With its sixth installment of the very popular Chef’s Best dinner series at Nuovo Restaurant, Mass Foodies celebrated a night of Albanian traditions and cultural enrichment. Defined as “The Gjonca Experience,” guests arrived for an evening of culinary fun as Executive Chef Alex Gjonca created a unique and flavorful dining experience for his guests.
Nuovo Restaurant, known for its diverse menu, upholds its name with a modern twist on classic Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Combining flavors and textures that are the fundamental building blocks of growing up Albanian, Chef Gjonca’s dishes tell a story of its people and their culinary influence. “Albanian food relies heavily on olive oil and flour. It is influenced by Greece, Italy and Turkey,” said Chef Gjonca. “We incorporate a little bit of everything from the surrounding countries and it’s hard to not enjoy every bit of it.”
With a curiosity to indulge into the culinary cuisine of Chef Gjonca and his Albanian heritage, expectations were high…and Nuovo delivered with a night of traditions and elegance. From the beginning of The Gjonca Experience, there was immediate introduction to the powerful flavors behind the Mediterranean influences. Fried cubanelle peppers stuffed with feta cheese and garlic, spinach and leek cheese pies, and Kernacka (Albanian meatballs) lined the appetizer table as Chef Gjonca teased his guests for what was to come with the main courses.
Starting with the Pasha Qofte Soup – a mini rice and meatball soup in a chicken, egg yolk and yogurt broth – was a delicate introduction to the palette and a smooth transitioning dish to the Chobani Salad – a fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, black olives, fresh garlic, olive oil, vinegar and feta cheese. Served in large bowls to be shared around the table, the Chobani Salad emphasized what Chef Gjonca said was essential to dining at Nuovo – the feeling of being part of the family. Staying true to its authenticity, the Pasha Qofte Soup and Chobani Salad were only but a sneak peek into the inspiration for the three main courses.
The Imam Bajalldi – a stuffed eggplant with caramelized onions, garlic, fresh parsley and fresh tomatoes – stood on its own as a flavorful first dish. Bursting with the warm sun kissed flavors of the tomatoes and the freshness of the parsley, the Imam Bajalldi appealed to all the senses with the wine pairing of an Albariño. Shifting his focus from vegetables to fish, Chef Gjonca’s second dish surpassed the first in flavors. The Oven Roasted Leverk – a branzino in brodetto, garlic, black pepper, parsley and vinegar sauce – paired with a glass of Masi Tupungato Pass Doble Malbec – was a dish that spoke to the Albanian heritage with its hearty sauce and strong garlic flavors. Soaking the fresh bread in the fish stew surrounding the branzino was highly encouraged by Chef Gjonca and his guests eagerly obliged.
Chef Gjonca truly “saved his best dish for last” with his Lamb Cutlet served with baked orzo. This dish comprised of two lamb cutlets over a bed of orzo truly were the center of attention as guests became utterly quiet to fully experience the flavors behind the famous Mediterranean meat and spices. Ultimately, it was the incredibly sweet sponge cake served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sweet fruit drizzle that ended the night. Small, in size, the cake was the perfect portion to satisfy the sweet craving after a long journey through the Albanian culinary expertise of Chef Gjonca.