Ryan DePersio — chef/owner of Fascino in Montclair and Bar Cara in Bloomfield — has just opened a third restaurant, NICO Kitchen + Bar. But this one is not in Baristaville — unless the concept of Baristaville has just expanded to include NJPAC in Newark. Maybe it should. On a seasonably warm day last week, it took only about 20 minutes to get to NICO, which resides in NJPAC’s lobby, and there is free off-street parking literally steps away from the door. The chi-chi ambience of NJPAC, along with modern restyling of its house restaurant space, is certainly Baristaville-worthy.
DePersio is Italian, but he calls this new restaurant — where he is executive chef, but not an owner — “Italian without borders” and indeed the menu offered at a free press tasting last week was very American-bistro inspired.
Alongside a scrumptious squid ink cavatelli ($15 on the lunch and dinner menus), featuring octopus and pepperdew peppers, DePersio offered up four kinds of sliders: crab cake, lamb, beef and pork. For the diet conscious, there were two salads: a multi-beet salad and frisee salad ($9 at lunch) with soft egg and creamy gorgonzola. And one of the stars was the quattro formaggi rustic pizza ($12 at lunch and dinner), flavored with lardo and topped with black truffle shavings.
The dinner menu is geared towards sharing, with plates a little smaller than full-meal size, and ranging from Pomegranate chili wings ($12) to pork-glazed short ribs ($23), while the lunch, geared toward business diners, is aimed at the more traditional one-person-per-meal crowd.
The owner of the restaurant is Culinaire, a Dallas-based restaurant group with properties across the country. “Our strategy is Ryan DePersio,” said David Wood, senior vice president of marketing for Culinaire. “He’s not bad to look at. And he has a good following. He’s a local Jersey boy.”
The restaurant recommends a reservation 90 minutes before a show if you’re going to NICO (named for DePersio’s son) — and the free parking does not extend to performances. But Culinaire and NICO are also hoping that NICO will become destination dining even without a performance afterwards.
The main dining room seats 45, but a screened-off area can be opened to accommodate 300 for private events. Make your reservations here.