Restaurant News & Reviews

Novo restaurant’s chef on cooking with fresh kale

The popular lo mein stirfry at Novo Restaurant and Lounge in San Luis Obispo features sauteed kale, fresh wheat noodles, vegetables, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil.
The popular lo mein stirfry at Novo Restaurant and Lounge in San Luis Obispo features sauteed kale, fresh wheat noodles, vegetables, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Since its doors opened in downtown San Luis Obispo in 2003, Novo Restaurant and Lounge has promoted local, seasonal and organic farm-to-table cuisine.

That commitment began three decades ago when owners Robin and Shanny Covey opened Novo’s sister restaurant, Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria, and became passionate supporters of farmers markets and local food purveyors. (They also own Luna Red restaurant in San Luis Obispo.)

Novo’s executive chef, Ben Richardson, helped develop the restaurant’s seasonally driven menus and recipes; he remained at Novo through its first five years.

A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Richardson returned to the restaurant in 2013. He and his team eagerly celebrate farm-fresh ingredients in Novo’s cuisine.

What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menus, and why is it your favorite?

During the winter months I like using greens in my cooking, such as kale, Swiss chard and mustard. Using these ingredients in a raw or cooked form adds unique flavors and textures to our menu items at Novo.

How are you currently using greens?

Currently, we are using raw Tuscan or black kale in our Caesar salad, and sautéed kale in our lo mein stir fry (made with fresh wheat noodles, market vegetables, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil). And, as with much of Novo’s menu, the dish can be made gluten-free and/or vegan upon request.

How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

I’m a fan of Asian food in general. There is such a huge variety of flavors, textures and ingredients that the culinary options seem endless. Our lo mein stir-fry is a popular dish here at Novo. It boasts lots of colors and textures from all of the local market ingredients we incorporate. I think this dish represents Novo comfort food for our guests.

How would home cooks approach kale in their own kitchens?

The versatility and health benefits of Tuscan kale make it a fantastic ingredient to work with at home. You can remove the stem and add it to salads, or sauté it on its own as a side dish, or simmer it in soups. It also makes a great healthy snack when you dry it in an oven or food dehydrator.

What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?

At home, my family loves curries. One of my favorites is a North Indian lamb curry. This particular curry has a complex flavor profile from all of the toasted spices. I like to serve it with lots of different topping options like fresh herbs, chilies, yogurt and flatbreads so everyone can customize their own meal. To serve with it, I like Bang the Drum’s King Maté, an English-style IPA (India pale ale) infused with yerba maté. It has really nice tropical fruit and spice notes that pair up well with the curry. (Bang the Drum Brewery is located at 950 Orcutt Road in San Luis Obispo; visit the brewery online at

Novo Restaurant and Lounge is one of several restaurants participating in San Luis Obispo County’s Restaurant Month in January. For more information, go to

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at

Novo Restaurant and Lounge

726 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo


Hours: Daily; lunch Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; late lunch Monday through Saturday 2:30 to 5 p.m.; dinner nightly from 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Beleza Nights DJ and dancing Friday and Saturday 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Wine Wednesdays 5 to 7 p.m. featuring local labels.

The scene: A longtime fixture on the downtown restaurant scene, Novo’s creekside patio is a favorite when weather permits, but the eclectically appointed interior is no less inviting.

The cuisine: A focus on local, seasonal and organic ingredients is apparent throughout the globally inspired menu, plus an attention to dietary needs such as gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan; coffee drinks, teas, beers, wines and a full bar round out the dining experience.

Expect to spend: Brunch and lunch about $14 to $20, dinner $15 to $30, specials market price.