In celebration of our six-month anniversary, the hubby and I hit up Nellcôte. We were sat at an upper level bar-like area overlooking the actual bar and much of the table seating, below. I’m not sure how Nellcôte decides who gets these seats and who a normal table, since we did have reservations, but we were thrilled. I love to people watch, and from these “VIP seats,” we were able to do so without seeming creepy or invasive (I think). It also gave us a great view of the scrumptious interior design of the restaurant, including over a dozen antique-esque chandeliers and expansive white marble. While the seats worked well for us, I can’t say I would have been jumping for joy had I been on a first date there. You’re seated cozily side by side, and that could be awkward with someone you have just met (and may hope to never see again).
We began with some of Nellcôte’s cocktails. They make a big deal out of the fact that the kitchen makes the cocktails rather than the bar, because, according to the folks at Nellcôte, it gives them more time and flexibility in creating the drinks. Not sure if I completely buy this, but I must say, they were quite good. Were ordered the bourbon and rye cocktails. In the hand, the bourbon cocktail felt solidly of a glass of classic bourbon – small amount of booze, big ice cubes. But to taste, the drink was slightly sweet with notes of basil, the bourbon arriving mostly as an aftertaste. The rye cocktail was smooth and drank like a wheat beer with lemon, but without the carbonation. I’d order both again.
Dinner began with Hamachi crudo on the house, always a nice touch. Next, at the suggestion of our waitress, whose love of food shone through as she artfully and passionately described each dish, we tried the sturgeon. Marinated in orange and then wood grilled, the steaky, hearty fish served with spring root vegetables and a sweat puree of peas was the perfect transition dish from winter to summer. It was also the highlight of the night.
The sturgeon was such a high, but then we were hit with such a low: the soft-boiled egg with asparagus and morel mushrooms. I was so excited to try this inventive dish when I saw it on the menu, but at our very first bit, we knew there was something off. Way off. The morel mushrooms were gritty. We said something to our waitress, who handled the situation with the utmost of profession, running our dish back to the kitchen to converse with the chef. Upon her return, however, she told us the chef said that’s just how the morels are, slightly gritty, and that they’d be happy to make up a new plate for us, but there would not be a change in the morels. We passed. While I appreciated the candor, I was disturbed by the chef’s response. It is true that morels can be gritty; they tend to grow in rocky or sandy locations. But that just means a chef must know how to properly clean them. Because no one wants a chunk of rock with their soft-boiled egg. Lesson is: if you’re going to serve morels (and I hope you do), serve them clean.
- Soft Boiled Egg (aka. Morel Disaster)
Instead of the soft-boiled egg, we opted for the lamb, which fortunately brought redemption. The dish contained two kinds of lamb, a smoky, lean loin, which I loved, and a salty make-me-for-BBQ lamb neck served with sofrito that the hubby went crazy for. With the lamb cuts were perfectly doughy gnocchi bites balanced with sharp manchego cheese.
Our last dish was the pizza. Because our egg dish was a bomb, we ordered the sunnyside up organic egg pizza. Turns out plopping an egg in the middle of a pizza is a spectacular idea, particularly when the crust of the pizza is as tasty as it is at Nellcôte. Like the cocktails, they make a big deal out of the fact that they mill their own flour for the pizzas, pastas, and bread. And, as with the cocktails, I’m not sure this really makes a difference. But then again, it was very good. Other pizzas around us looked great, as well.
- Sunnyside Up Egg Pizza
On the whole, Nellcôte is a marvelous place for a fun and entertaining dining experience. Service is attentive but not rushed, and prices are slightly less than neighboring restaurants on Randolph. It seems ordering the right dishes is key, though, because, as we experienced, the good are quite good, but the bad are, well, pretty unpleasant.
Try Nellcôte at 833 W. Randolph.