You can't imagine (or maybe you can) my excitement at the prospect of dinner at Nicholas this past week on my birthday. Being from the area, I have followed, from afar, the quick ascension of this restaurant into the ranks of the elite. For the last year I have read about the coveted "Nicholas Experience" and finally, it was my time. I am a Nicholas virgin no more.
I called twice to make sure of the dress code. I respect this restaurant very much, and I wanted to wear the appropriate attire - whatever it is they require. I was told at 5pm that night that the suggested dress code for gentlemen is jacket and tie. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and surveyed the sparsely filled dining room (at 7:45) and only one of the 6 gentleman had a jacket and tie on. The others ranged from polo shirt, to designer tee, to oxford. I should have been tipped off by the casually-attired valet in his monogrammed polo shirt, khaki pants and white sneakers. This was disappointing.
We were greeted by a very nice, young hostess. We started in the bar. We seated ourselves at a small table in the bar and were greeted immediately by a server (bartender?). We ordered a round of drinks and then the server recognized me. The server then let fly a diatribe of issues with the restaurant, its management and specifically the dining room (expletives included). Turns out, though, this person is happier in the bar. Not the start I was looking for in my Nicholas dining experience. When our table was ready and the hostess came and got us I began to struggle to pay the check (out of habit). The server let me know the check would be transferred. I think thats a nice touch, most places will fight to have you pay in the bar so they get their tip. I left a tip and followed into the dining room.
As I mentioned earlier, the dining room was mostly empty, it was now 8:15. There was a table of 6 in the middle of the room, a table of two straight ahead, a table of three right next to us(paying) and another table of 2 on the right side of the room. There was a business meeting in the semi-private room to the right with a slide projector (which struck me as odd in this fine-dining setting.
The server (Wendy) was nothing short of perfect. The right mix of pleasant and professional and helpful all the way. We ordered a bottle of wine and I was really pleased with how she kept up with the wine service all night. I think far too many restaurants allow the wine to go empty in the glass, and servers seem wishy-washy about pouring it. Wendy did this perfectly. She walked us through the menu and its options and my wife and I (had already) decided on the tasting menu. We ordered one of each course, as we wanted to be adventurous. The Highlights (and lowlights):
The Beet salad was the wrong way to start my culinary adventure. This dish was in desparate need of some kind of flavor hijacking. The menu promised goat cheese with it, but this was not delivered. It was, truly, cubed beets and not a hint of anything else.
Seared Sea Scallops were very good, but the presentation was uninteresting, at best.
The gnocchi was average.
The Halibut was very good.
As each course came and went I was left feeling that the kitchen was having so much fun with the different plates and the designs thereon, they forgot about making the food great.
I must admit, I was really disappointed until the mains
The suckling pig was excellent. It had, I believe, a nice smokey flavor. The best of the night to that point.
. The sliced duck breast was very good. Cooked to a perfect medium rare and tender and succulent.
The Cheese tasting was not to my liking. The cheeses seemed to require a more refined palate - an acquired taste. I like smoother, less bitter cheese and something sweet like honey to go with it. There was no such relief in the figs provided.
The dessert was great. Each of the four offerings were delicous, although I couldn't summon too much of an appetite to finish it. In addition, an extra dessert was sent out and a very nice "Happy Birthday" along with it, as well as a candle and (thankfully) no singing.
As I dined I was taken aback by the lack of professionalism exhibited by a couple of the waitstaff. I was sitting with my back to the service hallway and twice overheard staff cursing from behind me. Another time a server, Chris, was yucking it up with that table of 6, regulars I guess by their casual attire and his demeanor with them was very unimpressive and brought down the by several notches the seriousness of the dining room. I expected more.
Also, I don't like overlooking a sidestreet, a few houses and route 35. Give me a view, something! I know they can't help this, but as my wife kept saying to me, we always go to scenic restaurants for special occasions. Judging by the room that night, and the weather was beautiful, most people are like us! I don't know what kind of business Nicholas does during the week, but to say I was unimpressed with the turnout is an understatement.
The bill came to $325 including tip. Wendy did her part in giving that experience a sense of value, but it ended there. I'm glad I went, I won't rush back. I got the sense that it was a place to be, that its reputation was carrying the day. We'll see.
I went in ready to be wowed. I left underwhelmed. Perhaps my expectations were just too high after reading this board. Or, maybe, its just not my cup of tea. The food can be argued to taste, the inconsistencies and unprofessionalism in the front of the house is unnacceptable