Restaurant Review: Nuage

Mystery of the East
Exotic fusion dishes beguile but the inconsistencies baffle.

The strip mall location is deceptive; from the outside, Nuage could be, as one friend remarked, “a suburban New-Age spa.” Once inside, the parking lot and busy street are miles away, thanks to clever design and the warmth of terra cotta-colored walls, wood, and gentle amber lighting. Patrons in smartly casual dress sit at fairly close-together tables. Despite the proximity, though, on one busy night we strained to be heard; on another evening, the sound level was just fine. The difference in noise was as baffling as the inconsistencies in the food.

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Lightly fried scallops were a disaster the first time we had them and a delight the next. On the first visit, the scallops tasted heavily of iodine, a sign that they had been stored improperly or too long. Yet, on a second visit, the scallops were sweet, moist, and tender. As with every dish at Nuage, the presentation was appealing: the scallops were cut horizontally into thin disks, which were dusted with spicy seasoning and served over crisp, undressed haricots verts.

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The restaurant bills itself as French/Pan-Asian fusion, and elements of both were evident in the concept of “kobe beef tartare,” in which a quail egg stood in for the traditional chicken egg, and teriyaki-like flavorings—with an abundance of soy sauce and flourishes of sesame oil—replaced the classic seasonings of Worcestershire, Dijon, and onion. The beef, which was described as “seared” on the menu, showed no signs of having been near heat (which was fine), and was laced with chewy sinew (which was not fine). We left most of the $28 appetizer on the plate.

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Not one morsel of another expensive appetizer, the $27 Maine lobster salad, went to waste. The plate was a whimsical still life: the lobster sat reassembled to mimic its original shape on a little pond of creamy, tobiko-laced spicy mayonnaise (a sauce that appeared in several dishes), making its way toward the little green salad at the other end. We also had an entrée of fresh Maine lobster which was more French than fusion: the sweet, tender lobster was served, out of its shell, with a classic Champagne beurre blanc sauce.

 

Jumbo prawns were also served with a rich, creamy, and seductively well-executed classic sauce—this time a scampi-like cream sauce redolent with garlic. This is the kind of sauce you mop up with bread (or, if no one is looking, swipe onto your finger) and think about wistfully the next morning.

 

The kitchen must be aware they’re doing something very right here, because the exact same sauce appeared on a special one night, where it was served with beautifully seared, moist, and tender jumbo scallops, though we were surprised a restaurant positioning itself at this level would feature a sauce that already appears on its menu as a special.

 

Black cod is served, Nobu-style, broiled with miso sauce. The generous piece of “black cod” (an oft-used marketing term for sablefish) was delightfully rich, as it should be, and the miso was applied with a skillful hand and an understanding of balance. The only sauce we tried that missed the mark was described on the menu, inaccurately, as a glaze—a balsamic tamarind glaze. In fact, seared tuna was laden with spoonfuls of an overpowering tart-sweet sauce. We scraped it aside in order to taste the tuna, but it was a losing battle.

 

Sauces elsewhere were far more intelligently balanced—and pleasurable to eat. A duck-breast special was truly special: the red-wine fig sauce had a sweet, earthy depth and a hint of exotic mystery; the kind of flavor you just want to roll around in your mouth awhile before swallowing.

While meats take a back seat to seafood here, both the duck and the filet mignon were tender and juicy. Few of the entrées are served with starch or vegetables, which, on the bright side, means you’ll have plenty of room left for dessert. A lovely warm chocolate cake with a molten middle was not overly sweet, nor were the French mousse Key lime cake and lemon tart, both of which were unusually thick, a fact that garnered mixed reactions at our table. One dessert missed the mark: a tortilla-wrapped cheesecake. The fried cinnamon sugar-crusted tortilla wrapper was the best part; but frying undid the cheesecake, rendering it both mealy and pasty.

This is clearly a restaurant of hits and misses. Even the same dish on different nights can both charm and offend.

 

NUAGE

203 E. Putnam Ave.

, Cos Cob, CT

(203) 869-2339

 

HOURS:

Lunch, Mon. to Fri.

Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. , Fri. and Sat. , Sun. . 

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $13-$28

Entrees: $22-$35

Desserts: $8-$10

 

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