Monday, January 20, 2014
7:00 PM to 10:30 PM
21 East Bellevue Place
Chicago, IL 60611
New Restaurant Concept by Legendary Chicago Chef and One Off Hospitality Group Founder Paul Kahan
Rustic Italian Dining at Nico Osteria
On January 20, 2014, sixty-nine Chicago Chaîne members and guests visited Nico Osteria, the brand-new coastal Italian cuisine concept from Executive Chef Paul Kahan and his One-Off Hospitality team. Chef Erling Wu-Bower (avec, Publican) and acclaimed Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman (L2O, Balena) were on hand to showcase highlights from the month-old restaurant’s menu.
Our reception began in Nico’s rustically elegant private event space located on the second floor of the Gold Coast’s Thompson Hotel. Bartenders behind the striking gallery bar, which overlooked Salone Nico and its lush wall of live plants, poured elegant 2009 Ricci Curbastro Saten Brut into Champagne coupes. This Chardonnay-based sparkler is produced in Franciacorta, Italy’s premier “classic method” sparkling wine region not far from Milan.
Reception servers also offered guests several delicious small bites: bigeye tuna crudo with seaweed-truffle vinaigrette, mandarinquats and breadcrumbs; seared Nantucket Bay Scallop with preserved Meyer lemon and mint; and extra virgin olive oil poached pork loin al’tonnato with arugula and truffled peach olives.
Following the convivial reception, members and guests moved to the adjacent space for dinner. The floating walls of three private dining rooms had been removed, creating a large L-shaped space with wintery cityscape views. The dark-walled room with geometric tiled floors was quite handsome, albeit less warm and inviting than the gorgeous restaurant downstairs.
The meal started with antipasti that revealed Nico’s seafood focus: grilled octopus and pocha bean fett’unta (a/k/a grilled bruschetta bread) with shallot-treviso marmalade and olives; and Dungeness crab with broad bean and fennel puree, bottarga and raw vegetables topped by crispy crackers drizzled with olive oil.
Caviste Hilton Weinberg, who provided insightful wine commentary throughout the evening, dug deeply into the Chicago Chaine’s wine cellar for some interesting Italian offerings. Not surprisingly, we started with two whites. The octopus was paired 2012 Collestefano from the Verdicchio di Matelica DOC in the Marche wine region on the east coast of central Italy. And the crab was accompanied by a 2009 Weingut Kofererhof Kerner (Kerner is a Riesling-like varietal) from Trentino-Alto Adige, the most northerly wine-producing region in Italy.
In addition to authentic Italian seafood, Nico specializes in house-made pasta. Appropriately, the Primi course was rigatoni with a rich, meaty northern ragù finished with Parmesan and basil. This simple, flavorful dish required a big red and a 1993 Crissante Alessandria, Otin Capalot Barolo was a fine match.
The Secondi course was Bistecca al’Nico—the medium-rare sliced beef was accompanied by a buttery polenta and mushroom sott’olio (vegetables pickled in oil). Two seasonal contorni—brussel sprouts and parsnips—were served alongside the beef. A stunning 1993 Pieve Santa Restituta (Gaja), “Sugarille,” Brunello di Montalcino paired perfectly with this course.
Dolci proved to be the culinary highlight of the evening. Amanda Rockman’s Nico Torte has quickly become a signature dish of the restaurant, and the wildly creative pastry chef graciously reduced the size of this version so guests wouldn’t be overwhelmed after a filling meal. The moist spice cake, accompanied by sabayon, pumpkin ice cream and soaked plums, was pure perfection. This dessert paired beautifully with a sweet Tuscan wine, 2005 Selvapiana from the Vin Santo Del Chianti Furina wine region.
Although published reviews about Nico have been uniformly (and justifiably) gushing, serving a capacity crowd in the private event space had some inherent challenges, even for the best of free-standing restaurants. The Nico kitchen hadn’t previously served this many courses simultaneously to so many guests, so some shortcomings were pardonable.
Bailli Mon Roldan thanked the dream team of Chefs Wu-Bower and Rockman, who spoke briefly about their menu and the philosophy behind it. Nico uses impeccably sourced, pristine products that focus on the farmers and fishermen’s bounty to create rustic but highly sophisticated Italian food. Executive Chef Paul Kahan, fresh off his victory as James Beard Outstanding Chef 2013, has yet another hit with Nico. Chaîne members are looking forward to further exploring the culinary offerings in the exciting new restaurant.
We are all familiar with James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award winner Executive Chef Paul Kahan and his One Off Hospitality Group’s successful and gastronomically trailblazing projects in the city: Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The Violet Hour, Publican Quality Meats (PQM) and Big Star. Now, the team has made its foray into Italian cuisine with Nico Osteria, located in the newly remodeled Thompson Hotel at the corner of Bellevue and Rush. Its kitchen is helmed by the talented and creative Chef Erling Wu-Bower.
Chef Erling Wu-Bower began his career initially as a cook at avec, directly out of culinary school. Chef went on to become part of the opening teams of The Publican and PQM and then, prior to Nico Osteria, back at the kitchen at avec as Chef de Cuisine. Chef Erling is driven by two things - beautiful ingredients and flavors. He recently returned from a research trip to Puglia, with Chef Kahan, where he spent his time fine-tuning his repertoire of Italian cuisine. Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman, formerly of L2O, has brought her creativity to Nico Osteria as well. All three chefs have served us wonderful meals in the past and are no strangers to Chaîne Chicago. They are itching for another chance to wow us!
Nico Osteria presents a coastally inspired Italian seafood menu featuring small and large plates. Its focus are hand-made pastas, crostini, crudos and grilled seafood. We will be hosted in the lovely private dining space on the second floor, directly above the restaurant. We look forward to sharing a well thought out offering of delicious cuisine paired with our vintage fine Italian collection for another wonderful Chaîne experience.
Capacity for this event is limited. Please sign up early.