Billed as the ‘little brother’ to Franco in Soulard, Nico recently opened up in the U. City Loop in the space that most recently housed Brandt’s. We stopped by to see if the new kid lives up to his esteemed family tradition.
There was little left inside the restaurant to remind guests of the former tenant. SPACE Architecture & Design, which has created some of the hottest restaurant spaces around town (including Franco), redesigned the interior. Spots of exposed wood and brick result in a space at once cozy and expansive.
Nico had a nice list of custom cocktails named after famous St. Louisans available. We sampled the bourbon-based Henry Shaw ($9) and the gin-centric Jack Buck ($9)—and we highly recommend both! Nico also had a small selection of local beers on draft from breweries like The Civil Life, Schlafly, 4 Hands and Urban Chestnut. We were really excited to see they had 2nd Shift Gato Grande IPA ($7), one of our current favorites. The bread service also was top-notch, featuring delicious house-made focaccia and extra virgin olive oil. We got just enough to whet our appetites but not so much we slipped into a carb coma.
For starters, we dug into a plate of Scallops ($14), which came with a cauliflower puree, pickled ramps, asparagus and vanilla. We’ve been seeing ramps pop up on lots of local menus of late, and we’ve sampled our share, and Nico’s tart and tangy ones are our new favorites. When we saw vanilla listed as an ingredient, we were afraid it would make the dish cloying, but there was just a touch of sweetness as a result. The scallops themselves were rich and tender and nicely seared. We also ordered up the Roasted Beets Salad ($8), a colorful mix of red, golden and candy cane beet varieties, with a goat cheese mousse, basil and topped with finely crushed pistachios, which provided a nice crunchy contrast.
The entrees were broken down into On Bread, which featured sandwiches, pizza and a burger selection, and Main Events, which were larger portions. We decided to sample from both lists and ordered the House Cured Salmon Sandwich ($11) and the Arctic Char ($24). The perfect pink salmon came on a crusty baguette, topped with a mild horseradish crème fraîche, arugula and tomato. On the side was a handful of crunchy pomme frites with ketchup and saffron aioli for dipping. The char was surrounded by English peas, potato gnocchi, mushrooms and tarragon cream. We thought we detected a slight vanilla accent to the gnocchi, which made for a fragrant addition.
To cap off our meal, we indulged in the Beignets ($7), filled with honey blackberry mousse, almonds and topped with balsamic. The dessert was not too sweet, and just big enough to enjoy without putting us over the top.
All of the dishes came to the table plated beautifully, and service was attentive. Nico has brunch and lunch service, as well, and a roomy outdoor seating area. Little brother? Maybe, but this kid can definitely hold his own.
Nico, 6525 Delmar Blvd., 727-0200, nicostl.com.