Chicago’s Randolph Street has welcomed new kid Nellcôte to the block, yet another unique dining option for the city’s most forward-thinking foodies.
Named after the 16-room villa in France, the Windy City version of this European mansion includes some of the same luxurious benchmarks, such as marble flooring and wrought-iron gating in the entryway and lavish crown molding throughout. The seating options are diverse and plentiful in this spacious corner-plot restaurant; from high-top tables, to banquettes, to bar-seating, and couches, there literally is not a bad seat in the house.
Once settled in, it is recommended to enjoy a drink; as they actually are prepared in the kitchen, where there is a line specially devoted to crafting creative cocktails. Each beverage choice is named after the main ingredient: rum, gin, vodka, to name a few, so there is something for everyone. Best part? The cocktails max-out at an unpretentious $10 a piece. Cheers to that.
The star of the show for me was the food, Chef Jared Van Camp’s “obsessively house-made” fare. What exactly does that mean? Let’s put it this way: Van Camp mills his own flour daily and sources the restaurant’s product exclusively from the Midwest. While I didn’t think I’d be able to tell the difference, everything I tasted was remarkable and memorable.
My meal started off with a “fork & knife” buffalo mozzarella pizza. This paper-thin pie with sweet tomato sauce, fresh hunks of mozzarella, basil leaves, and a bubbly crust took me straight back to Italy. This was quite possibly the best Neapolitan pizza I’ve had in the states.
Moving on to the small plates, there was plenty from which to choose – from rabbit to a squab to risotto and several more. I selected the shaved asparagus salad to be good and the foie gras ‘torchon’ to be bad. Both were beyond pleasant and a decent-size sharing portion for two. Again, everything was priced fairly with nothing over $15 a plate.
Knowing they make their own flour, I had to cap off the meal with one of their fresh-from-scratch pastas. The portion size and flavor of the orecchiette with braised octopus and white beans was spot-on; one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long time.
All in all, for a spot that has everything – great food, creative drinks, an awesome atmosphere, and a prime location – the only thing Nellcôte is lacking is a high brow and a high price tag. And you know what? I’m more than okay with that.
By Emily Belden