Chef Mark Bodenstein left the original NuVo in Newport, Ky., back in 2009 — right before the restaurant closed — but it never really left him. Although he went on to work in other local restaurants for a while, including Chalk Food + Wine and Nicholson’s Pub and Tavern, NuVo was always in the back of his mind. Flash forward four years to Covington, Ky., (and the former Greenup Café space) and Bodenstein’s NuVo is finally getting its second chance at bat.
“We had quickly gained a lot of accolades — we were the best new restaurant the year we opened. We got raving reviews from all of the newspapers and then just out of the blue we closed,” Bodenstein says. “Actually, I left and then they closed. The owners wanted to go in one direction and I wanted to go in another. And when you have a restaurant like that it just doesn’t work.”
“It was a restaurant that a lot of people miss,” he continues. “And I’ve been working in a lot of other restaurants over the last three years. Everyone said, ‘Oh, we miss NuVo so much,’ so we decided to resurrect it, if you will, and do the ideas that I originally wanted to do.”
Getting the opportunity to run the restaurant his way is essential to Bodenstein. The NuVo kitchen was always known for its inventive cuisine, pushing the boundaries of flavor and pairing things together that diners wouldn’t always expect, and that’s an area that will remain unchanged from the original concept. However, what will change is major.
As you sit down at the table, greeted by only a stark white tablecloth, don’t expect to be handed a menu and grapple with choices of what and how much to eat. The reincarnated NuVo is bringing a completely new dining concept to the Tristate. Each dinner will consist of six courses, chosen entirely by the chef. This set menu will change each week based on seasonality, with the exception of certain amuse-bouches, chocolates and marshmallows. Not to worry if you suffer from dietary restrictions or allergies, NuVo can accommodate you, but otherwise, prepare to be completely surprised.
Product sourcing is of extreme importance to Bodenstein. Like most chefs, the word “local” is bandied about, but for him, it takes on a much broader meaning. “I always look local, but to me local isn’t just a 50-mile radius. For me, it encompasses the whole U.S. So I’ll continue to buy things from small suppliers across the U.S. An example is The Chef’s Garden, farmer Lee Jones in Oregon. We flew in mushrooms from him. You can’t get primo chanterelles and matsutakes from here.”
“I’m mostly concerned with quality,” he adds. “Quality, quality, quality. I’m not worried about price and money. I think when you get in kitchens where you overly worry about the bottom line, you start to step back on quality and flavor because you’re so concerned about price.”
And diners shouldn’t worry about price either; this lengthy and extravagantly sourced menu won’t set you back an arm and a leg. In order to keep the menu at a friendly $45, Bodenstein will focus on portion control and using vegetables as opposed to protein as the focus of most the dishes.
“Our focus is always on vegetables,” Bodenstein says. “It’s very rare that we’ll serve three meat courses. They (vegetables) provide us better flavor, better texture. Meat is very one-dimensional. You kinda smoke it, you kinda sear it. Whatever. Fish tastes like fish, meat tastes like meat. Beef tastes like beef. Salmon tastes like salmon. But with vegetables we can get multi-dimensions. There’s 50 types of carrots, 100 types of tomatoes and they all have different flavors. There’s only one type of beef. It’s beef. I don’t care if we use Wagyu; you tell me it’s grass-raised, it’s beef. It’s myoglobin, it’s muscle fibers, it’s fat content and what you feed it that slightly changes the flavor, but not as in vegetables. For us, it’s vegetables first and then we fill proteins in if we feel that the dish needs one.”
Bodenstein is looking forward to the freedom of being allowed to create and cook his set menus at such an affordable cost, and he feels the pricing structure is set to open the door for anyone to sit down and experience something new.
“I cook for everyone and anyone. I don’t think good food should be limited to a class of people. I have one goal, and that’s to make people happy. Period.”
NuVo at Greeup
Go: 308 Greenup St., Covington, Ky.
Hours: 6-11 p.m. Thursday-Monday