Where I Was
Saturday, October 5, 6:37 p.m.
Where I Sat
Wow—it seemed eerily quiet. Wasn’t it prime dinner hour on a Saturday evening? Having only been to Nicholas once before—on a Thursday night, just about a year earlier—I remember full bustle. The space was absolutely electric with activity. Today? Serene, quiet, very grown-up. As I entered the bar, a couple sat chatting in almost a whisper at a high top flanking the wall, a few others scattered at the bar, and another couple at the table tucked into the back corner. And there sat a completely empty banquette along the window.
I traveled to the far side of the bar, where I love to sit, taking in the full view of the restaurant, out to the entryway, with a slight view into one of the dining areas. I enjoyed how the evening unfolded and the space evolved with the crowd, transforming from a space for “real” grownups, where I may feel slightly out of place, to an easier, more raucous hang for a pretty eclectic mix of people!
Who Served Me
Christian. Tall, dark, and with an accent I couldn’t quite place. While I loved capturing his photo as he poured my luscious cocktail, I didn’t get the chance to engage with him as he ultimately ran the far side of the bar, while the lovely Ashley took over and became our amazing go-to for any and every need for the rest of the delightful evening.
Bartender’s Favorite Bite
Since Christian had wandered down-bar during our stay, we ended up being adopted by Ashley. Knowledgeable, warm, and bubbly with a great smile. When I asked about her favorite dish, she just about burst into a stream of consciousness, “the beets, the beets!”
Being a beet lover, myself I appreciated her enthusiasm but pried, “How come?”
And without skipping a beat (pun SO intended), she told me, “Because I love beets and they do them really well here. They have a little bite to them and, just, mmmm.” You could tell her mouth watered while she thought about it.
“And,” she blurted out, “the cavatelli. Did you try that tonight? Oh it’s so, so good. It’s with shiitake and enoki mushrooms, those are the super small ones with the little heads the long stem, and they are pickled so they have that little bit of bite, and it’s just so good because it’s in a light cream sauce. I really don’t even like mushrooms but this is just so gooood. It’s one of my favorite dishes.”
The Vibe and My Vantage Point
The restaurant is a lovely space—elegant and pristine. The bar is high-polish chic. It’s a large granite bar, with the staff in vests and ties. They’re friendly, with their arms tucked behind them to avoid any awkward bumping or gesturing while pouring wine from a single hang.
What Quenched My Thirst
Espolon Anejo Tequila, cinnamon simple syrup, banana liqueur, fresh guava purée
You had me at tequila. And at banana. The rest was just cake. Even though I just knew it would be sweet, I was excited to taste this wonderful concoction of deliciousness. With many flavors I like, the least of which was guava, this sounded like another interesting mix of flavor profiles mixed into magic. It was indeed delicious—and a beautiful shade of pink. Icy cold, sweet, and spicy, with a subtle knock of smokiness from the tequila.
What Fed My Soul
Assorted, Baked Breads, Complimentary
OMG. This was fresh-baked goodness presented in a perfect little box lined with Nicholas-printed paper. Seeded, sliced, with fresh butter, yes. Yes. Yes. I had a little of each, of course, and marveled at the tastiness of the seeds on the whole-grain roll, the ideal combo of raisins and nuts in the second, and the wonderful chew on the rustic roll. I could have stopped there. But you know I didn’t.
Flash-Seared Kanpachi, $22
Mushroom dashi, crispy wonton
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, $28
“Pecan pie” toffee sauce, whiskey shortbread
MIND. BLOWN! I could hardly contain my excitement. My dad always said I had an adventurous palate. I remember somewhere in my late teens trying foie gras and other paté-style foods and loving them—even after I realized their origin. Tonight was no different. I ordered it like a kid at an ice cream shop getting a super-duper ice cream sundae!
The dish arrived as expected: Over. The. Top. Crushed pecans atop a large piece of foie gras, ooey-goey with the sauce, and shortbread crumbles scattered around the edges of the dish. The first bite was pure, decadent heaven: rich, sweet, salty, crunchy. And then there was the final, smooth delight as the heaviness of the foie gras lingered on the tongue. While it was too large a portion for me, given its richness and depth, this was a dish to even make the foie gras skeptic change their mind.
October Three-Course Tasting Menu, $45
We indulged in this option to allow an expanded review, given my husband was my sidekick. I’m thrilled to report it was magical!
First Course, Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Crispy kale, spicy chipotle purée
I could hardly contain myself as the dish arrived. I dove into the mounds of crispy kale and sweet potato goodness. Nicholas knows how to balance on the very edge: he mixed flavors and textures in such a pristine way you are almost surprised each time you take a new bite. The super-faint, but ever-present kick from the chipotle brought a smile to my face every time—the same way a great joke makes you laugh again hours after you hear it. So damn good!
Second Course, Char-Grilled Mexican Pink Shrimp
Avocado banana purée, Cotija, sauce “Cáceres”
The whimsical presentation of this dish was fun: colorful with a schmear of avocado/banana puree at the edge of the dish. The combination of smokiness from the char on the shrimp, against the softness of the avocado and the crispiness of the homemade tortillas reinforced the chef’s mastery of mixed textures.
Third Course, Rook Coffee Ice Cream Sundae
Rook caramel, oatmeal crumble, whipped cream
What more to say? This was ridiculous on so many levels. Nicholas’s obsession with ice cream led him to his newest venture Nicholas Creamery (Fair Haven and Atlantic Highlands) and the ice cream is really out of this world. Super rich and bursting with flavor, this coffee sundae was just the right “icing on my cake!” I chose Nicholas at this time as it’s my birthday week—and I chose wisely. Right down to the last delicious creamy, melty, chocolate-saucy coffee ice cream, and caramel spoonful.
Beyond the Bar
Located in a funky spot along Route 35, not far over the Navesink Bridge toward Middletown, but on the south side, Nicholas Harary opened in 2000 with his wife, Melissa, and created a culinary destination built to last. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them both, briefly, during my very special first visit here, where friends treated me to the chef’s table on the lower level. Their warmth and passion were immediately apparent, and no detail is too small. The service, the presentation, care, and craftsmanship that goes into every moment at Nicholas is evident without being too fussy. The staff is warm, the bar is fun, and yes much to my disdain, there’s a large-screen TV, too!
When to Show
Dining Room Hours
Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Bar N Hours
Tuesday through Saturday, cocktails at 5:00 p.m.
Know Before You Go!
Nicholas is open year-round. Please check the website for more information. Hours, prices, and menus are subject to change.
160 Route 35 South
Red Bank, NJ 07701
This article was not paid for, nor influenced by, the restaurant/bar featured in this column.