... just sayin'). The cranberry-orange pound cake ($7), another hefty capper, comes with strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier and served with homemade whipped cream. We couldn't help but note how disproportionately large and filling the desserts were in comparison to everything else we had sampled.

OK, so portions may not be consistent, but at least chef Domingo's passion and determination appears unwavering, and that says a lot. In the current guilty-until-proven-innocent climate restaurants find themselves, it's a welcome sight to see a chef take a stand, then deliver.


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