When we heard about the opening of Ristorante Nicola earlier this year, we were so excited. Finally, Dallas was getting the sister restaurant to our favorite place in all of Switzerland, Ristorante Ricola. So when we showed up and discovered that it was an Italian restaurant, and would likely do nothing for that annoying tickle in our throat, at first we were slightly disappointed.
But being the dedicated journalists that we are (and the fact that the valet had already sped away in our car), we decided to stick around for a nibble. Upon opening the doors and glimpsing the sumptuous dining room with its hand blown black glass Murano chandeliers and more than one staff member we’d like to hand blow, we knew this wasn’t the average neighborhood Italian bistro with unlimited garlic rolls and cardboard pasta. This was the affare reale (that’s “real deal” in Italiano, by the way).
The pastas are all made on premises and the sauces are among the best we’ve ever tasted. Our favorite dish? The Rigatoni Vodka. Yeah, yeah, we thought it was a marinara-based martini, too, but we soon realized it was going to be the pasta dish we’d crave for weeks after our first bite. The al dente Rigatoni is tossed with fresh herbs, sweet peas, Ricotta Salata and a spicy vodka sauce. The exclamation point on this dish, however, is the luscious chunks of smoked chicken that add such depth of flavor and earthiness that it’s a shame they serve any other pasta options. But they do, and thankfully there’s not a one we’ve tried that we didn’t enjoy.
Entrees are huge and the wine list is vast, filled with affordable and rare finds alike. Desserts are pretty run-of-the-mill Italian offerings and have yet to really wowed us, so we say calorie-load on the front end of dinner and grab a mint on the way out instead.
Every time we’ve gone to Ristorante Nicola, there’s one must-have that never ceases to amaze both us and our dinner guests (and we’re a finicky lot). The starter we love is the abundantly prepared Antipasto Misto della Casa. At a mere $13, this is one whopping platter of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables. It often includes slices of delicious frittata, baked tomatoes or grilled eggplant, really, whatever the chef feels like throwing on. Served with breadsticks as thin and brittle as Marcia Cross, as well as a basket of hearty homemade Focaccia, this could be a meal in itself. In fact, we often have to split an entrée after this if there are just two of us. Otherwise, it’s perfect for four people as a starter or for a lovely afternoon on the patio with a glass of wine.
And speaking of great fall afternoons and early sunsets, Ristorante Nicola just yesterday launched a 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. weekday Happy Hour, with $7 house wines and specialty cocktails, along with $5 highballs. Complimentary passed appetizers of wood-oven baked pizzas, olives, cheese and mini sandwiches will keep you satisfied – and hopefully sober.
And in November and December, they’re starting a new event that they’re describing as a perfect Girls’ Night Out or a Gays’ Night Out! Stop by and enjoy the same drink specials and get a polish and buff for just twelve bucks during their “Martinis and Manicures” Thursdays. We’re just crossing our French-tipped fingers and hope that it’s more successful than last summer’s “Cabernet and Colonics.”
8111 Preston Road, Dallas
(photo credit: Kevin Hunter Marple)