de-NOVO is one of several higher end restaurants that opened in Downtown Columbus within the past year, along side Milestone 229 and Sidebar 122. What de-NOVO lacks in a numeric name, it makes up for with pizzazz. The front entrance of de-NOVO is deceptively narrow and completely enshrouded in a rain forest collection of greenery, appearing like an urban oasis in a desert of concrete. Once inside, you’re treated to a mile-long restaurant that stretches all the way to the back of the building, filled to the brim with artwork, statues, floral arrangements, chandeliers, curtains and more. It’s loud and busy but polished and chic in a way that few other restaurants in Columbus manage to pull off.
de-NOVO is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and serves everything from a $7 pancake platter to a $72 wagyu strip steak. In order to keep this review from being all over the map, I decided to focus my first visit on de-NOVO’s collection of unique small plates that grace their main menu. And by unique, I really do mean unique.
First things first. You can’t look at the de-NOVO menu without immediately eyeballing the Candied Pecan Crusted Kangaroo ($14). I’ve never tasted kangaroo meat, and was a little torn on the idea at first, but figured that anything is worth trying at least once. What I expected was a tougher gamey meat similar to venison, and the slight purple hue further led me to believe that’s what I was going to taste. I was surprised to find this well prepared meat to be very juicy and tender, and not unlike a sirloin steak. The dish is sauced with a lavender jus which only provided very mild floral notes. The candied pecans are also applied sparingly, which give a small amount of crunch while letting the meat shine on the plate. The portion is not large for $14, but for anyone with a curious palate, this is a dish that I would recommend trying out for yourself at least once.
The Gator Bites ($15) are buttermilk marinated nuggets, fried and served with a garlic dip and lemon wedges. Some people claim that alligator tastes similar to chicken when prepared certain ways, and that certainly rings true with this dish at de-NOVO. The small size of the nuggets combined with the thick breading gave this dish both the appearance and flavor of a traditional salty “popcorn chicken” recipe. Alligator is a very healthy meat, and this type of flash fry treatment keeps the dish nice and light. A great summer snack to share with a friend who’s not afraid of a little culinary adventure.
The Tomato Tartar ($15) is the only cold small plate that I tasted at de-NOVO. This plate includes a cylinder of oven-dried tomato tartar topped with a yellow-tomato yolk and served with grilled cheese “toast” points and a small organized collection of accompaniments that includes a tomato powder, minced onion, chives, capers and a stone ground mustard. While the deconstruction of the dish looks abstract and obtuse, I really enjoyed the DIY adventure that came from combining different flavors. By itself, the tomato tartar had an overpowering tomato paste flavor, but with a small amount of toasted cheese, yellow tomato puree (the clever yolk) and a dash of spice, it transforms into a delicious single-serving Hors d’oeuvre on the end of your fork. The tomato is a versatile ingredient, so it only makes sense that providing what amounts to an artist’s palate arrangement to “play with” can be a lot of fun while still being packed full of flavor.
The Jerk Foie Gras ($14) is served with a jamaican jerk spice and a sweet and spicy orange glaze. Foie Gras has never been a favorite dish of mine, but the interesting choice of seasoning stood out to me and I thought it was worthy of a revisit. The jerk seasoning contained zero heat and the orange glaze seemed to caramelize along the seared edge of the foie gras in a way that I didn’t find too appealing. The foie gras itself was stringy with several veins that ruined what should have been a smooth texture. I don’t know if there was a quality issue with the foie gras itself, or if the jerk preparation technique just failed to to this dish justice, but I can’t recommend this one as I would the others during this visit.
If there’s one thing that de-NOVO has in spades, it’s ambition. This restaurant wants to be your brunch spot, your after work hangout, your small plate wine bar, your mid-day lunch break and more. The expansive menus are filled with a robust selection of great food, but that also means that there are bound to be a few misses along with the hits. I was impressed with three of the four small plates I tasted and certainly will be back soon to try more.
de-NOVO is located at 201 South High Street in Downtown Columbus. They’re open Monday through Thursday from 9am to 10pm, Friday from 9am to 1am, Saturday 9am to 1am and Sunday 9am to 9pm.
More information can be found online at www.denovobistro.com.
Photos by Jennifer René of Jennifer René Photography.