Dinner from last weekend is fresh on my mind, so here goes! We like to have excuses to try pricier restaurants and my birthday's as good a reason as any. Matt and I went to Nostrano on Saturday night, a brand new restaurant on the Capital Square. I would call it loosely Italian, with several pasta dishes and house-made Italian-style meats. The atmosphere is great in there, with old architectural pieces and pretty bottles giving the place a modern yet comfortable feel.
charcuterie plate: (clockwise from top) grilled focaccia, salsiccia, caponata, piparras, turkey liver mousse, pate campagnola, salame nostrano, fingerling potato salad
We had read that their charcuterie plate was excellent, and unsure as we were about liver-based snacks, we gave it a try. I knew I would like the salsiccia, pickled peppers, and smoked shallots. What surprised me was how much I liked the pate with smoked pork (bottom left) and turkey liver mousse (bottom right, my favorite!). If you are a connoisseur of fine meat platters, please don't read my amateurish exposition too carefully. But if you are a newcomer to charcuterie (like I was) and iffy on the merits of chopped and formed liver (as was I), let me assure you that both the pate and mousse were delicious. The mousse we've decided must be something like a turkey liverwurst and tastes like a soft, smooth, smoky summer sausage. The pate is harder to compare, but both items were pleasantly meaty and fatty. I am very glad we tried everything.
Our entrees were just as good as the starter. Matt had the chicken thighs, which had some of the best-cooked chicken skin I've ever tasted, on top of juicy and moist meat. The boudin blanc was a vaguely anise-flavored house-made chicken sausage with a very fine texture. To my husband's relief, the fennel puree did not taste like fennel. This is a benefit to the licorice-flavor-averse, but would disappoint those looking for the fennel flavor as advertised. The lightly-dressed arugula salad made for a well-balanced plate.
braised beef short ribs with gnocchi, cipollini, ceylon cinnamon, swiss chard, and microgreens
I think balance is one of Nostrano's strengths. A bite of tender short rib, pillowy gnocchi, and smoked cipollini was heavenly. Then the swiss chard with what tasted like a bit of citrus offered a nice break from the heaviness of the meat and potatoes. Again, one of the flavors advertised was not pronounced--the cinnamon. I'm not sure whether it is to the chef's credit that the cinnamon was not overpowering or whether I should have expected more of a punch of flavor. In any case, the dish was very satisfying (sorry the picture is fuzzy--it was pretty dark in there).
finanziera: brown butter cake, roasted pears, hickory nuts, maple gelato, pomegranate sauce
Dessert was interesting. My dessert, the finanziera, was ultimately what drew us into Nostrano, and it did not disappoint. It's hard to go wrong for me with maple, pears, and butter. Matt, however, did not find any dessert that really suited his preferences. He went for the crema, which was more of an "interesting experience" than a lick-your-plate bonanza like mine was. Matt's verdict was "not bad" but not something he'd order again.
crema: milk chocolate cream, pumpkin sponge, olive oil gelato, px sherry, roasted pumpkin and cranberries
Matt and I agreed that for a restaurant in the first few months of its life, Nostrano is on the right track. We've recently tried two other new restaurants on the square, Graze and Cooper's Tavern, and Nostrano is my favorite (though comparing them is really comparing apples and oranges--more about Graze later). If they lent difficult winter ingredients such appeal, I will be happy to return to Nostrano to see what they do with bright, fresh summer ingredients. Anniversary dinner, here we come!