Hot Eats: Nico
A Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in The Loop opens with well-known restaurateur Tom Schmidt firmly behind it.
The “little brother” of Tom Schmidt’s popular French bistro, Franco, has no intention of taking a backseat with its Mediterranean flair and finely crafted cuisine. Nico’s soft, fresh focaccia bread, made in-house and served warm with a touch of olive oil and salt, certainly will not disappoint—nor will the open-faced roasted red pepper and cucumber sandwich, drizzled with a light basil-yogurt spread and served with house-made yukon potato, turnip and celery root chips. Such is to be expected from Schmidt and his masterful chef Chris Williams, who opened the new Loop restaurant in late February in the former Brandt’s restaurant space.
A Family Affair
Nico is the little brother of Franco both literally and figuratively. Named after Schmidt’s nephew, Nico takes the same farm-to table approach as Franco, but with a smaller menu and slightly lower price points. Although the menu reads a little more refined on paper, the Mediterranean-inspired dishes are accessible and played down on the plate. The range of influences evident in the list of starters, sandwiches and entrées is also appreciated, with Spanish, French and Italian flavors all making appearances. Even Moroccan notes show in dishes like the lamb entrée, served with couscous and house-made harissa.
The Crudite Trio with chilled beets, celery root remoulade and carrot-raisin is a traditional appetizer served with a modern twist, but Williams’ house-cured salmon with champagneorange vinaigrette is a light and flavorful option to start. Dishes adhere to Schmidt’s affinity and devotion not only to local and seasonal ingredients, but also to making as much as possible in-house. Pork belly is cured onsite and used expertly in the carpaccio starter, with frisee, green beans and Banyuls-Grain mustard dressing. Pappardelle is made from scratch and combined with Ragu Napolitano pancetta, pork shoulder and pork belly for a hearty and tender entrée. The chicken paillard is layered with the robust flavors of capers and served with basil polenta and brocollini, and the skate wing is also satisfying with a brown-butter sauce and potato cake. Desserts include a chocolate flan, Madeleines with stewed fruit and a nice play on sweet-and-savory in orange crêpes stuffed with strawberry mascarpone mousse and balsamic glaze. With The Loop as a backdrop through the floor-to ceiling windows, the hip new restaurant makes a romantic and relaxed location for an evening out. Add brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as sidewalk seating, and it’s safe to say Nico is following Franco in becoming a St. Louis staple.
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg