Friday, February 1, 2013

Nicola’s Ristorante

Top Italian fine dining with arguably 
the best service in the region

Dexter at the Entrance to Nicola's Ristorante
     Nicola’s Ristorante in Over-the-Rhine has been a Cincinnati mainstay since it opened over fifteen years ago.  We went a couple of times and really enjoyed it, but we thought it was a little pricey the last time we were there, about eight years ago.  I’d heard the same thing from a friend of ours.  However, we’ve really enjoyed Via Vite, which is the
more casual hot spot that the Pietosos own in Fountain Square so when Lisa asked us to pick a restaurant for birthdays, I thought why not Nicola’s?  

The Dramatic Setting of Nicola's Dining Room
     From the parking valets and the hostess to the servers and their assistants, warm and simultaneously professional and relaxed hospitality is the major watchword for the Pietosos.  Actually, they do a better job of it than the much-vaunted Danny Meyer (the food at Union Square Café was good, but not great, and the server at Gramercy Park Tavern seemed like she either needed caffeine or her medications required adjustment).  Our main server was Jeremy and he’s up there with Ann at Jean Robert’s Table for knowing exactly how to make the diner feel at ease by anticipating every need with understated grace.  His recommendations were well reasoned, he melded two dishes for me, and he made a draft somehow disappear.  One classic touch is that the serving group places all the dishes for a course simultaneously.  It’s a move that requires planning and precision, but it emphasizes teamwork and it’s visually symphonic.  

The Breadbasket
as a Work of Art
     The amuse bouche was mushroom prepared like foie gras, while mine involved marinated tomato (Jeremy remembered my allergy and acted on that).  The breadbasket played on the concept of cornucopia and looked like it was a magazine spread.  There was a variety, though I really liked the vegetable topped rolls.

Stuffed Pear Salad
Lisa and Neil both ordered the Stuffed Pear Salad, which was a whole pear filled with duck confit and gorgonzola cheese and set on a frisée salad with blueberries.  It was practically a meal in itself and was delicious.  I had the Roasted Eggplant
Roasted Eggplant with Beets
with Beets.  The miniature eggplants were al dente outside, but the interior was soft and smooth.

Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragout
Tagliatelle Bolognese
     The entrées sounded tempting, but the pastas are homemade and the sauces at Via Vite are excellent so we wanted to try them out at Nicola’s.  Lisa and Neil had the Tagliatelle Bolognese.  The beef was finely ground and the flavor was both hearty and intense.  I wanted the Gnocchi because they’re my favorite pasta and these were sautéed with a light char, but the wild boar ragout with celery purée sounded great and Jeremy assented to my request.  It was a wonderful dish especially because of the juxtaposition of the boar meat’s smokiness in the ragout and the potato starch of the gnocchi. 

Mocha Bavarese
Pumpkin Semifreddo
     We never leave this type of dinner without dessert.  Lisa and I both ordered Pumpkin Semifreddo, which was a delightful orange/salmon colored frozen soufflé, with a molasses raisin torte, a small puddle of toffee sauce, and bulleit raisins.  The torte, akin to a heavy spice cake or lighter fruitcake, seemed a little dry to me on its own, but worked well with the semifreddo.  Neil chose the Mocha Bavarese, which was a pyramid of vanilla and cocoa frozen custard with espresso sauce.  It was pretty great.

     I used to be concerned about the portion size at Nicola’s, but this time Lisa and Neil took home enough food for a second meal.  I could have done that, but I really liked those gnocchi.

Nicola's on Urbanspoon

No comments: