Published May 24. 2012 4:00AM
It doesn't take a ton to charm the likes of me when I go out for a meal.
If the restaurant lies secreted away in a lovely old house, well, short of burned food and a drink spilled in my lap, I'm going to be a happy girl from the outset. Ambiance is its own secret ingredient in my book.
Of course, Nunu's Bistro needn't worry about its Italian-inspired cuisine, which is as well-crafted and nuanced as its charming location in an old Victorian. This BYOB establishment has the feel of a meal at your old-country grandma's house. (If you don't/didn't have an old-country grandma, this means huge portions of whole foods transmuted to filling, flavorful fare.) Dishes are what I like to call rustic-chic, featuring seasonal and other "it" foods, prepared simply in an effort to let each ingredient shine.
For instance, our appetizer, a prosciutto plate on the evening's specials list, arrived with sizeable wedges of Comte cheese (a new favorite for me) and surprisingly flavorful tomatoes. The cheese is a nice mellow variety, which picked up the salty flavor of the very fine slices of prosciutto.
The polenta appetizer was just as tasty and simple. When I make polenta, it's not unlike babyfood with some cheese on top. At Nunu's, you get a nice big square of the stuff, topped with heavenly tomato "sauce" (more stew-y and tangy than red paste), sauteed mushrooms and sweet Italian sausage - and the sausage lends its spicy magic to the polenta, rendering it a robust dish. We ate every bit of it.
Now, you might think it simple for a restaurant to offer your basic spaghetti with marinara sauce (meatball or sausage available). "I can make that at home," you might say. I assure you, you can't, unless you can time your pasta to al dente perfection, your plum tomatoes sing with natural flavor augmented by just the right spices, and you make a meatball that's tender and lets the garlic within do its job.
Being the contrary sort of gal I am, I had to try one of the evening's other specials: pierogis with kielbasa. As a New Britainer, I won't suffer amateur versions of this Eastern European dish (see also: had an old-world grandma), and I was thrilled and relieved to discover that Nunu's staff knows its way around a 'rog. That evening, the six or seven pierogis on the platter were filled with potato and served with butter and onions. The dough-y outer layer was just the right texture, and the innards offered that pleasant pop of mellow flavor many of us have come to love. The huge hunks of tasty kielbasa that came with the pierogis could've fed two people.
Thanks to longish lags between waitress visits, we were able to digest long enough to make room for a shared dessert - and thank goodness for long lags. We selected one of four or so options that night, the lemon cream cake, and I have yet to stop wishing I'd taken another slice home. One of my companions is not a cake person, but even she enjoyed this delicious confection. The crumbly cake is light and nobbly on top, and the lemon cream is the perfect conjuring of sweetness and tartness. It tasted quite homemade and somehow went well with the remnants of our red wine.
And then, we ambled out and took in the ever-so-cute Colchester green en route to the rest of our evening. Not a bad finish, at all.