One does not simply eat at the most highly anticipated new restaurant of the year. One scrutinizes every detail, from the flatware to the origin of the olive oil, in order to extrude - like the freshly made pasta - every bit of flavor from this dining experience. Because trust us, when dinner is in Paul Kahan’s hands, it’s going to be an experience. Opened last night, Nico Osteria is One Off Hospitality's (Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan, Terry Alexander and Kimberly Galban) tribute to Italy, which focuses on the coastal regions, with a menu rich with rustic dishes like housemade pastas and more delicate offerings such as grilled swordfish. Helping Kahan transport the simple flavors into a refined space is the culinary team of chef de cuisine Erling Wu-Bower and pastry chef Amanda Rockman.
1015 N. Rush St.; 312-994-7100
Here's how this is going to work. After snagging a reservation - maybe it’s next week or maybe it’s next February - you will be presented with a menu. The first page is filled with starters from crudo to grilled octopus with pocha beans, shallot treviso jam and olives as well as sunchoke sformato with chiles, lobster and radicchio. Page two is when the fun really starts, with pastas like the lobster spaghetti that we teased you with and lamb capeletti with artichokes, mint breadcrumbs and walnuts. Rounding out this feast is a selection of large plates of grilled seafood and meats. Save so much room for dessert, including tiramisu, chocolate budino and assorted gelato as well as an affogato program with four different flavor combinations including Prosecco, apricot and burnt honey.
Two beverage veterans are leading the drink program that flows deep with Italian wines and spirits. Matty Eggleston (formerly of Tenzing Wine & Spirits) is manning the spirits side of things. According to Time Out Chicago, his menu is divided into weaker, more drinkable cocktails and full-strength classics. Eggleston relies heavily on Italian amaros, vermouths and ingredients from the kitchen like saba (cooked grape juice) and pistachio for his cocktail menu, which also includes aperitifs and digestives. Two of his opening cocktails are the Antiquity (made with Amaro Cio Ciaro), Jamaican Rum and St. George Terroir Gin with a caper garnish, and the The Snowbird, made with Luxardo Aperitivo, gin and Punt e Mes, fresh citrus and soda. On the wine side, Bret Heiar (formerly of Cru Café and Wine Bar) curated a wine list focusing on Italian wines, with select bottles from Greece and Champagne.
The 108-seat restaurant is the crown jewel of the just-as-new Thompson Hotel. This is Kahan's first foray into the hotel dining world, following Chicago chefs such as Lee Wolen (formerly of The Lobby), Heather Terhune (Sable Kitchen + Bar) and Jose Garces (Mercat a la Planxa), who made hotel restaurants more than just a place for tourists to eat. The restaurant and adjoining Salone Nico, which seats an additional 60, feels like an Italian vineyard with wood rafters, forest green accents along the bar, and an open kitchen as well as exposed-brick walls covered in ivy. In addition to serving a parade of diners, Nico will provide food for the hotel’s room service and private events. This includes, but is not limited to, milk and cookies prepared by pastry chef Amanda Rockman.