Nicola's Restaurant, Cincinnati, 4/22/22 – Dining With Frankie

Nicola’s Restaurant is in the building that once was a barn for the city’s 19th century incline trollies.  It was established in 1996 by owner Nicola Pietoso and after 20 years his son Cristian now is in charge. He added some new second floor seating and expanded the wine cellar.  In addition to seating downstairs there is also a bar with seating.  The brick walls are punctuated by the structural beams and high ceilings.    Downstairs a giant chandelier hangs overheard and windows to the outside let in light and look out onto the patio tables.  White tablecloths and napkins are on all tables and music is in the background.  Valet parking is available out front.  The place is really popular so a reservation is a must and even with a reservation we still had to wait in the bar until out table was ready.  They serve Italian cuisine and offer a chef crafted 5 course tasting menu.  We happened to be there during restaurant week and so a 3 course menu was also available as well as the a la carte selections.  We ordered a la carte.

Set-Up

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Food

Boucheron Goat Cheese salad came with pistachios, spring mix and an apple-truffle vinaigrette.  The goat cheese was mostly underneath the pile of greens and it had been heated  which toughened a crust on it.  When you peeled away the crust it melded nicely with the nuts and leaves.  This plate had tons of textures but mild flavors.

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Grilled Octopus was served with “Bagna Cauda” and Italian pickled giardiniera. It was fairly chewy and tart when paired with the pickled vegetable relish.  The octopus didn’t taste of grilling but was quite charred on one end.  It all balanced fairly well but I’ve had better.

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Crispy Potato gnocchi were coated with a 4 cheese fondue and Italian truffle shavings.  They were light and delicious  A nice strong truffle flavor was achieved and that was a plus.  The cheese sauce was rich, yet light and wonderful with the nicely browned gnocchi.  This is a signature dish of the house and you can see why.

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Risotto “Bianco” contained Maine lobster, white asparagus, mascarpone and preserved lemon.  It was properly runny but not made with lobster broth so the flavor did not permeate the dish.  Actually you didn’t really need the lobster pieces on top, they added little flavor to the plate.  More white asparagus would have contributed to a depth of flavor that the dish was lacking.  The oil on the side of the plate helped but the gnocchi were far better than this dish.

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Center Cut Beef Filet was served with peperonata, confit potato, braised artichoke, salsa verde and natural jus.  It was perfect to split as it had 2 slices of nice rare beef.  Both white and purple potatoes were on the plate along with red and yellow peppers.  The artichoke were cooked to mush and had little flavor – maybe they were canned.  The salsa verde was tasty with the beef, but overall this plate suffered with too many flavors and contrasts.

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