Local chef Ryan DePersio’s signature dishes are all over NICO Kitchen & Bar‘s menu. The restaurant at NJPAC, named for DePersio’s son Nicholas, offers “Italian without borders,” and a great place to dine before and after a show. DePersio, who also runs Bar Cara in Bloomfield and Fascino in Montclair, is the Executive Chef and partner at Nico Kitchen & Bar, but Adam Rose is the “Chef du Cuisine,” or the one who is in the kitchen daily. Rose trained in many restaurants, including Pig & Prince chef Michael Carrino’s former Montclair spot Restaurant Passionné.
NICO offers a shared plates concept (think tapas with Contemporary American and Italian leanings) and signature dishes from Fascino and Bar Cara, plus
many new soon-to-be classics.
General Manager Jon Reininga explains that getting diners in and out, without feeling rushed, but in time to make a performance at NJPAC is NICO’s specialty. A value-priced, three-course, more traditional prix fixe menu is also offered on performance nights and matinees, designed to come out of the kitchen quickly so guests can make their curtain if they arrive 90 minutes prior to show time.
I had a tasting lunch at NICO last week. If my server’s expertise and professionalism is an indicator of all the service at NICO, you’re in for a pleasant experience. Shawn, our server, was polite, personable and truly knew the food and how it was prepared. He also made me a great cappuccino.
Our table was filled with some stand out offerings, which happened to be kid friendly for the little ones in tow. For starters, or “Bites,” we had Mascarpone Polenta Fries—addicting, Duck Confit Arancini (a crispy, flavorful rice ball) which was a stand out, and Fritto Misto, a plate of fried calamari, shrimp, scallops and fish with shishito peppers and black garlic aioli was crisp, perfectly cooked and offered a depth of flavors and spice.
Next up were pizzas—a classic margherita and a Pizza Du Jour of mushrooms and feta cheese. The small, individual-sized pies had a crisp crust with a nice chew. Combined with a Roasted Beet Salad made with Cara Cara oranges, Pistachios, and a St. Germaine Emulsion, it could make a perfect lunch.
The entree was a signature Fascino Ricotta Gnocchi with Sweet Sausage Bolognese, which I had the pleasure of learning how to make when Chef DePersio treated the Baristas to a cooking lesson and dinner. You can get the recipe here. The light, pillowy-like ricotta gnocchi go perfectly with the heavier bolognese sauce.
I often start thinking of dessert before the meal even begins, and I wasn’t disappointed with the Chocolate-filled Beignets serves with a Pretzel ice cream. They don’t have it listed on the menu, so I’m not sure if it’s a special and offered more frequently. I was too busy stuffing it into my mouth to ask. DAMN is the only way to describe it.
NICO also has an outside patio which is the perfect after work spot for cocktails and bites. The bar offers 21 wines by the glass, classic cocktails and artisanal beer. NICO also offers a great space for private parties up to 250 and can cater special events in NJPAC’s three private dining rooms for up to 200 guests.
With NJPAC”s amazing 2013-2014 season, you’ll find several ways to enjoy dinner, drinks and a show.
Nico Kitchen & Bar @NJPAC
One Center Street, Newark, NJ
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11:30am to 3pm
Happy Hour: Monday – Friday 4pm to 7pm
Dinner: Monday – Thursday until 9pm | Friday until 11pm
Saturdays and Sundays Dining in Conjunction with Performances
Prix Fixe Menu Only on Show Nights