I was listening to former Gourmet Magazine editor in chief Ruth Reichl on a "Splendid Table" podcast while working out at the gym and was stopped by her comment to her chef-interviewer. The "food media" has done a disservice to the public, she claimed, perhaps unintentionally intimidating home cooks (my words) from enjoying the process of cooking because of the "top chef" spotlight on performance and perfection. I was immediately taken to my evening at San Francisco's Nico, which is a kitchen performance designed to create a work of art in every plate served, yet produced with a modest spirit encourages appreciation of sincere creativity and invention, wherever it appears.
Nico is an ambitious concept delivered in an intimate setting in San Francisco's discreetly upscale Presidio Heights neighborhood fifteen minutes west of downtown. It's definitely earned its impressive rating as a one-star Michelin newcomer for 2016. The personal stories of Nicolas, Andrea and Maz on the website convey passion and commitment to authenticity, proficiency and comfort. They have achieved this in a remarkably subtle combination of high standards for atmosphere, service and taste rendered in friendly San Francisco "cool."
Who needs to scream when you are true to your core? I am not a great cook but I have great taste. Which means that I can be inspired by Ruth Reichl while actually opting for Nico to make it all real.
My menu (which I always request as a souvenir), is neatly folded like an origami puzzle, protecting a slim description of an ambitious springtime dinner: "Oyster" (turnip, rhubarb), "Soft Poached Egg (fava greens, quinoa), "Sturgeon" (asparagus, radish, asian pear), "Chicken" (potato, green garlic, sorrel), "Strawberry" (lavender, lime - that's the dessert). The experience fills in the details - why reveal it prematurely? Five courses - $55, five wine pairings $45 - and we added a savory platter of raw oysters to the first course and coffee at the end. Each day's menu is different - an impossible business model - but clearly well-managed at Nico.
The next visit in early summer we kept track of the wine pairings to recall more precisely beyond the evening the succulent build of food and flavors: Halibut (radish, rhubarb) with Francois Quenard Chignin Bergeron 2013 (French); Egg (ramp, fava beans, pork skin) with Guccione Cataratto 2012 (Sicilian); Trout (fennel, watercress, lemon) with Clos Beylesse, Cotes de Provence Rose 2013 (French); Lamb (turnip, mandarin, chard) with Domaine Combier, Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (French) and for dessert, Berries (pistachio, nepitella) with Bugey-Cerdon, Bernard Rondeau (sparkling French rose).
I'm checking out today's (winter) menu - Uni, Broccoli Rabe, Halibut, Lamb, Chocolate- and oops the price is now $65 for the 5-course dining adventure and $55 for the five wine pairings - yet for the quality, quite fair. (There's a three-course option for $10 less - but why limit??)
For a Womantraveler who has many options, Nico is the confident companion that outsizes with a purity of form and flavor.