Willpower is usually what I need when dining at Nicola’s. Willpower to keep from devouring every one of the beautiful housemade rolls and flatbreads; to order only one of the half-dozen ethereal handmade pastas (Hmmm…veal agnolotti, cavatelli with rabbit ragout, or the carnaroli risotto?); to resist the urge for feverish tastings from every plate on the table. I struggle when faced with arugula, prosciutto, and parmigiano salad; an appetizer of pork belly with celery root, Swiss chard, and apples; or a main course of halibut with lemon gremolata and cannellini beans. After a trip to Tuscany last fall, I returned with enlightened respect for the quality of dining the Pietoso family consistently presents. While Chef de Cuisine Dan Stoltz—a five-year veteran of Nicola’s kitchen who replaced Joel Malloy in October—is still finding his edge, Manager Graham Haas has fine-tuned the service to add polish to the familial warmth. The one thing that does give me pause are the prices (main courses run $35 and up), making Nicola’s the definition of special occasion. But it’s still impossible for me to resist.
1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 721-6200, nicolasrestaurant.com
Originally published in the March 2012 issue