With all its culinary acclaim, Caffe NV could get away with charging a little extra for dinner. Many of its prices hover around $20 per plate, and a few test the limits. The moussaka, one of the restaurant's signature Greek dishes, will run you $20.95— reason enough to pause. Count, however, the layers upon layers of eggplant, meat sauce, roasted potatoes, and custard-thick Bechamel sauce, and you will find it is worth every penny.
Refreshingly, Caffe NV also offers plenty of choices for casual, budget-conscious food lovers. When I last visited the Waterford landmark, I found that two people can positively stuff themselves for $30 there, especially if they do take-out. And we're not just talking about salads, although that page of the menu alone offers 13 worthy entries (seared scallop salad, Cobb salad, warm baby spinach salad, and so on). Rather, it's because the kitchen at Caffe NV is smart enough to serve at any time of the day generous dishes that other restaurants might relegate to the lunch menu.
Consider our recent dinner, which proved superbly hearty on a chilly fall evening. For $9.50 I filled up with the Con Polpettine di Agnello, which is their fancy Italian name for a lamb meatball sandwich, and the best meatball sandwich I've had in a long time. In fact, I would have paid $5 just to smell these meatballs.
The aroma and flavor were full of subtle spices, a bit of garlic perhaps, with a warm, mildly gamey finish. Bready and almost crunchy on the outside, the texture of the meatballs fit well with the gorgeously toasted French baguette in which they were crammed. A minted tomato sauce—I didn't really notice any mint—and melted provolone cheese completed this winning combination.
A side of pasta salad featured bow ties with crunchy, partially cooked broccoli and carrot slivers, chick peas, and stewed red peppers, all lightly dressed.
For $10.95 we enjoyed another of Caffe NV's Greek specialties—souvlaki. We chose pork over chicken. Cubes of intensely marinated, tender, juicy pork made music inside a thick, dense pita wrap with thinly sliced onion and tomatoes and a heavy tzatziki sauce. Please pardon my blasphemy, but I would like to try souvlaki someday with simple mayonnaise, or something more plain anyway, than the garlicky cucumber yogurt sauce. The meat is plenty flavorful by itself and needs no help.
The souvlaki came with a so-called "small" Greek salad that in fact filled an entire plate. Heaps of mixed greens mingled with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, just a few slices of red onion, savory Kalamata olives, feta, and a lone pepperoncini.
At just over $20 so far, we had money left for soup, which might have sufficed as a modest lunch the next day had I behaved less gluttonously. The French onion soup ($4.95), always a favorite of mine, proved irresistible. The onions were chopped more coarsely and cooked a little less tenderly—rather "al dente," in fact—and the flavor seemed more peppery than what I am used to. This made the soup all the more interesting. Melted atop a thick hunk of bread, Swiss cheese dominated the nose.
A cup of the soup of the day—split pea and ham ($3)—rounded out the meal. Thick and viscous, with chunks of meat and tiny bits of carrot, this is a soup worthy of being served warm rather than piping hot so that you can chew it like the meal that it is.
When the feast was over, we'd eaten enough for three or four people really, and spent only $30.10 after tax. That's 10 cents over-budget, but I didn't mind.
57 Boston Post Road, Waterford, CT 06385
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Sundays.