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Dec 23, 2007 04:35 PM

Restaurant Nicholas

I know that there have been a few naysayers of late regarding Restaurant Nicholas, but I must report that my family and I had a first rate experience there last evening. The amuse bouche was a celery root puree and it was very good, if slightly over salted.
A starter of Fresh Black Truffle Hen Egg Ravioli was spectacular!! One of the best things I've eaten in a long, long time. Seared Day Boat Sea Scallops with Carrot Puree and Pickled Ginger Sauce were very well received as was a plate of Green Asparagus with Abalone Mushroom Ragout
Mains were very good as well. Filet Mignon, "Pulled" Suckling Pig and Pheasant, all were prepared expertly and satisfied each of us. A wonderful selection of artisanal cheeses followed, and desserts were uniformly good, particularly the Cranberry Souffle with Vanilla Sorbet.
Service was excellent, the room buzzed with a small army of servers and captains.
A nice addition to the dining room since my last visit was a spectacular blaze orange lighting fixture that consisted of over 700 hand blown, twisted pieces of glass. The room's banquets have been reupholstered to match and combined, they give the room a newly freshened feel.
The cost for all of this was about $580 (including taxes) before tip, of which $245 were devoted to wine. The relative value remains for you to decide. But for me, I must report that despite recent reports, in my opinion, Restaurant Nicholas remains the gold standard for fine dining in Central New Jersey.

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  1. Bernie - Thank you for the excellent report. Not to nit pick but I would argue that Nicholas is the gold standard for the entire state (as I believe the universe of central New Jersey restaurants is quite small).

    11 Replies
    1. re: bgut1

      I have waited entirely to long to try Nicolas. One question I do have is as I will most certainly sit in the bar area on my first visit, what is the dress required for the bar? Needless to say, I am intimidated, as I hate to 'dress up'.

      1. re: Herm

        Wait no longer Herm. And fear not the dressy atmosphere. A casual business attire will make you feel at home in the Bar of Nicholas (no jacket necessary). I've eaten there twice at the bar and been comforted by affordable beer and a wonderful selection of small plates ranging from $15-$20. I have yet to sit in the dining room but I may never because I have a similar anxiety for stuffy atmosphere, which I can't say the dining room has any of, but the bar has none of.

        1. re: rockweed

          Herm - The other night I wore jeans and a dress shirt. No need to get too dressy - unless of course you want to.

          1. re: bgut1

            Glad you posted that, bgut. Forget business casual! One can dress extremely casually at the bar. Even a "dress shirt" is unnecessary. A sport shirt would be fine. During the summer, Mr. R. has worn what he calls his black "dress T's," aka "Manhattan sheik." lol

            Btw, even though reservations are not required for bar dining, I strongly suggest if you are any distance away from the restaurant that you call to make sure the bar is open. We drove there one Sunday evening only to discover the entire restaurant, including the bar, was closed for a private function.

        2. re: Herm

          Herm, last Saturday night, several male patrons in the main dining room were sans jacket. With the new decor, the room seems less formal (in a good way).

        3. re: bgut1

          bgut1, the reason I said Central New Jersey is that I have very limited experience dining in the Northern part of our state, and my Southern experience is largely limited to Cape May, therefore I don't feel qualified to speak for the entire state. But thanks for the compliment and I suspect that you are correct.

          1. re: BernieMSY

            Thanks for the clarification Bernie.

          2. re: bgut1

            b, I don't want to get carried away here, but to extend what you're saying, I don't know if there're any restaurants in NYC that can match Nicholas for the money.

            1. re: joonjoon

              joon - Are you referring to me or Bernie? Either way you pose an excellent question.

              1. re: joonjoon


                I agree that Nicholas's cuisine, service, and ambiance can match many of the finest NYC restaurants, while price-wise, it's a comparative bargain, at least as far as the 3-course prix-fixe ($55) and the tasting menu ($75) are concerned. However, wine may be a different matter and could boost the final cost into NYC territory.

                1. re: RGR

                  Well, wine will always boost the cost of dining whether you're in NYC or NJ so I'm not sure if that's really an issue. But going strictly by the tasting menu, I don't know who else can match what Nicholas does for 55/75$ in terms of Food & Service.

                  I wish I wasn't sick, now I'm in the mood for Nicholas. :P

            2. I'm glad someone else was smitten by the black truffle hen egg ravioli. I could eat the dish for lunch daily. While the pulled pig is passably good, as I wrote elsewhere, try the similar dish in Eleven Madison and I suspect you'll stop raving about Harrary's creation. Still, if Nicholas isn't the gold standard in each and every way, given the paucity of greatness in New Jersey, it does remain a very precious metal indeed.

              1. We've lived at the Jersey shore for nearly 6 years now and have never had the pleasure of dining at Nicholas, but will be heading there in a couple of weeks. Really looking forward to this and will report back.

                7 Replies
                1. re: bnemes3343

                  Enjoy your meal bnemes3343. If you get the chance, take a look at the menu online. I have had most of the items and would be happy to answer any questions. Good luck and please let us know how it went.

                  1. re: bgut1

                    Well, the obvious 1st question is whether to do the 3 course meal or the tasting menu with/without wine pairings. I suspect this is an easy answer (tasting menu with wine pairings), but would like opinions. My wife is a bit less adventurous than I am, and not really that big an eater, but since it's my bday, I am hoping I can convince her to go for the full monty.

                    1. re: bnemes3343

                      You should do what my wife and I do. I usually get the tasting menu with wine pairings and my wife gets the the 3 course. Nicholas is the rare restaurant that does not require that all diners at a table order the tasting menu if one wants it. This results in an extra course or two for me, but my wife never minds and usually has a taste of what's on my plate. Enjoy.

                      1. re: jsfein

                        That sounds like a great idea! Would they somehow be able to do a wine pairing with both as well?

                        1. re: bnemes3343

                          The other option is to do what we do. Since as a general rule, my wife finds the tasting menu to be too restrictive in choices, we usually order ala carte and add an extra course or two. This allows us the flexibility "we" desire and at the same time permits us to taste the breadth of the chef's abilities. Either way you can't go wrong at Nicholas. The only thing I do recommend is that you fit in a cheese plate somewhere. It's divine.

                          1. re: bnemes3343

                            They will be more than happy to do pairings for your tasting menu and your wife's 3-course prix-fixe. Btw, your wife can also add just one extra course if she wants, and if she feels it might be too big, she can request that it be made tasting portion-size.

                            Happy Birthday, bnemes! Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

                            1. re: RGR

                              Thanks bgut1 and RGR for the great advice. Really looking forward to Jan 5., and will be sure to post a review.

                  2. We were there the night before you on the 21st and I agree with everything you stated. We had a terrific meal. We were celebrating my birthday and my friend's and we got sent home with truffles and the nice cranberry loaf for the holidays. A nice touch.

                    Also, you didn't mention something that I LOVED! The drunken cranberry mojito from the bar-provided Chris makes it. It was perfect. We are actually going to try to replicate it this weekend for my brother's new year's party.

                    I could have eaten the ravioli and the scallops again and again. I also thought the chatham cod was fantastic and although I really enjoying the pulled suckling pig, it was my least favorite.

                    We are definitely going back to sit in the bar some time soon.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: heathergt


                      I am glad you had a good time and it is because of you that I am on this site now, so thanks again. By the way here is the recipe for those mojitos so you can recreate them whenever.

                      Spiced Drunken Cranberry Mojitos

                      First a day or two before serving I take about a quart container filled about 3/4 to the top with dried cranberries

                      then I add equal parts of spiced rum (mt gay preferably), cranberry juice and simple syrup.

                      fill the container to the top, the cranberries will absorb most of the juice.

                      In a small shaker I then muddle 3 lime wedges, 6 large mint leaves (or its equivalent), and a tablespoon of drunken cranberries together.
                      At this point I also add a shot of spiced rum and a splash of fresh lime juice before muddling.

                      Muddle well
                      Add ice
                      Shake and place into high ball glass
                      add club soda and a splash of cranberry juice on top
                      (you can also substitute sprite for those with a sweeter tooth)

                      Then enjoy.

                      It does take a little planning and prep for the drink, but you know how well it can turn out.

                      Cheers all!

                        1. re: shorebilly

                          REALLY good drink, Chris!! My only change was, instead of club soda or sprite, adding a splash of French lemonade. A bit sweet, a nice citrus hit and good bubbles.

                          1. re: radiogrl1

                            I sometimes like to add a little bitters to offset sweetness, it really depends on my mood you know. Some days are just a little bitter.

                        2. re: chris the bartender

                          Thanks Chris. I wasn't aware that Mt. Gay made a spiced rum??? I've never seen it anywhere.

                      1. Sorry, but our first experience at Nicholas last night did not live up to our expectations based on the heaps of praise bestowed by so many others.

                        To some up, my GF and I both had the Tasting Menu and while we left feeling like suckling pigs, the overall experience was not a 5star, Exceptional, 29/30 occasion. More like a 4Star, Very Good, 24/30 occasion!

                        The highlights were the House Cure Salmon Gravlox, the much heralded Black Truffle Hen Egg Ravioli that I substituted for my fish course, my GF's Seared Skate Wing & the artisan cheese plate;

                        The midlights were all the other courses (we chose opposite each other for each course so we could sample everything); there was an apparent lack of seasoning/spices/herbs as each course was rather bland; case in point was my Roasted Sirloin of Veal cooked a bit too long to bring it closer to medium well versus the suggested medium (pink center) served over an Autumn Bean Cassoulet which ended up being some fava beans swimming in a too thin Veal Jus. This dish cried for some seasoning on the veal and the Jus would have been better if it were a thicker/heartier sauce that one would find on an osso-buco;

                        The lowlights were a pre-dessert muse of a loose coconut tapioca with a mango sauce; an extremely limited wine's by the glass offering on the printed wine list - (1) Cab and (2) Bordeaux's; a sterile dining atmosphere as we were seated at 6:15 in an empty dining room (on a Friday night) and had the constant eye's of the service staff on us, anticipating our next need/action;

                        For my fellow hounds in Mommoth county, I'm sure Nicholas is a great place to have on the local dining scene. Unfortunately for us, it's a tough place to get to (from Princeton) on a typical Friday evening. In the same amount of time or less, we can be in NYC or Philly.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Foody4life

                          Hey, Foody,

                          While I am sorry to hear that Nicholas didn't live up to your expectations, I have to be honest and say that, during the many times we've dined there, only two dishes have truly disappointed me, one of which was a veal dish that I ate at the bar some time ago. Veal, in and of itself, is a rather bland meat, so I feel it needs assertive seasoning and saucing to bring it to life. While I don't remember exactly how the veal I had was prepared, I vividly recall that it was bland, and whatever sauce there may have been didn't help.

                          With regard to wines by the glass, I am surprised to hear that you were unhappy. Since I don't drink, my husband does wine pairings by the glass, and he has always been extremely satisfied with the selections offered at Nicholas.

                          Btw, I've mentioned in a prior post that we once had the experience of eating at Nicholas in an empty dining on a couple of days after New Years, but it didn't bother us in the least!

                          As I like to say, a restaurant only has one chance to make a first impression. Thus, given your feelings about your meal and where you are coming from geographically, I can understand why you would be reluctant to go to Nicholas again.

                          1. re: Foody4life

                            Foody4life - I'm sorry that the meal didn't meet your expectations. Your post is a perfect example of the subjectiveness of dining. Case in point, while you find the dining room to be "sterile" and the service to be too constricting, I see the opposite. I'm currently reading an excellent book by a former captain at Per Se called Service Included where she defines the perfect service as being anticipatory of a guest's needs. Further, the author opines that the room should be absent of art and other decoration so not to take away from the food. I tend to agree. In fact I find both the service and the room to be perfect. All that being said, I do tend to agree with the following statements:1) the by the glass selection is limited and 2) while good, the sirloin of veal is my lest favorite course on the menu. Notwithstanding the above, Nicholas is not only the best restaurant in NJ but one of the best in the US (and I've been to many of the so called greats - as I'm sure you have too).

                            1. re: bgut1

                              bgut1- I think our experience would have been better if we'd joined you and RGR and dined at Nicholas' bar!! We were unfortunately seated at one of the small banquettes next to the fireplace in the right dining room. While my GF had a great view of the room, I had the grey wall as the backdrop to my 2.5 hr evening. I would have liked one of the 4 top tables so that we could both enjoy the ambiance.

                              With regard to the overall experience, I measure a restaurant of this caliber on the ability to surprise with unique flavors, ingredients or pairings. An example is the Tonic & Gin served at Per Se. As common a drink as there is - yet truly outstanding as they make their own tonic using quinine powder. Hands down the best I've ever had.

                              1. re: Foody4life


                                Now I can understand your unhappiness with the ambiance. Why were you seated in what I consider the much less desirable of the dining rooms? Was the main dining room (the one one the left) full?

                                1. re: RGR

                                  I agree with RGR. I've never had the occasion to be seated in that area and would have been disappointed as well. As chance would have it, the DW and I just returned from having dessert and coffee at the bar (after a decent dinner at Casa Solar in Belmar). Chris continues to be as personable as ever - a complete pleasure. Foody - the next time you're in the area, please let me know as I would be happy to join you at the bar. Be well.