NICO KITCHEN + BAR, NEWARK
There’s a new dining option in Newark with the opening of Nico Kitchen + Bar in the NJPAC building at 1 Center Street. This is not a “since we’re going to the theater, we may as well eat here” place but a worthwhile destination restaurant to try even if you’re not going to see a show. The food impressed us, which was no surprise, as the kitchen is under the direction of executive chef Ryan DePersio, co-owner of the highly acclaimed of Fascino in Montclair and Bar Cara in Bloomfield. (Nico is the nickname of his six-year-old son, Nicholas.) The chef de cuisine is Adam Rose, who most recently worked at 3-Forty Grill and Bin 14, both in Hoboken. The pastry chef is Binicio Salas.
The market-driven menu includes shared plates of contemporary American and Italian dishes as well as a three-course prix-fixe menu ($40), which is offered on performance days.
Executive chef Ryan DePersio.
Chef de cuisine Adam Rose.
Chef DePersio calls his tapas-style menu “Italian without borders.” We recently had the following scrumptious and beautifully plated dishes at a press dinner.
Trio of tartares: Scottish salmon, truffled beef, and yellowfin tuna.
Chilled white ocean shrimp with compressed cucumber and spicy lemon yogurt.
Next we had lamb meatballs beautifully scented with cumin and presented with roasted peppers and crumbled feta. Then, a tasting of two pastas: squid ink cavatelli with tender octopus, Peppadew peppers, tomato sauce, and gremolata, a spicy treat; and ricotta gnocchi with sweet sausage Bolognese, which can also be found on the menu at Fascino. And braised pork belly pizza—need I say more? The crust was crunchy, the inside chewy. We loved it. Ditto for the vegetarian-friendly garden pizza with jumbo green asparagus, goat cheese, and sweet caramelized onions.
Two different fish dishes were our next course. Porcini-dusted sea scallops sat on a raft of crispy eggplant, topped with peperonata and red pepper emulsion, for a sophisticated dish with layers of flavor and textures. Perfectly cooked olive-crusted Scottish salmon, fresh as fresh can be, was accompanied by parsnip purée, jumbo asparagus, and a warm tomato broth, for a very colorful and tasty dish.
We’re almost to the dessert course, but first let me tell you about the meat tasting, which comprised a fabulous Duroc pork tenderloin dusted with cumin over a carrot purée and black beans, and port-glazed short ribs topped with addictive almond-crusted onion rings on a base of yummy brown butter shredded carrots.
Short ribs with brown butter shredded carrots.
To end this spectacular meal we had a Sicilian spumoni sundae, praline ricotta cheesecake with Grand Marnier sauce, and a selection of cheeses.
Nico is stunning, with leather booth seating and a community table for twelve, plus pendulum lamps and panels on pulleys that create intimate dining spaces. The private dining rooms can accommodate events for up to 240 guests. Large-scale photo illustrations of artists who have appeared at NJPAC adorn the walls. The wine list includes sparkling, white, red, and dessert selections, with many offerings in the $30 range. A weeknight happy hour features drink and “bite” specials.
We always resented having to pay for parking at NJPAC, so here’s some excellent news. Except on performance nights, Nico has free parking with validation, and diners can also park free if they arrive after performances begin. Nico is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly except Sunday. Reservations: 973-642-1226.
Photos by Rosie Saferstein.
GOURMET TOUR OF SICILY WITH BOB AND LESLIE SICKLES
Sickles Market, 1 Harrison Avenue, Little Silver, is hosting a trip to Sicily, October 1 through 10, and will be presenting a Taste of Sicily dinner/information night at Undici Restaurant, 11 West River Road, Rumson, on April 16.
At Undici, along with wine pairings, diners will taste a selection of stuzzichini, including caponata, a traditional antipasto made of eggplant, tomatoes, celery, olives, and capers; arancini, delicious rice balls and one of the few dishes in which Sicilians use rice; Siciliano Pepato cheese with peppercorns; and delicious rosemary focaccia drizzled with award-winning Aulente Sicilian olive oil. Sicilian-style pizzas will be served at each table, while traditional lemon curd gelato with shaved Bonajuto Aztec-style chocolate will complete the traditional meal. 7 PM; $35.
On the trip to Sicily with Bob and Leslie Sickles, attendees will meet the producers of the specialty food products found only on Sickles Market’s shelves; have private tastings of wine, olive oil, and chocolate; accompany a Sicilian chef to a seaside market and later taste the dishes made from the shopping spree; explore the native fauna in a private garden; and roam the ancient ruins.
For more information and reservations for the dinner at Undici or the gourmet trip to Sicily, contact Kirsty Dougherty at 732-741-9563 (store) or 908-512-0600 (cell) or e-mail [email protected].
We wish that Brian’s, 9 Klines Court, Lambertville, wasn’t a 90-minute ride for us, because if this restaurant were closer to our home we’d become regulars. The tiny, informal BYO, whose rustic country menu changes often, is under the direction of chef/owner Brian Held, a CIA graduate who previously won rave reviews at his now-closed restaurant Rouget in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
The open kitchen and wood-fired oven add to the ambiance, and the service is so friendly you feel as if you’re at a friend’s home. Our waitress put a smile on our faces when she gave us an A-plus for finishing all of the food on our plates. Chef Held also walks through the dining room to say hello and make sure diners are happy.
We ordered a tomato and mozzarella pizza, perfect for four to share, as soon as we were seated, and munched on it while perusing the menu. Although the number of choices is small, and one entrée was unavailable, we all found something to our liking.
“Can a mushroom soup get any mushroomier?” I asked Lowell. It was so full of flavor and a cut above any other mushroom soup we’d had in a long time. Shrimp cheesecake with a red pepper sauce, which reminded us of a quiche, was not as rich as we expected but was nevertheless an interesting and not-before-seen appetizer. Other starters were a fresh-tasting mixed green salad with herbed goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette and impressive handmade gnocchi with a short rib ragù. All of the pastas are available as appetizer or entrée portions.
Duck shepherd’s pie, part of a three-course $36 fixed-price menu, was a new one for us; we loved the flavorful duck, sauce, and golden brown topping made from mashed potatoes, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. Tender braised beef with horseradish was also a winner. Roasted organic chicken was juicy and accompanied with crisp Chinese pea pods, carrots, and a truffle-leek sauce. The crab cake came with a warm mustard sauce.
Even if you’re full, the in-house desserts are worth ordering and a perfect end to dinner. We shared white chocolate bread pudding topped with amaretto sauce and stewed berries, with house-made blueberry ice cream.
Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday, and brunch is offered on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations: 609-460-4148.
SEAFOOD MENU AT THE MANOR, WEST ORANGE
Executive chef Mitchell Altholz from the Manor, 111 Prospect Avenue, West Orange, is offering a new four-course (plus an amuse-bouche) seafood-based chef’s signature menu for $59, with selected wines an additional $25. Reservations: 973-731-2360.
VERDE, MORRIS PLAINS
We love finding new casual BYO Italian restaurants, and if they’re close to home, even better. Verde, 1012 Tabor Road (Route 53), Morris Plains, was recommended to us recently, and what a find. Service is attentive, food is good, and portions are generous. We’re not talking gourmet dining here or fabulous ambiance, but a reliable laid-back Italian restaurant that Lowell and I are anxious to return to.
Crisp bruschetta was brought to the table when we were seated. Nice touch, as often the bread is soggy from standing around. Four people shared two apps: penne with vodka sauce and a special of the day of meatballs. The meatballs—there were six of them—came with a tomato sauce and were rolled in panko crumbs and fried, giving them a crispy exterior. A very respectable salad came with dinner, and two choices were offered: one with vibrant greens, apples, strawberries, raisins, and honey mustard dressing, and a lip-smackin’ Caesar.
Eggplant rollatini, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, topped with mozzarella, and served in a marinara sauce, was an appetizer but was substantial enough to be an entrée. Chicken Verde, a breast stuffed with mozzarella, spinach, roasted peppers, and baby shrimp, was topped with shiitake mushrooms and served in a brandy cream sauce. Getting another rave from the table was the chicken balsamico, containing a breast sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh herbs, with a balsamic vinegar sauce. Veal saltimbocca was scaloppini topped with prosciutto and mozzarella on a bed of spinach, with a sherry wine sauce—quite delicious. Dessert was house-made gelato, which we can recommend.
Verde is open for lunch from 11:30 AM to 3 PM and for dinner from 5 to 10 PM daily. Reservations: 973-539-8100.
CHEF MICHAEL CLAMPFFER AT THE BEARD HOUSE, NYC
On April 21, a Mangalitsa Mayhem dinner with Michael Clampffer, chef and vice president of Mosefund Mangalitsa in Branchville, along with Joe Macchia and Lee Anne Wong, will be served at the James Beard House, 167 West 12th Street, NYC. The following menu, plus a selection of fine wines, will be presented.
Hors d’oeuvres: speck and eggs with asparagus and garlic toasts; Mangalitsa lard–fried doughnuts with lardo; pork cheek–ramp raviolini with smoked ricotta and toasted bread crumbs; liverwurst with black pepper cream cheese on poppy seed bagels; spring peas and prosciutto
Michael’s cured meat plate with spring fruit mostarda
Marinated mackerel with sauerkraut broth, braised bacon, pickled mustard seeds, and carrots
Pork shoulder lasagna with charred spring onions, pickled chanterelles, and sottocenere cheese
Herb-marinated neck roast with fava beans, turnips, strawberries, and toasted fregola sarda
Spring fruits with pork fat sabayon
Sticky bacon-toffee pudding with whipped cream
7 PM; $170, James Beard Foundation members $130. For reservations, call 212-627-2308.
JERSEY SHORE RESTAURANT WEEK
Mark your calendars for April 13 through 22, as Jersey Shore Restaurant Week will feature 70 participating restaurants offering three-course menus with three appetizer, three entrée, and three dessert choices for $20.12 or $30.12. Events during the week include a kick-off party (April 12), Great Jersey Shore martini contest (April 15), Shipwreck Point wine dinner (April 16), and Ruffino wine dinner (April 20). For more information and tickets, log on to www.jerseyshorerestaurantweek.com.
“MEAT MEN” COMING TO TV
On April 9, a new reality TV show, Meat Men, will air on the Food Network, featuring celebrity wholesale butcher Pat LaFrieda; his father, Patrick Senior; and LaFrieda company president Mark Pastore. Their plant is located in North Bergen, and they also offer an online store at http://lafrieda.com.
Please send press releases and restaurant news, including information on staff changes, wine tastings, and cooking classes, to [email protected].