Nuovo Bistro has taken up shop in Dovetail Deli's old quarters on Edmonton's 124th Street. Indeed, the sudden departure of Dovetail this spring left an aching void in the city's collective stomach. It is prime real estate on a street peppered with creative eateries, but Nuovo is disconcertingly empty for a weeknight visit.
Although the rectangular room boasts ample windows, a cityscape mural and an open kitchen, the music (is it Norah Jones?) is so quiet that the thundering ventilation system dominates and distracts.
Nuovo's menu is like its physical space: functional but treading in very safe territory. A series of appetizers, salads, mains and pastas leave little room for imagination, but fortunately it is Wednesday, and bottles of wine are 25 per cent off. An ice-cold bottle of Santa Cristina Casasole Orvieto ($22.50) promptly appears.
Once orders are placed, two chefs materialize like apparitions in the kitchen, and the subsequent sizzles inject some life into the room. A trio of arancini ($12.95) appears shortly thereafter, crackling with heat. These deep-fried rice and fontina cheese spheres are the size of tennis balls, like one might find in Italy, and are pleasingly gooey beneath their crisp exteriors.
Insalata autunno ($12.95) has one ingredient too many: Mixed greens, apple chips, tomatoes and gorgonzola are all quite amenable to a light balsamic vinaigrette, but the addition of chicken slices changes everything, and the result would be more suited to a pub's lunch menu. Insalata di barbabietoli ($11.95) presents alternating slices of red and golden beets drizzled with a creamy rosemary-infused goat cheese and topped with walnuts. The flavour profile is far more coherent than its predecessor.
Pasta options are prosaic. Penne fra diavolo ($17.95) appears monochromatic, but tastes spicier than it looks. Ample chicken and a few crayfish tails bump up the protein content, but the entire dish feels as though it could be replicated at any generic pasta joint. Strozzaretti polpo ($15.95) finds twisty noodles tossed with braised octopus and a rather generic tomato sauce. The octopus is nicely cooked, though, and a scattering of crispy bread crumbs adds texture.
Salmone ($27.95), like much of the evening's offerings, is pedestrian. Here, a chunk of salmon – the species isn't specified – perches on a few asparagus spears and a "risotto pancake" which, for all intents and purposes, is a laterally compressed arancini. It's inoffensive but characterless.
Dessert brings a small but sweet redemption. Dark chocolate terrine ($9.95) is dense, rich and packs a serious chocolate wallop, while droplets of fragrant tangerine cream impart acidity. Rosebud crème brûlée ($8.95) is an agreeable (and large) brûlée with a fragile, burnt-sugar crust.
This part of town needs a good Italian restaurant to balance out the cocktail bars, bakeries and nouveau-Canadian establishments that already exist. To compete and thrive, though, Nuovo Bistro must significantly step up its game.