This new West Loop hot spot does seem a little reminiscent of Southern France, for the Bourgeoisie, that is. Outside, the muted orange overhang, lively patio scene and blooming flowers, let you know that you’ve arrived at the right place. As you walk in, you are greeted by the beautiful staff and a wall lined with lavender. The restaurant opens up to a grand room with a large bar and dining area, with the ceilings far exceeding 14 ft, if not in the South of France, then perhaps a New Orleans villa with the interior design and architecture.
It’s was a recent Saturday evening that we met one of our favorite foodies couples, Dan and Elissa for our monthly rendezvous. Dan is serious about food and has been dying to try Nellcôte. We reluctantly sat in sit inside as there was a 30 min wait outside, and were seated in what appeared to be the bar area, despite making reservations in April… I guess they don’t know who I am, or better yet, maybe they do.
Our server was good, eclectic, knowledgeable and not too pushy. The cocktails he suggested were fabulous; they started to transport me to a speakeasy. Dan and Brian tried the “Rye” – Templeton rye, tarragon, lemon, honey, organic egg white. It was beautiful, light and refreshing. Highly recommend it. Though I seem to be on anything with egg kick.
Nellcôte, like many new restaurants I visit, is a place that is best experienced with shared dishes. Some of the favorites we tried include:
- Fennel sausage hen of the woods mushrooms, Parmigiano, tomato sauce, mozzarella pizza- The pizzas are what I heard most about before dining at Nellcôte. They mill their own flour in the basement and the pizzas are said to cook for just 90 seconds, at some incredibly high temperature. The crust is chewing and crispy at the same time and just melts in your mouth.
- Burrata and sea urchin – baby artichokes, green garlic bagna cauda - Some shy away from sea urchin, as it can be an over powering taste. The portion here was quite small, though strong, it wasn’t too much when savored with the creamy burrata and bagna cauda.
- Saffron risotto fava beans, English peas, bone marrow, percino, gold leaf – This was by far my favorite. Good risotto and I mean like hole in the wall, Italian grandmother from Naples secret recipe good – makes my day. Visiting Nellcôte just for the risotto would be perfectly acceptable. It is so creamy, packed with flavor and garnished with a gold leaf and bone marrow; I think I forgot I was eating rice. Probably could forgo the fava beans.
- Robuchon potatoes shaved black truffles, sauce perigueux – Really we got this dish because Brian is a sucker for anything with black truffles. These Robuchon potatoes are named after Chef Joel Robuchon, and are how he got his Michelin stars. To achieve the velvety texture, the potatoes are passed several times through a fine drum sieve. They were amazing, and I literally licked the bowl… that was before the wait staff tried to take the dish away a few times. I don’t think they are used to most clientele oggeling over the food vs. the guests and cleaning their plates.
- La colombe semifreddo – this dessert is new on the menu. It is really lovely and refreshing. Our server described it as a more elegant and less sweet tiramisu … and he was right. It was light but creamy with a good crunch and some quality chocolate and coffee.
As a little background, this is restaurant number two for Executive Chef Jared Van Camp, who also owns Old Town Social. Both restaurants have great dishes clearly “fit for foodies”, but Nellcôte’s dishes like it’s sister property can become a little over shadowed by the scene… literally every hour the lights grew dimmer and the music louder. Clearly, I came for the food and the good company of our friends; however I am not sure I can say the same for the “branche” (French for trendy) guests around me.
This place is worthy of any Chicago foodie’s list, but if you are serious about food, probably best to visit during a week night or before 8 on the weekends.