out at nicola’s

For Kenny’s birthday, I made reservations at Nicola’s because I knew it would be a treat. I had no idea though however, how big of a treat it would be.

Nicola’s is one of the longer-running and established fine dining staples in Cincinnati, operating in Over the Rhine for more than twenty years. And it is definitely the kind of place you go to celebrate special and momentous occasions. So again, for Kenny’s thirtieth birthday, it was the treat I was hoping for. But I have to say it was made even better by our friend Chip. We met Chip last year at Via Vite and boy does he know how to take care of you. And take care of us he did. Let me show you.

Nicola's champagneFirst, we were welcomed with champagne. What a fun way to kick off a special birthday night for the hubs. It was delicious and what I stuck with for the rest of the evening.

Nicola's manhattanKenny was treated to the ultimate Manhattan after the initial toast. He told Chip he was interested in something with whiskey and Chip encouraged him to trust the bartender as a whiskey connoisseur. He did not disappoint, said Kenny.

Nicola's bread basketNow, if you’ve been to Nicola’s, you know the bread basket is a meal on its own. If you have not been to Nicola’s, the bread basket is worth the trip alone. There are upwards of six different kinds to try and each one is better than the next. I dug in quickly and found the truffle pieces and made sure not to tell Kenny so that I could snag both slices. I mean, his birthday can’t be all about him…

Nicola's amuse-boucheFollowing the bread was an amuse-bouche, which is our favorite thing. It always takes me back to our honeymoon where Kenny was first introduced to the concept, especially because he still gets giddy when one is delivered. This first bite was banana, plum, granola, and lime – a great subtly sweet way to kick off the night.

Nicola's gazpachoNow, we were chatting with Chip about recommendations and suggestions and we ultimately decided to just close our menus and trust our man. Everything that followed was per Chip’s ordering. Doing it that way was not only fun and exciting, but it was like letting American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza take the reigns in a big race. Of course you should.

First up was the gazpacho, with crab, corn, and pearl onion. This was actually my first time having cold soup and I was pleasantly surprised. The crunch of the corn and the sweetness of the crab made for satisfying beginning bites.Nicola's sweet breadsNext though was not only the best thing we had that night, but easily one of the best things we’ve had in a while (and we just ate at Husk). Sweet breads. Now, full disclosure, I actually thought they were something way worse than what they actually are. I honestly thought they were either testicles or intestines, but they’re actually just the thymus gland of a calf. And what a tasty, tasty gland. I’ll no longer feel the nerves of a sweet breads option.

This dish was just so good and I made a point to take down notes so that I could eloquently report back. Here they are: meaty, bacony, peachy, creamy. That’s all I’ve got for you folks, yet that really does sum this dish up. The combo of flavors was pretty unreal. And as you can see in the picture, there were a number of textures to munch on, plus this deliciously creamy base. This one, my friends, is a must order.

Nicola's saladBut then the cucumber salad that followed was just as impressive of a dish. I remember thinking, how exciting can cucumber salad be? Well, the answer is shockingly exciting. I can’t believe how hearty this salad was. I am sure it has to do with the buttermilk vinaigrette, but on the whole, this was one seriously serious salad.

Nicola's pastaThen was the series of pasta plates, the tip of the entrée icebergs.  Chip completely delivered with tasting portions of agnolotti and gnocchi. Gnocchi is my personal favorite at Nicola’s. It is definitely a rich one, made with four cheeses and truffle, but it is absolutely killer. And the agnolotti, with ricotta, spinach, and sausage, was just as satiating. Both dishes were fluffy in texture, which is a testament to being made in house. And while one was savory and meaty, the other was decadent and dense, in all the right ways.

Nicola's bologneseThe next pasta bowl was Kenny’s favorite of theirs, the bolognese. Now, I am starting to get the whole bolognese craze. Up until recently, a meat sauce pasta wouldn’t really jump out to me, but this one is definitely one to get serious about. I don’t know how to celebrate this one more than just saying it tastes like perfect meat, in perfect sauce, atop perfect noodles.

Nicola's scroppinoFinally, we ended with scroppino (a frozen cocktail made with champagne (yet Nicola’s throws in vodka)), even though we weren’t supposed to end there. After the bolognese, each of us were bursting at the seams and had to inquire about another course. When we were told there was another one coming, a meat course, we were both were like, please, we can’t, too much. Chip was really setting us up but we had to let him down. We were not strong enough. But I know whatever was supposed to come out would have been just as good as the rest. But still, scroppino is one of my most favorite things, so it was great to end there. I’ve only had it at Via Vite and Bouquet, but it hits the spot every. last. time.

Nicola's candleWhen we were finally wrapping up, our waiter made a point to bring out a candle so that Kenny could make a wish. And he delivered it on a tiger, after listening to Kenny and Chip talk about the Bengals all night. So fun and so thoughtful.

Chip and Michael and RochelleNicola’s is the best, the absolute best. Chip (in the center) just knows how to take care of restaurant business for his guests and our experience with him was nothing short of awesome.

We also ran into Shawn McCabe (far right), and his girlfriend Rochelle. Shawn is truly a major supporter and promoter of not only this blog, but of all things awesome in Cincinnati, particularly the dining scene (check out all that he does on Facebook). And Rochelle, his super sweet girlfriend, not only shares the same birthday as Kenny, but is an absolute doll every time I see her. We were all there that night, celebrating, enjoying the company, and being absolutely taken care of. What more could you ask for?

What a good good time, Nicola’s. We’ll be back soon.

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