Review: Nicola’s Ristorante
Nicola’s, run by the Pietoso family, who also run Via Vite on Fountain Square, is a staple of Cincinnati cuisine. Known for its fine Italian cuisine, it’s won countless awards from Cincinnati Magazine, Zagat’s, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Mobil. The building itself is on Sycamore Street in Over-the-Rhine, which formerly housed railcars from the adjacent inclines and has been repurposed into an elegant, two-s tory restaurant. Pietoso warmly welcomes his guests into his restaurant– one of the most affable general managers I’ve met– and ensures that each and every one of them is having a fantastic time with a fantastic meal.
Despite having been a resident of Over-the-Rhine for more than a year, I hadn’t yet tried Nicola’s. One of my readers continually emailed me and asked, “Why haven’t you gone to Nicola’s? What do you have against Nicola’s!?” So, finally, I got the opportunity recently when Cincinnati EATS hosted its quarterly dinner at this Italian eatery. Cincinnati EATS is a local organization geared towards YPs that hosts a dinner at a local, independently-owned restaurant on an off night for a reduced price. Generally, the price is around $35 and includes three courses. Some of the proceeds benefit local charities; the Nicola’s dinner benefited the Peaslee Neighborhood Center. Great food, great price, great people, and a great charity? What’s not to like?
I didn’t have the full menu choice, but instead got a taste of their winter menu. The table was set with bread– sticks, ciabatta, and small rolls topped with slices of onion and zucchini– a delicious way to start the meal. We continued with a spring green salad, with pan-fried goat cheese, pistachios, and a raspberry vinaigrette– a light start to the meal, with rich goat cheese contrasted by the slightly sweet and tangy dressing. This is the sort of salad I could eat every day.
The six-hour braised short ribs were beautifully presented on a bed of parsnip puree (which essentially tastes like a potato puree), with a couple of perfectly presented carrots on the side. A focus on in-season root vegetables is rich and satisfying, exactly what you want on a cold evening. The braised short ribs were falling-apart tender (as they should be), bathed in demiglace. I would order this again in a heartbeat: these were the best prepared short ribs I’ve had locally.
For dessert, we were presented with a flourless chocolate cake inverted onto a pool of creme anglaise, dotted with mint and raspberry jelly– like the Italian flag. Very rich, and in a small portion– just enough to take care of your sweet tooth.
I was very impressed by Nicola’s handling of the 100+ people– everything came out at the correct temperature, no one at the table was left waiting for food or wine, and everyone else seemed content– and I’m looking forward to trying it as just a romantic dinner for two. If you go Monday through Thursday, Nicola’s offers a chef’s choice tasting menu ($85, $115 with wine pairings), a three-course tasting menu ($50, $70 with wine pairings) or a four-course tasting menu ($60, $85 with wine pairings). It’s a great way to check out the menu at a reduced price.
As for Cincinnati EATS, mark your calendar for February 24. Hugo’s Chef Sean Daly will present a tasting menu for $40, with the charity yet to be announced. See you there!