There’s a dogged neighborhood-liness
about this stretch of Delaware Avenue that continues to support
the kinds of business that in many other communities are crushed
by the leviathans out at the malls. I’m thinking of stores
like Andy’s and Cardona’s, and, of course, Nicole’s. It’s
probably no accident that these all are named with a possessive
“s.” An owner is watching over the place, which doesn’t happen
when your headquarters are in, say, Scottsdale, Ariz.
In the case of Nicole’s, you’re watched by founder Margaret
Carciobolo, who, with her husband James Gavin, keeps the restaurant
humming in much the same way it’s been run for its 20-plus
years of existence—a statistics-busting record in this volatile
Like many other successful restaurants, Nicole’s pursues a
catering business, good for both the bottom line and keeping
the name before the public. But it’s also their time- tested
menu of Northern and Southern Italian fare that has won a
you want to leave your daughter at my house,” a friend of
ours suggested, “and let her play with my kids, you two could
. . . ” But we were halfway to the restaurant by then. Once
we got there, we dined without bickering. Maybe we’re growing
Or maybe it’s the engaging welcome we received. First from
a server who caught me contemplating parking in the wrong
lot and directed me elsewhere (Nicole’s has been plagued by
the problem for most of its existence), then from the servers
inside who immediately greeted and made sure we were seated
It was an early dinner for us, but the restaurant already
was filling. Opposite the bar, which dominates the front half
of the dining area, are several tables, and then the room
opens into a larger area towards the back, where we were seated.
Even with some late-afternoon light coming in, the place has
a subdued feel. The dark tin ceiling is strung with tiny lights;
the walls sport classic artwork.
Cruising down the appetizers list, we felt the friendly call
of seafood items. Clams casino ($10), fried calamari ($9),
and grilled shrimp ($11), which is a Nicole’s specialty. This
isn’t to impugn the hazelnut-crusted brie ($9) or bruschetta
($6), of course. But when we reached Nicole’s Hot Antipasto
for Two ($19) and saw the promise of the seafood mentioned
above, along with much more, we needed no more convincing.
What makes the grilled shrimp so good? Horseradish and pancetta,
set off by a bite of lemon. There’s pancetta in the stuffed
mussels, too, transforming an ingredient that’s tasty enough
by itself into an even more flavorful nugget enhanced by sundried
tomatoes and bourbon cream.
Another component is eggplant roulade, in which the veg is
rolled with smoked mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Even
more roasted red peppers are served as separate selection,
with crisp broccoli alongside.
Although the warm spinach salad ($9) is tempting, you’ll get
a house salad with an entrée, and it’s a fine array of fresh
greens with a house dressing (easy to guess what kind).
The entrée selection is almost dizzying. It’s certainly thorough.
Divided into the categories pasta, poultry, seafood, veal,
grilled and vegetarian, enhanced with daily specials, it’s
enough to let you dine here weekly for nearly a year without
choosing the same thing twice.
Not surprisingly, there’s overlap. Vegetarian items lurk in
the pasta column; there’s pasta in the poultry and seafood
on the grill. But you have to compartmentalize a menu this
lengthy somehow. Stuffed steak ($32) is a grilled specialty
with shrimp and prosciutto inside. A grilled filet mignon
is $30 and comes with a caramelized onion demi glaze. Veal
parmigiana ($21) is a longstanding favorite, although veal
Theresa ($26) gets the “Nicole’s specialty” asterisk: It’s
a battered scallopine layered with mozzarella and prosciutto.
There’s shrimp a-plenty in the seafood listing: Order it served
with clams ($22); with clams, scallops and mussels (Fra Diavolo,
$30); with clams, scallops, mussels and calamari (zuppa di
pesce, $30); or on its own (Arrabiatta or Genovese, $22).
Or you can have it as described in the pasta list, prepared
with scallops and served over fettuccini with a four-cheese
topping ($27). That was the entrée I chose, a more-than-filling
selection. After all, it relies on butter for much of its
appeal, which means you’re scooping up sauce with the bread
that’s served with dinner. The scallops are more notable for
their large size than sweet flavor, but work well in the context
of a dish like this. And the contrast between the wide, cheese-laden
fettuccine noodles and the crunchy shrimp gives this entrée
Vegetarian items include eggplant parmigiana ($15) or eggplant
stuffed with goat cheese and spinach ($17); linguini with
greens and beans ($15); and two preparations of mushroom ($20).
In the poultry department you’ll find roasted duck ($28) with
a sauce of the day, chicken coated with hazelnuts in a Frangelico
cream ($19) and, of course, chicken parmigiana ($17). We ordered
one of the day’s specials, a chicken breast stuffed with spinach,
sun-dried tomatoes and cheese, served with a cream sauce ($23),
but found it surprisingly undistinguished—bland, in fact,
in spite of the promise of all that was in or on top of it.
Some well-chosen wine with dinner and an excellent tiramisu
for dessert (with a cappuccino, for me, to round out the meal)
and we were nicely reminded why it was we started dating in
the first place. It was fun to be together, and a restaurant
like this enhances the experience.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Arts Fest has a full weekend ahead of dance,
music, theater and more, celebrating the city’s
long history as haven for artists (the horses
sometimes obscure the bigger picture). Tonight
(Thursday) is a kickoff event: the ArtsFest Prelude,
an evening of wine tasting, good food, and art
previews, running from 6 to 8 PM at Universal
Preservation Hall at 25 Washington St. Sponsored
by Putnam Wine and Putnam Market, the event features
hors d’oeuvres and a dessert table crafted by
the market, as well as a bounty of fine wines
from around the world, including California’s
Cartlidge & Brown and Ridge Vineyards, Murphy’s
Law from Washington, South Africa’s Mulderbosch
Vineyards and Graham Beck Wines, Australia’s Long
Flat Vineyards and Madfish Wine, Baby del Rey
from France, and such renowned French specialties
as Taittinger champagne and Château La Tour Haut
Brion. It’s priced at $75 per person, which also
lets you buy a weekend ARTSPASS at a $5 discount.
For reservations or more information, call 580-5618.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(food at banilsson.com).