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Impromptu Date Night at Nico Osteria Chicago (review)

Last day to use the Jessica’s Discount Code SUZLYFE

I was going to run down all the things that I ate this weekend, then realized that although I adored them all, and dang if we didn’t do the south proud, but only one dinner was really exceptional. Otherwise? They were special to me, if not necessarily special. I might mention them tomorrow. So instead I’m going to tell you about the dinner that Alex and I had Monday night at Nico Osteria, one of our fave special occasion places. 

Nico Osteria opened to great fanfare late 2013, and has remained one of the most well-regarded restaurants in the city. Alex and I went there for Valentine’s Day last year and sat at the chef’s bar–definitely not a post to miss if you are a foodie–and I went with our friend last summer when he visited for a conference (and his program was buying, lol). Well, for Christmas this past year, Alex’s brother and wife gave us a gift certificate, and we decided on a whim on Monday to take advantage! It ended up being a little cool and windier than we would have liked, but we had a great time, and a fabulous dinner, as expected!

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe bread foccacia

One of the things that I love about Nico is that they curate their menu to include both favorites/standards, such as the whole salt-crusted branzino (which we will get, one day) and their incredible foccacia, but, like Cicchetti (RIP), they also make sure to stay seasonal and fresh. This isn’t about pomp and circumstance, but rather about innovation meets tradition, technique meets leaving the ingredients alone. And expertise and quality throughout. And you KNOW that I like that!

Alright: Lips sealed, food, go:

Nico Osteria Review Spring 2015

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe mediterranean stormy

Mediterranean Stormy Cruzan Black Strap Rum and Amaro Angostura set afloat over Reed’s Ginger Beer, fresh lime, and a few dashes of ras-al-hanout essence. Served tall with candied ginger.

Fabulous. Refreshing with the ginger, but still stormy and a bit dark. Didn’t get tons of ras-al-hanout, but still so good and well balanced.

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe bread

Bread Selection house foccacia, whole wheat, cheese and olive foccacia, olive oil

This is the best table bread in Chicago. Cicchetti was tied with it, but you a) had to order that and b) C is closed, so Nico wins. The foccacia literally tastes of olive oil, the whole wheat is otherworldly in texture–so spring, but oaty and seedy, and structured, but I love the cheese and olive foccacia–asiago on the crust, green olives within. All 3 are perfection and meant for the olive oil.

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe burrata

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe burrata

Truffled Burrata with beets, carrots, parsnips, warm sherry vinaigrette (poured tableside)

I used to serve burrata everyday, so I knew Alex would love this (plus the truffle factor). For those who don’t know, burrata is a mozzarella ball stuffed with shredded mozzarella. I had a little bit of it, and I can say that it was beautiful–silky smooth, but with some structure. Gorgeous and lightly truffled (but not for me). The rest of the salad, though, was GORGEOUS. Carrot fries (but roasted), perfect beets, crispy parsnips, vinaigrette poured over tableside. Vegetarians, eat your heart out. 

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe gem lettuce salad

Little Gem Lettuce with kohlrabi, currants, crispy anchovy, creamy pecorino vinaigrette (on side)

The crispy anchovy was, to be honest, one of the most startling and surprising bites of the night. Perfectly fried, like a tempura green been, slightly salty interior, baked sweet potato like interior. Absolutely astonishing. The salad was delicious, and with the wind, I took to just picking up each lettuce and dipping into the dressing like a lettuce wrap! 

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe striped bass crudo

Wild Striped Bass Crudo with pixie tangerine, dill, habanero

I was so excited about this because of the habanero. But, alas, it was good but didn’t blow my mind. I loved the tangerine, and there were little touches of sea salt that, when in the same bite as the citrus, made the dish sing. But there was no spice to speak of. The striped bass (similar to traditional branzino) was more substantial that my typical hamachi, and I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t blown away.

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe pork pappardelle

Stuffed Pappardelle with milk braised pork, carrot, black truffle

Another dish I urged Alex to choose, knowing his tastes, and another reason that he trusts me to make recommendations! This was perhaps the perfect earthy pasta dish for him. Handmade pappardelle stuffed with pork and topped with roasted carrot and this incredible lightly spiced cream sauce scented with black truffle. The crispy touches on top and chiffonade of basil (very subtle) brought everything together. Simply, simply stunning. Balanced to perfection, earthy, decadent without be heavy, not a single element overtook the other. And the carrot was the perfect way to bring another dimension, just like the delicate crunch on top.

(unpictured) Decaf Italian Coffee with Fudge Crinkle Cookie

I am sad that I didn’t take a picture of this coffee and the cookie, but I didn’t think that the cookie would be one of my favorite bites of the night. Fudgy within, with deep dark chocolate flavor and a lighter outside with more lightly sweet powdered sugar. PERFECT with the robust coffee.

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe cinnamon donut gelato

Cinnamon Donut Gelato with vanilla pizzelle

They weren’t kidding. Literally cinnamon donut flavor in gelato. Spiced and sweet but not cloying or overpowering. Fabulous. And I adore pizzelle, and this was perhaps the best one I’ve ever had. Robust, fresh, and true vanilla coming through. The perfect way to end the night except….

nico osteria chicago review suzlyfe truffle pate de fruit candy

Chocolate Truffle and Berry (and passion fruit) pate de fruit

The texture of the pate de fruit (fruit jelly candy) was perfect. Alex was saying that he wanted to use it instead of jelly! And just the right amount of flavor–just enough tart and sweet, and perfect for those who (GASP) don’t like the creamiest dark chocolate truffle. And then I feel sorry for you. Because they were amazing.

Best bites? Well, the most surprising were the Crispy Anchovy, Fudge Crinkle Cookie, and Cubifrutta. Best ensemble bites were found in the burrata dish and pasta, though I wouldn’t want the entire dish.

Most disappointing dish was the crudo. I wanted the heat!

But to pick from amongst these dishes was like picking the smartest MENSA candidate or me trying to pick a favorite color. My only actual gripe? Our waiter tended to disappear. And he like to ramble (he read us the menu when I asked for a few standouts). But the service staff was ON POINT. 

Thank you, Nico, for another fabulous meal! We will definitely be back. We will have that branzino.

Do you like white or black truffle? 

What looks good to you? 

When was your last impromptu date night or gourmet dinner?

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