Monday 26 January
We were looking for something novel for our 24th anniversary dinner. We had loved Nicola's restaurant before, and now they were trying out new tasting menus. So tonight we gave them a spin. They were very nice about finding us a comfy banquette, and presented the wine list on an ipad. But we made life easy by just ordering the five course menu with accompanying wines, only specifying a Cruasé Rosé Brut Casteggio, which they kindly substituted for the menu's prosecco.
Nicola's is famous for its beautiful bread basket, with varied vegetable puffs, ciabatta, and grissini (two of each type, so no ugly fights); it's a course in itself, but there was also a stuzzichino or amuse bouche, a puff of whipped brie and mascarpone with blood orange and crispy lemon, served on a slate.
Then came our first course: pork belly topped with granola for crunch, on a pillow of polenta, decorated with a slice of pear, a cube of gelée, and pumpernickel crisps. We loved the mix of unctuous pork with soft and crisp textures.
Our fish course was subtler: panfried fluke with lemon butter on lentil purée, with more crisps and a flock of browned brussels sprouts. It was served in a deep earthenware bowl, which made it hard to get at, but went well with its wine pairing, Fontezoppa Verdicchio di Matelica.
Oddly, pasta was next: mascarpone-stuffed agnolotti studded with cubes of roast chicken, in parsley sauce, topped with pickled onions.
At this point, our enthusiastic sommelier came out with a couple of wines for us to taste: a Luigi Baudana Langhe bianco "Dragon" 2012, and a pinot nero from the same Pavese area as Casteggio; we didn't get the exact name, perhaps (Carlo?) Casavecchia. Both were excellent, and we were debating which we liked better when our meat course came: juicy salt-cured duck breast on a bed of wild rice and succulent mushrooms, accented with a scribble of lavender sauce.
That had its own wine too, a classic Retromarcia Chianti Monte Bernardi 2012.
And finally, for dessert, a cute little round of devil's food cake on a bed of chocolate dust, topped with vanilla and chocolate cream and crisp chocolate pearls, served with a pour of Vinsanto.Nicola's offers high quality, dependability, and pleasant little surprises; we enjoyed puzzling out the chef's quirks, like combining smooth and crispy things (like crisps). Service was swift, attentive, and good humored, and our server and sommelier couldn't have been nicer; they even comped our sparkler because it was our anniversary. All that care for the guests, the interesting Italian wines you never see anywhere else, and of course the thoughtfully prepared food are all reasons why we love Nicola's. So we shall return, even when it's not our anniversary.