January 8, 2008

The new Nicholini's

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Last week I met up with my friend Miranda for dinner. It turned out to be her boyfriend's birthday, so a few of us decided to have some Italian at Nicholini's in the Conrad. The restaurant had undergone a major renovation last year, so this was the first time I've been back.

The decor is now even more modern and maybe even brighter than before. We were seated at one of the more intimate circular "cubicles" (an oxymoron...), and the backs of the sofa now reach high above our heads - which seems to be the style that is in vogue everywhere.

My good friend chef Kong had unfortunately departed, so now there were no familiar faces at the restaurant and I would actually have to pay corkage for the wines I brought. Bummer... I ordered very straight forward dishes which I knew the restaurant used to prepare well. Thankfully they were still delicious.

The caesar salad was prepared at our table side, and we were given a sample to taste before the rest of the salad was made. I asked for a bit more Parmesan in mine and was very satisfied.

My main course was osso bucco in tomato sauce and gremolata. The meat was very tender as one would expect, and the risotto underneath was quite good - just the right degree of al dente. My only small gripe is that I didn't get enough marrow from the bone...

A mango cheesecake was served in honor of Miranda's boyfriend. This went down very easily...

For wine I brought a bottle of 2001 Pahlmeyer Jayson to start. This was a classic Californian Chardonnay with all the usual oak, butter popcorn, minerals...etc. I thought it was very enjoyable.

We decanted the 2001 Gaja Barolo Dagromis, but this didn't seem to be enough to open the wine up. I have yet to drink a bottle of Barolo that I can say I truly liked.

While the food has maintained its high standard, I am not likely to return to Nicholini's for some time. The reason? Our very annoying waiter. I had just sat down and was chatting happily with the others for a bit, and we took our time to look at the menu. We asked for the waiter to come back later to tell us the specials, and he promptly went away. However, he came back again too soon, and insisted on telling us the specials. It seems he just couldn't wait any longer. For the rest of the evening, it was the same hurried pace of service. It felt like they wanted us out of there quickly.

Oh well, I will have to look for other places to satisfy my Italian cravings, which just got harder given the closure of Toscana along with the Ritz-Carlton.

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