Ristorante Nicola: Elegant Italian in Highland Park
April 7, 2011
Good evening, fellow eaters!
It’s restaurant review time. Get out your cloth napkins in either black or white depending on your current attire and let’s do this.
My husband and I were treated to a 5-course of chef-selected dishes and wine pairings at the sophisticated Ristorante Nicola this evening. Please allow me to escort you through our meal.
As soon as we were seated at Nicola, the charming sommelier let us know that, although we could order from the menu if we wanted, the chef had prepared a 5-course meal especially for us, with wine pairings to boot. Honestly, we were surprised and quite pleased not to have to choose from among the menu’s many appealing offerings. We prepared for a true Nicola experience.
We were presented first with pear-infused martinis, which were crisp, smooth and full of real fruit flavor. The house-made herb foccacia that came soon after was like an aromatic cross between bread and pound cake. The accompanying cracked pepper and olive oil was not needed at all.
The first course was a simple arugula salad with fennel, sun dried tomatoes, olives and creamy goat cheese tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette. A glass of bubbly champagne arrived just before it. Cheers!
The second course was a delicately seared tuna with wasabi cream, Meyer lemon segments, a thick slice of tomato, watercress greens and a parmesan crisp. The tuna was perfectly cooked, with lots of delicious citrus influence. An oaky chardonnay arrived alongside.
The third course was a single lamb chop atop porcini mushroom risotto (a definite highlight), baby artichokes and sliced sunchokes. A perfect pinot noir accompanied the lamb. Pinot fans, we were pleased the sommelier chose to skip a cabernet or merlot.
The fourth course was panko-breaded halibut, roasted tomatoes with sauteed asparagus and carrot. Perfectly crisp outside with a tender center, the halibut was really delicious. It was paired with a fabulously fruity savignon blanc. To be honest, I’d liked to have eaten more of this dish, but I didn’t want to be rolled out of there, even though manager Brian Koentizer did offer to arrange for rollaway service. But no—dessert was coming—we had to push onward.
The fifth and final course was a near-flourless chocolate cake cut into architectural, powdered sugar-dusted chunks surrounded by Meyer lemon-soaked strawberries and highlighted by a scoop of hazelnut gelato topped with white chocolate shavings and sliced almonds. The cake was creamy, yet not too dark or rich. The perfect ending to an elegant dining experience. Rosa Regale, a sparkling dessert wine with raspberry notes, served as the finishing touch.
I would recommend Nicola to host an excellent business lunch or dinner, just as well as a romantic, special occasion. The restaurant’s large-scale furniture begs to be lounged upon while drinking good wine, of which there is plenty at Nicola. The decor there is sophisticated and rich with clean lines, keeping it contemporary. Course after course was elegantly presented, and the portions are just right.
With bites of moist chocolate cake still on our tongues, we were introduced to executive chef Luigi Iannuario. Not a man of many words, Iannuario’s elegant dishes spoke volumes to us tonight.
Foodbitch is an expert eater and published food writer who lives in Dallas, Texas with her exceptionally well-fed twin daughters, husband and their dogs. She’ll tell you what to eat and you’ll like it.