Friday, July 25, 2008

Restaurant Report: Restaurant Nicholas

I'm all about going out and paying for a good meal - thank goodness Steph is very much the same way. She's turned into a bonafide foodie since we've met, and I can't be happier about that. So, to celebrate both the anniversary of our wedding, as well as to celebrate our love of some good food and drink, we went to Nicholas on Wednesday. We knew that we wanted to order the tasting menu, ordering one of each dish per course, and that we wanted to order the wine pairings as well. The plan was that we'd eat a little, drink a little then switch plates and wine glasses.

Our seats were not really seats, but a couch/booth that allowed us to sit next to each other (well, at a 90 degree angle) while we ate, and had pillows and cushions for us to lounge back on. Very chic. There was also this amazing chandelier, that I'm pretty sure was a Dale Chihuly (awesome glass-blowing sculptor - Google him). We put in our orders, enjoyed a glass of champagne and waited for the fun to begin.

Amuse: Heirloom Tomato with Red Wine Gastrique
Three teeny bites of tomato, with a tasty sweet/sour sauce drizzled around the outside. How could you not have something like this in New Jersey during the summer? Outstanding taste, really warmed up our taste buds for the meal.

1st Courses: Marinated Pemaquid Oysters, Creme Fraiche, Red Onion; Crab and Avocado Salad, Gazpacho Sorbet, Smoked Paprika Crisp
The oysters were on the small end of the oyster spectrum, and were velvety in texture and taste. Not quite sure just what they were marinated in, but it was delicious. It was paired with a rather mineral-y sauvignon blanc, which was perfect. The crab and avocado salad was equally as delicious, cool and creamy, with the frozen gazpacho providing a nice spiciness to the dish. That was paired with a chardonnay that was pretty out of this world.

2nd Courses: Parisienne Gnocchi, Sugar Snap Peas, Braised Artichokes; Seared Day Boat Scallop, Green Papaya Salad, Red Curry Vinagrette
The scallop was perfectly cooked, the vinagrette was pleasingly spicy, with the green papaya really providing nothing to the dish. It was good, but relatively one-note and unremarkable. The only thing that made the dish remotely interesting was the super-sweet Riesling that it was paired with - I could never drink it on its own, but was the perfect counterpoint to the spicy scallop. The gnocchi dish was the opposite of the scallop - it was complex and
nuanced in flavor and texture. The gnocchi were pillow-light and slightly crispy, the snap peas were delightfully sweet and the artichokes were creamier than any artichoke I've ever had. Outstanding, and wonderfully paired (again) with a white I can't seem to remember.

3rd Course: North Atlantic Halibut, Chilled Heirloom Melons, Avocado Puree
Notice we ordered the same dish: Stephanie definitely does not like cooked salmon, and I'm really not always the biggest fan of it, so why would we order it? Out of everything we ate, this was probably the most surprising: a square of perfectly cooked fish over beautifully cut 1/4" diced melon, paper-thin radish slices and a smear of avocado, finished with a chilled melon broth (which was served tableside by the waiter - I love tableside service). Fish, melons and avocado? I would never have thought so, but it was absolutely delicious. Paired with another sauvignon blanc that was more citrus-y and grassy (and more along my personal tastes in that grape).

4th Course: Sirloin of Veal, Hand Rolled Tristi, Roasted Garlic Butter Sauce; Braised "Pulled" Sucking Pig, Poached Quince, Cinnamon Jus
I'm not the biggest expert on veal, because I'm not the biggest fan of it (not because of mistreatment or anything like that, just a taste thing). However, it was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious, especially with the braised escarole, wild mushrooms and sauce (again, tableside service!), paired with a tasty California Cabarnet. The "pulled" pig really stole the show in this course - rich and fatty and delicious, with a cinnamon-scented sauce that smelled and tasted like October. The poached quince and parsnip puree was a nice fresh counterpoint to the rich pork. Paired with a red, honestly can't remember what it was, but it was perfect, yet again.

5th Course: Cheese Tasting: Pecorino Toscana-Stagionato, Valencay, Epoisses, Montbriac
BEHOLD THE POWER OF CHEESE! Oh man, talk about my favorite part of the meal. Not one, not two, not three, but FOUR cheeses! The Pecorino was dry and nutty, the
Valencay was creamy and delicious (and covered with ash that's part of the rind formation), the Montbriac was equally as creamy and Epoisses...Epoisses...Epoisses...what can I say. Only the stinkiest, smelliest, tastiest cheese on the planet. Served up with 1989 Vouvray that was absolutely out of this world.

Intermezzo: Passionfruit Pot de Creme
This was a surprise course, as it wasn't on the menu. A tiny little bowl of passionfruit curd, pot de creme, with a bit of raspberry puree at the bottom. The perfect warm-up to the dessert course.

Dessert Tasting: Warm Valrhona Molten Cake, Creme Brulee, Hazelnut Crepe, Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Tuille
It needs to be mentioned here that when I made the reservation for dinner, I wasn't going to mention that it was our anniversary, but I did when Steph prodded me to do so. I was glad I did, because on each of our plates, on a marzipan slab, was written "Happy Anniversary" in chocolate. Talk about awesome. The mini-desserts were pedestrian, with the creme brulee being the highlight for me. The marzipan well-wishing made the dish for sure, as did the fortified Grenache they served with it. (I'll post a pic of the marzipan later).

BONUS: As we're settling the check, they bring us over a mini-loaf of banana bread and a box of chocolate truffles to bring home with us. Apparently the banana bread is standard for every table, but the box of truffles were a bonus to us because it was our anniversary.

When it was all said and done, one of the greatest meals I've ever eaten. If you're feeling flush and you're in the area, definitely worthwhile to experience.


Anonymous said...

How the heck do you remember all this? You had to be taking notes while at the table.

Alex said...

Eric, I'm able to access the menu online, so all the course names are straight from the menu itself. No notes were taken at the table, they'd probably think I was a food critic or something!

As to the descriptions, I'm weird like that - I'll cook a dish I haven't made in months, and I'll ask Stephanie "remember the last time I made this? I didn't add enough of Spice X and I added too much of Ingredient Y - I fixed it this time." I've got really good "taste memory", for lack of a better term.