Powell's Novella Osteria is a Chef’s Love Letter to Pasta
At Powell's Novella Osteria, chef-owner Matthew Phelan celebrates pasta in all its classic interpretations.
In Italian, a novella means a short story. The translation had me wondering as I pulled into a busy Powell parking lot on a Saturday night: What kind of tale is Novella Osteria trying to tell?
The answer is apparent from one quick scan of the menu: This is a love story to pasta in all its classic interpretations. The author is chef-owner Matthew Phelan, whose infatuation with pasta grew during his time as chef de cuisine at the Roman restaurant Lupa in New York City. There’s a time and a place for French cuisine, he tells me (the chef also spent a year in the kitchen at notable French restaurant Daniel, also in NYC). But there’s something about the simplicity of Italian—just a few high-quality ingredients, cooked well, and you’ve got a dish to remember.
This point of view has served the Central Ohio native well at his rustic, if minimally designed, restaurant that opened in October 2020 to much fanfare. He made the Best New Restaurants list of this magazine just a few months later. And his restaurant has since earned a reputation in the city as one of the top spots to dine for fresh pasta (all except the spaghetti are made in-house).
Columbus Monthly’s Best New Restaurants:Novella Osteria
Notable Items on Novella Osteria's Menu
The menu casually flirts with Roman classics like spaghetti carbonara ($24) and linguine cacio e pepe ($19)—the latter a true testament to technique. It’s a dish, little more than butter, olive oil, cheese and lots of cracked pepper, that could lull one into a false sense of security, like a siren to the rapids. Phelan plugs his ears and stays the course with a bowl that’s silky and creamy with so much fresh pepper it bites back a little. The rigatoni ($27) is a classic, comforting bowl of meat and pasta. Short ribs are braised for upwards of two hours until practically evaporating into the sauce, reaching this luscious moment of Zen with tomatoes and red wine. When a friendly server asks if you want fresh, salty Pecorino served tableside, say yes.
The left side of the pasta menu, where these dishes appear, are staples of Novella and will always perform. On the right side are ever-changing seasonal variations. The few dishes tried over three visits left me wanting. The chitarra and shrimp ($28) was so close to being a star with its gently spicy sausage. But it lacked the promised freshness that comes with a pesto dish. Especially one that I’m told is made with a menagerie of herbs, arugula, almonds and charred spring onions. Ravioli ($23) filled with peas and ricotta had the opposite problem. As verdant as a spring garden, it tasted fresh, but lacked depth and was all-around bland, needing a good sprinkle of salt or shave of lemon.
Here’s the good news: These moments are more of a fluke than a fad at Novella. Loaded with ricotta, the veal meatballs ($15), a starter, are so cloudlike they practically float above the plate. Swipe any remaining pomodoro-enriched red sauce with the plush, house-made focaccia that comes gratis with every meal. The crostini ($12) is worth an order in whatever seasonal form it takes. During my visit, the rustic house bread that’s somehow crispy and soft all at once was generously spread with a lemony and garlicky fava bean purée and topped with perfectly salty smoked ricotta. The octopus salad ($15) is a showstopper. Buttery grilled octopus is sliced thin and served with arugula, grapefruit and an earthy herb oil. Now, cue the record scratch, because using a traditional Spanish-style almond soup (ajo blanco) as a sauce is a stroke of brilliance.
Pastas, from the fixed menu to nightly rotating specials, are certainly the draw at Novella. If you must stray to the four-dish secondi section of the menu, the market fish (MP) is the order. The fresh catch, halibut on my visit, is seared until crispy around the edges and buttery soft in the middle. It’s served on a hearty bed of farro that bursts with brightness from sugar snap peas and a puckery charred-lemon vinaigrette. Dollops of chilled artichoke purée are like little buried treasures of richness.
End the meal with a beautiful, puddinglike panna cotta ($7) that’s ethereal thanks to a soft lavender undertone and earthy honey plus a saffron bite and fresh berries.
As for what’s in store for the next chapter of Novella, Phelan says to be on the lookout for a weekly four- to five-course pasta tasting menu due to launch this month.
170 W. Olentangy St., Powell, 614-389-6698
Hours: 5–9 p.m. Tue.–Thu., 4–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., closed Sun.–Mon.
Not to Miss: Any pasta dish from the left side of the menu, the restaurant’s staples that always perform well. The seasonal crostini and octopus salad are the cherry on top of the meal.
This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.