It was a trip to Tuscany that sealed my love for Nicola’s. Amid the centuries-old palazzos, I soaked up the rich heritage of Italian hedonism, the unwavering glow of hospitality, the food both noble and rustic. I recognized our very own Nicola’s as an authentic outpost—so fluently on the mark that other Italian restaurants on American soil can sometimes feel contrived. It begins with the charming owner Nicola “Nick” Pietoso, who has steadily built a service staff that operates with consistent proficiency and palpable warmth. The elegantly set tables don’t overwhelm the familial or neighborhood quality of the environment, and the menu blends the cornerstones of Italian cuisine with innovative touches. Dinner begins with a basket of handmade flatbreads (the legacy of Pietoso’s son, Cristian, now helming Via Vite) that is undeniably the best restaurant breadbasket on the planet. The handmade pastas are as memorable as your first kiss (to the featherweight gnocchi and dreamy risotto: I will love you every moment of forever), and the seemingly haute meat and seafood entrées—chicken saltimbocca and pan roasted duck with foie gras among them—are thoroughly rooted in the bold and simple. Whether it’s in the Tuscan countryside or Over-the-Rhine, the Italian way is to linger: Nicola’s boasts an impressive wine reserve, and pastry chef Francesca Norris Veitch creates seductive desserts. Your trip starts here.
1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 721-6200, nicolasrestaurant.com
Originally published in the March 2013 issue.