Walking into an empty restaurant is rarely a good thing, but it's worse when you beat even the bartender to work. That was the case one night at Nova Bar & Grill in the Warehouse District, where we were compelled to wait until his arrival to enjoy a round of cocktails. It isn't that Nova doesn't get busy; it's that most guests arrive too late to eat.
Located on West Sixth Street, Nova falls into that ambiguous category of club masquerading as restaurant. Like others before it — think Sinergy — Nova's main objective isn't always clear. Thanks to thumping house music, mod lighting, and mostly bar and high-top seating, the joint feels like a lounge. But pick up the menu, and you'll spot Argentinean-themed classics like empañadas and grilled meats.
"A lot of people are confused about if we are a club or a restaurant," explains Fernando Genzelis, Nova's GM. "We try to be a restaurant, but the focus is more the bar because of the neighborhood. And we are set up like a lounge with high tables."
The good news is that for a lounge, Nova doesn't make a bad restaurant. If it's a tad loud and a smidge uncomfortable, the club does strive for excellent service. The well-dressed and well-meaning staffers may not know the answer to every question, but they will gladly track it down for you. And when that cocktail finally did arrive, five minutes after the bartender, it was offered at half price.
We kicked off one meal with those empañadas — and we were glad we did. Sold by the trio, the golden brown pastries are filled with either beef, chicken, or spinach. A family recipe, the beef filling is ground and mixed with enough spice to give it a pleasant but not overpowering kick. Milder but by no means boring, the spinach version relies on herbs and chopped olives for a flavor boost. Both are served with a chimichurri-infused aioli.
Spicy paprika-tinged chorizo added some South American flair to a bowl of wonderful steamed mussels. The large Prince Edward Island bivalves arrived with fresh-from-the-oven bread to drag through the garlic-and-herb-scented wine sauce.
Nova offers a typical parrillada mixta — mixed grill — of assorted meats on a single platter. The $29 price tag nets diners a gaucho-sized feast of grilled skirt steak, flanken-cut short ribs, chicken breast, and two types of sausage. All of the meat was flavorful and expertly grilled, including the chicken breast. The only letdown was the accompanying chimichurri sauce, which was more oily than herby.
If you want grilled meat without having to buy the whole cow, Nova also offers a grilled skirt steak dish with fries for $16.
There's more to Argentinean food than grilled beef, and Nova rounds up a few other classics as well. Milanese-style dishes — pounded, breaded, and fried — come in chicken, beef, or eggplant variety. The chicken Milanese includes two large, tender, crispy-coated chicken breasts served with run-of-the-mill (and not fully hot) mashed potatoes. Two mild and buttery filets of sautéed Florida snapper arrive with a simple sauté of fresh veggies and another mound of lukewarm mashers.
There are also a half-dozen pizzas on the menu — items that are just as popular in Argentina as they are here in the States. While fine to nibble on with a beer, the floppy-crusted pies won't likely thrill gourmet pizza fans. We passed on the salami and ham variety in favor of one topped with hard-boiled egg slices, tomato, and olives.
Despite the full-bar setting, the wine list is limited to a few inexpensive (and not altogether tasty) Malbecs and a so-so beer list. You might want to skip both and dive right into the cocktails. When folks finally do show up to the party, that's what most are drinking anyway.
Genzelis notes that when guests order food, they invariably love it. He hopes as time goes by, more and more people will come in for that reason. But until then, he and his team are more than happy to quench the thirsts of the party-hearty club set.